Understanding A Home Solar Sales Pitch
Ahhh….it’s almost springtime. The weather is getting warmer, the trees are starting to bud, and people are starting to think about their next home improvement project. And along with the warming weather, the solar salespeople are starting to swarm on unsuspecting homeowners like locusts from the plagues of Egypt.You may be interested in rooftop solar. But solar products, systems and terminology are confusing. As you do your research you’ll be inundated with TLAs (three letter acronyms)...and the more installers you talk to, the more you’ll get confused. On this week’s Energy Show we’ll review a Four Step Process that you can use to compare different home solar proposals.Step One: Compare Installers. Consider local installers, check references from friends and neighbors, and read online reviews. You will almost always get better service and faster installation turn around with a local company. When hiring someone to work on my house, for accountability purposes I always prefer contractors that have their own trained crews (not subcontractors or temporary works).Step Two: Determine the Cash Price of the Installed System on a Per Watt Basis. Just as buying a car, you always want to shop for the best cash price -- keeping financing out of the picture. Get a quote for the total installed system (no deductions yet for incentives or tax credits). Then determine the total number of DC watts of the system (number of panels times watts per panel). Divide the watts into the dollars to get a $/watt price for your system. Pricing can range from the low $3/watt to over $5/watt. For example, a system priced at $20,000 for 20 panels, each with a rating of 270 watts, will cost $3.70/watt. Don’t get distracted with varying claims about equipment reliability, inverter efficiency or panel degradation -- they are all about the same. Regardless of manufacturer or installer, every system will put out about the same amount of energy (and annual dollar savings) if it has the same DC watt system size.Step Three: Compare Equipment and Services. Solar panels are commodities, but you will pay more for higher efficiency and more well known brand names. All panels have 25 year warranties, and will operate maintenance-free (except for an occasional cleaning if they get very dirty). The only time you need higher efficiency is when you have limited roof space. Nevertheless, you may prefer solar panels that look all black and are mounted flush to the roof, or micro-inverters and optimizers that have built-in safety features, or a system that has monitoring that you can view on your cell phone.Step Four: Compare Financing. There are so many assumptions involved in financing, system output, energy rates and output “guarantees” that it is almost impossible to compare the total savings numbers. That is why it is easiest to compare cash prices or, if you are considering a lone, comparing interest rates. Watch out for escalation rates applied to energy prices (escalation rates will inflate your savings) and monthly payments (escalation rates will increase your repayment costs).Rooftop solar has never been more cost effective and reliable as it is now. Favorable tax policies, local incentives and net metering combine to make solar a great long term investment. So if you’re considering rooftop solar, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
16 Feb 2016
Fracking by Barry Cinnamon
22 Jul 2015
Are Fuel Cells Better Than Batteries?
Toyota and Honda just announced their new fuel cell cars. Although these cars won’t be on the road for another year, their mere existence raises questions about the long-term future of battery-powered cars. Are battery vehicles just a temporary detour on our road to the Hydrogen Highway, or are fuel cells a last ditch attempt by the fossil fuel industry to greenwash their “well to gas station” infrastructure?A fuel cell car is pretty much just like a battery-powered EV...except the fact that fuel cells are neither clean, cheap nor efficient. All practical fuel cell cars run on hydrogen. When you combine hydrogen with oxygen you get energy (heat in an engine or electricity in a fuel cell) and water. Pretty clean and elegant, so far.But we currently get 95% of our hydrogen by “reforming” natural gas. The natural gas is combined with steam (essentially H2O), with the end products being hydrogen gas and CO2. So “reforming” is kind of like a school for bad fossil fuels. Fuel cell cars using reformed natural gas are about 50% efficient, so they release even more CO2 that would be released if we burned natural gas directly. Moreover, fuel cell cars requires an entirely new hydrogen infrastructure of reforming plants, hydrogen pipelines, hydrogen filling stations and vehicles.One good thing about fuel cell vehicles is that they can be “filled up” in a matter of minutes, not the several hours it takes for today’s generation of plug-in EVs. But at the current rate of improvement in cost and performance of batteries, I doubt that fuel cells will ever catch up. For more about the comparisons between fuel cell and battery EVs, please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
29 Sep 2015
The Path to Energy Independence with John Farrell of the ILSR
$400 billion dollars. That’s how much money is spent every year on electricity in the U.S. It’s a huge industry. But not for long, because new solar and storage technology can provide many of the same services for a fraction of the price.The threat isn’t new solar technology, but the ways in this technology is being deployed and paid for. Historically, utilities generate and distribute electricity, and charge customers for their usage. Indeed, about 5 GW of utility solar will be installed in 2015 -- more than the commercial and residential sectors combined. But the price of electricity to residential and commercial customers continues to increase. Even though utility scale solar is the cheapest new generating source of electricity, customers are not benefitting. To make matters worse, customers can install their own solar power plants and generate their own electricity for less than the utility charges.The centralized monopoly utility business model must change because electricity can now be generated, consumed, stored and even distributed on a local level. John Farrell, senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR), focuses on issues surrounding renewable energy, utility power, and energy-generation. Please join me on this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as John shares with us his insights on how utilities are trying to adapt to the new world of distributed generation.
29 Dec 2015
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Understanding A Home Solar Sales Pitch
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29 Sep 2015
Planning for an All Electric Future
The Energy Show - Barry Cinnamon©2018 - All Rights ReservedOn this week’s energy show were talking about the all electric future. We’ve had customers at Cinnamon Energy Systems come to us wanting to go 100% electric at their home. They want to get rid of their gas dryer and furnaces, put in more solar panels, use an electric heat pump, and many already drive an EV. This kind of transition is already happening. So what does it mean when our homes, businesses and most transportation systems and most industries primarily operate from electricity instead of the fossil fuels that have powering humanity since basically we discovered fire? There is a steady trend of devices and appliances that are converting from fossil fuels to electric operation. All of the big energy users when you look at the economy, transportation, industry, residential and commercial electricity have all been generated by fossil fuels. Now, everything is going electric. I expect that this electric future for humanity will depend very heavily on both solar and wind in the near term because we know those technologies to be cost effective. There may be things like nuclear fusion or other energy generating technologies that might happen over the next ten to fifty years, but right now, my bet is on solar and wind. So Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show to learn more about why this migration to an all electric future is underway and the economic decisions you should be considering now for your home and business.
17 Jul 2018
There is a New Utility in Town - Silicon Valley Clean Energy
Copyright 2018 - The Energy Show, Barry Cinnamon. All Rights Reserved.The electric utility industry is undergoing rapid change. There used to be two types of utilities: investor owned utilities (IOUs, such as Pacific Gas and Electric and ConEd) and municipally owned utilities (MOUs, such as LADWP and Silicon Valley Power). Now there is a third hybrid type, called a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) utility.IOUs work for their stockholders — striving to maximize their profits by charging the most they can for electricity, maximizing their net assets and minimizing their expenses (often maintenance). MOUs work for their local cities — and try to provide affordable and reliable power in their territory. Not surprisingly, electric rates at IOUs are almost always higher than rates at nearby MOUs. Because IOUs profit by installing their own solar and storage systems and maximizing their own sales of electricity, they do not look favorably on homeowners and businesses installing their own systems. My biggest competitors for almost 20 years have been local IOUs.CCAs offer the potential for lower electric rates for customers in their territory, without changing completely to a municipally-owned business structure. CCAs buy power from large solar and wind farms, as well as hydroelectric facilities. They then distribute this power over the existing utility lines. The existing utility bills customers and maintains the power lines, while the CCA essentially just charges customers for the energy they use. CCAs offer customers cheaper electricity, and they offer better economics to solar customers.Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) is the new CCA serving most of the Silicon Valley area. My guest this week is John Supp, Manager of Accounts Services at SVCE. Please listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we talk about the operations, economics and effects that CCAs will have on both customers and the utility industry in general.
16 Aug 2018
Solar Incentives In 2016
Over the past few months you may have seen or heard a continuous stream of ads warning about the imminent demise of the solar Investment Tax Credit and California’s Net Metering program. Good news for 2016: both of these programs have been extended. The incentive panic is over (for now). The solar industry – as well as homeowners and business owners – can concentrate on a steady transition to clean rooftop solar power. As a result of the hard work at solar advocacy groups SEIA, Vote Solar and CALSEIA, the ITC is good through 2021 (30% in 2016-2019, then 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021). And unlike their brethren in Nevada and Hawaii, the California Public Utilities Commission has made a preliminary decision to extend retail net metering, albeit at a slightly reduced rate. But there is still real urgency to go solar: the sooner your installation is complete and you flip that switch to “on,” the sooner you’ll reduce your electric bill. Granted, installation costs are likely to be a little lower in future years, but electric rates keep going up and the “cost of doing nothing” will only grow as you pay your monthly electric bill. Many states still have rebate programs and caps on net metering – so check with your local installer to find out the status of incentives for your home or business. For more about the extension of the ITC and local net metering programs, please Listen Up to the Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
18 Jan 2016
What are the Best Solar Panels?
The Energy Show - Barry Cinnamon© 2018-All rights reservedWhat are the best solar panels – that’s the question we get all the time. The first thing you have to figure out how you define word “best”. Now the way I look at this is you look at solar panels that have the highest efficiency, that are the most cost effective, and are the most reliable. So you have to weigh those three factors. The first thing is all solar panels generate the same electricity on a per watt basis. Your appliances can’t tell the difference if you’ve got super panels made in the USA or the cheapest panels made somewhere in Asia. But there are clear cut differences in these panels in the efficiency, cost, aesthetics, installation costs and their availability. We also have distinctions that are somewhat objective like brand, quality, are they going to provide long term energy output. The thing about these subjective measures is they are not based on comparison data, objective studies or any independent laboratory testing. They are manufacturers claims so you have to be careful.So which panels are best? To learn about key decision factors for selecting the best solar panels, please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
6 Jul 2018
Mistakes the Battery Storage Industry Should Avoid
Battery storage is roughly where the solar industry was in the early 2000’s. It’s a tiny market now but it is exploding and the technology is evolving rapidly. There is money saving potential for customers but there are risks for incumbent energy providers who are pushing back. The standards for battery storage are changing like quicksand and investor funds are pouring in to take advantage of this inevitable market. The rapid “hockey stick” growth that we are seeing in the energy storage industry is likely to be even more accelerated than the growth of the solar industry. All the pieces are in place for a number of successful companies throughout the storage value chain, but as with the solar industry, there is going to be some spectacular train wrecks along the way as well as some companies that just do not have the staying power to succeed. On this week’s Energy Show, we talk about the following eight mistakes that companies in the solar industry made that hopefully storage companies can avoid:Mistake #1: Constraints on critical upstream components (Li or Co = Si?)Mistake # 2: Live by incentives and die by incentivesMistake # 3: Releasing half-baked productsMistake #4: Ignoring softwareMistake #5: Assuming electricity rates will always go upMistake #6: Not paying enough attention to safety issuesMistake #7: Selling commodity components, not bankable systemsMistake # 8: Inevitable black swan events
4 Apr 2018
Real World Solar Economics with Tom Beach
Copyright 2018 - The Energy Show, Barry Cinnamon. All Rights Reserved.Great solar policy is just as important as great solar technology. Obviously we need the technologies for these products — but we also need the policies so that solar products can be cost-effectively installed. And I’m not just talking about incentives…policies related to net metering, interconnection and permitting are just as important.Getting good solar policy requires effective political lobbying. I hate to let you down, but these great energy policies did not magically spring from the brains of inspired politicians When I look back at the successes our industry has had over the years — net metering, the California Solar Initiative, Solar Tax Credits, state incentives — all of these policies were based on sound analytical research coupled with effective lobbying.There are a few companies that specialize in the types of analysis that’s required to put together good policies. One of the best is Cross Border Energy, based in Berkeley California. They provide clients with strategic advice, economic analysis and expert testimony on market and regulatory issues in the natural gas and electric industry. It is my pleasure to have Tom Beach, Principal Consultant of Cross Border Energy as our guest on this week’s Energy Show.Tom has been influential on many of California’s ground breaking energy policies. He has worked on the restructuring of the states gas and electric industries, the addition of new natural gas pipelines and storage capacity, renewable energy development, and a wide range of issues concerning California’s large independent power community. I also had the pleasure of working with Tom on the California Solar Initiative many years ago. To learn more about the energy industry, real world solar economics, and Tom’s perspective on energy regulatory issues, listen up to this week’s Energy Show.PS – the Kyocera and SMA rooftop solar system I installed for Tom back in 2003 is still working perfectly, with only 0.4% degradation over the last 15 years.PPS – his monitoring system is intermittent since his 15 year old computer that runs the software is on its last legs.
22 Aug 2018
The Economics of Commercial Energy Storage Systems
solar, energy, the energy show, battery backup, battery storage, commercial battery storage
15 Nov 2017
Financing Your Commercial Solar Installation
Commercial solar has lagged behind utility scale and residential solar for two reasons. The first is that paybacks for commercial solar have historically been longer than CFO’s would like -- anything over 3-4 years is a “big” decision and usually gets pushed aside. The second reason is that the financing structures for commercial solar were complicated; although leases and PPAs are effective in reducing operating costs, they are not necessarily good long term investments.New financing options for commercial solar are changing this picture. Banks are getting more involved in providing unsecured loans for solar installations, and secured solar loans are becoming available that offer relatively low interest rates. Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE loans are perhaps the most significant innovation.PACE loans are secured by the property itself, and are paid back as part of annual tax assessments. If the property is sold the loan on the solar improvement automatically goes to the new owner. The loan debt typically does not show up on a company’s balance sheet. And if the property is leased to a tenant with a triple net lease in which the tenant pays an allocated part of the property taxes, then a portion of the solar repayment loan can be automatically passed on to the tenant (who in exchange gets the benefit of free solar electricity).If you own or have a long term lease on a commercial property in a solar friendly state, please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World for the latest on financing options for your commercial solar installation.
23 Feb 2016
SolarEdge Battery Storage Review
Review of StorEdge battery backup system from SolarEdge
18 Sep 2017
The Rates They Are A Changin'
E-6 TOU (Time of Use) Rates Closed to Customers in March, and E-7 EliminatedWhen the new TOU rates become available this spring, PG&E will end its solar friendly E-6 and E-7 rates. The new TOU rates will not be as favorable to solar customers since the peak rate periods are shifted later in the day when there is less generation from solar (see details below).For most customers we recommend that you immediately change to the E-6 rate so that you can preserve this good rate option for the future. If you are on the current E-6 TOU rate you don’t need to do anything. This E-6 rate is currently slated to stay in place until 2020 or later. If you are on the old E-7 rate we recommend that you immediately change to the E-6 rate. Otherwise, PG&E will automatically switch you to the new TOU rate, which will not save you as much money as the E-6 rate. If you are on an EV rate and charge your vehicle at night, stay on the EV rate. If you are on the current E-1 rate and do not use a lot of electricity during weekday afternoons, we recommend that you change to the E-6 rate. Since the E-1 rate has no time of use component, it is generally good for customers who cannot run their meters backwards during the day (typically smaller solar systems and higher daytime AC electric loads). All current solar customers are on the Net Metering 1.0 program (and grandfathered for 20 years), so you can go back to the E-1 rate if the E-6 rate is not beneficial for you.Clear as mud, right? Unfortunately, these rate changes are complicated. Nevertheless, we want you to achieve the maximum benefits from your rooftop solar system. For more information, please call PG&E at (800) 743-5000 to discuss your rate options and decide whether moving to E-6 is the best option for you.E-7 Rates PEAK: noon to 6pm Monday through Friday, All Year, $0.16-$0.54/kwh OFF-PEAK: all other hours, $0.13-$0.30/kwhE-6 RatesSummer (May 1 through October 31) PEAK: 1pm to 7pm Monday through Friday, $0.34-$0.51/kwh PARTIAL-PEAK: 10am to 1pm and 7pm to 9pm Monday through Friday, plus 5pm to 8pm Saturday and Sunday, $0.23-0.39/kwh OFF-PEAK: All other times, including Holidays, $0.15-$0.32/kwhWinter (November 1 through April 30) PARTIAL-PEAK: 5pm to 8pm Monday through Friday, $0.17-$0.34/kwh OFF-PEAK: All other times, including Holidays, $0.15-$0.32/kwhEV Rates PEAK: 2PM-9PM Monday-Friday, 3PM-7 PM Sat, Sun, Holidays, $0.44/kwh Summer, $0.31/kwh Winter PARTIAL PEAK: 7AM-2PM Monday-Friday, 9PM-11PM M-F, $0.24/kwh Summer, $0.18/kwh Winter OFF PEAK: All other hours. $0.11/kwhFUTURE E-TOU Rates PEAK: 3pm to 8pm Monday through Friday, rates TBD OFF-PEAK: All other times, including Holidays, rates TBD
10 Feb 2016
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can have too many solar panels on your roof. With conventional net metering, your utility will not reimburse you at the end of the year if you produce more power than you consume. For example, last year my electric bill was -$46.86. Our roof has a 6kw solar system on it, but because we installed a new thermostat, LEDs and new windows, we generated a net credit with our utility last year. So I’m replacing my LEDs with old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs so I can use more power and get closer to a zero bill this year.The number of panels you need is based on two factors: the available space on your roof and the size of your electric bill. A good installer will not take advantage of you by installing modules where there is a lot of shade or a poor north-facing orientation on a steep roof. Along the same lines, your installer should analyze your current electric bill and recommend the number of solar panels that will get you close to a zero bill.Once you know these two boundary conditions – the number of panels that fit on your roof and the number of panels that you need to zero out your bill – you can see what size system fits in with your budget and method of financing. At the same time your installer should step you through the options for different levels of solar panel efficiency, module electronics (optimizers or microinverters), and changes in your future use of electricity (such as an EV or energy conservation measures). For more about determining the optimum size of your solar power system, Listen Up to this week’s episode of The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
1 Apr 2017
New Battery Storage Products
Copyright 2019 - The Energy Show, Barry CinnamonThe annual Solar Power International show held in October of this year celebrated its 16th year. The first show was a tiny venue that started in back in 2004 and was held in a tiny venue in San Francisco. Since that day back in 2004, the show has grown significantly as has the solar industry itself.This year, the Solar Power International show was held in Salt Lake City with a big focus on energy storage --which has been building more and more every year, with a particular focus on new battery storage products.In addition to the plethora of bigger and better solar panels, there was many new racking and mounting products that connect these systems to a roof or big utility scale field, plus all kinds of hardware such as inverters, controls and accessories. Most notably, software and hardware companies are now working to make installing and managing these systems easier, so software is becoming an important part of the whole industry.But with the current demand for energy storage, clearly the focus on new battery storage products was most interesting. So to learn about the industry's latest energy storage offerings, please listen to this week’s Energy Show as we review the most notable battery storage systems spotted on the floor of this year’s Solar Power International show.
4 Dec 2019
What are Microgrids?
Most people know what an electric grid is -–basically it's power generated centrally by the utility companies from a variety of energy sources like oil, gas, nuclear, coal, and then transmitted at high voltages via overhead and sometimes underground transmission lines to local substations where the voltage is reduced down to the distribution voltage level and distributed over power utility lines to homes and businesses. It’s called a “grid” because there is a network of wires that move the power around from node to node –basically a combination of power source, wires and controls. A micro-grid is the same concept but on a much smaller scale. One example of a microgrid is a complex of buildings on an island. This complex of buildings may have one outbuilding that has a central power plant which almost always used to be powered by diesel. Now many are solar with batteries and have also have a backup generator, often powered by diesel. So these power plants have a combination of solar diesel and maybe wind and sometimes batteries, and then they have wires going from this power plant to power multiple buildings on the island. Another example of a microgrid is one you might have in your pocket. Think about a cell phone. It’s got a battery, sometimes a backup battery, and you might have a mini solar charger. Those thinks are a microgrid. So we have different scales of microgrids, but why so much interest in microgrids lately? Listen up to this week’s Energy Show to learn more about microgrids and the importance they are playing in the changing landscape of central and distributed energy.
2 Mar 2018
Which Solar Panels Should I Buy?
Copyright 2019 - The Energy Show, Barry CinnamonThe most common questions that prospective solar customers ask is “Which solar panels should I buy?” That’s a tough question to answer, and arguably maybe not the most important question (more about that later).I initially got into the solar business for altruistic reasons -- save the planet and all that. The planet still needs saving, perhaps more than ever. But I quickly realized that the vast majority of customers were interested in saving money first (the planet could wait). So I am biased towards finding the most cost-effective system for customers. To that end, people want an inexpensive system that is reliable, high efficiency (especially if they have limited roof space), and looks good on their roof.When it comes to the solar panels themselves (also called solar modules), all solar panels generate the same amount of electricity on a per watt basis. A 300 watt panel from Manufacturer A will generate the same amount of energy as a 300 watt panel from Manufacturer B. 24 panels with a 275 watt output will generate the same amount of energy as 22 panels with a 300 watt output (6,600 watts). Your appliances can’t tell the difference if they are using electrons from a super high efficiency panel or from a less expensive system. Nevertheless, there are clear cut differences among solar panels in terms of efficiency, aesthetics, cost and availability. On the other hand, some of the sales pitch distinctions are subjective, such as brand, quality, durability, and long term energy output. To learn more about critical decision factors in purchasing solar panels for your home or business, listen to this week’s Energy Show. For those of you who have read to the end of this summary, the most important question to ask is: “which contractor will install the best solar power system for my home or business?”
17 Apr 2019