Every time I fly into a city I’m amazed at the number of naked, white, empty flat commercial rooftops that should be producing megawatts of power. Even in solar friendly cities such as San Jose there are only a few blue rooftops that one can see from the air. On this week’s Energy Show we’ll be talking about the tremendous opportunity for installing solar on flat roof commercial buildings.
There are three reasons why commercial solar hasn’t grown as quickly as residential and utility solar. The first is customer economics: most commercial buildings are occupied by tenants who pay the electric bills, so the building owner does not have a compelling financial motivation to invest in solar to reduce the tenant’s operating costs. The second reason is that many building owners do not have the up-front capital for installing solar, nor do they have the long-term credit viability for a PPA or lease. The third reason is that, even with the ITC and low solar panel prices, the payback is still three to five years — too long for businesses making shorter term investments.
Fortunately, technology for installing solar on flat roof commercial buildings has continued to improve, reducing the mounting system and labor costs substantially. These new mounting systems are able to maintain the roof’s structural integrity, while at the same time addressing seismic and water intrusion issues.
My special guest on this week’s Energy Show is Costa Nicalaou, CEO of PanelClaw. They have completed nearly 10,000 flat roof projects in 30 countries and over 2,000 permit offices. Please listen up as Costa explains PanelClaw’s newest products, and how they provide supporting engineering and permitting services to their network of commercial rooftop installers.
When you fly into just about any city you will see hundreds of white commercial flat rooftops. These rooftops are just begging for solar panels to generate electricity for the building — and reflect the heat to reduce the air conditioning load. With the 30% investment tax credit and new depreciation rules, the economics are pretty good. Paybacks are often less than five years with immediate positive cash flow for financed systems.
But marketing solar to commercial customers is challenging. Often the building is leased, with utility payments made by the tenant — not the building owner. Although the installation of commercial rooftop solar is relatively straightforward, the marketing, sales and financing processes can be complex.
When I think of solar marketing I instantly think of Tor Valenza, AKA Solar Fred. He is the guy who has been wearing the hat for over ten years in the solar industry. Tor has build a terrific brand for himself, as well as a number of well known solar clients. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show as Tor walks us through his five step program for commercial solar marketing.
To slow the global warming trend, a number of states have committed to the aspirational goal of 100% carbon-free energy. As a species that literally evolved from burning wood and hydrocarbons, how can we possibly run our modern lives and economy without fossil fuels?
We can indeed achieve this transition quickly and economically. First, by converting all power generation to renewable, non-carbon sources. And second, by converting all fossil-fuel burning vehicles and appliances to electricity. Steady progress towards these conversions is being made. For example, 32% of California’s retail power came from renewable energy in 2018. The state is well on the way to converting to 100% renewable electricity. Use of EVs is growing steadily, and new building codes mandate the use of rooftop solar and electric appliances instead of natural gas.
The challenge is with the existing stock of residential and commercial buildings. Homes and businesses predominantly use natural gas for space heating, hot water heating and cooking. That’s where the concept of Whole House Electrification come in. Whole House Electrification is conceptually simple: replace gas appliances with electric appliances. In reality, one needs an energy audit to prioritize these conversions, then hire five different specialty contractors to do the work: insulation, solar, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and pool. It can be a daunting task.
Fortunately there are some pioneers out there – one of whom is my friend Howard Wenger. Howard was also a pioneer in the solar industry, with stints at AstroPower, PowerLight and SunPower. Please listen up to this week’s Energy Show as Howard discusses his experiences as he converted his house to 100% electricity, supplied — naturally — by solar.
In the early days of solar and storage, virtually every system used lead acid batteries to store daytime energy and use this energy at night. Although these systems functioned well, they required a lot of maintenance (you can tell old-time battery installers from the acid burns in their jeans), were quite heavy, had complicated control systems and had limited lifetimes. Net metering alleviated the need for battery storage. But now with changes in net metering, Time of Use (TOU) rates and poor grid reliability, batteries are experiencing a resurgence.
Part of the reason for this battery comeback is that new lithium ion battery storage systems overcome almost all the disadvantages of lead acid systems (they are still somewhat expensive). These systems are designed to be installed next to your solar inverter, have integrated battery management and control systems, and require no maintenance over their guaranteed 10 year lifespans.
Utilities are moving their peak electric rates from mid day to the late afternoon and evening when the sun doesn’t shine. With battery storage, customers can time-shift their energy use — running their homes and businesses from stored energy in their battery, and replenishing that battery the next day when the sun is shining. Many of these battery systems can also provide backup power during a grid outage — or one of the “Planned Power Outages” that utilities implement to prevent power line-caused fires.
The best news is that many states, including California, provide rebates to reduce the costs of battery storage systems. Please tune in to this week’s Energy Show as Josh Weiner from Sepi Solar joins us to explain the codes and standards that apply to the installation of energy storage systems.
Barry Cinnamon has been blogging about the Solar Industry since 2007.
Barry hosts The Energy Show, a weekly 30 minute talk show that runs every Saturday at 1:30 PM on KDOW Radio AM in San Jose California.
Every week Barry provides practical money-saving tips on ways to reduce your home and business energy consumption.
Barry Cinnamon heads up Cinnamon Energy Systems (a San Jose residential and commercial solar and energy storage contractor) and Spice Solar (suppliers of built-in solar racking technology). After 10,000+ installations at Akeena Solar and Westinghouse Solar, he’s developed a pretty good perspective on the real-world economics of rooftop solar — as well as the best products and services for homeowners, manufacturers and installers. His rooftop tinkering led to the development of integrated racking (released in 2007), AC solar modules (released in 2009), and Spice Solar (the fastest way to install rooftop solar modules).
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