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An Interesting Take On Solar as 2013 Comes to a Close

The First Solar Energy Top Ten List of Things to Remember as We Exit 2013


by Paula Mints for Renewable Energy World Logo

Starting in late December and continuing through Q1 2014, top ten lists will begin popping up — top ten manufacturers, top ten markets, top ten this, top ten that, top ten mistakes not to make ever again, top ten success stories to be emulated until we all want to scream, top ten losers, top ten winners, top ten conferences. In sum, there is a top ten list for pretty much everything that happened in 2013 as well as a few for the top ten things to expect in 2014. Thusly, here is the first (or just one of many) top ten list of things to remember in solar as we begin to exit 2013:

  1. An industry with most of its manufacturing in one country is stifling more innovation than it encourages. Right now students in universities who just might have that joyous spark of insight that ignites innovation and engenders a leap forward for the solar industry are being told “there is no money or future in manufacturing, all technology manufacturing is in Asia now.”
  2. Thin films are not dead and there is still progress in old lady wafer yet — remember, several years ago crystalline was dead, now thin films are dead, in a few years crystalline may well be dead again — meanwhile, students in universities who just might have that joyous spark of insight that ignites innovation and engenders a leap forward for the solar industry are being told “forget CIGS, CIS, a-Si, CdTe, c-Si, OPV, CSP, CPV and dye sensitized. Unless you can make it for less than a quarter, it hasn’t got a chance.”
  3. Let’s put to rest the unhelpful belief that a PV installation is a commodity. Electricity is a commodity, a photovoltaic system is not a commodity and nor is a solar panel. A PV system is the means of energy production and once installed, it helps its owner control energy costs and teaches the surrounding community a valuable lesson about energy independence as well as about how technology improves everyday lives. The closer to the load solar gets — that is, to the customer — the more the reality of energy independence inspires business models and the technology developers of tomorrow to imagine and create. Independence will never be commoditized.
  4. Watch out for fads as they are innovation killers. Fads are not trends and fads do not last (though just like hem lines, they tend to come and go). Trends develop overtime. A short term trend is a fad. An example from a few years ago was: Crystalline is the old technology and it is the past. Another example: Form factors other than the good old rectangle that defy the laws of physics (and are no longer in production). Another example: utility scale solar is the future, distributed generation (DG) is dead. Another example: off grid solar does not matter, grid connected is the future of solar. Another example brought about by the end of the FiT era and current low incentive environment: It was all about money for the past few years, now we can get back to our roots. To the last, come on, there is nothing wrong with making enough money to pay employees better, invest in R&D and quality control all while inspiring innovation and serving the goal of ameliorating climate change. One last thing, the trend to financing companies with debt (solar bonds so to speak), may look intriguing now, but, many a financial instrument has turned around to bite the hand that fed it.
  5. Stop selling free or cheap — once installed solar installations control energy costs over a very long period of time. Stop educating the energy buying public to believe that independence and reliability have no value — no luxury item manufacturer would undercharge for their product. Instead, they’d stick a logo on it and hike up the price a bit more.
  6. Solar leases are very popular and this model does encourage people to consider solar — but the model is flawed so let’s mature it. First, standardize the contract escalation costs (which are very confusing to end users) and base them on the costs of the solar system as well as on the desired margin. Concerning this, there is gathering momentum among utilities to add a per kWp service charge for PV system access to the grid. Finally, a strong attack on net metering would change the DG dynamic significantly and thus the economics. Net metering and access charges are the escalation charges to be concerned about in the future, prepare now.
  7. Energy storage: All the rage and not quite ready for wide deployment, particularly in terms of cost. Let’s not hold this emerging technology to the goal of being ever cheaper, we all know how this ends. After all, the value of self-sufficiency — not needing the utility grid to store electricity — now…utility grid as back up storage, that’s empowering.
  8. Access charges deserve a place on the list. US and globally, utility charges to connect, with APS and California as examples (though there are global examples) — seriously, if you are surprised at this, well, no comment. Solar deployment is increasing and where net metering is in place or self-consumption is encouraged utility profit margins are feeling the pinch. Charges to connect were always in the cards and we should have been prepared.
  9. Community solar: A very good idea just beginning to gain momentum. Not everyone owns a single family dwelling and for multi-unit dwellings, owning a solar installation has not been possible. PV is the best renewable distributed generation technology, finding a way for communities to take part will accelerate deployment. Community solar teaches the value of energy independence encourages a new generation of solar technology developers and engages utilities to work with solar industry participants. Installing PV on low income housing improves the lives of everyone in the community — grass roots movements can and do foment change.
  10. Remember that announcements are not data and PR is used for a variety of reasons including: calling attention to something worthy of attention, to divert attention from something else, to legitimize something, to announce a new product available for sale, to re-announce availability of a product that is not selling and to correct mistakes, along with many other reasons. In PV, announcements of champion cell/module results are often taken to mean that the achievement is currently commercial, instead of a as a report of progress in research.

The feed in tariff incentive model drove photovoltaic industry deployment to multi-gigawatt levels and encouraged the entrance of new players. Many of these new players believed — as did most of the industry — that the FiT model was the future of solar. The early profitability of this model drove the multi-megawatt (utility scale) installation sector. Many of those who entered during these times left stunned when retroactive changes and underbidding (as well as underpricing) erased profits almost overnight. So, for an official number eleven: incentives and subsidies for solar always change over time.

Also, and this applies to everything including the lease model, today’s darling will almost always disappoint eventually. Solar is progress and is crucial in the battle against climate change; remember, enthusiasm is great but perseverance, hard work and steady progress will keep an industry going when enthusiasm wanes. Just as incentives come and go, enthusiasm waxes and wanes.

And Now a Word about Climate Change

Climate change, with a lot of help from humankind, is altering the ecosystem that we are all a part of — sometimes accidentally, sometimes blindly and sometimes by excusing polluting behaviors as necessary. Bluntly, if you are not a part of the climate change solution, you are the problem – solar is a key part of the solution. The fight to deploy solar requires old fashioned guts and is often gut wrenching. Nonetheless, there is no better fight to engage in than the one against those who argue that we have time to make an impact.

And this calls for 12. Remember that the real goals are energy independence (from polluting sources), energy security (against escalating prices), and ameliorating climate change.

Announcing the Formation of Solar Installers of Washington

Approximately 40 companies install solar energy systems in the state of Washington and many have been active in the policy arena for a number of years, but too often as separate entities.

With the formation of Solar Installers of Washington (SIW), possibly the first trade association of its kind in the United States, the coalition is setting aside their competitive impulses and working together to help shape the future of solar energy in this state. Their aim is to do so by representing their customers, teaming up with local manufacturers and suppliers. It is also their goal to work closely with elected officials, and build strong relationships with utilities and environmental stakeholders in order to increase awareness and create better policies for wider adoption of solar energy.

In addition to delivering clean, renewable energy to Washington, they will support the creation of hundreds of local jobs and prosperous local economies across the state. Climate change, ocean acidification, air and water pollution, and resource depletion are all daunting problems that require a team effort to solve. It is with this in mind that the SIW is making its expertise and resources available to elected officials and related stakeholders so that Washingtonians are better able to use our most abundant energy resource - the sun.

Sunergy Systems is proud to be a Founding Member and also have our company founder, Howard Lamb, serving as a Board Member!

A Call to Action, Reject the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline!

Robert Redford has a Call to Action for you!  As a trustee on the Natural Resources Defense Council for almost 40 years, Robert dilligently continues the fight against drilling on public lands for some of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet.  Please take a moment and watch his PSA, and sign the petition to ask President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and move us further into a clean energy future!

9,400 Megawatts of Solar Energy

The SEIA reports that in Q2 of 2013 was the second best quarter ever for solar PV!  832 MW of solar PV was installed, 15% over Q1 in 2012!  What does that mean you ask?  9,400 megawatts is enough to fuel 1.5 million average American homes, removing 1.9 million cars from the road, or planting 236,000,00 trees!  Learn more here.

The new SMA Sunny Boy TL inverter with OptiTrac and Secure Power Supply

OptiTrac™ - Sunergy Systems is excited to introduce to you SMA's new Made-In-America Sunny Boy TL inverter lineup that represents the next step in performance. Higher efficiency combined with their new OptiTrac™ Global Peak power tracking, that mitigates the effect of shade, results in the best performances to maximize your solar investment.


Secure Power Supply - What we're really excited about though is the Sunny Boy TL inverters' unique "Secure Power Supply"feature, making it the first grid-tie inverter to provide up to 1,500W of daytime power in the event of a grid outage! With most grid-tied inverters, when the grid goes down, so does the solar-powered home. SMA's Secure Power Supply provides daytime energy to a dedicated power outlet during prolonged grid outages, empowering homeowners with access to power as long as the sun shines.


Leading monitoring and control solutions - The monitoring and control options provide users with an outstanding degree of flexibility. Integrated wireless Zigbee communications allows for a highly controllable inverter and one that can be monitored on Sunny Portal from anywhere on the planet via an Internet connection. On the go, impress your friends with your system via the Sunny Portal mobile website or iPhone and Android apps.

Don't Miss out on the 2013 Federal Tax Credit!

Did you know that the window to take advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Credit for 2013 is closing fast?  If you are looking into solar electric or solar hot water, book your consult now so we can get you in the queue for 2013.  Our installation calendar is filling up fast!

This sizable tax credit could help with a big tax liability on your books.  And that’s before you incorporate other incentives like the State Sales Tax Exemption, and the Washington Production Incentive, which pays you up to $0.54 per kW produced on your new solar system.  This tallies up to thousands of dollars in savings for you!

Don’t get left in the dark this year, book your consult now to make sure you have time to take advantage of these great incentives before the year is out!

A Solar Milestone for Sunergy Systems

Sunergy Systems hit a milestone this year.  We have proudly installed three megawatts of solar energy, and if you are one of the 650 people who’ve gone solar with us over the past eight years we thank you for this incredible achievement. When we opened our doors back in 2005 there were less than 50 net-metered solar electric systems in Washington State, now there are over 4,100 systems for a total of 20 megawatts of clean energy!

So what does Sunergy Systems customer’s 3.0 megawatts along with the one hundred plus solar hot water systems actually mean?

From when our 650 customer had their systems originally installed, to current date, their systems have done the following:

  • Generated 8.8 “mega” kilowatt hours of clean energy
  • Equivalent to 15.6 million car miles not driven
  • Prevented 12.5 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions
  • 15.5 rail cars (1/6 of a mile) of coal no longer needing to chug their way across the nation.

These numbers are just the beginning of what our solar customers have done so far, how about over the 25 year lifespan of their systems:

  • Will generate 85.0 “mega” kilowatt hours of clean energy
  • Equivalent to 143 million car miles not driven
  • Prevent 114 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions
  • 128 rail cars (1.3 miles) of coal no longer needing to chug their way across the nation.

Even better news for this year is that “Solar in Washington” has catapulted with an astounding 75% growth over last year. We too have certainly experienced this great boom with now being at twenty employee-owners and for the year installed 140 systems totaling 3/4ths a megawatt

Sunergy’s vision of “taking solar to the masses” and making solar mainstream continues to manifest and we continue to be excited about the role that we and our customers have played in making this happen! Sunergy Systems Solar Design Consultant, Chris Herman notices the message, "Now when families sit around the dinner table, going solar is a common topic along with potential career opportunities."

Everyone at Sunergy is excited and passionate to be making a living in such a meaningful industry and all of us thank you for making this happen!

Minimizing Indoor Heat during this Hot Seattle Summer

In the 2010 census, it was reported that only 13% of households residing in the Seattle metro area had central air conditioning. 2013 has proved to be one of most consistently hot summers in many, many years. Minimizing indoor heat can be challenging on these hot summer days, so here are some tips to keep your home cooler.

During the day, keep your windows and blinds closed tightly. If you’re home during the hottest part of the day, keeping a ceiling fan running counter clockwise or an oscillating fan nearby will help take the edge off. Set your water heater down to 120ºF, unplug appliances not in use, or plug them into power strips that can be turned off while you’re at work. Finally, change out incandescent lighting for cooler compact fluorescent bulbs. Energy Star rated bulbs can produce 75% less heat.  Even this little move can have a positive impact on both your interior temperature and your electric bill.

In the evenings, it can be a rude awakening to come home to a house that’s been baking all day. So this is the best time to open your windows wide, strategically arrange fans and let your house air out for a few hours before you close up for the night. Waiting until after 8:00 pm to run your major appliances like the dryer and dishwasher will help your home cool down after a scorcher. In the kitchen, prepare meals that are cooler like a fresh salad, cold soup or sandwich. If cooking is a must, use a microwave, toaster oven or grill to prepare your meals instead your oven. Then after dinner, hand washing your dishes and allowing them to air dry can have a huge impact. Happy summer Seattle!

Post on our Facebook page what you do around your house to keep cool.

5 Year Extension For Sales Tax Exemption!

For those of you who missed the June 30th, 2013 deadline for the Sales Tax Exemption on your solar electric system, you are in luck! Governor Inslee signed an extension on July 1st, 2013 for the Sales Tax Exemption for solar electric systems as well as adding solar hot water systems with a new expiration date of June 30th, 2018!

Even though there is a 5-year extension for the Sales Tax Exemption you should not hesitate to go solar. Washington State has one of the best incentive programs for solar, so take advantage of it, all of it! The production incentive is set to expire July 2020, which means there are only 7 summers left to get paid for everything your system will produce. And let’s not forget the 30% Federal Tax credit you will receive.

There is no better time to go solar! Go solar now and pay no sales tax, receive a 30% Federal tax credit, watch your electric bill go down while your meter spins backwards and get paid for the sun to rise and shine every day!

Water...How are you using it?

We should all be aware how much water we are using and conserving when we can. True water conservation not only saves water, but also the enregy that heats the water. Just think with a 5 min shower you are saving water, energy and time which leaves you space for a good breakfast to start your day! 
This month we ask you to take the 5 Minute Shower Challenge. A quick shower uses around 20-30 gallons less water than a bath. Challenge yourself and your family members to take 5 minute showers. And for the extreme water conservationists try a military shower! 
Post on our facebook page how it goes and the difference you are making!