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module level shutdown

As debate continues regarding the unintended consequences of the Module Level Shutdown requirement in the National Electric Code (NEC, section 690.12), some experts consider UL 3741 as the solution to these problems. It's time for a closer assessment.

The idea behind UL 3741 is to provide "a means of evaluation for photovoltaic (PV) hazard control components, equipment and systems that reduce shock hazards from energized PV system equipment and circuits in a PV array", as the UL website describes it. "It is specifically intended to establish and expand requirements for the evaluation of a rapid-shutdown PV array that can keep firefighters out of hazardous current paths when responding to emergency situations in homes and buildings with PV systems."

There are various factors that make UL 3741 similar to Module Level Shutdown. First, it does not resolve most of the underlying safety issues of today's shutdown solutions, such as additional components, increased connection points, and interference with arc fault detection caused by electrical noise. UL 3741 still leads to additional devices and more connection points on the roof and leaves the impacts of these devices on arc fault detection up to engineering judgement of the testing lab. Second, the certification process for shutdown solutions and equipment is complicated and costly.

Real safety issues unresolved

The adoption of add-on devices for module level shutdown has led to a significant increase in risk points in solar systems: connection points. According to comprehensive studies on PV related fires in the advanced solar markets of Germany and the UK, DC connectors are a main cause for fires in a solar system. However, technologies to comply with module level shutdown increase the number of connection points by 2-3 times compared to a string inverter system the same size. This happens because a component must be added to every single PV module on the roof.

With UL 3741, there are ways to have fewer components than under UL 1741. While microinverters and DC optimizers are typically added to every module, under UL 3741 it is possible to use 2-to-1 and 4-to-1 DC optimizers and microinverters. Looking at today's third party devices, it must be noted that these devices pass through voltage and current in the event of a failure or if the device shuts off. Thus, it would not be possible to reduce the component count significantly with UL 3741, as every other module would still need a device.

Costly certification processes

Beyond the unresolved safety concerns, the certification process is complicated and expensive. To get UL 3741 certification, it is required to get certified to the latest version of UL 1741 as well as functional safety aspects of the Photovoltaic Rapid Shutdown System (PVRSS) certification together with a third party shutdown device. While not required by the code, the market expects PVRSS certification for third-party solutions. Furthermore, with UL 3741 there is still no limitations on noise levels, which could cause interference with arc fault detection caused by PVRSE devices. Certification of PVRSS costs can go into the six figures each time a different combination of rapid shutdown transmitter (sometimes inbuilt into the string inverter) is paired with a different rapid shutdown receiver.

Another roadblock in the certification process is that UL 3741 does not present a real use case and is rather vague in its description. The certification process for a “safe array” involves many different parties (such as the standard PV module, the shutdown device, and the inverter), who usually do not have R&D collaboration or joint certification processes and supply chains. Even when listed, installers might run into trouble in sourcing the exact components of a “safe array” and will have to do Module Level Shutdown as it is done today to not risk inspection problems.

Summary: UL 3741 does not resolve most of the unintended consequences of the Module Level Shutdown requirement and does not address safety concerns surrounding today's Module Level Shutdown solutions. A real solution must resolve these safety concerns and allow for open standards and free market competition.

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The coverage of aerial imagery has increased in the last decade, which was a boon for solar contractors trying to quickly sell a project. However, 91 percent of solar professionals still contend that this imagery isn’t “good enough” to complete a project, forcing nearly all of them to conduct an on-site survey before construction. Given this frequency, it’s commonplace for site surveyors to interact with homeowners.  

This may sound odd, as solar contractor sales models all start with a sales rep visiting the property owner -- unless done virtually. However, regardless of model, the surveyor has an outsized role in providing confidence to the entire process.

First, surveyors act as the technical expert during the project’s scoping process.

While a sales representative typically focuses on system performance and payback, a surveyor is expected to confirm the layout of the system prior to installation. They will also map out the electrical runs and determine the structural integrity of the property. As a result, the average survey takes 60-90 minutes giving the homeowner plenty of time to ask questions, such as “will this actually work”, “what electrical equipment is needed and where will it all go” and “how will solar shadow analysis impact the site?” A good salesperson usually speaks to these questions at a high level. A good surveyor will take the time to walk a homeowner through these details from their vantage point, and in doing so instill confidence and certainty into a process.  

New technology can make an onsite survey into an experience for everyone.

Although 16 percent of solar professionals have drone experience, their application is on the rise. Drones specifically provide a unique benefit that a manual survey with a ladder and tape measure cannot -- the cool factor. Some contractors invite the whole family to come out and watch the drone. In one case, a drone survey enticed surrounding homeowners to walk over, enabling the surveyor to distribute business cards after the flight and pitch the entire neighborhood. Because drones can fly autonomously, surveyors can stay on the ground talking to homeowners while the drone captures images. Roof surveys minimize the time a surveyor can actually speak with a homeowner. 

Using drone imagery for a site survey also helps customers with project visualization. Right now, many proposals use hand-drawn sketches coupled with generic satellite imagery. Using drones with site design software, you can craft a 3D model of someone’s house and show them exactly where modules might go. This amplifies the cool factor and creates a visual experience for customers that a satellite or wireframe layout cannot compare.

Third, the surveyor’s tools and approach say a lot about a contractor’s business overall.

Solar is the energy source of the 21st century, but contractors are still using some 19th century tools, like ladders, tape measures and sketch paper. Some surveyors might also expect to harness in or “bolt on”, which prematurely pokes holes in the roof. Conversely, drones extend a reputation of technological expertise. Drones are not only more accurate, but also more scalable: many companies have said that drones can make the survey process five times more efficient. The tools you use reflects the quality of your company. Using a drone makes a clear statement about a solar contractor’s brand and values.  

Finally, the thoroughness of a site survey can dictate the ease in which a project is completed. In a recent poll, 71 percent of respondents said that site survey measurements were not perfectly accurate. Scanifly also found that more than half of solar professionals say that 25 percent or more of their projects require redesigns. Many contractors experience “call-offs”, where installers get to the project site but cannot proceed for a variety of reasons. While the average residential change order is $750 per project, one really bad change order or project delay can crush a contractor’s profits, and worst of all ruin their reputation in a local market. A good survey, ideally with a drone, mitigates against all of these issues and can preserve, or better, expand, a contractor’s reputation in a market. Every property owner loves a smooth and reliable process.

When given the chance, surveyors can be your best salespeople. They need to be empowered to interact with homeowners and be given the best technology to implement their jobs. Surveyors are a wealth of knowledge that the solar industry has not been using to its full potential. With drone technology and 3D modelling software, the survey process becomes not just more efficient, accurate and safer, but also will accelerate sales and allow a solar business to show technological expertise. Unlock your surveyor's potential.

Jason Steinberg is CEO of Scanifly.

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iowa solar policy

Via Energy News Network: Iowa solar installers say the expiration of a state solar tax credit could make solar panels a tougher sell for residential and small business customers. The Iowa Legislature adjourned last month without extending the state’s popular solar tax credit, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. 

The program has had a growing waitlist in recent years as demand has outstripped a $5 million annual cap put in place by lawmakers. More than 750 customers who have already applied are now unlikely to receive the incentive. The program’s future was unclear for years, and some solar installers had already started to change their sales pitches to customers, emphasizing benefits such as self-sufficiency and resilience instead of long-term cost savings.

“Now, we just talk up the benefits of the system,” said Andrew Fisher, a solar energy specialist with 1 Source Solar. “It’s more about creating energy on your own and energy security. We’re ramping up battery systems for backup.”

The state solar tax credit, the only one in the Midwest of 10 across the country, according to the North Carolina Energy Technology Center, took effect in 2012. Although the tumbling cost of solar panels in recent years undoubtedly has factored into the growth of distributed solar in the state, the Iowa tax credit “definitely has been an influential factor,” said Lewis Butler, sales director at Simpleray and president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association. “Especially on the residential side, it’s played a huge role.”

Distributed solar capacity has multiplied more than 100-fold since the credit’s introduction. According to figures compiled by the trade association, it grew from about 1.3 MW at the start of 2012 to 24 MW at the end of 2014, the year the Iowa Legislature tripled annual funding for the credit from $1.5 million to $4.5 million. The following year the state nudged yearly funding to $5 million.

Installed distributed solar capacity now stands at about 154 MW.

A bill recently before the legislature would have doubled the funds available each year from $5 million to $10 million. It also would have paid the credits due to the 2,000 homeowners and businesses on a waiting list who installed solar arrays with the expectation of a state credit set at 11% this year.

The state’s revenue department projects that it will not have the money to pay about $2.5 million it owes to 760 homeowners who’ve invested in solar panels.

Extending and expanding the credit, and decoupling it from the federal credit, was a high priority for Iowa’s solar industry and clean energy advocates. Although one House subcommittee endorsed the language, it never got a floor vote in either chamber.

The decision to let the credits lapse comes amid a broader debate among Iowa lawmakers about tax credit reform. There was no particular opposition, according to Kerri Johannsen, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council. She said it simply didn’t rank high enough relative to other issues.

The credit’s fate has grown increasingly uncertain over the past several months, and some solar installers and potential customers have been readying themselves for its termination.

The sales force at Eagle Point Solar has been cautioning inquirers for a few months not to count on a tax credit. As of May 1, Eagle Point stopped including a state tax credit when calculating the cost and payback time for potential customers.

Iowa installers have been looking beyond the state borders to compensate for business losses at home. From his perch in Dubuque, just across the Mississippi River from both Illinois and Wisconsin, Eagle Point co-owner Larry Steffen said he “absolutely” is looking for additional work in those states (though neither Illinois nor Wisconsin offers solar tax credits).

Projects with large bills may hardly feel the loss of the state credit, installers said. Because the credit has been capped at $5,000 for residential and $20,000 for commercial jobs, the loss of the credit will hardly be noticeable given the finances of a half-million dollar solar installation.

Homeowners and those with small businesses will notice, though. A four or five-kilowatt project for a home or small retail outlet typically would get about a $2,000 state credit.

Already, “our Iowa customers are… tapping on the brakes a bit,” Steffen said.

The impact on the financials of solar also will vary with the power provider, Butler pointed out. Customers of the state’s largest utility, MidAmerican Energy, who pay less for power than customers of Alliant, likely will find that solar doesn’t pencil out as well without the credit, he said. Installers would be wise to “shift more resources to territories where the cost of energy is higher.”

The tax credit could be resurrected in next year’s legislative session. Johannsen thinks it’ll depend on how much legislators hear from constituents.

Author: Karen Uhlenhuth spent most of her career reporting for the Kansas City Star, focusing at various times on local and regional news, and features. More recently, she was employed as a researcher and writer for a bioethics center at a children’s hospital in Kansas City. Karen covers Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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Paystand payment processing

One key effect we’ve seen from the pandemic is a widespread “pause” across industries ranging from restaurants to brick-and-mortar retail. While consumers were forced to reprioritize just about every aspect of their day-to-day lives, renewable energy and the fight against climate change remained top of mind for many. We saw businesses, cities, and entire states continue to emphasize their decarbonization plan, and, according to Deloitte, “Renewables edged out other electricity generation sources when electric demand fell this year.”

If we take a step back and look at the last decade, we see an average annual growth rate of 42% across the solar industry (SEIA), with consumers and businesses alike demonstrating an ever-growing hunger for renewable energy. With all of this growth potential laid out on the table, solar companies have also increasingly sought ways of navigating the tricky legacy infrastructure when it comes to payments processing and other business functions, making it tough to grow as fast as the market demands.

At Ipsun Solar, we searched for solutions to help with our backend payments processing after realizing far too much of our revenue was going to unnecessary transaction fees – and, what’s worse is that, the larger we grew, the more fees we were faced with. With locations in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, we had a wide array of accounts receivable we were managing on a daily basis. Transaction fees would often surpass $50 per residential solar project, which alone added up to tens of thousands of dollars each year.

Back in 2019, ahead of the holidays, we experienced a sharp increase in install demands and decided then to seek out a solution to help streamline and simplify our payments processing.

We set out to find a platform that could offer automated invoicing that would seamlessly integrate with Netsuite to take the headache out of business payments entirely. This is when we found Paystand, a B2B payments network built on the blockchain to enable faster, cheaper, and more secure business transactions.

We were drawn to this provider as their approach to payments is much more modern and business-friendly. Particularly, they offer one flat fee for payments instead of transaction-based fees, which resulted in significant cost savings for the business.

Last year, we saved over $20,000 in payment processing fees after kicking off our work with Paystand and we’ve already shifted 30% of our payments to their zero-fee payment network. As our customers reach certain project development milestones, their invoices get released automatically and without manual intervention. Automating a handful of tasks that were often time consuming helped our team immensely and allowed them to focus on other, more mission-critical tasks that would help further grow the business.

The desire to switch to renewable energy will only continue to skyrocket as the cost of solar installation panels plummets. We’re constantly looking for ways to adjust our processes, and automation has proven to be one of the most valuable ways of doing that to date. We look forward to seeing more innovation within the solar industry as businesses share what’s helped keep them afloat and expedite growth – particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Author: Herve Billiet, Ipsun Solar.

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module level shutdown

As debate continues regarding the unintended consequences of the Module Level Shutdown requirement in the National Electric Code (NEC, section 690.12), some experts consider UL 3741 as the solution to these problems. It's time for a closer assessment.

The idea behind UL 3741 is to provide "a means of evaluation for photovoltaic (PV) hazard control components, equipment and systems that reduce shock hazards from energized PV system equipment and circuits in a PV array", as the UL website describes it. "It is specifically intended to establish and expand requirements for the evaluation of a rapid-shutdown PV array that can keep firefighters out of hazardous current paths when responding to emergency situations in homes and buildings with PV systems."

There are various factors that make UL 3741 similar to Module Level Shutdown. First, it does not resolve most of the underlying safety issues of today's shutdown solutions, such as additional components, increased connection points, and interference with arc fault detection caused by electrical noise. UL 3741 still leads to additional devices and more connection points on the roof and leaves the impacts of these devices on arc fault detection up to engineering judgement of the testing lab. Second, the certification process for shutdown solutions and equipment is complicated and costly.

Real safety issues unresolved

The adoption of add-on devices for module level shutdown has led to a significant increase in risk points in solar systems: connection points. According to comprehensive studies on PV related fires in the advanced solar markets of Germany and the UK, DC connectors are a main cause for fires in a solar system. However, technologies to comply with module level shutdown increase the number of connection points by 2-3 times compared to a string inverter system the same size. This happens because a component must be added to every single PV module on the roof.

With UL 3741, there are ways to have fewer components than under UL 1741. While microinverters and DC optimizers are typically added to every module, under UL 3741 it is possible to use 2-to-1 and 4-to-1 DC optimizers and microinverters. Looking at today's third party devices, it must be noted that these devices pass through voltage and current in the event of a failure or if the device shuts off. Thus, it would not be possible to reduce the component count significantly with UL 3741, as every other module would still need a device.

Costly certification processes

Beyond the unresolved safety concerns, the certification process is complicated and expensive. To get UL 3741 certification, it is required to get certified to the latest version of UL 1741 as well as functional safety aspects of the Photovoltaic Rapid Shutdown System (PVRSS) certification together with a third party shutdown device. While not required by the code, the market expects PVRSS certification for third-party solutions. Furthermore, with UL 3741 there is still no limitations on noise levels, which could cause interference with arc fault detection caused by PVRSE devices. Certification of PVRSS costs can go into the six figures each time a different combination of rapid shutdown transmitter (sometimes inbuilt into the string inverter) is paired with a different rapid shutdown receiver.

Another roadblock in the certification process is that UL 3741 does not present a real use case and is rather vague in its description. The certification process for a “safe array” involves many different parties (such as the standard PV module, the shutdown device, and the inverter), who usually do not have R&D collaboration or joint certification processes and supply chains. Even when listed, installers might run into trouble in sourcing the exact components of a “safe array” and will have to do Module Level Shutdown as it is done today to not risk inspection problems.

Summary: UL 3741 does not resolve most of the unintended consequences of the Module Level Shutdown requirement and does not address safety concerns surrounding today's Module Level Shutdown solutions. A real solution must resolve these safety concerns and allow for open standards and free market competition.

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Is UL 3741 an alternative to Module-Level Shutdown?

Is UL 3741 an alternative to Module-Level Shutdown?

June 17, 2021

As debate continues regarding the unintended consequences of the Module Level Shutdown requirement in the National Electric Code (NEC, section 690.12), some experts consider UL 3741 as the solution to these problems. It’s time for a closer assessment. The idea behind UL 3741 is to provide “a means of evaluationRead More

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How Ipsun Solar improved its margins via payment processing

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Is UL 3741 an alternative to Module-Level Shutdown?

Is UL 3741 an alternative to Module-Level Shutdown?

June 17, 2021

As debate continues regarding the unintended consequences of the Module Level Shutdown requirement in the National Electric Code (NEC, section 690.12), some experts consider UL 3741 as the solution to these problems. It’s time for a closer assessment. The idea behind UL 3741 is to provide “a means of evaluationRead More

Webinar: Ground-Mount Solar Pile Driver and Machine Control Basics

Webinar: Ground-Mount Solar Pile Driver and Machine Control Basics

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Webinar: Ground-Mount Solar Pile Driver and Machine Control Basics

Webinar: Ground-Mount Solar Pile Driver and Machine Control Basics

May 21, 2021 at 1:22 pm 0 comments

Register here Wed, June 16 | 2:00 PM EDT Join us for an informative webinar about pile drivers and how they are used to support solar industry construction. Topics will include site prep, machine best practices and informative data. Additional pile driver site knowledge, pile designs, load testing and driverRead More

Is UL 3741 an alternative to Module-Level Shutdown?

Is UL 3741 an alternative to Module-Level Shutdown?

June 17, 2021 at 3:24 pm 0 comments

As debate continues regarding the unintended consequences of the Module Level Shutdown requirement in the National Electric Code (NEC, section 690.12), some experts consider UL 3741 as the solution to these problems. It’s time for a closer assessment. The idea behind UL 3741 is to provide “a means of evaluationRead More

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June 16, 2021 at 1:02 pm 0 comments

Inovateus Solar is maybe the most forthcoming and innovative solar developer when it comes to sustainability. The Indiana-based solar developer released its second annual sustainability report last week, which measures its carbon footprint and details its best practices. It’s worth a read (and stealing an idea or two). Highlights thisRead More

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Midwest anomaly no more: Iowa solar installers adapt after lawmakers let tax credit expire

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June 15, 2021 at 2:00 pm 0 comments

Via Energy News Network: Iowa solar installers say the expiration of a state solar tax credit could make solar panels a tougher sell for residential and small business customers. The Iowa Legislature adjourned last month without extending the state’s popular solar tax credit, which is scheduled to sunset at theRead More

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