06/06/13

  07:43:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 261 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Decathlon - 2013

fluxHome Sneak Peek!

Run on Sun is working with the USC Solar Decathlon Team as a solar advisor and we took our second trip to the construction site since the project got underway.  Here’s a quick update on their progress so far.

When we first visited the USC Team’s build site they had just held their kickoff celebration - complete with The Band.  But at that point the house only existed on paper and in elaborate models; at the site, nothing existed but an empty space where soon - hopefully - a house, known as fluxHome, would bloom.

Well now things are really moving along, as this picture of the construction site makes clear:

flexHome underway

 

Thanks to generous donations by Enphase Energy, Unirac and Bosch, the main solar components are all on hand. Still, one of the main points of complexity for the project is the need to break it down into three modules for transportation which can then be re-assembled into the working home at the competition site in Irvine.

As a general rule, solar power systems aren’t designed around a “dis-assembly needed” requirement!

In the weeks ahead we will be working with the team to advise them on mounting and flashing standoffs, assembling railing, mounting Enphase microinverters (including grounds that would satisfy LADWP), finishing the wiring and mounting the Bosch solar panels.  And we intend to be there when they take it apart and put it back together!

It is going to be an exciting summer for the Team and we are really looking forward to working with the them to make this happen.  Fight on!

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06/04/13

  07:47:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 306 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Utilities, Residential Solar

Will Solar Kill the Utilities?

We have written before about the potential “death spiral” facing utilities and their not so subtle backlash against solar.  That was the subject of an interesting report heard yesterday over at our favorite NPR affiliate, KPCC, h/t Take Two.

The report, by KQED science reporter, Lauren Sommer, provides a mostly balanced view of the issue with the spokesperson from PG&E repeating the “unfairness” meme that the investor owned utilities have been floating for awhile now, offset by the revealing explanation of how the death spiral might work.  It is worth taking a listen (oh, and maybe supporting your local public radio station in the meantime!):

This is a typical utility quote:

The problem, Rubin says [who works on net metering at PG&E], is that solar customers aren’t paying their fair share. “Solar customers really use the grid more intensively than non-solar customers,” he says.

Everyone pays for the grid – building and maintaining the wires and substations – through the price of electricity. By reducing their bills close to zero, Rubin says solar customers avoid paying for power lines they’re still using.

Really?  First, a solar customer who was truly net-zero is making far less use of the grid than their energy-guzzling neighbor next door.  Second, by helping to meet peak demand in the hot summer days, they are reducing the spot energy needs of the utility.  Third, that peak demand energy surplus provided by the solar customer is given a one-to-one offset against energy that they consume in the evening and night.  But in a time-of-use rate structure, the utility is trading their cheapest energy for the most expensive energy produced by the solar customer - if that is unfair to anyone, it is unfair to the solar customer.

As long as the utilities approach this debate from such a disingenuous position, their death spiral will only tighten.

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06/02/13

  09:08:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 439 words  
Categories: Climate Change, Ranting

Without Vision: Exxon CEO on Carbon Future

ExxonMobilExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson - whose name and position inevitably conjures images of dying dinosaurs - emceed the company’s annual shareholder meeting this past week and he had some blunt words for those who were advocating for a resolution on reducing greenhouse gas emissions - forget about it, we can’t get there.

Mr. Tillerson responded to questions from proponents of the resolution - which Management had recommended be voted down - during the open comment period before the vote.  When asked about the problem of exceeding 350 parts per million CO2 - the limit widely acknowledged as the threshold for preventing significant climate change - he replied:

Well, I can not conclude there is something magical about 350 because that suggests these models are very competent and our examination of the models, are that they’re not that competent…


We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies, and people’s health and well being around the world. You cannot get there.

When he speaks of steps that might be “devastating to economies” he is deathly serious:

We do not have a readily available replacement for the energy that provides the means of living that the world has today, not our standard of living but equally, if not more importantly, a standard of living that more than 2 billion people on the planet are below anything any of us would find acceptable from a poverty, hunger, education standpoint.

How do you want to deal with that great social challenge?  To what good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers in the process of those efforts when you don’t know exactly what your impacts are going to be?

(Rough transcript here - edited for accuracy based on audio, starting 1:39 in.)

The irony here is pretty intense - Mr. Tillerson is only focused on the risks associated with reducing the use of his company’s products - but he glosses over the impact that climate change is having now, and will have in the future.  It is insulting to suggest that he, or ExxonMobil, is actually concerned with raising the standard of living of the billions to which he refers and yet they are exactly the people who will suffer the most from fossil fuel-ed climate change.

Instead, Mr. Tillerson expounds on his “faith” that technology will allow us - or at least the First-Worlder’s amongst us - to adopt a “mitigation and adaptation” approach to dealing with climate change.  That might work in Dallas - where the meeting was held - but it is a death sentence for say, the Maldives.

Taking comfort in his words, the shareholders dutifully voted down the resolution 73 to 27%.

06/01/13

  09:58:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 172 words  
Categories: Ranting

If You Build It, They Will Come

We had our best month ever in May for traffic to our website, setting records for visits, unique visitors and page views.  The chart below documents the comparison between the best month of 2013 (ytd), 2012 and 2011 for those stats as well as blog posts and posts to the Run on Sun Facebook page.

May website results hit all time highs

 

We averaged over 132 visits per day during May, over the quarterly average of 122 which exceeds the first quarter average of 107.  And we did this without any paid advertising at all - sorry, Adwords.

Rather, this is the result of closing in on our goal of five blog posts per week - we averaged 4.74 posts per week during May, up from the quarterly average of 4.4 which is up from last quarter’s average of 3.7.

Of course, we could write five times per day and it wouldn’t matter without YOU, the folks who come and read these posts.  So thank you for taking the time to visit and read - and comment!  (Yes, like all bloggers, we love comments!)

Let’s see what June has in store!

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05/31/13

  10:45:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 851 words  
Categories: Solar News, Commercial Solar, Safety, Ranting

Does Quality Sell?

Nothing like a piece in the New York Times questioning the reliability of some solar modules to get tongues wagging and some pointing fingers at “Chinese dumping” while others tell us that solar technology is just not ready for prime time.  To us it raises a different question - does quality sell?

The article, titled Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels, points to installations as close as the Inland Empire, having shockingly high failure rates after just two years of being installed. “Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated while other defects caused two fires that took the system offline for two years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.” Wow - that is shocking.  So who made those defective panels?  The reporter doesn’t say.

Nor are any of the problem panels alluded to in this story ever named, citing, in some cases, confidentiality agreements.

Which raises a serious problem with the article: if you cannot identify any of the solar module manufacturers that are having these problems you leave the impression that all solar modules are suspect. (Our analysis on who the guilty party might be is below…)

A quick perusal of the comments to the article reveals the predictable factions: those who echo the Fox News line that solar is a failed technology that only exists because of the Obama Administration’s foolish indulgence in Green Tech; claims that all problems in the solar industry are a result of “Chinese dumping” and the associated China bashing; countered partially by a handful of comments from people who actually know something about the industry.

We find the Chinese bashing particularly problematic - after all, the Chinese are not putting a gun to any project developer’s head and forcing them to use third-tier panels.

Greed is what is causing that.

We have been in business since 2006 and there have always been high quality solar panels available from reputable manufacturers - and they have always cost more than many of the panels offered to us for use in our projects.  Scanning the CSI data (see below) reveals that many projects - including many of the largest projects - were built using those “bargain basement” panels.  Why?  Because it maximized the project developer’s profit.

This is not a new problem, despite it getting a major splash in the “Paper of Record."  Indeed, we wrote in the Spring of 2012 about how the decision by project developers to focus on the lowest cost per Watt “will continue to put undue pressure on quality manufacturers around the globe - whether in the US or China.  Consumer demand for quality is the ultimate way to improve this situation - and that means educating consumers as to what quality means in this market."  A year plus has gone by, but where has that educational effort been?  The need is as great - or greater than ever, but sadly, the NY Times piece fails on that score.  (If you want to read an earlier, and far more comprehensive article on this subject, check out this piece by the great Felicity Carus: Quality Issues Threaten to Give Solar a Black Eye.)

What’s Up in the Inland Empire?

It’s a Friday morning so we decided to indulge in one of our favorite pastimes and go diving into the CSI data to see if we could identify the guilty party alluded to in the NY Times piece.  Here is all they gave us to go on - the project has been in place for roughly four or more years (failed after 2 years, offline for 2 years), located in the “Inland Empire” and its downtime resulted in a loss of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in revenue.  From that we concluded that we needed to look at systems from 2010 or earlier, in the Inland Empire - which we took to mean anywhere in the counties of Riverside or San Bernardino - and of at least 200 kW.  Those criteria provide us with 28 potential systems, built with solar panels from just seven manufacturers.  Here are our results:

Inland Empire solar installs

 

What can we say about these manufacturers?  Well, certainly BP Solar, SunPower, Kyocera and Sanyo would all be considered top-tier manufacturers of solar panels - although BP is exiting the solar industry and Sanyo is now owned by Panasonic.

As for the others, Evergreen Solar was a US manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy in August 2011.  Solar Integrated Technologies was a subsidiary of Michigan-based Energy Conversion Devices which itself filed for bankruptcy in February 2012.  Solar Semiconductor is a vertically integrated systems provider with manufacturing facilities in India.

So who is the guilty party?  No way to know for sure, but a little online searching reveals other problems for one of these companies.  A September 14, 2012 article on the San Diego Union Tribune website documents problems with “Flawed Solar Panels” that were manufactured by Solar Integrated Technologies.  According to the article, the panels manufactured by the company, “had a manufacturing defect that allowed water to seep into crevices of the panels, which in some cases created corrosion and in the worst-case scenario could cause a short that could start rooftop fires” - which sounds a great deal like the problem cited in the New York Times piece.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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