Energy Matters – September 2015

Article written by Mark Becker for Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today, August 2015.

California Investor Owned Utilities such as PG&E are at it again. They have begun their push to try to reduce the economic value of FUTURE solar energy systems installed in the latter half of 2017 and beyond. State law requires that “net metering” solar rules change so as to better provide for long-term solar integration into our ever aging and stressed utility grid. The new net metering regulations combined with the upcoming 2019 electric rates (for new customers) will greatly change how solar is integrated into the grid and affect the economic benefits of solar PV. The economic effects that will result for the consumer are being debated. Politics and lobbies aside, there must be solutions available that keep the utilities relevant, protect consumers, and fulfill the renewable energy mandates as required by California law. Hopefully all involved parties can find mutually agreeable and advantageous solutions. Cooperation and coordination trump competition and special interest.

A renewable energy grid, energy efficient appliances, solar PV, and a connected smart home operating in tandem is indeed the future. Consequently, solar PV installations installed today should include non-proprietary products to provide greatest long-term flexibility to maximize the current value returns of the solar PV system and leverage future revenue opportunities. Recently I swapped out my legacy inverter with a much “smarter” inverter that is capable of a multitude of functions and features that will be able to integrate into the future grid and smart home. Nowadays, installing a proprietary inverter or rooftop electronics provides a “wow factor” but provides no other advantage other than the self-touted “solar production increase.” Unfortunately, the sales pitch surrounding these products typically compares these “advantages” to outdated and no-longer-in-use technologies. Let’s take a leap of faith and assume the touted production increase of these module level power electronics was indeed real: Shade on a properly sited solar module should only occur in the winter or in the early morning or early evening when “additional kilowatt production” is of lesser value and when the solar system would naturally be less productive. Proprietary products and their added long term operation and maintenance costs increase investment risk by adding additional potential points of failure in what can otherwise be a very safe investment. Contradictory to some solar PV contractor’s sales tactics, no products on the market neutralize shade effects. Many companies are trying to “fix” something that isn’t broken because it makes for a great sales pitch. It will be very difficult to find parts for these proprietary products if they fail 2, 5, 10 or 20 years from now, especially if these companies go out of business or move on to differing product lines. Reliability and interchangeability in product selection today equals security in investment tomorrow.

Recently, incessant problems at my home’s computer network caused me to run to Alamo’s Portable CIO ( through my personal gauntlet of “high expectation, fellow contractor performance testing.” By increasing the reliability and speed in my home network, Portable CIO greatly increased my and my family’s productivity. Portable CIO has now been tasked to help increase my company’s productivity. We’re also hoping to partner with them to help solve some of our customers’ networking needs. Evan and crew, thank you for your passion, dedication, and knowledge, which has made my life more efficient and less exasperating when it comes to all things related to Information Technology.

The takeaway for me, and the “ah-ha” moment is, if you’re able to recognize and communicate your problem, find a trustworthy industry expert to provide a solution(s). Complete knowledge or understanding every detail of that solution isn’t necessary as long as the problem is presented to someone you trust to solve the problem. Choose your contractor wisely, and be engaged in the process. Expect and accept only the highest quality service, and get documentation of the contractor’s sales pitch.

The solar business is booming right now for a multitude of reasons. Is the mandate of 50% renewables powering our California grid by 2050 overreaching? I don’t think so. On July 25th, Germany, not known for it’s sunny skies, was able to generate a record 78% of power production through renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and biomass. If they can do it, so can we.

Mark Becker is the President and business owner of GoSimpleSolar, by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc, CSLB 948715. GoSimpleSolar is one of the very few (and proud) solar PV installers utilizing both licensed roofers and licensed electricians for installation work, project managed by a solar PV NABCEP professional. For questions or comments email or call 925-331-8011.