SunSpec Alliance partners with 7 test labs to certify products for its solar, storage communication standards

sunspec alliance laboratories

SunSpec Alliance, the information standards and certification organization for the Distributed Energy Resource (DER) industry, announced the first SunSpec Authorized Test Laboratory (ATL) partners to provide SunSpec Certified testing services to a global roster of SunSpec Alliance member companies. SunSpec Authorized Test Laboratories represent a foundational service for inverter and other component manufacturers to demonstrate readiness to meet the communications requirements of California Rule 21. They provide testing services, with the SunSpec engineering team responsible for validating results and issuing certification marks.

“Communication-oriented markets leverage certification programs to foster growth, increase stakeholder confidence and lower total system costs. The SunSpec Certified program employs best practices proven by other industries,” said Tom Tansy, Chairman of the SunSpec Alliance. “SunSpec Authorized Test Laboratories provide impartiality and broad market availability of test services for dominant DER communication standards.”

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The SunSpec Certified program culminates 10 years of developing de facto standards that enable solar PV and energy storage systems to interoperate transparently with system components, software applications, financial systems and the smart grid. The program provides DER interoperability, data communications and cybersecurity functionality standards, aligned with international and national protocols, to accelerate industry growth, lower costs and enhance customer confidence.

SunSpec Certified Authorized Test Laboratories announced to date include:
UL LLC
Kyrio
SGS
PCTEST Engineering Laboratory Inc.
Intertek
CSA Group
TUV Rheinland of North America

Initial DER communication compliance programs addressed by SunSpec ATLs include Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standard (IEEE) 2030.5 / Common Smart Inverter Profile (CSIP), the default communication standard for California Rule 2, and SunSpec Communication Signal for Rapid Shutdown, a de facto standard to achieve compliance with the PV hazard control requirements of the 2017 National Electrical Code.

SunSpec recently upgraded its SunSpec Certified program to fulfill its responsibilities as the compliance authority for California Rule 21 communication requirements (SunSpec test criteria is specifically referenced in CA Rule 21) and to realize the success of the SunSpec Communication Signal for Rapid Shutdown standard, which has been adopted by more than 50 semiconductor, PV module and inverter manufacturers.

— Solar Builder magazine

IREC recognizes these four states for their clean energy policy decisions in 2018

solar state report card

After a colossal year of energy policy activity across the states, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) calls out some favorite 2018 success stories in its 2019 Clean Energy States Honor Roll, announced today. IREC is a 37-year-old national independent not-for-profit organization that works state by state to increase consumer access to clean renewable energy through fact-based policy leadership, quality workforce development and consumer empowerment.

Most Growth Potential

New Jersey. For creating a community solar pilot program and establishing one of the most aggressive energy storage goals in the country.

New Jersey has a long history of clean energy friendly policies, but the past few years saw a lag in progress, until recently. New Jersey is now poised to be a national leader for both community solar and energy storage development. A newly adopted community solar pilot program incorporates many established program best practices, as articulated in IREC’s Model Rules for Shared Renewable Energy Programs and National Shared Renewables Scorecard, and will expand access to all customers, including those with low and moderate incomes. The state’s new energy storage goal of 600 megawatts of energy storage by 2021 and 2,000 megawatts by 2030 sets a high bar for energy deployment, putting New Jersey alongside other leading states with energy storage targets, such as California, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon.

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Emerging Clean Energy Leader

Michigan. For tackling several core issues integral to realizing the potential of clean distributed energy resources (DERs), such as customer-sited solar, energy storage and wind.

Michigan is quickly emerging as a proactive leader on clean energy issues, as the state addresses several foundational regulatory policies impacting the deployment of clean energy on the grid, namely: interconnection rules, grid modernization and integrated distribution system planning. Tackling these core policies in anticipation of future growth sets a smooth glidepath for the state’s clean energy market to thrive, while also improving the customer experience and reducing costly and time-consuming processes for customers, developers and utilities alike. In addition, these regulatory efforts will help ensure the four cities in Michigan with established 100% renewable energy goals can accomplish these ambitious goals more affordably and efficiently (which benefits all Michiganders).

Most Charged for Storage

Nevada. For being among the first states in the country to formally address connecting distributed energy storage systems to the electric grid.

New regulations explicitly allow for and clarify how distributed energy storage systems will connect to the grid via updated interconnection standards. As DER penetrations grow and new technologies become available, these updated interconnection procedures (which align with IREC’s recommended practices) ensure more efficient and affordable deployment of clean DERs on the grid. In addition, Nevada joined the ranks of the few other states requiring utilities to proactively consider ways to optimize the benefits of DERs on the grid through a more comprehensive distribution system planning process.

Most Improved Transparency

South Carolina. For taking actions to improve utility transparency and reporting, which benefits both customers and developers.

South Carolina has seen considerable clean energy growth over the past few years due to favorable solar policies, but some of its recent growth has stalled due to interconnection backlogs. A November 2018 action by the state’s public service commission requires additional utility reporting measures aimed at improving transparency. This was an important step toward reducing the considerable delays in the interconnection queue in the state, while also preserving a positive path forward for future growth of customer-driven investments in clean energy technologies.

— Solar Builder magazine

KACO relaunches its portal for remote monitoring, now called blueplanet web

KACO new energy has relaunched its Internet portal for the remote monitoring of its solar PV systems. Since December 2018, the portal has appeared in a refreshed look under the name blueplanet web (formerly Powador-web). As part of the modernization, the Germany-based PV specialist is now offering users a mobile app as well as a free version for solar power plants with an output of up to 100 kWp.

kaco blueplanet monitoring
The company says its new monitoring portal serves operators of PV systems to recognize signs of unexpected yield loss and react quickly to that. Customers now have it even easier to keep an eye on the performance of their installation at all times and from anywhere.

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Free PV system monitoring up to 100 kWp

As before, KACO new energy’s PV system monitoring is available in a full-fledged ‘pro’ version as well as a free ‘public’ version. What is new is that blueplanet web public comes free of charge for solar arrays up to an output of 100 kWp; this applies to new registrations from Dec. 1 2018. The company also plans to integrate an alarm function that automatically informs about irregularities.

Full control with the app

In addition to a modern look that promises enhanced data digest, blueplanet web offers an up to date mobile app for iOS and Android. This allows remote monitoring of PV systems both from the desktop computer and at any time with a tablet or smartphone while on the move. After successful registration in the blueplanet web portal, the next step is to download the app free of charge; the login data for the portal then grants access to mobile system monitoring via the app as well.

Blueplanet web pro improves portfolio management as installers and maintenance services can bundle all their customers’ PV systems in one place. The possibility to personalize the user interface allows important data to be arranged according to individual requirements. Alarms are also part of the pro version – as are performance comparisons and reports.

— Solar Builder magazine

Side Business: Three solar contractors discuss selling, constructing solar-covered patios

Skylift

The Skylift is a new mounting product designed for attaching to an existing roof, grounding one end of the patio while elevating the ceiling and solar array.

Solar-covered patios are a niche product worth exploring as part of your solar business. The first step in pursuing these projects is knowing they aren’t for everyone. Many solar customers are interested in cost per watt, so pitching an addition that comes in around $7 per watt will stop conversations. This doesn’t mean it’s a dead end, just that they require a different sales and marketing approach and locating the right, easy-to-install solution.

What’s the market?

Andrew Read at Voltage River had high hopes for pursuing solar patios out in southern California, considering the high-income customer base and year-round outdoor living in the area, but he found that traditional advertising didn’t get the return he needed.

“Finding customers for this is not easy,” Read says. “I wanted it to be bigger than it is, and I did push it for a bit but have backed off trying to market it.”

Instead, he lets most of the business come to him via referrals from a cadre of high-end architects and builders. Approaching the market this way has been a success.

“We sell them for a high price because of what they are: a statement piece. Anyone looking to get out from under an electric bill, it’s not the system for them,” he says.

Region matters here more than in the standard residential PV business. John Hunter at Florida-based Premium Solar Patios, for example, is a bit more bullish on the current market for the solar patio, calling it “astounding.”

“We have seen a major influx of interest from your average homeowner to track homebuilders,” he says. “Today we are fulfilling orders from dealers around the country as well as installing sales from our inside sales teams.”

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One angle that has worked for Hunter is in HOA developments that make it difficult for homeowners to go solar. The solar patios they install are often a way around HOA rooftop aesthetic issues. They also can be placed anywhere on a property to get the best direct sunlight if the home is shaded.

But a word of warning: You think regular solar permitting is annoying, try coordinating between one person for the patio itself and then another person for the solar portion.

“It can land on a desk of someone used to seeing one thing, they don’t know what to do with it and then you get stuck in the washing machine of bureaucracy,” Read says, noting it took him six months to get one project through in Laguna Beach.

Construction

Once you are ready to pursue solar patios, the question is whether you want to also get into the patio construction business and offer a turnkey solution or just handle the solar piece and contract out the rest.

“The people good at doing this are the same that build regular patio covers because it’s an extension of what they do,” Read says. “From my experience, solar guys get hung up on patio covers. The patio cover structure guys can build that pretty easily, and then I can bring in a contractor just to wire up the panels and get it plugged into the main circuit.”

Premiums Solar says a solar patio installation, in most cases with an experienced crew, will take three days, due to the concrete drying time and footer/house attachment inspections where required. Vince McClellan with Solar Energy Design calculates a typical job takes about a third longer than mounting the array on the roof.

“After the structure is up, our Solar Rainframe system installs in about the same time as a typical solar array mounted on a roof,” McClellan says. He notes the market for solar patios is just starting. His company’s Solar Rainframe racking system (originally designed for parking structures) creates a water shedding roof using standard framed solar electric modules — a design built with 10 years of experience designing and building BIPV canopies. It uses no seals or gaskets and creates a weatherized roof out of standard solar modules, meaning there is no need for a separate roof under the solar array because the solar array is the roof.

That’s the other thing: Each solar installer we talked to had developed and settled on their own structural and design approach for the solar + patio.

“I’ve been toiling along with different solutions and finally found something that works. Hasn’t come from a simple stroll down the aisle at Wal-Mart,” Read says. “This solution literally took years of futzing around and figuring out because these are elegant systems and not designed to be cheap.”

“With our awnings, the wire is hidden behind wireways that are a part of the system,” McClellan says. “The extruded aluminum rails of the Solar Rainframe product can span about 20 ft with only two points of contact. This creates an uncluttered look underneath the awning because there is no need for additional beams supporting the solar array.

Premium Solar uses its standard reinforced aluminum 3 in. x 8 in. support beam, which makes it an easy fit and retains the style of their other solar patios. Wire management is also key here. Be sure to select conduit or other solutions that will keep the wiring out of view.

“We have a more commercial system in appearance that is a lower cost option to our Premium Solar Patio. Each option can be customized for the application the customer desires,” Hunter says. “Due to it being a more complex project, it does come with an added cost versus a rooftop, but we have come to find markets that sell rooftop for what the patios retail for in the majority of markets.”

Key to each of these unique designs was the Skylift, a new mounting product specifically designed for attaching to an existing roof and grounding one end of the patio while elevating the ceiling and the array. This makes it easy to retrofit a patio cover onto an existing building and attaching the solar while saving money on installing the footers and posts on that side. It also solves issues with eaves in some cases being too low to allow for the attachment of a solar patio along with the need to slope for water runoff. The Skylift allows for the needed height.

“We would have many patios that could not be installed in many cases due to a pool,” Hunter notes as an example. “Depending on where you are in the country, the requirements to offset from a pool wall would be damning to a project. The Skylift provided the solution that allowed us to back further away from the pool and get these special cases permitted.”

“Another great option for building integrated solar roofs using our Solar Rainframe system is using clear backed or bifacial solar modules that let the light shine through between the solar cells,” McClellan says. “It creates a stunning architectural detail for porches, patios, covered walkways, entryways, etc. Coupled with the Skyjack system it’s a great way to add beauty to a home or business while making clean renewable power.

Pairing the right system design with the right sales and marketing plan (and sales expectations), solar patios could develop into a nice side business.

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— Solar Builder magazine

How will the PG&E bankruptcy affect the California solar industry? Two quick takeaways

Bankruptcy law

California’s largest utility, PG&E, filed for bankruptcy last week after years of liability for its role in California’s wildfires piled to an estimated $30 billion in damage. How will this affect the momentum of distributed generation projects in solar’s leading state? We reached out to the California Solar & Storage Association to learn more, and here are the two broad strokes.

1. Breathe out. There shouldn’t be any major impact on the solar and storage market in PG&E territory. The programs that affect solar and storage customers operate under state law and will continue regardless of what happens with PG&E.

2. Except delays. Certain tasks could become more annoying / frustrating. Take SGIP for example. The funds are collected by a separate adder on utility bills and reserved under state law, so CALSSA doesn’t foresee any impact on the program. But, depending on what happens with staffing, there could be delays in documentation and incentive payments. The same scenario could play out for interconnection processing with extended timelines. Those are just possibilities to consider and not definites. Pre-bankruptcy, PG&E already had a sluggish process for commercial interconnection and SGIP, but its residential solar interconnection turnaround ranks among the quickest in the country.

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— Solar Builder magazine