Tag Archives: Solar Installers

Smug About Your Solar Roof? Not So Fast

By Severin Borenstein (Professor, UC Berkeley), The Los Angeles Times

If you’ve installed solar panels on your roof and feel aglow with environmental virtue, you may be in for a rude awakening. There’s a good chance someone else has purchased your halo and is wearing it right now.

In most states (including California), rooftop solar panels earn Renewable Energy Certificates, which quantify how much clean electricity they produce. But if panels are leased or installed under a power purchase agreement, it’s the “third-party owner” — not the homeowner — who gets those certificates. Most then turn around and sell the RECs, a process that magically turns brown electrons green.

Here’s how it works: Joe’s Solar puts panels on your roof that produce 7,500 kilowatt-hours a year, and Joe sells you the electricity under a power purchase agreement. Because Joe still owns the panels, he gets credit — in the form of RECs — for that renewable electricity. Meanwhile, Bob’s all-fossil utility wants to “green up” so it buys RECs from Joe. That allows Bob to relabel 7,500 kilowatt-hours of his coal- or gas-fired power generation as “renewable energy.”

It may sound strange, but a market to sell or trade RECs can be extremely useful. California, for instance, has a mandate for its utilities to generate 33% renewable power by 2020, but some parts of the state have little sun or wind resources. Still, utilities in sunny or windy spots can produce more than their requirement and then sell the extra RECs to areas where it would be much more costly, or impossible, to hit the target. Thus, the RECs market allows a utility in one region to finance additional green energy production in another where it is cheaper, supporting more carbon reduction at a lower cost to consumers.

That seems sensible enough. But something’s wrong if the buying and selling utility companies both claim that green power as their own. And that’s essentially what’s been going on with solar rooftops.

Read full op-ed in the Los Angeles Times

 

U.S. solar industry battles ‘white privilege’ image problem

By Nichola Groom, Reuters

Solar power companies have an image problem—and they are beginning to do something about it.

Despite a sharp drop in the price of solar panels and innovative financing plans that have brought the technology to many middle income households over the past decade, it is still seen as a luxury only rich, mostly white, consumers can afford. That perception both hampers solar expansion in less affluent communities and drives political opposition to initiatives promoting greater use of solar power as a renewable alternative to gas, oil and coal.

Though it has grown dramatically in recent years, solar power still makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. energy supplies and relies heavily on government incentives to compete with traditional energy sources. Those incentives help companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun and others market solar power contracts that offer customers 20 percent savings on their energy bills. However, the schemes come with certain credit requirements and are ill-suited for apartment dwellers, homes with low monthly bills or low-income households that qualify for reduced power rates.

Since minorities make up a disproportionate number of low-income households, some advocacy groups have opposed certain solar power initiatives arguing that they deepen social and racial inequality. Solar companies are now trying to tackle both the perceptions and the economics by pushing to diversify their workforce, forging alliances with minority groups, and making solar power more suitable for multi-family housing.

The stakes are particularly high in California, by far the top U.S. solar market where solar power is expected to make up more than 10 percent of the state’s power generation in 2015, according to IHS. Communities with median household incomes below $40,000 account for just 5 percent of installations in the state even though a third of California households fall into that category. That share has not changed over the past seven years even as solar installations in communities in the $55,000-$70,000 income bracket have risen to more than half of the total market.

Read full article from Reuters

The Silicon Valley Idea That’s Driving Solar Use Worldwide

By Mark Chediak & Christopher Martin, Bloomberg News

Silicon Valley has something to offer the world in the drive toward a clean energy economy. And it’s not technology.

It’s a financing formula. In a region that spawned tech giants Apple Inc. and Google and is famous for innovators and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, a handful of startups began offering to install solar panels on the homes of middle-class families in return for no-money down and monthly payments cheaper than a utility bill. This third-party leasing method — which made expensive clean energy gear affordable — ignited a rooftop solar revolution with annual U.S. home installations increasing 16-fold since 2008, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

“There is a reason why California is a tech Mecca for the world because the infrastructure is here to attract that talent,” said SolarCity Corp.’s Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive, whose company popularized third-party solar leases for homeowners starting in 2008. “All the major innovation is going to occur in California. One of the innovations is the financing of solar assets.”

SolarCity took the leasing model that SunEdison Inc. first developed for the solar industry by a graduate student named Jigar Shah. SolarCity adapted that model for residential consumers in 2008 and many more offered similar arrangements including Sunrun Inc., which developed the first one in September 2007, and Vivint Solar Inc. And now the idea is spreading to other industries trying to sell expensive capital equipment that reduce pollution and fossil fuel consumption.

Read full article from Bloomberg News

As the push for solar increases, so do the scams, sketchy sales tactics

By Lily Leung, The Orange County Register

Solar scams are on the rise, as some companies hit homeowners with increasingly aggressive sales and marketing tactics, and under-deliver on promises of low installation cost and big electricity savings. Recent stories from around the state include a solar installer climbing atop a home without permission to take roof measurements and contractors pulling city building permits even before customers sign contracts, state officials say.

This year, state officials have logged roughly 200 complaints arising from solar projects throughout California, a fourfold increase from the same period five years ago, according to the Contractors State License Board, which regulates contractors and the construction industry in California. Close to 800 such complaints have been filed with the agency since 2010. The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utility companies, also has noticed a recent uptick in complaints about solar scams and telemarketing misrepresentations, and it is looking at ways to address the problem.

Why the recent increase? “Because of the money available for rebates and the push to go green,” said David Fogt, enforcement chief at the licensing board. “It’s bringing into the marketplace unscrupulous individuals.” Such government incentive programs have provided fertile ground for novice solar equipment and installation companies. As the industry has grown, so have consumer complaints.

Read full article in the Orange County Register