Solar site inspection made easy and fun in new IREC online training video

If you think online training has to be dry and boring, think again, says the independent Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). The group launched a new online interactive video solar training for local code officials, which developers say has a “This Old House” approach. Take a look:

“There is a lot of important information in this training, so we created it to be enjoyable, not just informative,” says Kristen Ferguson, IREC’s associate director of training.

The online viewer learns alongside IREC’s own Joe Sarubbi, an experienced technical education, training and workforce development specialist, as seasoned building and electrical inspectors guide him through the finer points of five different solar inspections, each highlighting different types of systems and technologies.

RELATED: Win a YETI 45 Cooler! | 2018 Giveaway Rules and Regulations

“This is an important learning opportunity for new and experienced code officials responsible for inspecting residential rooftop solar installations in local jurisdictions across the U.S.,” says IREC Workforce Development Director Laure-Jeanne Davignon. “Presented in an engaging, easy-to-watch video format that can be completed in just a handful of lunch-hour sessions, the training is geared for residential inspectors and useful for residential PV installers,” adds Davignon. “This way, they are all on the same page with the most current building, safety and fire codes.”

The new course is updated to the 2017 National Electrical Code (NEC) and the most current international building, residential and fire codes. It is available online free of charge for a limited time.

“The new PV Inspector Online Training course for Code Officials brings together a remarkable group of experienced PV system inspectors from across the country to present a wide variety of PV system types and technologies,” according to Rebekah Hren, a member of the NEC’s Code Making Panel 4. “The high quality videos – interspersed with key inspection takeaways and knowledge checks – make this training not only easily accessible, but a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience.”

The online training was developed by IREC in conjunction with the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) and International Code Council (ICC) with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. CEUs are available from the IAEI, ICC and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

— Solar Builder magazine

Safari Energy awards solar portfolio maintenance contract to SunSystem Technology

Safari energy

Safari Energy has awarded solar PV services provider SunSystem Technology with its preventive maintenance portfolio — a three-year contract to conduct system inspections, testing and maintenance. The work spans more than 130 projects totaling over 80 megawatts (MW) of solar power generation capacity in 18 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii.

“Safari Energy is committed to delivering optimal returns for our large real estate portfolio clients, and this agreement with SunSystem Technology will further streamline our process and enhance solar power generation, ultimately increasing financial performance for our clients,” said Matt Rudey, Chief Executive Office, Safari Energy. “We will continue to seek out high-quality partners who deliver market-leading services, fulfilling our sophisticated approach to investing.”

RELATED: How to optimize performance and profit through O&M monitoring

Preventive maintenance of solar power systems is an important investment to avoid costly repairs, extend system lifetime and increase system uptime. It is estimated that a well-maintained system will perform 10-30% better than one that is not, potentially leading to millions of dollars in savings across large real estate portfolio. To date, as a result of careful maintenance and expert execution, Safari Energy’s more than 250-project fleet has performed at 104% of its proforma on a weather-adjusted basis.

As large real estate portfolio owners increasingly look to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, technology and innovation also play an important role in ensuring financial returns are optimized. In order to maintain Safari Energy’s commercial solar power systems, SunSystem Technology will deploy cutting edge tools, using drones, artificial intelligence and aerial thermography to assess system performance and identify areas to address.

— Solar Builder magazine

Community solar wave sweeps through country — how solar installers benefit

community solar for installers

A recent article in Forbes Magazine suggested there are 320 GW of untapped solar potential in the United States. To tap the market, however, solar installers have to think outside traditional solar production models. One model gaining traction throughout the United States is community solar, a way to share the benefits of solar energy with neighbors beyond the traditional solar-array-on-single-family-rooftop model of selling solar electricity. In this article, we’ll examine what community solar is, why it’s becoming popular, where community solar is taking root and why solar installers should consider adding it to their installation repertoires.

Why is community solar becoming so popular?

There are multiple reasons community solar is becoming increasingly popular. For one, it allows solar installers to broaden their pool of potential customers. After all, you can sell solar one rooftop at a time, but even the best installer will eventually run out of usable rooftops to sell. With community solar, installers no longer have to sell to each individual homeowner but can sell to a community instead. It’s a much easier sell because many people don’t want solar on their roofs for aesthetic reasons, or concerns about voiding roof warranties.

Community solar takes all those concerns away and, once one person in the community agrees to purchase solar electricity from the community array, others are more easily persuaded to follow their lead.

Lastly, it eliminates what is usually the biggest objection to solar installations: the cost. Since no one person is being asked to foot the bill for the entire array—instead sharing costs among dozens if not hundreds of subscribers—it’s easier for people to wrap their minds around the idea of solar energy in that context instead of putting it on their individual roofs.

Once the community solar garden is installed, all the participants in the program get to save money while gaining all the benefits from producing their electricity from clean energy. Who’s going to argue with that?

Where is community solar taking root?

Beloit University students help install community solar array in Colorado_GRID2017_2

Beloit University students help install community solar array in Colorado.

Shared solar is also the perfect solution to highly urbanized areas where land is at a premium, but densely packed buildings provide the perfect staging ground for utility-scale arrays.

It’s also taking root in rural areas where land is plentiful, and it’s expensive to string utility wires. In fact, farming communities are perfect places for distributed electricity of any kind—so why not have it be solar?

Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, depending on how you look at it), community solar farms are sprouting in states not typically associated with the Solar Revolution. In fact, the most robust community solar power program is in Minnesota, one of the cloudiest, coldest and snowiest states in the country.

Why? Well, after opposing rooftop solar systems for decades, the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, embraced community solar farms and started installing their own, giving their customers the opportunity to purchase parts of solar panels from which to produce their electricity.

To find out what the laws governing community solar are in your state, click here.

In other words, community solar allows utilities to provide their residential customers savings on their electricity bills by offsetting their use with the energy produced by their portion of the community solar project. With innovations like virtual net metering and other billing options, people see their power bills go down, while utility revenues can continue steadily along.

Community solar proves once and for all that solar power and utility profits are not mutually exclusive—meaning the mindless battles that have often plagued that relationship don’t have to continue in perpetuity.

How do solar installers benefit?

By now, the advantages to the consumer of community solar programs are obvious. But why should solar installers, who’ve made their money for decades selling solar one roof at a time, embrace community solar?

We’re glad you asked. Here’s why:

● 320 GW: To sell 320 GW of solar roof by roof could take the next hundred or so years, and despite our human-nature belief that we will all live forever, we know that’s not true. So why not use community solar to tap into this enormous, untapped market while you can still enjoy the revenues?

● Easier sales process: As we discussed above, it’s far easier to sell solar to a group of people than it is to individuals. Once one community member decides they want to purchase a subscription to a community solar array, the rest of the sales come much more quickly. And once you’ve sold 10 subscriptions or more, you’ve more than made your investment back on the sales meeting.

● Utility backing: Unlike individual rooftop solar sales, which utilities have been known to frown on because they see them as direct competition to their own business model, community solar arrays are something they generally can get behind. From Minnesota to Ohio to New Mexico and every state in between, community solar is being embraced by utilities as a way to keep customers while still satisfying their customers’ desires to get their kilowatt-hours from solar energy.

Having utility backing means much easier permitting processes, fewer interconnection headaches and easier collaboration when it comes to commissioning the new solar array. Think of how much easier your life would be with those advantages—and then think of how community solar could help you get there.

Ultimately, community solar is too good a deal for everyone for you not to embrace it. Customers love it because it allows them access to solar energy in situations where they might not otherwise be able to participate in the Solar Revolution. Utilities love it because it gives their customers another option while keeping them their customers.

And solar installers should love it because it opens new markets that would otherwise be closed to them if they were only selling one solar rooftop at a time.

Andrew Sendy is CEO of SolarReviews.

— Solar Builder magazine

NEXTracker, First Solar team on 600 MW of Series 6 projects, to feature new ‘error-proof’ panel clamp

NEXTracker First Solar

The NEXTracker mounting solution for the First Solar Series 6 panel features patent-pending panel clamps that company says provides error-proof rail alignment and rapid module installation.

NEXTracker will begin collaborating with First Solar to provide its racking technology for the upcoming Series 6 panel rollout this year. The First Solar engineering procurement construction (EPC) group also selected NEXTracker’s NX Horizon for multiple utility-scale projects in the southwestern United States, totaling 634 MW using the Series 6 module: Rosamond, Calif. (193 MW), Willow, Calif. (129 MW) and Phoebe, Texas (312 MW).

What’s new?

The NEXTracker mounting solution for the First Solar Series 6 panel features patent-pending panel clamps that company says provides error-proof rail alignment and rapid module installation. NEXTracker’s mounting solution can be configured to accommodate a wide range of site conditions that may see wind speeds up to 130 mph, up to a 15% north-south slope, and also high corrosion environments. NEXTracker has further enhanced NX Horizon for future First Solar Series 4 projects, with optimized logistics and cost saving features.

RELATED: How NEXTracker ‘decapitated the duck’ with its new solar-plus-storage tracker design

“With First Solar’s Series 6, they have created an elegant, superior thin film technology, with high efficiency and a beneficial temperature coefficient,” said Dan Shugar, founder and CEO of NEXTracker. “The excellent diffuse light response of First Solar’s photovoltaic cells pairs perfectly with TrueCapture, NEXTracker’s proprietary smart control system, to increase yields in PV power plants.”

“For the past year we’ve invested in partnering with the right suppliers who could complement our Series 6 technology in terms of innovation in system performance,” said Georges Antoun, Chief Commercial Officer of First Solar. “As part of our core ecosystem, NEXTracker is not only the global market share leader in solar tracking technology, but also delivers unparalleled design and customer service. We look forward to more successes together.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Massachusetts solar workers to rally at state house Wednesday to fend off demand charges

massachusetts solar

With the end of the legislative session quickly approaching, solar workers from across the Commonwealth will rally at the Massachusetts State House May 16 at 10 a.m. to urge the Legislature to act in support of the state’s solar industry. This comes at a critical time for the Commonwealth’s solar industry, which continues to fend off attacks at the state and federal levels. A recent report by the Solar Foundation found that solar jobs in Massachusetts – after nearly a decade of growth – saw a double-digit decline in 2017 for the second consecutive year.

Recently, six industry organizations and leading advocates representing Massachusetts’ 488 solar employers joined forces to call on Governor Baker to support legislation to reverse new solar surcharges on Eversource customers, providing relief from net metering caps (limits on the credit solar energy system owners receive), and ensuring the state Solar Massachusetts Renewable Targets (SMART) program enables all sectors of the Commonwealth’s solar industry to thrive.

Following a rally on the front steps of the State House, workers and leaders from the solar industry will meet with Massachusetts policymakers to urge them to protect the Commonwealth’s solar workforce from further declines through action on the net metering caps, SMART program tariff, and undoing the poorly designed Monthly Minimum Reliability Contribution (MMRC) charge on new solar customers in Eversource territories.

— Solar Builder magazine