Wednesday, September 5, 2012

PV Panels Drop 75% in 4 years

A white paper released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF, New York, NY) compares the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) generation and conventional generation and finds PV already competitive with daytime retail power prices in several nations.

The paper examines the 75% decline in panel prices since late 2008 against other generation technologies plus electricity rae hikes. PV power is actually cheaper than standard residential electricity rates in Australia, Denmark, Germany, Hawaii, Italy and Spain. Based on PV cost predictions, cheaper solar-powered electricity will also be the case for Brazil, California, France, Japan and Turkey as soon as 2015.

Solar Industry follows the pattern

The solar industry is experiencing what the auto and computer industries in their early emergence. In the U.S. during the early 1900's there were as many as 200 car makers. Standard attrition (failures), consolidation and automation trimmed car makers down to about 20. Today there are only--and barely--the Big Three auto makers left.

The emerging solar industry is somewhat different, however. While there are many more makers of high-grade silicon cells than just six years ago, companies that make only panels are finding it hard or impossible to stay in business on ever-decreasing margins. Diversified PV makers, those whose core revenue is generated by other products, have a better chance of hanging tough. Sunpower and Schuco are examples of this. Still, Schott Solar, whose parent company in Germany is huge in glass products, decided to bow out of PV earlier this summer. The 400MW plant in Albuquerque is scheduled to close by Nov. 1. One might surmise Schott simply decided not to drain its money-maker on its weakening solar sister.

As with all fierce competition, the consumer really wins. Residential solar systems in the San Diego market are selling for as much as half the cost of what the same size installations cost in 2006. Standard loans, same-as-cash loans and no-money-down leases also make going solar attractive to those hard hit by the housing crisis of 2008-09.

Not only cheaper but better

PV panels are now at historically low pricing but that has not been reflected in lower quality. As crystalline cell manufacturing gets better, the market is seeing higher wattage panels in the same unit sizes as before (module efficiency). What's more, most panels now have 10- and some even 12-year warranties on materials and workmanship besides the 25-year production warranties at 80% of original output. Inverters, too, are improving while dropping in price. Earlier last decade inverter efficiencies ranged in the 91.5 to 95% range; many of today's are running at 96%-plus. Similarly, inverter warranties were at five years but now run 10 years. Enphase micro-inverters are even warranted for 25 years.

Rebates are less important

The wildly successful California Solar Initiative is in its last steps of funding. Step 10 which pays .20/Wac has become much less a factor in PV installations as equipment costs of fallen so drastically.

Not wanting to sound trite but in a nutshell: It's never been a better time to go solar!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Solar Open House, Sat., 3/24

See PV at work...

Mark your calendar for next Saturday, March 24 for a Solar Open House at the Shubat residence in the Carmel Mountain area of north San Diego. The Shubat family has been reaping the rewards of solar since last spring. In fact, their system was over-sized in anticipation of their purchase of an electric vehicle later this year. This installation was featured in Solar Today magazine last summer:

Here's a chance to ask any questions about grid-tie systems, incentives, purchasing, leasing or borrowing. Stop by and have a piece of pizza. It'll be fun and informative. 

WHEN:    Saturday, March 24
TIME:      10am to 2pm
WHERE: 5367 Harvest Run Drive
                  San Diego, CA 92130


From I-5

1)  Take the exit toward CA-56 E/Local Bypass. 0.6 mi
2)  Merge onto I-5 Local Byp. 0.7 mi
3)  Take the Carmel Mountain Rd exit, EXIT 32. 0.2 mi
4)  Turn right onto Carmel Mountain Rd. 0.4 mi
5)  Turn right to stay on Carmel Mountain Rd. 1.4 mi
(Carmel Mountain Rd is 0.1 miles past Vista Sorrento Pky. If you are on Carmel Creek Rd and reach Lago di Grata Cir you've gone about 0.1 miles too far.)
6)  Turn right onto Harvest Run Dr. 0.3 mi
(Harvest Run Dr is 0.2 miles past Furlong Pl. If you reach Amberglades Ln you've gone about 0.3 miles too far.)
7)  5367 HARVEST RUN DR is on the right.

From I-15

1)  Merge onto Ted Williams Pky/CA-56 W.  6.5 mi
(If you are on Carmel Mountain Rd and reach Caminito Bolsa you've gone about 0.1 miles too far.)
2)  Take the Carmel Country Road exit, EXIT 2.  0.3 mi
3)  Turn left onto Carmel Country Rd. 1.7 mi
4)  Turn right onto Carmel Mountain Rd.  0.3 mi
(Carmel Mountain Rd is 0.1 miles past Stone Haven Way. If you are on Carmel Mountain Rd and reach Laurel Chase Dr you've gone about 0.1 miles too far.)
5)  Turn left onto Amberglades Ln.    0.2 mi
(Amberglades Ln is 0.1 miles past Plumcrest Ln. If you reach Cherry Hill Dr you've gone about 0.2 miles too far.)
6)  Turn right onto Harvest Run Dr.  0.04 mi
7)  5367 HARVEST RUN DR is on the left.
(If you reach Whispering Hills Ln you've gone a little too far.)

We'll see you next Saturday!



Friday, February 10, 2012

Electricity Rates to Increase 13% Nationwide

Preparing for the Smart Grid, renewable technologies

Electricity rate increases nationwide will range from 3 to 33% with the average at 12.64%. The statistics appear in the AEE 2012 Electricity Outlook prepared by Southern California Edison (

SCE reported the final decision on its 7.55% across-the-board rate increase request is due in March and would take effect in May. With approval, the increase will amount to $6.285 billion in added income. In the same report rates for PG&E were expected to rise 6.4%.

The report went on to detailed why SCE needs the funds. They included infrastructure replacement; operations and maintenance expense for capital-related projects, regulatory mandates, wildfire insureance and employee benefits; and Smart Grid enhancements. These include replacing poles, wires and transformers; increasing grid security; adding smart grid components need to integrate more renewable energy; getting the SCE region ready for plug-in electric vehicles; and maintaining a skilled work force.

Residential tiers at SCE would change as follows: Baseline (T1) from 12.5 to 13.1 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) or 5%; Tier 2 from 14.8 to 15.5 (5%); Tier 3 from 22.9 to 29.1 (27%); Tier 4 from 26.4 to 32.6 (23%) and Tier 5 from 29.9 to 36.1 (21%). CARE (discounted) customers will see a 14% increase in Tiers 3-5.

Steep as they are, these increases could be a lot worse. SCE serves some 13 million residential and commercial customers so the burden is spread around. SCE is not only the largest utility in California but it comprises 80% of the gross revenues of its parent, Edison International in New Jersey.

With most states adopting renewable energy standards, ratepayers will see increases related both to the increasing costs of fossil fuels but also in upgrading infrastructure for the Smart Grid and renewable energy technologies. As always, the best way to mitigate the rising costs or power to home and work is solar power. A PV system provides both clean energy for 30 years or more but hedges against future rate hikes during its lifecycle. 



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

CA Farmers Drill Wells, Pump with Solar

Drill, baby, drill! Then go solar.... 

Sometimes solutions to problems are hidden in plain sight. Two avocado farmers in San Diego County experienced exactly that.

Their problems were two-fold: The skyrocketing cost of water for irrigation and the equally exploding costs to pump it. Their solution, tripped upon by sheer necessity, came by drilling for their own water, digging their own ponds to hold it and building solar power systems to pump it. Even better, a lot of the equipment and labor was already on hand.

Of course, drilling the wells and making the holding areas cost money but the medium- and long-term savings are considerable. What's more, water availability and the rising
cost for it is mitigated. Going solar however, required some outside expertise.

Enter Larry Slominski.

Slominski's been in solar since way before solar was cool. His first-hand experience ranges from installing off-grid PV systems in Micronesia while in the Peace Corps to a 2MW grid-tied installation at the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport.

Larry Slominski
A mechanical engineer by training, Slominski has been involved with every facet of the solar industry including both crystalline and amorphous-silicon panel technologies; single- and dual-access trackers; concentrated PV; string and micro-inverters; and all forms of ballasted, BIPV and penetrating roof applications and ground-mounted projects. Walking with him at a solar trade show and seeing someone in every third booth hailing Larry like a long-lost army buddy, you know he is a maven of the solar field.

Slominski worked with the two farmers on practical panel array plans on the land made available. His services also included compliance, permitting, rebate and tax incentive advisement, equipment selection and procurement, project oversight, inspection preparation and system commissioning.

"Solar panel prices are at an all-time low and when you add incentives along with the high cost of energy and water, in these cases," says Slominski, "it's a great time to go solar." He said when on-staff farm labor is added to the mix, payback can come in less than five years. One of the two farmers, he says, will save a cool million by taking this new tack.

"Farmers know if they cannot control external market forces, they can  vastly improve their bottom line by drilling their own wells and utilizing solar power," Slominski concludes, "and these two alternatives have been there in plain sight for quite awhile."

For inquiries contact Larry Slominski at LTS Energy, 760/505-6822 ( or David Brands, 760/908-3770 (


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sunpower Lease: A Dissection

Finally, a Sunpower PV system for the rest
of us...

Take it from one who's both sold Sunpower systems and sold against Sunpower during 10 years in the industry. It's better to sell it. And now it's even easier to lease it.

This writer has been skeptical of solar leases in the past. It was reasoned that after a lessee makes the monthly lease payment and pays the utility what the PV system did not produce (net metering), the savings would be quite minimal.

Well, Sunpower makes a better case for leasing.

First off, the other two nationwide solar leasing programs, Solar City and SunRun, lease for 15 years while Sunpower leases are for 20. Furthermore, Sunpower underwrites the leases on its own equipment. This shows a confidence in its products (panels, inverters, monitors, racking) and a commitment to stated kilowatt-hour projections over the 20-year lease term.

For those new to solar, Sunpower is the Tiffany of solar panels. Using the highest grade silicon, Sunpower leads the industry with 18 and 19% efficiency panels; suitable standard panels are around 14%. Thus, a Sunpower 230W panel (18%) takes about 13.6 square feet and a similar 14% module requires 17 to 18 square feet. This means a Sunpower system makes a smaller footprint on a roof if space is an issue and allows for expansion later if more space is available. Sunpower was the first to make all-black panels (frames, cells and substrate) which improve aesthetics and mitigate reflective glare.

Now for some numbers.

Sunpower offers both no-money-down monthly contracts and prepaid leases (see comparison below). Here in California solar leases can offer modest savings to mondo savings depending upon the ratepayer's bills. This blogger has presented lease proposals that will save $50 on a $225 bill and $400 on a $1000 monthly bill, again with no money down.

Click on this lease comparison for a detailed view. Direct purchase price for this 6.9kW system is $42,523.

Monthly lease payments can be modified (cheaper at the beginning) with annual escalators of 1-4.5%. In a state whose Big 3 utility (PG&E, SCE and SDG&E) rates increase between 6-7% annually, such escalators keep Sunpower lessees below the norm.

Finally, Sunpower offers the prepaid lease. This method comes between 50% and 75% of a purchased Sunpower system price. The prepaid lease can nearly eliminate all power costs for the 20 year term. All leases have set year-by-year termination values in case the lessee moves. In such case the lease holder can add the termination value to the asking price of the house or offer the buyer to take over the lease.

Credit requirement: Prospective lessees need only have a 700+ FICO score and own their houses to qualify. The credit check takes about a day and is reported only a pass/fail. Think about this: A homeowner can be upside down on his mortgage and jobless but a 700 or better credit score gets him the lease.

End of Lease: Much like a power purchase agreement, at the end of the lease term lessees can either renegotiate their lease; purchase their system; or have it removed.

As lessor, Sunpower is responsible for the system's operation. However, lessees are required to keep the system safe and panels clean for optimum production. This is no different than a tenant performing general upkeep of an apartment.

The sweet spot of the Sunpower lease is that it allows people who maybe never could afford to purchase a top-of-the-line PV system the chance to benefit from PV without upfront costs. One of my customers is saving a modest $50 per month on his bill. "It might not be much but savings is savings and we didn't have to layout anything to get it."

(For inquiries about the Sunpower residential solar lease in San Diego and Orange counties, call David Brands a 760/908-3770 or email


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