We usually discuss the topic of filing for the 30% Solar Tax Credit in January or February. That’s when most people who just installed solar in the previous year are getting ready to file their taxes. But by 2018 it will be too late to qualify for the 2017 tax credit. So this year we decided to cover the topic in advance of year’s end to help people save on their 2017 tax bill. (more…)
Large companies are predominant in most industries. But when it comes to rooftop solar installations, small is beautiful. Although there have been several large national-scale solar installers, in the aggregate the smaller, local companies dominate. As with most other construction businesses, local companies generally understand their local markets better and have lower overhead — enabling them to provide better customer service at lower prices.
On this week’s Energy Show we have the pleasure of speaking with Vince Battaglia, the CEO of Renova Solar. Renova started as Vince’s MBA thesis; eleven years later Renova is now the leading solar installation company in the Coachella Valley. Like many other local solar installation companies, Renova has expanded its residential solar installation business to include commercial installations, system maintenance and battery storage.
Granted, the Palm Desert area is blessed by an abundance of sunlight and high electric rates – a combination that is perfect for a thriving solar business. But dealing with the ups and downs of the Solar Coaster is challenging. For more about the challenges inherent in building and running a successful local solar business, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
Millions of Americans were using cereal boxes, telescopes, and flimsy plastic solar viewing glasses to witness the Solar Eclipse on August 21. But for workers in the solar industry — as well as homeowners and businesses who are considering rooftop solar – an eclipse of the solar industry itself looms on the horizon.
The International Trade Commission (ITC) will be deciding in September whether or not to place tariffs on imported solar panels. Since virtually all solar panels are imported, the tariffs they are considering will effectively double the price of standard solar panels. In advance of these proposed tariffs, almost all available inventory of solar panels is being purchased by large installers. As we learned in economics 101, when demand goes up and supply is constrained, prices increase. Indeed, prices for popular rooftop solar panels have already increased by 20%.
The tariff issue being considered by the ITC is complicated. On the one hand we want to build a robust U.S. solar panel manufacturing industry – which employed about 2,000 people at the end of 2016. On the other hand we want to continue the strong job growth in the entire solar industry – which employed 260,000 people at the end of 2016. Since the vast majority of U.S. solar workers are focused on installations, increasing the price of imported solar panels is likely to cause overall solar employment to decline for the first time ever.
A decision to implement tariffs or other penalties on imported solar panels is likely to be made by President Trump towards the end of the year. It is my hope that his decision carefully considers ways to continue growth in the solar industry, while at the same time developing a long-term plan to improve U.S. manufacturing. For more about the upcoming ITC case and its implications on the solar customers and the industry as a whole, Listen up to the Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
With much higher volume manufacturing, prices for solar panels have come down tremendously over the past 20 years — from about $1,000 each to less than $200. But solar panels are still very time consuming to install on a roof in a way that will last 25+ years without leaks. The majority of this rooftop work is on the flashings, roof hooks, and special roof mount components.
A few companies specialize in manufacturing solar roof mounts. As a solar contractor I like to try out new products in an effort to reduce my installation costs while still maintaining high quality installations. One of the leading roof mount companies is SolarRoofHook, with offices in Livermore, California and Rock Hill, South Carolina.
My guest on this week’s show is Rick Gentry, Executive Vice President at SolarRoofHook. Over the years Rick has been instrumental in developing new roof attachment products that are both reliable and easier to install. Please join me on this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as Rick explains the ways these roof mounts prevent leaks through the roof, the corrosion-proof fasteners that are used, and key considerations that homeowners and contractors should keep in mind when selecting roof attachment products.
Future energy sources in our homes and businesses will be a combination of rooftop solar, battery storage and power delivered by the local utility. Reliable and affordable battery storage has — to date – limited this vision to just solar and utility power. But battery storage systems have been improving rapidly, both in terms of up-front costs and overall performance. Get that image of 10,000 little AA batteries powering the new Mercedes AA class car out of your mind. Rather, envision an easy-to-install turnkey energy storage appliance designed to match up with existing and new solar installations.
To help bring solar installers up to speed on commercially available residential battery storage systems, the team at Cinnamon Solar has scheduled a series of hands-on reviews of commercially available energy storage systems. Reviews are based on the installation and usage of each system using commercially available products and software, provided by manufacturers. The intent is to provide useful real-world experiences to installers, home owners and manufacturers as Behind the Meter (BTM) battery storage systems become more popular.
The Enphase Storage System is a modular AC coupled battery storage system designed for residential customers with and without grid-tied solar power systems. Each modular battery is comprised of a 1.2 kwh lithium iron phosphate battery and 280-watt inverter in a 55 pound indoor-rated wall mounted enclosure.
The Enphase Storage System is ideal for customers who want to store locally generated solar energy or inexpensive grid energy so that this energy can be consumed during peak electric periods, thereby reducing electricity energy charges. Key benefits of the Enphase system are that the equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Since the system is AC coupled it does not require a PV system to operate, and is compatible with the entire installed base of grid-tie PV systems. Note that the Enphase AC Storage System does not provide backup power.
The simplicity and modular nature of the Enphase Storage System make it one of the most straightforward systems to design (with the Enphase AC Battery Sizing Tool), install (with the Enphase Installer Toolkit phone app), operate (with the Enlighten web portal) and maintain. Enphase is an established solar equipment supplier with a reputation for delivering good product and service quality.
For more about the Enphase Storage System, listen up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
San Jose Mercury News Op-Ed: More solar panels and battery storage at homes could prevent power failures
At 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon in June, I experienced the second power outage at my Silicon Valley home this year. Then, last weekend a transformer explosion at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation left 140,000 people in the San Fernando Valley without power. In both cases these power failures occurred during a 100+ degree heat wave.
According to PG&E, there was a “local transformer issue” in our neighborhood; the Los Angeles utility is still investigating the cause of their transformer failure.
Local transformers are those big can-shaped things at the top of utility poles. Most were installed before electric vehicles were commonplace and when temperatures were a few degrees cooler. So when people crank up their air conditioners and plug in their EVs, transformers can become overloaded and fail.
Power was out in my neighborhood for about 12 hours while PG&E deployed a crew to diagnose the problem and replace the transformer. But the blackout would not have happened if just one more home in the neighborhood had a solar or battery storage system.
The output from that incremental solar or storage system would have supplied the electricity needs of that home — and the excess solar or battery power would have flowed back to the local grid, reducing the load on that transformer and preventing its failure.
High temperatures and new electric vehicle demands are causing outages like this all over California. Solar power coupled with battery storage is the cleanest and most cost-effective solution to this problem, but only if these systems are deployed in the right place.
The challenge is to get the power from remote utility solar plants to the homes and businesses that need it. Unfortunately, the local power grid is the weakest link, and it is expensive to modernize neighborhood grids to meet today’s higher power demands and two-way energy flows.
There are two solutions to modernizing overloaded local grids. The “business as usual” solution is to pay the local utility for upgrades that include bigger transformers, wiring, control systems and battery storage. Unfortunately, ratepayers get stuck with higher electric bills for this.
A much better solution is to encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar and storage systems. These customer-owned “Behind the Meter” (BTM) energy systems do not require expensive transmission and distribution grid upgrades. Since investments in them are made by homeowners and businesses, utility ratepayers are not burdened with upgrade costs.
With over half a million solar-powered homes and businesses, California leads the country in both solar power generation and solar jobs. This was the result of public policies that encouraged solar installations. As a result, solar costs have come down so much over the past 15 years that incentives are no longer needed.
We have the same opportunity now with battery storage systems as California moves toward an electric grid powered 100 percent by renewables. Two policies will help us achieve this goal.
First, as other states have done, we should ensure that there are no arbitrary limits on a customer’s ability to install solar and battery storage. Second, we need to reduce the up-front costs of battery storage systems, which are relatively expensive at this early stage of the market.
To jump-start the battery storage market and improve local grid reliability, California has proposed SB-700, the Energy Storage Initiative. It mimics the California Solar Initiative in a way that supports home or business-owned energy storage systems with incentives that decrease as costs decline. With policies like this, electric customers throughout California will be the first to benefit from a modernized electric grid that is both lower cost and more reliable.
Originally published July 12, 2017. Barry Cinnamon is the CEO of Cinnamon Solar and previously founded Akeena/Westinghouse Solar. He wrote this for The Mercury News.