Solar installed to power these homes for homeless women veterans in New York

Mission Solar Energy

Cindy Seymour, President of Serenity for Women, believes the following three words should never be linked together – homeless, women and veteran — but unfortunately women veterans are nearly three times more likely to be homeless as non-veteran women. To combat this issue, Seymour sought out partnerships and property to create long-term, sustainable homes for these women in the Syracuse, New York community. Thanks to a collaboration with Mission Solar Energy LLC  and Nickels Energy Solutions, this plan is taking shape.

Serenity for Women has led the construction of two new tiny homes that will be turn-key for the participants. Located in Syracuse, NY, these 12’ X 16’ tiny homes will provide residents with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area. Not only will each tiny home be fully furnished and functional when women arrive, but will also feature a solar system.

“Including a solar system seemed to be the logical way to go when considering sustainable solutions for these homes,” said Seymour.

Nickels Energy Solutions, a Syracuse-based solar installer, generously provided the design and installation labor for no cost to the nonprofit organization. Additional funds were raised locally to pay for the materials needed to install the solar panels.

“When I first heard of Serenity for Women’s plan to address homelessness in our community, I immediately thought that solar panels should be included in the design plans and fundraising efforts. Cindy Seymour at Serenity for Women was on board with the idea right away, but she was very clear from the beginning that we had to use USA-made products. We install Mission Solar Energy’s PERC 60 solar panel on a regular basis already, so we were confident in suggesting Mission Solar panels for the Tiny Homes”, said Kevin Nickels, Vice President of Nickels Energy Solutions.

Mission Solar Energy was pleased to supply their Texas-built solar panels to this endeavor.

“Joining forces with Nickels Energy Solutions to supply our solar modules for this project seemed to be a natural fit. We are proud to design, engineer and assemble our products in the U.S. and are honored to support America’s heroes”, said Sam Martens, Commercial Operations Director of Mission Solar Energy.

These tiny homes are hoped to be the first of many. Plans to partner with Serenity for Women for future tiny homes benefitting homeless veterans are being explored.

— Solar Builder magazine

Close the Gap: How to revive lagging large-scale PV project performance

Alencon’s SPOT X2 DC-to-DC optimizer

Alencon’s SPOT X2 DC-to-DC optimizer can boost utility-scale PV plant performance.

A completed PV project is like a splashy free agent sports signing. Everyone is all pumped up at the ribbon cutting or press conference, but if it underperforms and misses expectations, that goodwill is gone. Live up to that contract or get booed.

In a world where new utility-scale projects might slow down (a possible understatement if tariffs are placed on module and cell imports), optimizing current portfolios is crucial, not just for each project to hit its targets, but to continue to prove solar as a worthy investment and distributed resource.

Closing Performance Gaps

With more than a decade of hardcore O&M industry experience, there is a greater reservoir of institutional knowledge both out in the field and in plant operation management. For example, MaxGen is a U.S.-centric O&M provider focused on utility and C&I sites that manages a large team of licensed, professional technicians throughout the country, hitting about 5,000 different sites a year for corrective (CM) and preventive maintenance (PM).

As part of its business model, the company will take over portfolios of assets to monitor — some of which are underperforming. According to Mark McLanahan, CEO of MaxGen, assets are usually underperforming because of one or more of these reasons:

  1. The site is not in good physical condition because of poor vegetation management or erosion or general site management. Consider this a reminder to keep O&M in mind when designing a project because it is often the largest expense over the life of the project. “Handling stuff like vegetation management and module washing can be the biggest expense by far if you’re not careful,” McLanahan says.
  2. Poor PM records, which often means PM hasn’t been done. “That’s a problem because you have to perform PM to maintain warranties of inverters, combiners and modules,” McLanahan says. “We have seen many cases where service to date is either not verified or there’s no record.”
    This is where PowerFactors comes in handy. PowerFactors is an energy operations management software platform that MaxGen has been using since 2016 to integrate all the monitoring, alarm management, work order creation and management, dispatch and reporting for all the operations, and preventive and corrective maintenance tasks in its scope of work with its customers. Also, contract requirements can be programmed into the system. For example, Power Purchase Agreements in California often require instant notification of large drops in capacity and failure to do this will incur penalties. Auto-notifications can be routed to the right places in those events with the right rules plugged into the software. This enables fewer operators to manage more projects with greater complexity.
  3. The site data acquisition system simply hasn’t been mapped properly, which undermines the data quality of the entire project and leads to maintenance misdirection. There’s an outage on inverter A; a dispatched technician heads to inverter B because it’s mapped as inverter A. The issue isn’t discovered, and so on. McLanahan estimates that MaxGen encounters this in 20 to 30 percent of the underperforming sites it takes over.
    “It’s a data quality issue,” he says. “With solar, you have to study performance at the low level, not just the revenue meter, to make decisions on performance. You have to look at inverters or combiners or at the main circuit. If the mapping is no good, you’re wasting time.”

Once the site is remapped and the PM is up to date, annual maintenance and CM plans are put in place to build it back to baseline performance using better data. From there, more advanced decisions can be made. Data can be studied for factors such as ground coverage ratios, tracker angles, performance anomalies at the combiner level and similarity-based modeling to help identify additional opportunities. MaxGen has boosted a number of utility-scale projects 2 to 5 percent on the performance side using this systematic process.

“With consistency, you’ll see 1 to 3 percent improvement right off the bat just with low-hanging fruit,” McLanahan says. “Compare the combiners on a relative basis on performance and just look at last month. That sets the corrective maintenance for the next week. Once you have accomplished all the PM tasks, have good data access and capture the low hanging fruit, you can move up the lost energy priority list and tackle the things that are above the baseline to increase production and revenue even further.”

Solar for All: How to incentivize community solar projects to benefit low-, middle-income customers

Retrofitting or Repowering?

Traditionally, the two options for a lagging PV site to hit its expected performance target are: 1) boosting its actuals, or 2) lowering the expected numbers.

“Once a project has been reviewed to ensure all the basics are correct, we can focus on boosting output to outperform proforma expectations. Part of this process sometimes includes resetting the baseline based on correcting performance assumptions made before the plant was built,” McLanahan says.

Obviously no one wants the latter, but overestimates happen frequently during the high-stakes, quick turn-time bidding process via incorrect assumptions regarding soiling, degradation, line losses, etc.

But, what if there was a way to still overachieve from the original estimates? This is the proposition presented by large-scale, DC-to-DC optimizers just now coming onto the market as part of a retrofitting strategy. The Alencon SPOT X2 is one such optimizer that has been recast in a manner to make it easier to minimize the soft costs — such as labor and ancillary installation materials — associated with PV retrofits. Minimizing installation costs is key to achieving the highest rate of return on PV retrofits, and retrofitting a PV plant with Alencon’s SPOT can significantly increase PV yield by introducing more granular MPPT while at the same time improving safety and decreasing on-going O&M costs.

“With a number of PV assets now changing hands as PV plants get older and PV fleets get consolidated, we are seeing a great deal of interest in retrofitting PV plants to improve energy yield. The SPOT X2 makes performing larger commercial and industrial or utility scale PV retrofits much easier than ever before,” says Hanan Fishman, president of Alencon Systems.

Now, retrofitting a large-scale PV system with new equipment is a tough sell because the profit margins are thinner and ROI is tighter than new construction (plus the downtime that must be factored in), but going this route with an experienced team could prove valuable. Energy and electrical systems specialty firm ProtoGen, for example, has executed a number of retrofit projects and incorporated Alencon’s SPOT DC optimizer at the string level to minimize those retrofit costs because it’s as close to a plug-and-play PV retrofit solution as possible.

“The key to pulling off a PV retrofit in a cost and time effective manner is to think in terms of 80 percent planning and 20 percent execution,” Fishman says. “In our experience, if you can maintain that proportionality, you should be able to set a similar target for your percentage of hard costs to soft costs.

Here’s a checklist Alencon suggests using if you are considering a retrofit for a large-scale PV project:

  1. How much is the equipment going to cost?
  2. Have I considered all the elements of ROI that go into the project including production incentives and potential tax credits like accelerated depreciation?
  3. What sort of engineering analysis will I need for the project? Structural? Electrical? Anything else?
  4. Will the work require a permit? If so, who is the AHJ? What do they need to approve the project (i.e. stamped and sealed drawings or just a statement of work)?
  5. What sort of certifications will be needed for the equipment being installed (i.e. UL or NEC)?

Bottom Line

The true bottom line in PV system performance, from initial projections to 30 years in the future, is customer service. People need to make the correct assumptions, perform all O&M tasks correctly and use data analysis to their advantage while being as proactive as possible. As more data is gathered and algorithms are perfected, “trend events” will be the next frontier for improving performance.

“These don’t show up as a discrete one-time energy loss but as small events that happen continuously over time, and if you don’t look for them you won’t see them,” McLanahan says. So, maybe one inverter is coming on and offline in mere seconds. “If you look at the curve, you won’t see it, but if you look at the trend, there’s something wrong with that inverter, and it will likely break down at some point.”

That curve is a nice visual to end on. Just plan to stay ahead of it.


Speaking of data…

Chris Crowell and Kate Trono, VP of Products for SunLink

Craving some more nerdy solar data talk? You’ll want to check out our new podcast — Solar Builder Buzz — in which we grab a beer with people smarter than us to discuss the solar industry. In Episode 2, we sit down with Kate Trono, VP of Products for SunLink, and pick her brain on the value of data in the solar industry and just where the industry is going (and should be going) from here. We maybe also discuss Sci-Fi.

Listen to the pocast here.


Take a quick peek

Measure launched new turnkey solutions for solar facility owners

Measure launched new turnkey solutions for solar facility owners, asset managers and O&M contractors that include drone-based site overview and maintenance, site shading and terrain analysis, thermal inverter scans, tracker misalignment detection and vegetation management. On a site generating 21 MW, for example, Measure can complete an inspection in seven hours instead of weeks, freeing employees and contractors for higher-value activities while also lowering inspection costs. The lower cost also makes it possible to perform more frequent inspections that can detect problems in a timely manner.

Maximum revenue capture for larger plants may not be inspected in a single visit and potentially leave some issues or faults unidentified. Measure’s launch customer was able to avoid a potential revenue loss through an inspection that discovered over 200 malfunctioning panels on a new solar farm.

— Solar Builder magazine

Arizona Public Services territory sees a bunch of Phazr MicroStorage installs to shave peak demand charges

JLM Energy Phazr MicroStorage

JLM Energy’s Phazr MicroStorage mounts easily on solar racking and plugs into the microinverter and solar panel with MC4 connectors, virtually eliminating design and installation costs. Phazr comes in 7 sizes to pair directly with the solar panel wattage. Two Phazr’s can go behind each panel for up to 5 hours energy storage. Phazr has no single point of failure and provides the lowest total cost of ownership for energy storage on the market today. Works for Residential & Commercial applications. (PRNewsfoto/JLM Energy)

JLM Energy has installed and commissioned more than a dozen residential Phazr MicroStorage plus solar projects in locations throughout the greater Phoenix metropolitan area in both Salt River Project (SRP) and Arizona Public Service (APS) territories.

In SRP territory, customers can avoid peak demand charges by using energy storage to shave peaks when demand spikes. Demand charges are calculated on the most intense 30-minute period of energy use during the monthly billing cycle. In APS territory, the challenge is time-of-use charges. APS charges more for energy used during peak hours of the late afternoon and evening, when people are at home relying on the grid. These customers use energy storage for what is called, “consumer self-supply.”

This solar+storage case study shows 96 percent reduction in grid-buy

No matter what the strategy, JLM Energy’s software Measurz optimizes and controls when the solar energy should go into the batteries, directly into the home for immediate use, or back to the grid for net metering credit. The algorithms in the software are set to make the best deal for the customer based on their energy use profile and utility tariff structure. The user-friendly interface makes it easy for customers to track their energy use, savings and expenditures with second-by-second data.

“We are extremely pleased that Phazr is performing well in Phoenix,” said Farid Dibachi, CEO and Founder of JLM Energy. “Phazr optimizes solar production by discharging power at the most valuable time. Not only can customers save money, they can protect their investment with the ability to adjust to any future rate change the utility makes.”

“We are absolutely focused on the satisfaction of our early customers and ensuring that they have a positive customer experience with JLM,” said Dibachi.


— Solar Builder magazine

GRID Alternatives earns workforce development grant from Bank of America Charitable Foundation

Fronius Grid Alternatives

GRID Alternatives, a national leader in making clean, affordable solar power and solar jobs accessible to low-income communities and communities of color, announced today a $500,000 grant from Bank of America Charitable Foundation to support its SolarCorps Fellowship Program. This national grant builds on the bank’s past support for GRID in locations in California and Colorado.

The SolarCorps Fellowship Program has up to 60 fellows working with GRID in multiple states across the country. Participants gain hands-on training and leadership skills to jumpstart their clean energy careers, while working to expand access to solar power and job training in underserved communities. SolarCorps also receives funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“It is critical that we work together to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy and ensure more sustainable communities,” says Alex Liftman, Global Environmental executive at Bank of America. “Through job training and other support this program is creating economic mobility in underserved communities and making a positive difference by reducing energy costs, providing high-growth jobs, and helping to preserve the environment now and for generati ons to come. We’re excited to support this innovative program.”

This new online platform to connect solar jobs with interested applicants

Fellows of the SolarCorps Fellowship Program spend a year of paid service in GRID Alternatives’ offices, helping install solar electric systems for an estimated 1500 low-income households and providing solar training to the 5,000 volunteers and job trainees who participate in GRID projects. The program started in 2006 with support from AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA, and was expanded in 2015 to become GRID’s premier job training experience, preparing in dividuals from diverse background s for successful careers in renewable energy. Past fellows have advanced to be come installers, electricians, project leads, directors and principals at leading solar companies, energy consultancies, finance firms and other renewable energy businesses.

“The SolarCorps program is an incubator for our next generation of leaders, helping to creat e a clean energy economy that includes and benefits all of our communities,” said GRID Alternatives CEO and Co-founder Erica Mackie. “We’re thrilled to have Bank of America as a strategic partner in this work.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Hannah Solar to design solar+storage microgrid at U.S. Air Force base on Wake Island

Hannah Solar Government Services

The U.S. Air Force is adding a microgrid with PV and storage on their remote base in Wake Island, and Hannah Solar Government Services (HSGS) will be handling the design, engineering and construction. The funding for this award comes from the Department of Defense (DoD) Energy Conservation Investment Program (ECIP).

Wake Island, located to the west of the international date line in the North Pacific Ocean, makes up less than 3 square miles of land and is most known for its role in World War II. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wake Island was attacked by the Japanese Empire in what is known as the Battle of Wake Island. Today the Island hosts a U.S. Air Force airfield and ballistic missile defense assets. Currently, those assets are powered by costly fuel that is shipped in from across the Pacific.

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For years the US Air Force has sought out renewable energy to save money on its consumption. But, on Wake Island, saving money isn’t the only objective.

“This is what we mean by ‘energy security,’” said COL (R) Dave McNeil, CEO of HSGS. “With on-site energy generation and energy storage, the Air Force can power its critical facilities without relying on a shipment of fuel.”

The micro-grid HSGS will construct on Wake Island includes a 740 kW DC ground mounted solar array and a battery energy storage system. HSGS will begin the construction of Wake Island’s microgrid in 2018.
HSGS is a veteran-owned business specializing in the design, installation, and maintenance of solar PV energy systems and microgrids. Serving government, commercial, industrial, and utility clients, HSGS’s breadth of experience includes projects that span the continental United States as well as overseas.

— Solar Builder magazine