07/17/19

  01:01:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 926 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting, Shortcut Solar

California Solar Consumer Protection Guide Hits the Streets

CPUC Solar Consumer Protection Guide

For the longest time we have been talking about the need for the solar industry to do a better job of policing itself, because the manner in which too many solar companies were doing business was simply unsustainable.  We argued that if we didn’t do a better job, others would step in and do it for us. 

Well guess what, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has just published a 23-page tome titled, California Solar Consumer Protection Guide.  Now that is quite a mouthful, but come September 30th, every contract in California that is entered into for solar with one of the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) – that is, SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E – requires that the first four pages be initialed, the last page signed, and the whole thing uploaded to the IOU’s web portal!  Moreover, homeowners need to be given adequate time (and patience?) to read the entire document and only wet signatures (i.e., no E-sign) are allowed.  Here’s our take…

Who Will this Deter?

First and foremost, the more information consumers have, the less likely they will be taken in by shady contractors.  Ultimately, that is good for both consumers and the legitimate players in the solar industry.  Frankly it’s too bad that the trade associations didn’t create something like this and require their members to disseminate it to potential clients – I’m confident that they would have produced a better guide.

For Run on Sun, this really doesn’t change anything that we will be doing since we have always covered this type of information with our clients.  (You know, we are “tellers, not sellers.")    But it will be really interesting to see how the bad players respond.  My guess is that they will simple forge signatures – if you are willing to deceive your customer, you will have no qualms about deceiving a bunch of regulators.

Meanwhile, for the Non-Shady Solar Installers…

As to the rest of us, while this will mostly be business as usual, there are some disturbing things.

For example, on page 8, where the CPUC is trying to explain the installation process, they have this bullet point under the heading, After You Sign a Contract: “Installer… performs a home site visit to confirm assumptions and check roof, ground, and electric conditions."  Hold the phone.  If the installer doesn’t know the condition of your roof and electrical service when you sign the contract, that contract is invalid! 

Key terms that are left to a later time means that there was no agreement between the parties, no “meeting of the minds,” and hence the contract is not binding.  So why is the CPUC publishing such nonsense?  Because many of the larger solar companies operate this way and they were no doubt insisting that this language be included. 

But no - before you sign a contract, those assumptions have to be nailed down if you are to avoid costly change orders down the road.  (Oh, and why aren’t change orders discussed here?  Sigh.)

Under Step 3: Find a Qualified Solar Provider they suggest going to the Contractors State License Board and the California DGStats website.  But that’s a lousy way to identify a qualified provider.  For one thing, being listed with the CSLB just means you have a license - but lots of companies play all kinds of tricks to have a license number and you wouldn’t want them anywhere near your home.  And the DGStats site is interesting, but it only shows projects installed in the IOUs territory - locally that means SCE.  But installs done in Pasadena or Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale, Azusa, or Anaheim (for example) will not show up there at all, since the municipal utilities do not report their projects to that site.

Only under the area of narrowing down your list to they suggest checking the website of certified PV installation professionals provided by the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP) – which is the only resource listed that actually does anything to qualify installers!  (Check out the NABCEP list here.)  Oddly, the directory of companies belonging to the California Solar and Storage association (calssa.org) was not referenced as a resource at all!

 Under Step 5: Learn About Electricity Bill Savings they have this interesting statement: “Before you sign a contract, ask yourself: if the savings end up being lower than the estimated monthly or yearly savings, does getting rooftop solar still make sense to me?"  Wow - how much did the IOUs have to pay to get that language inserted?  How about adding this in rebuttal: “Before you sign a contract, ask yourself: How much would it mean to me to be able to really stick it to my utility?"  Because we have certainly had many a client tell us that all they really want to do is make SCE feel the pain!

Wouldn’t more useful questions to ask before you sign the contract be: How did your installer calculate your potential savings?  What assumptions did they make, for example,about the rate of growth for future electric bills, or the degradation of the output of your PV system?  What software did they use and how does it work?  Or did they just pull a number out of the ether?

Under Step 8: Sign this Guide we get to explain to our new client why they have to initial 4 pages, check three boxes, and then sign the Guide - in addition to the installer’s contract and the interconnection agreement.  (To say nothing of financing documents if they are foolish enough to buy into a Lease/PPA).  Yet more hoops to jump through before Going Solar.

But you know what, folks?  We have only ourselves to blame.

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06/28/19

  07:17:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 134 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Energy Storage

Ensemble Rollout Coming into Focus

On the heels of their video release last month, the folks at Enphase have now published an FAQ page on the entire Ensemble system.  Here are some highlights…

Perhaps the most exciting item is that they are expecting deliveries around Christmas time – what a great gift!  That said, I’m sure quantities are going to be limited at least initially. To that point, however, it looks like there will be a “pre-order” option - though the FAQ page is silent on details or pricing.

The most disappointing answer is that the system will not be compatible with S and M series microinverters, although they are planning an upgrade path, similar to the “Early Adopters” program that they had earlier this year.

Happy to hear your feedback - obviously we are following developments here closely, watch this space.

05/31/19

  08:20:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 211 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Energy Storage

Enphase Releases Video on IQ8 and Ensemble

Our friends over at Enphase have posted a video to YouTube explaining in non-technical terms what the IQ8 will do for solar consumers, both in the developing world, and here at home.  Here’s the video and some quick thoughts about it.

To quote the video, “Isn’t it cool?"  Well yes, as we’ve been saying for quite some time here, this is waaaay cool.  But here are some other takeaways from the video:

  • Strong endorsement for interoperability with the IQ6’s and IQ7’s that we have been installing for the past year and a half.  But no word about how this will work with earlier versions.
  • The Enpower switch - which is needed to legally isolate you from the grid - is pictured, but still no details.
  • A hint at pricing would be nice!

As far as I’m aware, this is the first, general-public-facing details about the IQ8 and Ensemble that Enphase has released.  It went live on May 28, and three days later is sitting on just under 15,000 views, with 154 up-votes to 6 down-votes.  (What is there to down vote?  Gee, SEDG, troll much?)

This will be very cool technology for our clients, but it will truly be life-changing for folks in the developing world or any place where the grid is unreliable.

Watch this space.

04/25/19

  09:57:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 629 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Shortcut Solar

Shortcut Solar Specialty: Roof Leaks!

While those crazy folks over at Shortcut Solar have many distinguishing characteristics, certainly one of the most commonly displayed is just plain shoddy work—and one of the most devastating consequences of shoddy work is a leaky roof. Check out our latest tale of cleaning up after Shortcut Solar…

We recently got asked to give a homeowner a quote for removing an existing solar installation from her garage because the roof was leaking and needed to be replaced. (The array was there when she purchased the home.)  Here’s what we found when we got there: ten panels, installed in a way that only Shortcut Solar could do, check it out…

Reverse tilt!

Ah yes, everyone’s favorite mounting method—not!—reverse tilt on a north sloping roof! Never mind that you are voiding the warranty from the racking manufacture, and putting tremendous strain on all of the components, but heck, it lets you get the panels in more or less the same plane as the south facing panels, right?  Oh, and note the “flashing” method at the base of those columns: cement (and/or mastic), well known for its ability to flex with the torque forces that the wind will exert on this “solar wing” that they have fabricated.

But wait, that’s not all, check out the fate of the south facing panels…

Tree!

Yep, they actually put the array behind a tree!  (The homeowner told us that there had been a similar tree on the left of the fountain, but it died after the array was installed.) Truly the folks at Shortcut Solar were on a roll that day!

So, sadly, we set out to remove the array in advance of the roofer coming in to do their thing.  (The homeowner generously donated the used equipment to a local city college to assist students in their PV classes.)

The details up on the roof were really appalling.  Check this out:

Tree!

That is an end clamp, attached to a rail that is actually below the level of the tile!  The tile above it was “notched” but nothing, at least by now, was in place to keep water from pouring under the broken tile. (The little bit of red mastic is a nice, esthetic, touch!)

Tree!

Or how about this thing of beauty: actually, it is kinda hard to know what they were thinking here.  I can only presume from the concrete in the rail, that they tried to anchor a piece of tile above this, but failed completely.

The panels on the south face were not as awful (apart from being behind a tree), as they had removed the tiles in the area where they were doing their attachments and put down a torch-down layer of roofing material.  But even then they could not be consistent–their single bolt attachments in some places had a 3″ lag screw, but in other areas they couldn’t be bothered and simply used a 1½” hex screw.  ‘Cause, yeah, why would you care about actually getting into the rafters?

There can be no doubt that this installation was doomed from the day it was installed, and I hate giving such bad news to nice people like this homeowner. 

This was in the City of Los Angeles – how on earth did this ever pass inspection?  Sadly, with Shortcut Solar on the job, this is the type of work you can expect. 

It doesn’t have to be like this.  Building inspectors should crack down on this sort of nonsense.  And potential solar purchasers need to do their homework better as well.  Don’t just go with the smooth talker who shows up on your doorstep - he might be working for Shortcut Solar!  Check out reviews, look for NABCEP certification, and talk to past customers.  Together we can make Shortcut Solar, and their shoddy work, a thing of the past!

04/19/19

  06:53:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 398 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar

Zillow Report: Solar Boosts Home Prices by 4.1%

The folks over at Zillow are out with a study of sale prices for homes with a solar PV system compared to those without and the results are pretty dramatic.  Nationwide, homes with a solar PV system sold on average for 4.1% more than those without.  Let’s take a look at their numbers and see what that might mean for a solar installation in the Run on Sun service area…

Let’s start with the data (always a good place to start!)…

home sale prices with PV

(Data from Zillow, Inc., graph by Run on Sun.)

The graph plots the increase in home price as both a percentage (the blue bars) and total dollars (the gold line).  New York city has the highest percentage increase (5.4%), while San Francisco, because of its sky high home values, has the highest dollar increase, a whopping $41,658!  To derive these numbers, the folks at Zillow analyzed homes “listed for sale and sold from March 1, 2018 to February 28, 2019, controlling for observable attributes of the homes, including bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, age of the home and location."  In other words, these are the very latest data possible, compiled by people who understand real estate prices!

Good looking solarOf course, Run on Sun doesn’t operate in San Francisco, let alone New York, so what does the data say for our neighborhood?  Overall, Los Angeles percentagewise lags the U.S. average - 3.6% compared to 4.1% - but because our home prices are much higher than the national average, the dollar amount is still dramatic: $23,295!  The Zillow analysis does not say how large the solar power systems were on average, but the increase in Los Angeles sales prices is more than enough to cover the cost of installing an average sized system.  

Doing the math, the Zillow study is showing an average home cost in Los Angeles of roughly $647,000.  Here in Pasadena, the average home price is a good deal higher, which would mean that the increase in the home’s value by adding solar will almost certainly cover the cost (and then some) of even a very large solar power system. To be sure, it helps if the system is installed in a way that also makes the home look better (see above), so you will want to avoid Shortcut Solar for your install!

If you are looking to make an investment in your home that will benefit you both now, and when you go to sell, forget the designer kitchen - go solar!

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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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