Prepaid Solar Leases (2012~30)

Prepaid Solar Leases (2012~30)

One and done! We hear that all the time at SkyPower. “I want to pay for my panels and never think about it again.”

You can do that. It’s called a “One-Pay” lease or sometimes a “Prepaid” lease. There is NOTHING wrong, financially, with a One-Pay Solar Lease. If you have the cash and really hate the idea of the bank making money on your money, then go for it. It’s a perfectly acceptable form of solar financing and we do it all the time.

Why would you go with a One-Pay Solar Lease rather than simply buying the thing outright? The answer is depreciation. The bank gets it and you don’t … and it’s a lot of money. The depreciation allowance on your solar array could be $10,000 or more. This is an investment, IRS thing that you don’t get if you buy the solar panels yourself. Sure, there are plenty of tax goodies that you do get, but this is not one of them and it’s actually the biggest. If you “lease” the system, the bank gets it and will share some of this with you. Expect something like $2,500 or more in cost reduction between a One-Pay Solar Lease and a single pay purchase. Unless you hate the banks and are willing to pay for your feelings, leasing solar panels (even a One-Pay Solar Lease) is a very good deal for them and for you!

That said, we don’t think that One-Pay Solar Leases are the best way to go solar … a good way, but not the best and here’s why:

• Would you prepay your electric bill for the next twenty years? No … so why pay for your panels in one shot when you don’t have to?

• The actual savings is really minimal … maybe $8/mo. It’s better than nothing, but not much better.

• If you sell your house in the next ten years, you’ll get that money back anyway and not have to shell it out now. It’s called a “Solar Flip.” Check out our blogs on that.

• You must have something better to do with your money. If not, well then, okay do it … otherwise, pay for your panels the same way you pay for power … monthly.

Do the math and play with all the various scenarios and you’ll see what we see. Lease your solar panels … and do it with the lowest starting payment you can. Keep your savings or use them as you like. You will be money ahead each and every month that you own your house and end up with the same savings anyway you do it … so why not do it with lower payments today. Tomorrow will certainly come and you will save then, too … but even with higher payments, inflation will make them worth less so why not have the most money now.

When it comes time to retire, if you still have the house (or another one with solar panels), your cost for power will be next to nothing because even a monthly-pay lease will end and then the solar power is free forever.

That’s what we think … but remember, the only mistake you can make is to let the power company make power and sell it to you at a profit. Going Solar is smart … no matter how you do it.

 

Justin Bieber’s July 4th Energy Policy (2012~29)

Justin Bieber’s July 4th Energy Policy (2012~29)

What could Justin Bieber or July 4th possible have to do with energy policy? The answer is … Justin and July 4th are the current most searched upon word sequences on the Internet and if you want to be seen, you need to include these words in your blog title. Energy Policy is really the topic that we need to discuss, but if that’s all we used for the title, no one would ever find it.

We found this out last week when our blog on the “The Longest Day” hit the internets and our hit count quintupled. Here, take a look. It’s nutty … but true.

Our hits have been mostly flat until that blog post came up and whammo … instant web recognition. Looking at the Google data, we found that this was all because of the search phrase “longest day” and the upcoming summer solstice. It put us on the first page (between #5 and #6 on the list) of Google and our counts went crazy. Oh sure, you’re gonna’ say, “Great … but none of those folks wanted to know about solar electric panels. What good did it do you?” To which we rely, “Dunno?”

It’s way to early to tell you all if our sudden web fame is a good thing or a no-thing. It certainly can’t hurt … or at least we don’t think it can.

So, that brings us to Justin and energy policy. We could have picked Kim Kardashian or Kate Upton (apparently her bikini string broke this week … oh my!) and maybe have accomplished the same rush to the SkyPower website … but Justin crushes the ladies when it comes to searches … at least this week. Google tells us where the people come from and what computers or phones they are using when they visit the SkyPower website, but they don’t tell us their age. Anyone want to bet on the average age of the SkyPower web visitors this coming week?

Would it be so bad to have a hip, solar electric website pop up on a teenager’s screen … if only for 16 seconds? Maybe that’s the way to change the world? We talk to “old” folks all the time about solar and most just don’t get it. Look around … our world is run by oldsters and it’s a mess. Clearly, they just don’t get it!

Justin Bieber probably likes electricity. The amount needed to run just one of his shows is no doubt a bunch … maybe 1,000 solar panels worth? He’s probably not excited about destroying the environment or cutting down trees or mountains to put on his musical spectacle. Gas for his tour bus and trucks is another thing … he  no doubt tries to do what he can.

Not sure that anyone has asked Justin Bieber about energy policy. Let’s do that on July 4th (another monster search term) and see what he says. It certainly couldn’t be any dumber than what we are doing now when you ask Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

Back next week with a report on what happened after we post this. It could be huge!

 

The Ten Minute Window (2012~28)

The Ten Minute Window (2012~28)

It is possible that you may be new to these SkyPower blogs. Somehow, you have missed the four hundred and fifty blogs, radio shows, videos and other postings that we have put up on the web over the past couple of years. It might be the case that this article is the first one of ours that you have ever seen. If so … welcome! You are about to find out that we are solar engineers engaged in the business of putting up the finest solar electric power systems available for homes and small businesses in the sunny southwest United States. We write these blogs in an effort to document the trials and tribulations of the solar world for those that are using or thinking about using solar electricity to power their lives. For those that read this in the next year or so, it may help to understand what you are trying to do. If you are reading this sometime after 2014, then let it stand as a mark in solar history. This is how things seem to be right now.

Make no mistake, SkyPower wants to be your solar company. We want to sell you solar. We make our living selling solar and if you don’t buy into what we are saying or do agree, but go with another company … well, that’s not what we were hoping for when we offered up our knowledge. If you are reading this AND you are going to buy solar … but you are not going to do it with SkyPower … then STOP! If you are not in Arizona, then it’s okay to keep going. If you are in Arizona and you are going solar soon and you are doing it with another company, then why are you ready this? Read their stuff (as goofed up as it probably is) and buy their kool-aid. If four hundred articles about solar and SkyPower’s value proposition doesn’t win you over, then what more could we do?

We have found that the “go solar” decision happens unlike any other sale ever studied. It’s very strange that something so big and important is bought or discarded in so short a time with so little information. We call in the “Ten Minute Window.” It’s actually two five minute windows, but that doesn’t sound as cool or as easy to explain.

The first “window” is where the magic happens. Somehow, somewhere, someway a person decides that making their own power is the way they want to go. There are a million ways for this to happen and a million more places, but it almost always ends up with a “light bulb” going off in their heads (powered by coal from a big utility with a big utility bill) telling them that the time has come. It could be that you’re driving around, seeing other houses with solar. It could be just after opening a power bill. It could be after seeing a newspaper article on solar or it could be after a neighbor or friend does it. One thing we’re pretty sure of is that very little we can do here at SkyPower can make that moment happen. We simply don’t have enough marketing power. Google doesn’t have enough marketing power to make you go solar.

It happens in as flash. “Oh my. I need to go solar.”

No amount of web advertising or other media input can make this happen … actually, all of the media and advertising make this happen. The combined weight of society and all the messages that we all get each day add up to make it happen. Some are plusses … solar is cheaper. Some are negatives … solar stocks are down. Some are informative and some are just plain stupid. The oil and coal guys (through Fox “News”) tell you that solar is bad while at the same time they are buying solar companies because the see the writing on the wall. They didn’t get to own everything by passing up opportunities … especially those as easy to see as solar.

The solar guys (like us) tell you that it works … because it does. Even so, massive adoption of any new thing takes time. People are people and especially here in Arizona, nothing happens fast. It’s hard to make an important decision when it’s 115˚ outside!

Once the first half of our ten minute window happens and you’ve decided to go solar, the second one happens and that’s our one and only chance to sell you on SkyPower. It’s in that second-half of the Ten Minute Window that we are hoping you read this and decide to hire SkyPower to build your solar array. It only takes five minutes because that’s all the time you will give it. Your life is too busy and this is just not interesting enough to give it more time than that. We have five minutes to gain your trust. If we do, the deal is done. If not, then Solar City will get to build another crappy array … because you just don’t care to do it great and their green hybrid cars running around town have convinced you that they know what they are doing. (The $28million in warranty repairs they needed to perform last year did not come into your decision. Too bad!)

The “go solar” decision is made just that fast. Five minutes in … five minutes out. After that, it’s just education and overcoming buyer’s remorse that takes up a bit of time. If we didn’t want to be polite or hope for referrals that never happen, we’d instruct our sales team to say “thanks for the ice tea” and leave after five minutes when it appears that the folks in front of them are not buying what we are selling. It’s very clear. It’s also that clear when the folks are on board. We tell them stuff, but they don’t care. “Just take care of us.” is all they say as they sign on to do solar.

… and we do take care of them.

There are other sales that happen this fast … perhaps all sales, but this is solar and it’s a big deal. We are constantly amazed at how little folks care about something so important to them. Some just take electricity for granted and don’t know or care what it costs. They will be surprised soon enough and find that their attitude was very expensive. Some care about their power, but buy solar like they buy refrigerators. Too bad. It could have been done better.

We only had ten minutes and unfortunately, no solar company is big enough to do that … at least not yet. If you find this blog in that window or remember it for some reason when that window opens for you, call or email. We’ll be there to build great things and that makes these articles all worth while.

 

 

The Eclipse Cost Me a Nickel (2012~27)

The Eclipse Cost Me a Nickel (2012~27)

 

For those of us out here in the Valley of the Sun on this beautiful late spring evening, something strange happened … the setting Sun happened to cross almost right behind the Moon. It’s called an annular eclipse and it’s pretty rare.  Watching this happen from the side of the McDowell Mountains is a very fun thing to do … made even more fun by the fact that one can actually see it happening and perhaps more importantly, feel it happening. As we have discussed in blogs past, the light desert air has no thermal mass. This is why it’s so much cooler in the shade here.

When the Sun’s rays were blocked by the Moon … 85% of them around here … it became noticeable darker and more noticeably cooler. It dropped from 108˚ to 95˚ in  the span of a half hour or so. Even for the desert, this is odd … and welcome. Patio suppers around here this evening were something special. Cool and eclipsey!

In addition to the Sun setting behind the Moon tonight, we also are having a series of forest fires around Arizona. This is not unexpected either. It’s hot and dry here and without rain for most of 2012, the mountains are perfectly set up for fires … and it’s happening. There is one modest blaze north of the Valley that is putting smoke and soot into the air. As the eclipsing Sun set through this haze, it made a truly spectacular sight. Check the web tomorrow. Surely someone with a great camera (and filter) got a shot of it.

At SkyPower, we are solar artists and engineers and we were thinking about how much power this cost us. The short answer is very little. Had this happened during mid-day, then perhaps it would have been more dramatic. The eclipse started at 5:40pm and was maxed out an hour later. By sundown, it was all but done. There is absolutely no question that blocking 85% of the Sun can be “seen” by the solar arrays that we have built around town. The thing is, that 85% of the setting Sun is not really a big deal … maybe a nickel. Here are two pics to show you that this is true.

The picture on the left is a graph of the power generated yesterday at sundown. Take a look at the “tail” just after 6:30pm. Notice how it trails off a bit before going down just after 7:15pm. Now look at today’s graph on the right. Hot off the presses and right after the eclipse. See how the line drops straight down at 6:30pm and never recovers. This is because by the time the Moon had stopped blocking the Sun, they were both so low in the sky as to generate insufficient voltage to power up the panels again. We call this “resting” for the night.

If this had happened in the daytime, the picture would have been similar to a cloud passing by and probably cost us a buck or more.

 

The forest fire probably costs us more in power than the eclipse if for no other reason that it lasts longer and ultimately reduces the Sun’s rays over a more important part of the day. We’ll check it, but we already know the answer … and then there’s soot and dust. Oh, my. So much to consider. At least we start with insane amounts of sunlight to start with so if we loose a little, it’s no big deal. A nickel here and a nickel there … could add up to something over time.

The next eclipse for the Valley is in 193 years … July 17, 2205. Hmmm? Wonder what power will cost then?

 

 

 

The Longest Day (2012~26)

The Longest Day (2012~26)

It won’t surprise you to hear that the longest day of the year is coming up in just a few weeks. In 2012, it looks like June 20th will be a few seconds longer than June 19th and a few seconds longer than June 21st. The Sun goes up and the Sun goes down. When one is in the solar business, this becomes a fairly important part of the day. We think about the Sun. People pay us to think about the Sun. People pay us to harvest as much of it’s light energy as possible and then turn it into something useful, like electricity, and then put that into their homes. At SkyPower, over the years, we’ve actually gotten pretty good at it … in no small part because we think about everyday.

One of those days last week happened on the way home from a new home getting one of our solar arrays. The Sun was setting in the rear view mirror and it “dawned” on us (no pun intended) that the Sun was already set for the folks in the southern part of the city. There was just the last hint of light for the northern city dwellers and then it all of our inverters would be “resting” for the night. We know that the days are not the same length from season to season, but we also know that the days are not the same length depending on where you are. The longest day in Chicago this year will be 15 hours, 13 min and 44 seconds long. That same day here in the Valley will only be 14 hours, 22 minutes and 20 seconds long … 51 minutes and 24 seconds less!

Hmmm? If a summer day in Chicago is longer than in Phoenix and it is more northerly, then it stands to reason that a summer day in northern Cave Creek is longer than that same day in southern Sun Lakes. But how much longer and is it enough to be measured and if it is, then what might that be worth in extra sunlight and consequently, solar electric power? The engineers (geeks) at SkyPower wanted to know … and here’s what we found:

Chicago is at 41.90˚ north latitude. Phoenix is 33.43˚. If one divides the latitude difference by the length of day difference, you’d find that each degree south you travel on the summer solstice shortens your day by 6.07 minutes. The tricky thing about this is that the Valley “recovers” this lost time in the winter when the days here are longer than up north. After all, all days average 12 hours long … but the winter days here use off-peak power while the summer days use expensive on-peak power so it makes a difference in your electric bill.

Cave Creek is 0.61˚ farther north than Sun Lakes and enjoys an extra 3 minutes and 42 seconds of Sun each day in June (a minute and half at dawn and another minute and a half at dusk). At 16.5¢ for each kilowatt hour at on-peak rates, this difference equals 0.51¢/day of extra power if you live in the northern Valley. There are 183 days of extra time in the north … worth a total of $0.93 and 183 days of extra time in the south worth $0.31. Subtract it out and you’ll find that a house in northern Scottsdale gets 62¢ more power from the Sun each year than the same house in Gilbert!

Except for one thing (actually two), dust and monsoon storms. It might be dustier in the south because that is where the haboobs start … but it might be cloudier in the north because that is often where summer monsoon storms begin. It’s all very hard to know for sure. There are so many factors that go into the actually production of power and length of day is just one of them.

The next time you are driving at dawn or dusk here in the Valley (or anywhere), it might be fun the consider that the day is longer or shorter by a measurable amount in places that you can actually see … and when that daylight is collected for electric power, that means money!

Renewable Portfolio Standard (2012~25)

To: Senator Max Baucus and Senator Lamar Alexander
From: Brett Dinner, Duke University (SkyPower Intern)
Re: National Renewable Portfolio Standard
Date: 4/24/2012

This memorandum is written to advocate for a national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to address

the national environmental and health risks caused by electricity generation.


Coal, natural gas, and nuclear power generation destroy all aspects of our environment: our land, water, ecology and health. Renewables preserve our terrain from destruction and toxic exposure. Coal is responsible for the annihilation of our land through strip mining, mountain top removal, and coal ash. The 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in 2008 have converted 900 acres of residential land into uninhabitable toxic waste dumps, necessitating $1.2 of clean-up costs, according to TVA in December 2011. Nuclear power generation additionally contributes to surface exposure of radioactive pollution from mining, processing and transporting nuclear fuel, according to the “Nuclear Energy” information page from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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Renewables conserve our water supply. 2006 estimates from U.S. Geological Survey that nearly 136 billion gallons per day of freshwater withdrawals are due to coal, natural gas, and nuclear power generation. Thermoelectric generation ranks only slightly behind agricultural irrigation as the largest source of freshwater withdrawals in the U.S. Recovery of fossil fuels also contributes to freshwater withdrawal. A 2011 EPA report states that 2 to 6 million gallons of water are required to fracture one horizontal well in a shale gas formation.

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In addition, power generation contaminates our water supply and aquatic environments. Coal ash continues to contaminate our rivers and streams with arsenic and lead. The EPA’s “Nuclear Energy” information page shows that nuclear power plants also affect ground water and surface water with discharged heavy metals, salt build up, and radioactive elements. In addition, the EPA is currently conducting a hydraulic fracturing study to determine whether fracturing subjects our groundwater to toxic chemicals in addition to natural gas leaks.

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Renewable energy does not threaten American’s safety. We cannot permit another nuclear catastrophe, like Fukushima, to ever happen again. The Fukushima Power Plant explosion and meltdown on March 11, 2011 resulted in levels of radioactive iodine-131 recorded at a new high of 4,385 times the legal limit, magnifying the cancer risk, according to 2011 news reports by ABC and Times. We cannot continue to impose this risk on Americans.

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Renewable energy production does not produce air pollution. Electricity generation accounts for 41.6% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, making electricity generation the U.S.’s leading cause of climate change, according to the EPA’s 2010 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report. Air toxins from coal and natural gas particularly threaten the health of the very young, very old, and those with heart and respiratory issues. According to the report “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal” in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, carbon emissions’ climate impacts on land use, energy consumption, and food prices cost the U.S. $205 billion annually.

Methane, natural gas’s primary component, is more than 20 times as effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere as CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Further, a 2012 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. concludes that replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas-fired power plants may not lead to net reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

A National Renewable Portfolio Standard is needed to ensure the nationwide implementation of environmentally safe energy sources.

Currently, 29 states and Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico have an RPS. An additional 8 states have renewable energy goals. Mandated renewable percentages (ratios of electricity generated by renewables to total electricity generated) range from Maine’s 40% by 2020 to North Carolina’s 12.5% by 2021. With existing RPS’s proven success of increasing renewable energy, the National RPS is the next logical step is to expand renewable energy development to all states.

The National RPS should require by 2025 15% renewable energy for all large utilities, 10% renewable energy for all small utilities, and 5% renewable energy for the smallest utilities.

• Large utilities are defined as utilities with more than 3% of the state load.
• Small utilities are defined as those with more than 1.5%, but less than 3% of state load.
• Smallest utilities are defined as those with less than 1.5% of the state’s load.

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Each electricity producer would be required to maintain a minimum of the renewable percentage requirement indefinitely. Given current RPSs across a variety of geographic locations, all states have the capacity to comply with this set of renewable energy requirements.
The proposed legislation is intended to serve as a baseline RPS for states. State governments are able to create stricter requirements to the National RPS as they wish for their state’s RPS. To increase state’s feasibility to do so, the proposed RPS would utilize the current general structure of states’ RPSs.

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National RPS Compliance

Energy producers would receive Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) in order to account for renewable energy production. 1 REC represents 1 MWh of renewable energy production. RECs give utilities the ability to elect whether to invest in renewable energy infrastructure or purchase from other renewable energy producers.

Failure to comply with the RPS requirement would subject electricity providers, regardless of size, to a non-compliance fee per MWh of renewable energy shortfall. Civil penalties for non-compliance would be paid to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Civil penalties would not be automatically assessed to electricity providers that fail to comply with a sufficient number of RECs. The proposed legislation would establish “Renewable Energy Credit Borrowing,” allowing for flexible compliance. Electricity providers would be able to borrow RECs by submitting a compliance plan to the FERC. The compliance plan would be required to demonstrate that sufficient RECs to meet the RPS requirement for each year of noncompliance would be earned within the next 3 calendar years. Electricity providers would be required to pay the FERC a civil penalty for failure to repay borrowed RECs.

 

We must develop broad support for the proposed RPS throughout the following Senate and House committees:
• Energy and Natural Resources Committee of the Senate
• Environment and Public Works Committee of the Senate
• Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives
• Natural Resources Committee of the House of Representatives

Chairman Bingaman, who previously proposed a national RPS in 2009, is willing to lead the new National RPS through Congress. All senators of the majority party of the listed Senate committees have shown to be proponents of a RPS and all but one senator of the majority party represents a state with a RPS or a renewable energy goal. Therefore, each senator would be able to highlight outcomes of current state regulation. However, resistance to the proposed legislation is expected from the Energy and Commerce Committee and Natural Resources Committee of the House, particularly from Chairmen Upton and Hastings.

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It is critical that joint hearings take place both between the listed Senate Committees and between listed House Committees due to shared interest between committees. Joint hearings would help the committees coalesce and determine necessary changes in the National RPS design. In addition, joint hearings would receive a larger audience, increasing the hearings’ effectiveness.
Joint hearing participation by electricity companies, public utility commissions, supporting committee members and the FERC are recommended to dispel resistance from opposing committee members and the oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear industries. Industry has demonstrated its support of the RPS.
As each of the nation’s 20 largest utilities already participates in a state RPS, utilities can dispel the concerns of senators who are proponents of fossil fuels. In addition, given that public utility commissions regulate state RPSs, they are the most informed for creating an effective RPS. Electricity companies, of all sizes, would emphasize that fossil fuel companies can thrive in the renewable energy industry. The public utility commissions would provide feedback regarding their state’s RPS and the proposed National RPS.

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It is important that the FERC, as the program administrator under the proposed legislation, elaborates on the details of its implementation strategy. The FERC would lead the nationwide implementation of the RPS. Explanation of the implementation process would show the feasibility and potential effectiveness of the proposed legislation. Such topics would include the applicable renewable energy sources, the compliance monitoring mechanism, and a newly established Clean Energy Bank. For more information on these topics, please see the appendix.

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As a global leader, the U.S. must act responsibly by mobilizing the National RPS to protect our citizens, plants, and animals. The U.S. has the power to reduce health and environmental risks caused by electricity generation not only domestically, but internationally. Other countries will follow our lead. We must act now.

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Appendix:
The compliance monitoring would call for the expansion of current electronic REC tracking systems from a regional level to a national level. Each electronic REC tracking system employs the same technology. The FERC, electricity companies, and public utility commissions should each attest the ease and effectiveness of electronic REC tracking systems. Additionally, the national REC tracking system would ease the FERC’s administrative burden of compliance monitoring.
The FERC would administer a newly established Clean Energy Bank. The Clean Energy Bank would aid the domestic development and deployment of renewable technologies. To meet these ends, it would provide utilities financing options, including loans, letters of credit, and insurance products. As well, it would oversee the REC borrowing program.
The FERC defines the following renewable sources:

• Photovoltaics
• Solar Thermal Electric
• Wind
• Hydroelectric
• Tidal Energy
• Wave Energy
• Ocean Thermal
• Biomass
• Biodiesel
• Geothermal Electric
• Geothermal Heat Pumps
• Geothermal Direct-Use
• Fuel Cells using Renewable Fuels
• Landfill Gas
• Municipal Solid Waste
• Solar Water Heat
• Solar Space Heat
• Solar Thermal Process Heat
• Solar Pool Heating
• Solar Space Cooling
• Solar HVAC
• Energy Storage
• CHP (when the source fuel is an eligible renewable energy resource)
• Anaerobic Digestion

When No One Is Looking (2012~24)

When No One is Looking (2012~24)

It’s the times when no one is looking that determines ones character. Stopping at the red light in the middle of the night when no one is around or leaving your money on the counter when the clerk is away … these are the things we do … just because they are the right things to do. No one knows … except us … and that is enough. That should be more than enough.

It really is this way in the solar business. Not because no one is looking, but rather because no one knows what to look for even when they are looking. Inspectors (and some cities don’t have any!) are not yet educated or motivated to know what is right and what is slipshod. Also, it is absolutely possible to build a safe, code compliant solar project that is just plain terrible. You can use inferior products that are legally permissible. You can assemble things in poor fashion that results in little or no power. You can even point the panels the wrong way or have them in constant shade and no one will call you out on it. Worst of all, if you are a solar contractor, you can do these things and your customers won’t ever know … or at least won’t know until you are long gone.

The solar biz is not the only enterprise with this problem. In fact, all businesses have this. It’s just that the building and construction world has it … more. There are walls and pipes and lots of invisible places when you build something and these places are ripe for cutbacks and poor workmanship. Steelwork with loose rivets, plumping with insufficient solder joints, auto engines with inadequate gaskets or even homes with knotty wood … all of these things are not just possible … they are common and most folks have no idea … and even worse, simply do not care. “Do it cheap!” has become the rallying cry for those that no longer have long term expectations.

Turns out “cheap” does not necessarily mean “crappy.” In the solar world, there are two kinds of “cheap” … based upon the two kinds of things that folks are buying. You can go “cheap” on the stuff of solar and end up with a lot less of the thing that you really are trying to buy, which is power. Turns out that if all you want are solar collectors (and not the power they are supposed to make), then cheap and crappy are indeed the same thing … and you will likely not know the difference for quite some time.

The other kind of “cheap” is cheap power. Power is really the thing you are trying to make with all these solar panels so if you can get more of that … lots more of that … and do it by spending just a little extra on the front end, then for sure, this is really the cheapest solution. Turns out that this is possible and SkyPower is doing it every day. We are not the only ones that get it. There are others and we really hope that you use us or them when you go solar at your house … but there are other companies that have other philosophies and that may match your thinking. Team SkyPower doesn’t shop at Walmart very often, but we do go there for one particular office supply part that we can’t find anywhere else. Apparently, we are in the minority on this … Walmart is much bigger that Tiffany’s.

So what do we do when no one is looking? We use stainless steel fasteners when cheaper galvanized would work (until they corrode out and fail). We take the time to design a custom, “pure” system with short wires and cooler placement of the components when “cookie cutter” plans would seem to get it done and save some time and money. We use fat #6 copper wires when cheaper #14 aluminum (bigger numbers for wires means thinner) is okay for the inspectors … because they conduct more power with lower losses. We use panels that handle the desert heat better even if they cost a bit more. Everything we do is tighter and made with the best stuff on earth (Snapple has it right!).

Turns out that doing a better job when no one is looking might just be better for our SkyPower customers and the inspectors that come look at their homes when it comes time to sell. We do it right because we know … and just maybe we’ll be the ones to look at it down the road for the next guy.

 

Baby, It’s Hot Out There (2012~23)

Baby, It’s Hot Out There (2012~23)

Last week, we had our first 95˚ day here in the Valley for 2012. It won’t be the last. Now, for those of you in other (more reasonable) places, ninety degrees in the desert is gorgeous! It all has to do with thermal mass and our crazy “light” air. You can feel it when you get off the plane. There is no moisture in the desert air and it just feels softer.

One of the interesting results of light desert air is that it does not hold in the heat (or the cool). When you walk from Sun to shadow, you really can sense the temperature difference. Also, the desert gets warmer by two or four degrees every hour and then cools off by the same as the night passes. Max temperature around here comes at 4pm … maybe 5pm. For those used to Chicago temperature swings, this place is wild.

We’ve talked about the insane summer heat around here and to be sure … it is very real. 115˚ is absolutely real. It could maybe pop 122˚ if climate change finds it’s way to Arizona. Already, we’ve seen some strange stuff and it has been incredibly dry (rained only once this year for a couple of hours … and that’s all). It’s hot in Arizona in the summer … Africa hot!

The thing about heat is that we mostly keep it outside in the summer. We mostly keep it on the roof in the summer. Roofs around here get REALLY HOT!!

Wouldn’t you know it? We also put our solar panels up on the roof … right in the place that gets hottest around here. On a 120˚ day, the roof could easily register 145˚. You can’t cook an egg on it, but you sure can cook a solar panel … over time! Not only does the Sun heat up the roof, the tiles and anything else up there (like the solar panels), but solar cells in the panels heat up simply as a result of doing what they do (which is to make electricity). That extra heat for them is something near 30˚. So the cells in your solar panels can easily reach 175˚ on a typical summer day around here. We won’t add the thermodynamic calculations related to panel inefficiencies, but you won’t be surprised to know that that just adds MORE heat.

Here’s a tip: Don’t touch a solar panel in full summer Sun around here. You will absolutely get burned!

Okay, so it’s hot. Yea, yea, yea … we get it. The thing is, solar panels “suffer” in the heat. They don’t make as much power. As it gets hotter, they suffer more and less power is produced. As they cool down, they go back to normal and start the next day as if nothing has happened. Day in and day out, this cycle is repeated here in the desert. Panels start out cool and powerful and by four o’clock, they are suffering. Oh, to be sure, a suffering panel here in the desert still makes more electricity than a cool panel in most other parts of the world, but they still don’t make as much power as they could if they didn’t “suffer.”

Some panels suffer less than others. Some panel tech is better than others. Turns out that standard, Chinese panels suffer a lot. No surprise there. They might be great for Europe or Canada, but they are not the best choice for the desert. The loss of power due to heat build up probably overtakes the cost advantage of a “cheap” panel. Check it out. The cost per kWh from a poly-silicon panel from China is more than the cost of that same power from a hybrid panel from Japan or America. Pay a bit more up front and get a lot more power.

Big surprise! You get what you pay for … and it’s hot out there!

Why Doesn’t Everyone Do This? (2012~22)

Why Doesn’t Everyone Do This? (2012~22)

We have no idea!

The Bad Sale (2012~21)

The Bad Sale (2012~21)

We lost one this week. It happens even to SkyPower from time to time and that time was this week for one of our best sales reps.

How could this happen? We have the best engineering and the best product mix and the best financial options and the best design & build methods in the industry. Combining all of that with the highest production numbers and lowest cost per kilowatt hour and we simply can’t miss … yet we did. We were all stunned. Normally, when we loose one it’s because the customer’s credit isn’t up to snuff or they are moving soon. It’s so rare that we loose a sale to another solar company that we can even blog about it and have it be a once in a forever thing.

… but it did happen and we want to tell you all how this could be.

We screwed up. It’s that simple. Somehow, the engineering and sales teams at SkyPower simply could not communicate to this prospect the full solar story and they were seduced by a know-nothing sales guy from another company who promised them things that just are beyond the physics of modern solar panels. The prospect was good enough to let us see what the other guys were proposing … even after they made the decision to buy from them. Once we saw the claims, we agreed that we’d have bought it from them too … if it was possible to do what he sold them.

Many years of school and a ton more in the industry told us that their claims were simply untrue. You can’t get more hours of Sun than there actually are. Even in this Valley, there are clouds from time to time … and the Sun does not shine at night … not even here. Yet, this is what the other guys claimed and the customer bought it. Our observations to the contrary did not sway them.

The customer was offered an impossible amount of solar power for an absurdly, lower than cost price … and they believed it and signed up for it.

Here’s the thing. This is a bad sale. At some point, this customer is going to realize that they purchased something that cannot be given. Even if the other company was willing to do the work for less than cost to keep their crews working or even use some alternative financial mechanism such as coop advertising, the plan they had simply cannot be build. You can’t put 50 solar panels on a house with room for only 20. You can’t point solar panels to the north and hope they perform as if they are pointed to the south. You can’t put 50amps of power on a bus bar that is designed to hold 40 … at least you can’t do these things safely without spending an enormous amount of time and money.

Our prospect may not even know that this is a bad sale for quite some time … if ever. They may not know that they aren’t getting all the power they should or that their electric bill and total cost didn’t drop as advertised.

… but they might. SkyPower gets calls all the time from folks wondering if their solar arrays are doing what they were promised. The answer is ”yes” sometimes and “no” more times and when the answer is “no” you won’t be surprised to learn that the builder is more often than not, long gone and out of business. That is not good for any of us solar people. It gives the solar biz a bad name and it not a good thing for a new and important industry.

We’re upset that we couldn’t find a way to communicate that some things are impossible. We are upset that we didn’t get the opportunity to build something great for a new customer. We are upset that hucksters are out there confusing solar customers and we are upset that there is going to be an unhappy customer “bad mouthing” solar sometime in the months and years to come.

This is just a bad sale and we’re mad about it. It happens in all businesses and we did everything we could do to prevent it. Now that we’ve told you, we can move on to the next terrific customer and interesting design. Don’t hold it against the solar biz … and don’t let it happen to you.