In November, Elon Musk spoke about Solar City’s plans to install solar roof tiles manufactured by Tesla.  Many people have asked us about the potential of installing solar roof tiles.  We look forward to seeing what becomes available and understanding the details of pricing and performance of this product.  In the absence of any details from the manufacturer, you can look at pictures and sign up for updates here  https://www.tesla.com/solar

This concept has previously been referred to by the nickname BIPV, denoting Building Integrated Photovoltaics, although we see that term used less these days.  The concept of having one product that serves as roofing and also generates electricity is very attractive.  It would be helpful to the product’s feasibility if the solar roof tiles cost less than the combination of a standard asphalt shingle roof with standard framed modules installed on top of it, but no solar roofing product that currently exists comes close to this price point.  So in order to have a solar roofing product, customers will pay a premium.  We have never installed one, though there have been many options available for over a decade, from Sharp Electronics, Open Energy, CertainTeed, and Dow, to name a few manufacturers.  Musk claims that the Tesla solar roof tiles will cost less than a “dumb” roof.  I look forward to seeing that, but I am not holding my breath while waiting.

The other solar roofing products on the market have a relatively low efficiency in terms of watts per square foot compared to standard mono-crystalline silicon modules.  So even though there is the supposed convenience of a single product to install, the amount of energy that could be produced is actually lower than from a standard pv module array.  In most residential installations, our design imperative is to produce as much energy as possible on the limited roof space available, so unless the Tesla product has a higher efficiency than the most efficient product currently available, it will involve making a sacrifice in performance.  We are looking forward to the technical details to be able to make a true evaluation.

Only a portion of a home’s roof is practical for the installation of solar pv, eg, we would install solar on the south-facing roof, but not the north-facing roof of a simple house that is a single gabled rectangle.  Most homes of course don’t have such simple roof shapes nor orientation.  There are usually hips, dormers, clerestories and other roofs with different pitches and compass azimuths, and a big part of our design process is identifying and prioritizing the suitable roofs upon which to install pv.  With the solar roof tiles, the question comes up as to what to do on the roofs not suitable for solar pv.  Will Tesla provide a visually identical product minus the photovoltaic cells?  I imagine this will be the intention, though this will surely raise the price further even for the roof planes not making energy.

Another aspect of this product that gives us pause is the need for a specialized tradesperson to perform the installation.  In a solar installation on a standard home, the roof has been installed by roofing contractors who specify the products and warrant their roof installation for many years.  The solar installers then install their product over the top of that and warrant our penetrations and product performance for many years.  The roofers we work with are great, but it is a fair generalization to state that roofers are generally conservative and slow to adopt new products, which is exactly what you want in a roofer.  As far as solar installers, they generally spend a lot of time surveying this rapidly changing market and keeping abreast of new products and dynamic pricing, updating their offerings for their clients as the options change and better products become feasible.  There is an inherent tension in these two cultures, and the concept of combining those two trades into a single new trade is interesting.  At Power Trip Energy, we have roofing skills related to penetrating, sealing, and flashing many different roof types in order to install our product on any roof, but we have no interest in becoming roofers at this time.  In some situations with certain less common roofs or proprietary roofing membranes, we coordinate our installation with the roofers who follow us on the roof and come in right after us to flash our work and maintain responsibility for the entire roofs warranty.  Perhaps other larger markets will lead in the creation of a new trade specialist, the solar electrician roofer, but we have yet to see evidence of that in the trade literature.  If the installation will require coordination roofers and solar electricians, that coordination will inherently increase the cost of installation and inevitably slow us down.

There are unanswered design questions.  Currently, if we are designing a system using string inverters that accept strings of DC electricity from the solar pv on the roof, we need to make certain we are bringing the DC power to the inverter with the proper voltage and amperage, sometimes a challenge to fully and exactly utilize available roof space.  What will be the design constraints of these solar roof tiles?  More often now instead of string inverters, we are using AC modules each with integrated micro-inverters in the 320 watt range, on a module that is roughly 15 square feet in area.  If each solar roofing tile were to have its own integrated micro-inverter on a much smaller scale, that would increase costs and dramatically multiply the potential points of failure, and increase the complexity and expense of any warranty work.  I doubt whether we will see solar roof tiles with integrated micro-inverters any time soon, but this is exactly where the leading edge of the market is right now for the standard framed modules.

Unless the solar roof tiles can provide some benefits that surprise me in relation to the issues I raised above, the only benefit is the aesthetics some people will find in the look of those roofs.  We have been able to design systems to satisfy even the most aesthetic conscious clients using SunPower’s black-framed modules.  Of course most of our clients find the creation of clean energy a thing of beauty in itself, and are happy to be reminded of their arrays when they come home.

Please pardon our slightly jaded response to some of the industry’s more hopeful forward-looking announcements, we have seen a lot of those in the last 14 years, and it is a rare jewel that makes it from announced intention to actually becoming the best product for your roof.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on these developments and let you know when they are ready for you.  In the meanwhile, what we have right now is a selection of the best solar products made to date, at the lowest prices ever seen, and a relatively friendly regulatory environment, facts which may combine to encourage you to act now rather than following Tesla’s implied advice to continue waiting for something better.

The incoming administration’s position on energy provides interesting insight into what is to be expected from the federal government in the next four years. The new administration will surely be friendlier to coal mining, oil drilling onshore and offshore, and fracking for natural gas.

https://greatagain.gov/energy-independence-69767de8166#.zce8a6e9p

If implemented, those strategies will degrade our natural environment, lease our public lands to their cronies at low rates, increase our transfer rate of carbon currently locked in the ground into the air as CO2, increase our contribution to climate change, and increase your dependence on the oil tyrants.

My personal response will be to enlarge the solar PV arrays at my home and business, and make certain as much of my driving as possible is in an electric vehicle.

In this way I can decrease my personal contribution to the negative aspects of the administration’s carbon-based fossil fuel plans, and minimize my financial support of the centralized energy corporations, while keeping more of my money available to invest in my own family’s future.

 

Morgan Residence, 6.9 KW SunPower, Port Angeles, June 2016

Solar Agent

Join our team and be an agent of change, helping clients navigate their choices to determine whether and how to put grid-tied solar pv on their home.

You will have technical sales expertise, a driver’s license and clean driving record, and a desire to help our clients understand and make choices to harvest solar energy on their homes and businesses.  You will be joining a small company and working alongside the owners.  You will professionally represent us with integrity and excellent communications skills utilized for coordinating with the public, our clients, utilities and government regulators, and other departments within the company.  You will be brutally honest, have excellent math and writing skills, be comfortable using a 32’ extension ladder to reach second story roofs.  You will use company laptop, and vehicle.  You will live in or around Port Townsend.

Specific tasks include:

  • educating and qualifying customers over the phone and in person
  • site analysis using ladder, hand tools, compass, camera, and cool high-tech shade analysis tools
  • conceptual design and communication of financial cost, incentives, savings, and financing options during site visit
  • detailed system design including performance estimates, requires good math skills including trigonometry and basic understanding of electricity and physics
  • preparation of proposals, contracts using Word, Excel, SketchUp and solar design software
  • answering questions in order to close the sales
  • creating detailed project binders for the installation crew, including basic electrical calculations and one-line drawings
  • creating basic permit applications using manufacturer’s engineered specs, shepherding applications through various jurisdictions

Additional marketing tasks may include graphic design of marketing materials, writing press releases, event coordination, and public speaking at indoor and outdoor events.

We provide a competitive compensation and benefits package including health insurance, paid sick and vacation time, paid and unpaid holidays throughout the year, quarterly bonuses based on profitability, 3% company IRA matching contribution, and continuing education funding.

Send resume and brief statement of your thoughts regarding renewable energy and grid-tied pv.

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Mansfield Residence - Port Townsend

Mansfield Residence – 7.85 KW SunPower Array on Fronius 10 KW Inverter – Port Townsend – December 2015

SunPower last year verified 25.2% efficiency in a manufactured silicon-based PV cell.  This year, they have integrated that cell into a manufactured PV module which attains 24.1% efficiency.  When making efficiency comparisons, the cell-level efficiency is less relevant as in order for us to utilize that power, we need the cells built into a module, which will necessarily be slightly less efficient due to the space between cells, and the small area occupied by the frame.

When we are designing a system for a home’s roof, we usually need to make as much power as we can on the available roof space in order generate the largest percentage of the home’s annual energy.  So using the most efficient modules available is important to us.  While these SunPower modules are not the least expensive on the market, when we can put up an array with higher power rating in the same space as an average array, we can recognize relatively lower $/watt installation costs on all the other aspects of the system.

We are now commonly utilizing SunPower X-21 345 watt modules, which are 21.5% efficient at the module level.  Their high efficiency, finish quality, and industry-leading warranty make SunPower an excellent choice for almost all of our clients.  For example on the installation from last winter pictured above, we used the SunPower 327 watt modules to get 7.85 KW in the available un-shaded space.  If we had used an average module, running ~290 watts in this size right now, that would be a 6.96 KW array in the same space, 12% less power installed for the same amount of work.

https://us.sunpower.com/blog/2016/06/26/sunpower-solar-module-verified-241-percent-efficient/

The annual Washington solar production incentive payments are based on the fiscal year from July 1 – June 30, so everybody with a grid-tied pv system is about to read their meters for the 2015/2016 year.

You will get a letter containing this form below.  If you are a PSE customer, the form will be filled out for you.  We are not certain what the Jefferson and Clallam PUD’s are planning this year.  We have highlighted some of the important fields.

The main thing you want to bear in mind is to go read your production meter on June 30.  Even if you are in PSE territory and they are going to read your meter and provide the information for you, we recommend reading your meter yourself at least annually.  Then you will want to compare that figure with last year’s June 30 reading in order to get your annual production figure for this year.  You will also be able to copy your DOR Tax Reporting Number from the top of last year’s form.

Unless you are among the minority of our clients who have the Made in Washington PV modules from Silicon Energy or Itek, you will use the field highlighted to report your total kilowatt-hours for the year.  Although the base rate is stated as $0.15, all utilities in which we operate are or will be pro-rating this base rate due to the fact that the applications are now exceeding the available incentive pool,  of 0.5% of taxable utility revenues.

 

WA solar incentive form - 2016

In the midst of our series of 2016 Solar Tours, we bring the Jefferson Solar Tour and EV Round-Up.  This will be our second year of making this Solar Tour petroleum-free.  Last year, we had 6 different electric vehicles (Nissan Leafs, Toyota RAV4 EV, BMW i3, Smart EV, and Tesla) carrying tour-goers to the local solar homes.

The Jefferson Solar Tour is on Saturday July 9th, and will commence at 10 AM with tour orientation and Solar 101.  The local solar homes will be open from 11 AM – 3 PM, and while this is a self-guided tour, we hope everyone can drive or be passenger in an electric vehicle.  With our 10 KW PV system and Level II EV charging equipment here, we try to run these tours on 100% solar power.

Kick-off Location: Power Trip Energy, 83 Denny Avenue, Port Townsend,  where you will be able to pick up maps and information, as well as ask questions of the Power Trip Energy staff.

10 AM – 11 AM “Spin Your Meter Backwards” Solar 101 workshop

10 AM – 3 PM: Tour info, Maps, & Staff available for questions

11 AM – 3 PM: Solar Homes Open for Touring  

Anne Sextro Leaf Solar Tour

 

Power Trip Energy Shop, 2014, time for another company photo, if we can ever get the nine of us standing still in one spot.

leafs-charging-at-ptec

People tell us that the solar tours are the most valuable educational events we conduct.  Over the years, we have created a curriculum and determined how to make a focused informational solar  tour that works well for attendees and hosts alike.

For more details on the entire summer tour schedule, see http://powertripenergy.com/upcoming-events/solar-home-tours/

The first tour will involve three homes in North Kitsap (Kingston, Poulsbo, & Indianola) that are different examples of state-of-the-technology grid-tied solar PV systems.

The kick-off location for the North Kitsap Solar Tour will be the Kingston Community Center at 26159 Dulay Rd NE, Kingston, on Saturday May 14th.  From 10 AM – 11 AM,  there will be a brief presentation letting you know what you will see, and providing context for your site visits, maps will be available, and solar experts on hand to answer any questions.  The sites themselves will be open for touring from 11 AM – 3 PM.

Residence

 

 

 

There are several trends in the solar industry that are benefitting us locally, and driving our growth.  We are currently installing over 60 KW per month, having installed 180 KW in Q4 of last year, and Q1 of 2016.  That means in each quarter, we are installing as much solar as we did the first five years of business from 2003 through 2007.

We continue to see prices on pv modules slowly decrease, mostly as a result of global manufacturing capacity increases and efficiency gains.  SunPower specifically has seen recent gains at its fourth “Fab” and is now approaching producing 1500 MW of pv per year.

So as a result of this increased manufacturing capacity, SunPower has been able to give us a fairly significant price cut recently, in addition to adding a 360 watt version of their standard residential pv module.  We have been installing mostly 327’s for the last year, though now the 345’s are very close in price per watt and will make up the bulk of our designs for the remainder of the year.  In cases where we want to make the most power possible, we will give our clients the option of the 360 watt product.

The increased installation rate here at Power Trip Energy also creates an interesting dynamic in terms of our pricing.  With more and larger projects being installed each month, without our overhead significantly increasing, we can lower our installation charges on each job.  So the lower equipment costs are actually resulting in lower labor charges as well.

The extension of the federal tax credit has removed a major deadline we were facing at the end of 2016 so we can intelligently plan for manageable growth this year.  The waning state incentives should be considered, since we have about four more good summers to capitalize on those annual production payments from the state.

We don’t know how long these market conditions will persist, but we do know there has never been a better time to install a grid-tied pv system in Washington.

Gloor Residence, 6.21kw SunPower,  Sequim 2015

6.21kw SunPower, Sequim 2015

Are 10 Year old Solar PV Modules Obsolete?

Nope.

This 10 year old array continues to produce returns with no additional investment on our part.  Thanks to the Energy Edition of Industry Focus for bringing up this topic –  http://www.fool.com/podcasts/industry-focus.  Sean, Tyler and Taylor – I hope you appreciate my Foolish perspective.

 

I spent two days this week in Phoenix at the SunPower Dealer Conference, along with about 400 other dealers.  
 
The solar industry has many examples of companies that embrace the triple bottom line of creating profits, benefiting the environment, and serving their community.  However SunPower performs all of these more than any company with which we have interacted in our 13 years of solar advocacy and installation.
 
From a financial standpoint, SunPower is a standout in the industry with revenue growth and strong gross profits over time.  They have a strong balance sheet with over $140M in warranty reserves, and $1B in total liquidity (it is fair to note they also have $1B in debt to service, building cutting-edge high-tech factories is expensive.)
 
They have invested tremendous amounts into R&D (over $100M annually) and are now opening their 4th “Fab” (crystalline silicon cell factory) in the Philippines, which will take them to an annual production capacity of over 1.6 GW.
 
In terms of benefiting the environment, this is fairly easy for a PV Manufacturer to accomplish, after all, that is one of the main reasons for the equipment – to alleviate the need for fossil fuel derived energy through the production of clean solar electricity.  There are however different ways that a manufacturer can go about their business.  SunPower strives to lead in terms of manufacturing techniques, cleanliness, water use, and recycling.  Their facility in the Philippines has been awarded the Cradle to Cradle Silver Certification which addresses these issues; they are the only PV manufacturer to garner this award.  Their module assembly plant which I have visited in Mexicali, Mexico is clean and impressive, achieving Zero Waste to Landfill status and deriving over 40% of the energy it uses through its on-site PV arrays that function as car ports in the parking lot.
 
The way in which SunPower interacts with its community is an aspect that has taken me years to fully appreciate.  I include its end-user customers, their dealer partners (that’s us), and its employees.  I don’t know much about their relationships with their vendors, shareholders and financiers, but I do see that they are successful in bringing in major financing to accomplish their goals, and setting up innovative programs with their peers (8Point3, a joint development company and partnership with the other leading North American PV manufacturer First Solar), and building utility scale projects for prudent customers (Berkshire Hathaway.)
 
Among PV manufacturers in the US at least, SunPower is the only one that eschews distribution in order to have a direct delivery relationship with its dealers, which is usually good, but can sometimes be frustrating, although it surely highlights our common interests in improving those logistics.  They continually invest in us by offering training and improvements to their design and ordering processes.  Their reporting requirements sometimes feel onerous since no other PV manufacturer asks anything of us, but in the long run, it will benefit everybody – namely through their direct connection with the customers.  We sometimes get calls from other dealers asking for us to sell them SunPower modules so they can install for a customer that wants it – sorry, in our agreement with SunPower we commit to installing everything we buy from them, and to having a direct relationship with the end user client.  SunPower does everything they can to guarantee that the customer has the most positive experience possible, and that the installer is accountable to SunPower as well as to the customer.
 
Having never been a SunPower employee, I can’t say what that is like personally.  However from my 8 year experience as a dealer and from the multiple years I have been going to the conference, I have seen that their employees seem very happy, and I have never detected any fatigue, insincerity, or cynicism from anyone I have met with the company.  Several of the people we have worked with have moved on to new positions in the company of greater responsibility.  Also at the dealer conference, the access to the executive team is very good.  They help the dealer network understand their significance in relation to the other business channels.  And like us here at Power Trip Energy, while fiscal responsibility and the economics of solar are important, they never lose sight of the big picture as to why the rapid and ubiquitous installation of solar is crucial.
 
SunPower Exec Team
 
From the technological perspective, there has never been a question as to why SunPower is our favorite manufacturer.  By making the highest efficiency modules on the market, we can help our clients make more energy within whatever site or budgetary limitations they may face.  Although they are surely not the least expensive product in terms of dollars per watt, labor costs of installing a 10 KW array are lower when it can be done with 30 modules rather than 36.  Their acquisition of SolarBridge, and their integration of micro-inverters into the manufacturing process in order to create a true AC module, complete with UL 2703 listing and lack of any DC wiring, will further improve our installation efficiency and decrease other balance of system costs.
 
For all of these reasons, SunPower has earned nearly all of our PV business in the last year, and unless another manufacturer dramatically improves their offerings, we expect this coming year to be the same.  We are looking forward to growing with SunPower and our customers in this period of great opportunity to install clean distributed solar generation here on the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas.
 
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