San José Works to Make Commercial Solar Permit Process Easier

San José Mayor Sam Liccardo came to speak at CALSEIA's Bay Area Chapter meeting on November 16 at SunPower’s San José headquarters.  The mayor was justifiably proud of the efforts that San José has made to promote rooftop solar in their city, citing their early adoption of the residential streamlining standards per AB 2188 and several other recent initiatives across the city.  However, at the meeting some solar industry representatives communicated that while the residential solar permit process in San José is exemplary, there is room for improvement in the commercial solar permit process, citing many cases of long and expensive permitting experiences, and one in particular where a commercial solar permit took 490 days from inception to permit issuance.  This extreme example understandably grabbed the mayor’s attention and a meeting was scheduled to review specific cases of permit process challenges and possible improvements.  On December 21, solar veteran Gary Gerber and the Sun Light & Power team met with a group from the San José building department, including Chief Building Official Chu Chang. For the specific project which took 490 days, once the group looked into the details of the project, it turned out that the challenge for the extreme delay was actually due to a delay on the client’s end -- there was no fault by the City of San José.  Upon learning of this, Sun Light and Power gave the City of San José team an immediate and official apology.  Over the course of the meeting, however, other examples of problematic commercial solar permit and inspection times and fees were discussed, and the City of San José team agreed that much work is needed.  The consensus leaving the meeting was that several changes would be made to the commercial solar permit process, including a commercial solar permit checklist, with the overall goal of making the process cheaper, simpler and more predictable -- for all parties. This exciting collaboration between local government and private industry is integral to our industry’s success.  Representing the 10th largest city in the U.S. and the capital of Silicon Valley, the Mayor’s leadership helps to strengthen the clean energy economy in California.  This leadership is as important as ever as San Jose and our state move away from fossil fuels and towards clean air, local jobs, and economic growth driven by local clean energy development.

Walnut orchard offsets 75% of its electrical costs by going solar

West Sacramento, CA – River Oak Orchards, a proud producer of California’s walnut supply, can say it produces more than just nuts after the successful installation of its solar project. The orchard now produces 280 kW’s of solar energy, offsetting its PG&E costs by 75.8% and saving over $63,000 each year.

River Oak Orchard contracted JKB Energy for the installation of over 880 panels atop a fixed ground mount system. As one of the leading renewable integrators in the state, JKB Energy is helping the agribusiness across California make the transition to solar energy as they reach nearly 100 MW’s of installed capacity to-date.

“Agriculture is as one of the fastest industries to adopt solar in California,” states Chad Cummings, Director of Sales and Marketing for JKB Energy. “We have seen over 200 agricultural businesses make the switch to solar to offset energy costs.”

Like many other farms and orchards, River Oak joins this transition as an opportune way to reduce and control energy expenses. According to JKB Energy, PG&E rates have increased by 4-8% every year on average.

“By going solar, farmers not only benefit from reduced energy costs, but they are no longer impacted by inflation from energy bills,” Cummings explains. Removing this variable cost from a business’ overall operational costs really add up, especially for larger projects.

To further increase savings and maximize power production, River Oak utilized Mounting SystemsSigma Steel ground mounts to support this 280 kW project. The Sigma Steel system was designed in a shared rail configuration, an innovative technique that decreased the amount of rail material by 25%, simplifying logistics and making for a more cost-effective solution.



“Mounting System’s ground mounts were quick and easy to install, which helped keep our installers on schedule,” says Amanda Johnson, Manager of Client Relations for JKB Energy. “With a notable reduction in labor time, our installation rate was faster than expected.”

As with many projects, space constraints served as one of the biggest challenges for JKB Energy’s installers as they collaborated on how to strategically situate the ground mounts without uprooting too many trees or hitting nearby water lines.

However, these issues were resolved with Sigma Steel’s flexibility and customization, which accommodated these common obstacles. “With Sigma Steel’s design flexibility, we were able to install all modules with an additional 24-module array to maximize our customer’s power production,” Johnson states.

With more design flexibility, modules, power supply, and energy offset, River Oak Walnut Orchard can now reap the benefits of solar power throughout the year and hopefully lead the way for others within the agricultural community.


About Mounting Systems:

As a global company serving customers in over 50 countries, Mounting Systems is one of the leading international developers and producers of racking systems for photovoltaic and solar thermal facilities. With over 23 years of expertise in the market, Mounting Systems continues to build on an 8 GW history of excellence and product technological leadership with a continued focus on surpassing customer expectations. Mounting Systems is ISO 9001 certified with US and German offices that offer engineering, logistics, and manufacturing services.


About JKB Energy:

As a state leader in agricultural and commercial solar, JKB Energy has installed hundreds of projects and over 100 megawatts of solar throughout the central valley and beyond. JKB Energy provides turnkey solar solutions designed to virtually eliminate utility bills, while providing superb customer service and industry-leading install practices. As a proud sponsor of the Almond Board of CA and Almond Alliance of CA, JKB Energy is dedicated in its support and service of California’s agricultural sector.


Solar Panel Manufacturer SunSpark USA Marks Strong First Year with 150MW of Generation Capacity Eyes Continued Growth in 2017

(RIVERSIDE, CA) – Energized by contracts with leading solar installers on both U.S. coasts, solar module maker SunSpark USA forecasts over 30% growth in its power production for the coming year. That translates into some 200MW of manufacturing capacity, earning the year-old company a spot among the largest solar panel producers in the United States.

Much of SunSpark USA’s initial marketing efforts have focused on Southern California, where the Riverside-based company is based. The region has long been viewed as a renewable energy hot spot, with its favorable climate and public embrace of green technologies driving strong demand for solar across San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

While the company will continue to leverage its competitive advantage stemming from its proximity to the California market, growth in 2017 is forecasted to come from both the northeast U.S. as well as Texas and neighboring Sun Belt states. Cumulatively, those areas are projected to deliver an incremental 50MW gain to SunSpark’s production output for 2017 – aimed at the rooftop residential and commercial markets, as well as government and military installations.

In addition to its company branded mono and poly modules, SunSpark USA offers full-line OEM capabilities for customers selling panels under their own proprietary brands. Power outputs range between 250W-355W, depending on module type, all UL-certified and performance tested through independent labs such as respected San Francisco Bay-area firm DNV-GL. Select mono panels are also eligible for the HERO program.

SunSpark USA operations are housed inside a sprawling 165,000 square foot facility that once served as a manufacturing plant for amphibious vehicles used in World War II. It opened its doors in the fall of 2015, welcoming Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey and a contingent of civic officials on hand to celebrate the company’s arrival and the job opportunities the plant continues to bring.

Elon Musk wants to sell you a better-looking solar roof amid slowing growth for panels

LA Times - Like some kind of 21st century Willy Wonka, audacious entrepreneur Elon Musk chose a prime spot on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot tour to unveil his latest attempt to energize an industry — roofs that generate solar power but look like no other. 

Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Motors and chairman of SolarCity, showcased a line of high-design solar roof tiles that would replace clunky solar panels and tie into an upgraded version of the Tesla wall-mounted battery for those times when the sun doesn’t shine. The glass solar shingles resemble French slate, Tuscan barrel tile or more conventional roofing materials with a textured or smooth surface. 

“The key is to make solar look good,” Musk said during the product introduction staged on the old set of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” series, where he had re-roofed four of the Wisteria Lane houses. “If this is done right, all roofs will have solar.”

The move comes as California’s solar industry grapples with slowing growth and other challenges despite aggressive state mandates to boost the use of renewable energy.

Nationwide, sales of residential solar panels have held fairly steady in the year ended June 30, according to the Solar Energy Industries Assn.

In California, solar photovoltaic panel sales rose 12% in the first nine months of 2016 compared with the same period of 2015, state data show. But that pales compared with the 66% jump in the first three quarters of 2015 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Experts attribute the slowing to depletion of the pool of early adopters as well as to policy changes in California and other states governing how solar owners are compensated for electricity they produce and sell to utility companies.

In addition, many homeowners were worried whether Congress would renew a 30% federal tax credit set to expire at the end of 2016. Congress extended the credit through 2019 at 30%, after which it gradually phases out for residential solar customers.

The California solar industry still expects 2016 to finish with an expansion.

“We’re seeing a slowdown in the market but it’s not a downturn,” said Bernadette del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Assn. “We’re going to install more rooftop solar this year than we did in 2015.”

A significant driver in the solar market is the continued drop in the price of solar panels. The typical residential solar system runs about $8,000 with government incentives, including the 30% federal tax credit.

The supply of solar panels for residential and other uses almost doubled from 32 gigawatts in 2012 to 60 gigawatts in 2015, according to Navigant Research of Chicago. That’s enough to power roughly 45 million homes.

But capitalizing on the falling price of solar panels has been difficult for an industry that continues to struggle with other high costs such as labor.

Technological advancements in rooftop solar will help push overall industry sales from $3 billion in 2016 to $38 billion by 2025, Navigant projects. And by offering consumers a variety of solar system options, industry executives believe they will have an increased ability to compete with the price of electricity produced by utilities.

But Musk, with his flamboyant style, did not stop there. Instead, he is looking to one-up his competition.

Musk is working to build a personal alternative energy ecosystem connected by software and harmonious design, all under the Tesla brand name. The idea is that green-minded homeowners will mix with performance-oriented automotive geeks at Tesla retail stores to shop for electric cars, charging stations, solar rooftops and wall-mounted batteries for energy storage, available separately but designed to work best as a system.

Friday’s solar roof unveiling also included an upgraded Powerwall, Tesla’s sleek wall-mounted home battery, which can store roof-generated solar energy for household uses and recharge the Tesla in the garage.

During an August conference call with analysts, Lyndon Rive all but bet the announcement would trigger growth in SolarCity sales as the company lures homeowners off the sidelines with its new design. Rive noted that 5 million U.S. homes get new roofs each year — “a really big market segment” that won’t cannibalize sales of SolarCity’s traditional product.

Revenue during the first six months of the year almost doubled that of the same period in 2015, but the company’s net loss for 2016 was more than $230 million higher.

SolarCity’s value is far from its February 2014 high of $84.96 per share. The company’s stock price hovers around $20 a share now.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith, an analyst with UBS who focuses on electric utilities and alternative energy, said new products and flashy presentations are less important to SolarCity than the fundamentals.

“What they need to do is bring down the costs,” Dumoulin-Smith said. “The meat and potatoes issues for this company are much more pressing.”

In an effort to curb costs, SolarCity and home-sharing company Airbnb this month announced a partnership under which Airbnb hosts and renters are eligible for a rebate of up to $1,000 on solar panels through SolarCity. In addition, SolarCity customers who become Airbnb hosts receive a $100 travel credit.

With this kind of partnership, solar firms reduce the cost of customer acquisition, a large expense.

Solar firms also have been adding financing options other than the leasing model that was a signature strategy of SolarCity.

In June, SolarCity said it had begun offering 10- to 20-year loans to customers that would allow homeowners to gain the benefit of government incentives the leasing programs did not offer. The loan program allows homeowners to own the panels without huge upfront costs and receive the 30% federal tax credit — an incentive SolarCity and other solar leasing companies claimed themselves since they still owned the solar panels.

For Musk, who just reported a surprise quarterly profit at Tesla, design has always been supreme.

The company had fashioned its Powerwall home storage batteries with lines that complement the silhouette of a Tesla Model S; but to Musk, SolarCity’s solar panels looked like the same commodity products every other solar installer was selling.

He pushed the company to make the product not only cheaper and more energy efficient, but also better looking.

"This needs to be an asset to your house,” he said, repeating it in public appearances over the past few weeks. “It needs to be so good that when it's done you call your neighbors over to show them how proud you are.”

The new Tesla-SolarCity roof tiles will be available next summer, Musk said Friday, with rollout starting in California. He didn’t give details about cost or efficiency.

Musk says he spends most of his time on engineering and design, and on Wednesday emphasized the essential relationship between the two in a conference call with stock analysts.

“It’s important to have tight control over the production of solar panels … to have a beautiful roof product,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to iterate rapidly and have them made exactly how we want them.”

A 2014 survey by home-solar power provider Lumeta found that slightly under a third of respondents considered appearance very or extremely important, while slightly over a third said the look was slightly important or not important at all.

“People spend a lot of time trying to create an attractive home,” said Andy Ogden, chairman of the industrial design graduate program at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. “They don’t want funny glass boxes stuck on one side of their roof.”

Making solar roofs more attractive, he said,  “increases the number of people who will install solar.