Future Rooftop Solar Costs – Getting to $2.50/watt

The solar industry is one of our most obvious success stories. Our industry directly employs 261,000 people. We generate energy that is both clean and renewable. And we generate this energy at prices that are less than conventional utility power – as low as 6 cents per kwh. But the industry is not resting on its laurels: installation costs for residential solar will continue to decline (BTW, what’s a laurel?). (more…)

Protecting Solar Consumers – Interview with Tom Kimbis from SEIA

The promise to homeowner’s is simple: install solar panels on your roof and save money on your electric bills. There are about 10,000 companies in the U.S that offer these solar installation services because they believe in both the economic and environmental benefits of rooftop solar.

While the vast majority of installers are ethical and dedicated to providing long-term benefits to their customers, like every other industry there are individuals looking to make a quick buck. Because the financing, energy savings and warranties for solar systems are complicated, homeowners can be misled. Hence the need for solar consumer protection measures.

The solar industry is doing a great job of self-regulating, and heading up these efforts is Tom Kimbis, the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show as Tom talks about SEIA’s Consumer Protection and Ethics Committees, as well as SEIA’s “Consumer Guide to Solar Power” and Residential Disclosure Forms.

DOE Jobs Report

In January the DOE published their annual jobs report. The U.S. energy industry employees 6.4 million people. The largest two employment categories are oil extraction and solar, with solar growing the fastest among all fuel types. According to the DOE Jobs Report, by the end of 2016 there were 374,000 American’s employed at least partially by the solar industry. Paralleling the DOE jobs study, the Solar Foundation recently released their own employment study indicating that 260,000 American’s working directly in the solar industry – one out of every 50 new jobs created.

Although the technology of solar generation is fundamentally different than fossil-generated electricity (lots of up front construction but free fuel) the breakdown of workers is very similar to other electric power generation sources. 37% of solar employees work in installation or maintenance positions, 26% in supply chain positions, 18% in manufacturing and 15% in professional services.

The majority of U.S. photovoltaic generation is utility-scale, roughly 28,081,000 MWh, compared to 16,974,000 MWh of distributed solar generation (note that this is energy generated, not capacity). However, in 2016, over half of the nation’s solar workers were spending the majority of their time working on residential solar. This imbalance reflects the fact that utility-scale generation typically produces more MWh’s per labor unit installed compared to distributed generation. On the other hand, residential and commercial solar provides more value to customers. Power generated at utility-scale facilities costs 5 cents/kwh, totaling $1.4 billion for this energy. Power generated on residential and commercial rooftops cost an average of 10 cents/kwh, but the savings to consumers were even greater at $1.7 billion.

So by all accounts, solar energy is a jobs engine. Although there may be environmental headwinds from the Trump Administration, there are no signs that the economics for solar-generated electricity will falter any time soon. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as we delve into the technologies and market segments that make up the U.S.’s energy industry.

Backup Power

We’re in the middle of winter – and there’s some serious precipitation. It’s snowing in much of the country, and California is finally getting a lot of rain. Although these storms are good for replenishing our water supplies, wind, rain and snow are the biggest causes of power failures.

Our society has become almost totally dependent on electricity. Not only for such necessities of 21st century life as cellphones, TVs and WiFi, but also for former necessities such as heat and hot water. Pilot lights in natural gas equipment are a thing of the past: most new furnaces, hot water heaters and stoves need electricity to operate. We can’t even depend on functioning fireplaces anymore; some new construction codes prohibit wood-burning fireplaces.

Understandably, people are even more interested in backup power these days – and many people expect that rooftop solar can provide usable power when the grid is down. For safety reasons, almost all solar power systems need reference power from the grid to operate. So from a practical standpoint there are only two options for home or business backup power: a generator, or a solar system with a battery backup powered inverter.

There’s no doubt in my mind that eventually almost every solar system will be equipped with battery storage. We are just beginning to see the first solar and battery storage systems that have done a reasonable job integrating cost effective hardware with functional software in a turnkey system. On this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World we’ll talk about the pluses and minuses of these new battery backup power systems, as well as old-fashioned fossil fuel generators.

Five Easy Ways to Compare Home Solar Proposals

Home solar systems are pretty simple: put some solar panels on your roof, wire them up, get connected by your utility, and enjoy cheap electricity for 25+ years. But the technology and options can be confusing – especially as solar salespeople strive to point out differences in their products and services. I’ve watched customer’s eyes glaze over as I talk about the differences between poly and mono crystalline cells, string and micro-inverters, degradation rates and warranties. This only makes comparing solar proposals more difficult.

Solar panels are a commodity sold on a $/watt basis. Many of the solar panels get their cells from the same sources in Asia – just as different brands of gasoline are manufactured in the same refineries. As a result, two homes with the same total wattage of solar panels on the roof with the same exposure will have virtually identical annual energy production.

Listen up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as we talk about a simple way to compare solar proposals and quotes on a dollar per watt basis. We also discuss important home solar contract terms, inverter choices, monitoring, and the ways to pick a good installer.

Ten Rooftop Solar Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes – and I’ve certainly made my share of them. On this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World we will discuss in detail some of the most common homeowner and installer mistakes that I’ve seen over the past 15+ years – as well as the actions we can take to do things right the first time.

The vast majority of solar installers are honest and ethical; they truly believe in their products and company. Nevertheless, there are some companies (and unfortunately rogue employees) who take advantage of customers. Here are a few of the solar mistakes I have observed during the sales and installation process:

  1. Poor installation practices – missed rafters, inadequate safety procedures, etc.
  2. Employees who are not properly trained or incentivized – compensation per kw, poor quality control, etc.
  3. Oversizing the system – panels in the shade, orphan panels, stuffing the roof, etc.
  4. Overestimating system output or dollar savings – easy to do by fudging inputs for design and proposal software
  5. Financial or contractual monkey business – poor explanations of actual contract terms, escalation rates, warranty obligations, etc.

Since solar is still relatively new, what customers learn about solar technology, installation processes and savings comes from the solar salesperson. With a little bit of education and caution, homeowners can avoid these common solar mistakes:

  1. Comparing solar estimates based on total costs — not the more accurate $/watt basis
  2. Lack of understanding of solar financing options and terms – escalation rates, buyouts, warranties, etc.
  3. Getting pressured into buying immediately – the “drop close,” special pricing, artificial incentive deadlines, etc.
  4. Hiring an inexperienced or improperly licensed contractor — usually not from a referral
  5. Installing a system that is undersized for current or near future needs – adding on to a system at a later date is usually expensive