Accurate Solar System Sizing for New Custom Homes

How much solar do I need?

This is the first question that we hear when asked to design solarfor a new custom home. If you get an answer to that question fromsomeone who does not ask you at least four or five questions back, youmight consider showing them the door in a hurry before either of youwastes too much of your time. A good solar contractor will alwayscarefully prioritize the customer’s interests.

Generating more electricity for a residence than is required to runthat

residence is not a very good way to spend money. Utilities areincreasingly being called upon to pay for “over-production” byresidential customers; however your best value is eliminating only thepower you actually use. Most people building their “Dream Home” tend tooverestimate the energy requirements of their new home because they arethinking in terms of their older home’s requirements.

Why do people overestimate electrical use in their new home?

In most cases, the new home is substantially larger than the old one. Naturally, there is good reason to assume that if the new home is twice as large, the energy required to run that home will be greater. This is not necessarily the case. In California and in most other states thereare far more stringent “Energy Efficiency Requirements” in place forbuilding new homes than were in place when the owner’s previousresidence was built. Before you can get a building permit in California, you must show that some minimum energy efficiencies have been designedinto the home.

For clarification, speak to your architect about your “Title-24” orCF-1-R form. Because of these design requirements, a 3000 square foothome built in 2010 is likely to require about 60% of the electricitythat the same size home, with the same amenities built prior to 1985,will require. This difference is not quite as evident in the mildestclimates. 

Some of the most important energy efficiency improvements in recentmaterials and design are:

  • Radiant barrier roof sheeting
  • Higher insulation ratings
  • More efficient HVAC Systems
  • High efficiency lighting systems, including activity sensors
  • Low ”E”  windows and doors, with better sealing
  • More efficient pool pumps

While all of the above greatly reduce electricity loads, there isstill the ”Lifestyle Factor” to consider in calculating true energyusage. Your personal habits are an important factor. Just because wedesign homes with automated systems and better features, there isnothing that will guarantee the occupants will not override theautomated controls or ignore the opportunities for energy savings builtinto the new home. Your energy consumption in your own home is still,and rightly so, your own business. If you choose not to take advantageof the systems in your home you may not realize the benefits of thosesystems.

Here are some questions that you should hear when a solar contractordiscusses sizing a solar plant for your new home:

  1. How much (kWh) electricity do you use now in your current home?
  2. How many square feet is your old home?
  3. How any square feet is your new home?
  4. Are those homes in the same “Climate Zone”?
  5. Will there be the same number of occupants with the same habits?
  6. What are the ages of the occupants? (Small children will grow up touse more energy, and elderly occupants may have special comfortrequirements.)
  7. Are there “guest rooms” or other parts of the home that will not bein constant use?
  8. Do you plan to occupy the home ”full time”?
  9. Is your new home serviced by the same utility company as your oldhome? (rates differ)
  10. Do you have or plan on purchasing a Plug-In Electric Vehicle (PEV)?
  11. Are there any other major changes in your lifestyle that you will be making in the new home?

Of course, you can see where these questions are leading. There aremany other pertinent questions, depending on your specific requirements, lifestyle and design. The absence of these questions will let you knowimmediately that you are talking to the wrong contractor, and thepresence of these kinds of questions that will at least assure you thatyou are speaking with someone who MAY be qualified to design anappropriate solar plant for your new home.

New homes are a very specialized sector of the solar marketplace.There are hundreds of solar contractors in California but only a smallpercentage of those are qualified to design and install solar for newhomes, and secure the generous New Solar Homes Partnership Program(NSHP) Rebates for their customers.

For more information contact Tyler Michael at his email,

By Tyler Michael
Director/New Solar Homes Division, HelioPower



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What Do Solar Energy and the Ford Model T Have in Common?

In the early 20th century, America’s largely rural population wastransfixed by an exciting new technology – the automobile.

For most ofmankind’s history, people either walked or rode horses, carts or wagonsto get from point A to B. The invention of trains and streetcars enabled long distance travel and people could now move about easily withingrowing urban areas. But travelling from your family farm in Greenvilleto the market in Mudville was still either a hoof or heels proposition.

Henry Ford’s invention of assembly line production of the venerableModel T brought personaltransportation to the masses and expanded mankind’s footprintgeometrically across the globe. The implications of this transportationrevolution a century ago are dramatically evident today.

How does this relate to solar energy?

Until now, and for the vast majority of people, electrical energygeneration has been in someone else’s hands – the local utility. Weekend engineers and survivalists have pieced together their own homegrownsolar arrays for over a decade, but recently, and for the first time inhistory, you can easily and economically generate much of your home’senergy. Yes, most businesses and homes are still dependent on theirutility for energy from the grid when the sun’s not shining, but evencars are confined to roads and dependant on gas stations. Harnessingsolar energy has brought man an unprecedented level of energyindependence, especially in rural areas. Water pumps, lighting andrefrigeration have been freed from the shackles of a mass producedenergy system.

Those early transportation pioneers overcame their unfamiliarity with this new technology. The first people to buy Ford’s cars didn’t have afather or uncle they could turn to with experience buying cars. Theysurely didn’t think of cars as being almost disposable either! Within ashort time, and no doubt driven by necessity, these new drivers wereexperts on repairing flat tires and plugging leaky radiators. Newindustries servicing the auto industry sprang up overnight. America’sand the world’s industrialized economies were on the move.

Today’s solar pioneers are also addressing their unfamiliarity withthis new technology. They diligently educate themselves online aboutmono vs. polycrystalline efficiencies, optimum tilts and azimuths, andminimizing shading issues while pensively calculating when to jump inand commit to having their own solar power system installed.Fortunately, solar energy systems have virtually no moving parts and are relatively maintenance-free. New service and manufacturing industriesincluding solar financing (not unlike GMAC!), system maintenance andlow-energy use fixtures are emerging. Commercial and residential solarsystem installations have grown from thousands to hundreds of thousandsand soon millions within just the last decade.

There is, however, a crucial difference between the personaltransportation revolution and the solar energy revolution that cannot be overstated. Although the mass production of the automobile has freedmankind in many respects, automobiles are directly responsible forsignificant worldwide environmental destruction. Large swaths of theplanet have been paved for roads and parking lots. Fuel sources andrefineries pollute our lands and waterways. Emissions from hundreds ofmillions of internal combustion engines choke our skies. Renewableenergy sources like solar offer the only hope of breaking carbon-basedfuel’s grip on our planet’s health. Today’s solar pioneers are the first responders in the healing of the planet!

This solar revolution promises, at the very least, to slow the rateof global environmental degradation and may be the killer app that turns the tide on the general adoption of renewable energy sources andgeneration technologies. Ironically, these solar energy arrays will befueling our plug-in electric vehicles – the equivalent of a Model T and a gas pump on your homestead. A century from now, we may look back ontoday’s rooftop arrays and be reminded of those pioneering farmers,their trucks laden with the fruits of their labors, smiling as theythank Henry Ford for saving their feet from that long walk to Mudville!

By DerekGirling,
HelioPowerSolar Energy Consultant

Contact Derek Girling at


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Power Earth Day By Going Solar!

“Power the Earth Day Movement” is the Earth Day Network’stheme for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, 2010. What better way to “power” up energy efficiency, renewable energy andgreen jobs than by going solar? 

As of Tuesday, March 16 the Earth Day network website has registered 15,062,212 billion acts of green pledged, 59 campaigns tocelebrate the movement and 752,766 members participating in thecelebration.  More than 1 billion people celebrate Earth day, making itthe largest secular civic event in the world.  You too can participatethis year.  By going solar you greatly reduce or eliminate yourelectrical bill, hedge against future utility rate increases, become arole model for your neighborhood and community and benefit the planet,all at once!  Solar is a great way to power your home and the Earth Day2010 movement! 

Right now HelioPower and SunRun are offering two free months ofelectricity if you sign up before March 31, 2010.   Click here for moreinformation.

Want to go solar in April? You can with as little as $1000 down.  Click here for that information. 

Earth Day Network Statement:
Earth Day 2010 can be a turning point to advance climate policy, energyefficiency, renewable energy and green jobs. Earth Day Network isgalvanizing millions who make personal commitments to sustainability.Earth Day 2010 is a pivotal opportunity for individuals, corporationsand governments to join together and create a global green economy. Join the more than one billion people in 190 countries that are takingaction for Earth Day.


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Update on Home Star, PACE and Solar Financing

GreenTech Media reported yesterday that the Home Star Programis set to benefit the green construction industry in many ways,including those working in solar.  Creating more funds for solarfinancing, including the growing movement around PACE (PropertyAssessed Clean Energy) programs is part of Washington programinitiatives. 

The article reported:
With President Obama asking Congress for $6 billion for the Home Starretrofit program and Vice President Joe Biden promoting PACE programsas a means to finance home retrofits and repairs, everyone is going tostart getting into manual labor and household repairs.

There are the policies that have been, or soon may be, enacted toprovide the needed cash to get the trucks rolling. At least fourteenstates and 30 municipalities have enacted PACE programs that allowhomeowners to finance retrofits through property tax supplements.Renewable Funding, whose president Cisco DeVries helped created PACE,received $12.2 million in funds from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and otherVCs recently. Citibank and other large banks are currently setting upprograms to funnel credit to PACE programs.

"With a federal loan guarantee (for PACE programs), it can grow froma hundreds-of-millions to a $400-to-$500 billion program," Jack Hidary,a PACE advocate, told us last year. "It can also help the 1.5 millionpeople out of work in the construction industry."


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CANV and 100 Solar Roofs

Residential Solar in Suisan installed by HelioPower

Want to go solar and don’t think you can quite afford it, still? Do you need a little more incentive than the state and feds can give you (state rebate and federal tax credit)?How about looking into your local city and county programs? How aboutchecking into Community Action of Napa Valley (CANV) and their “Napa Valley Solar Partnership” program?

The City of Napa, California has been looking for a way to takeadvantage of AB 811 and be one of the pioneers of citywide residentialsolar. Their sister county of Sonoma found a fabulous way to incenttheir green minded residents to go solar. It’s called “Solar Sonoma County.”Residents who go solar can receive a one- time loan for solar systempurchase and pay it back over time through their property taxes. SonomaCounty’s program kicked off fairly quickly and with great success duein part to the fact that their water district had funds available forthe program. Unfortunately Napa City and County have not yet identifieda funding pool for their own AB811 program.

In walks Jon Vaden, Director of CANV’s (Community Action NapaValley) Napa Valley Solar Partnership Program. CANV applied for andreceived a federal grant to educate the residents of Napa Valley andget as many of them as possible to go solar before the end of 2010. Theorganization is trying to help all Napa County homeowners go solar, butalso has a special emphasis on helping match low-income residents withavailable loan programs that can provide the upfront cost for solar.

With the grant in place Jon has set out on a trail of solar seminarsaround the valley called “Making Cents out of Solar” (with me, SolarSarah, in attendance). He covers how solar works and how residents areconnected with PG&E with their “net metering” agreement to buy ANDsell energy back to the utility. He also goes over the programs andincentives available, as well as what to look for in a contractor. Heexplains to homeowners what to expect as it pertains to the process ofbidding and installation – basically covering the ins and outs, frompaperwork and permits to financing and commissioning your solar system.All of this is done from an educational standpoint with no pressure orsteering to any one installation company. Of course I’m always ready,willing and able to schedule a site visit for those eager to getstarted!

CANV has a prescreened vendor list to assist Napa residents inchoosing a qualified installer. Jon has vetted each company carefully,checking their contractor licenses and standing with the BetterBusiness Bureau as well as the requirements of C-10 (Electrician), C-46(Solar) and NABCEP certifications. The program requires that eachcompany use screened employees and not sub-contractors or temporaryworkers, ensuring quality workmanship and professionalism from anycompany participating in the program.

HelioPower, Inc is proud to be a part of CANV’s Napa Valley SolarPartnership and I am privileged to attend every seminar and meeting.I’m Solar Sarah Madsen of the Napa Valley and you can find me at theweekly seminar spot, wherever that may be (find event listings on CANV’s website).I’m grateful to Jon Vaden for including us and believing in mycommitment to service the Napa Valley and beyond. Everyone has workedtogether to create a successful program and it won’t work overnight,but your solar system doesn’t work overnight either ;) 

Now let’s get going GREEN and GO SOLAR with SOLAR SARAH in the NAPA VALLEY!!

By “Solar” Sarah Madsen
HelioPower Solar Energy Consultant

You can reach Sarah Madsen via email at

Image: Residential Solar in Suisun installed by HelioPower


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Solar Financing Agreements – The Fine Print

The newest, most exciting trend in residential solar today is on the financing side. Leases and Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s)make solar available to almost every homeowner. Radio airwaves arethick with companies pitching “No Money Down” or even “Cash Back”offers.

A well structured solar financing agreement should be a Win/Win/Win proposition– A win for the homeowner who gets the benefits of low cost green solarenergy without the relatively large upfront investment, a win for thesolar installer who grows their business with new customers, and a winfor the solar financing partner whose investors generate a steadyrevenue stream for years to come.

But just like every other offer that may come your way, the devil is in the details!

Solar is a long-term investment and you should be careful to make sure that you’re negotiating the best agreement possible with a reputable, experienced installer.When evaluating a financing proposal from a company, there are severalthings you should consider when reviewing their agreement.

First, if you are serious about going solar, ask the solar company’s representative for a copy of their agreement.If they are reluctant to provide this to you prior to signing up, bewary. Some companies will not even send out a representative unlessyou’ve committed to them! Reputable companies are transparent withtheir agreements and terms and conditions. They’ll strive to make sureyou’re comfortable with them before asking you to sign a contract.

Next, see if you can determine how much they are they charging for the system and how much the buyout is at the end of the agreement.Many companies make this information very difficult to discover! Onewell-known nationally advertised company charges as much as 30% moreper Watt than most installers for similar systems. After 10-20 years ofmaking your monthly payments, are they asking you to pay almost halfthe original cost to buyout the system? Are you responsible for payingto remove the system should you choose not to buy it? Add up the totalof the payments and the buyout at the end and see if this seemsreasonable.

Are the payments fixed or do they escalate? If it’sa PPA, then the payments should be fixed at a reasonable kilowatt hour(kWh) price for the life of the contract. If it’s a lease, the paymentsshould escalate at a no more than a nominal rate (2.5 – 3%/year) tocover inflation. Anything more than that sounds like a low teaserpayment to get you contracted followed by an increasing rate of returnfor the finance company.

Virtually all homeowners are installing their very first system andare not familiar with the technology. One of the benefits of afinancing agreement can be freeing the homeowner from the responsibility of maintaining and insuring a system.Well-structured agreements place the responsibility for the system withthe system owner (the financing company) and also guarantee the amountof energy the system should deliver. If the financing company owns thesystem, but you’re still responsible for the maintenance, walk away!

Speaking of maintenance, what provisions does the finance company make for funding the maintenance?The best agreements stipulate that an appropriate amount of money isheld separately ensuring your system is maintained for the duration ofthe agreement. This also protects you in the event that the financecompany is sold, goes bankrupt, or sells your contract to someone else.The best contracts make it impossible for a company to separate therevenue stream (your payments) from the responsibility of maintenance.

Lastly, what options are available to you to get out of the contract? If you move before the term is up, can you easily and at no costtransfer the agreement to the new homeowner?  Can you buy the systemfor a reasonable price at anytime? Can you pre-pay your remainingpayments at a discount reflecting the reduced time value of money?  Canyou continue on a year-to-year basis without purchasing the system whenthe initial agreement expires?

Remember, a good, flexible and equitable agreement allows ahomeowner to get the benefits of low cost green power now at a fairprice from a reputable installer with several options to transfer,buyout, or purchase the system. Read the fine print, ask lots ofquestions and, most importantly, if the representative is pressuring you to sign something you don’t understand, find another company!

By Derek Girling,
HelioPower Solar Energy Consultant

Contact Derek Girling at


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Solar Lease – New Option to Leverage ARRA Funds

Solar Financing Structure Empowers Tax Disregarded Entities to Reap ARRA and Rebate Benefits


By Steve LoRusso

Vice President, Commercial Sales, HelioPower


Nonprofitshave seemingly been out of the luck when it came to monetizing the 30%federal cash grant for renewable energy installations provided by theAmerican Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  Taxdisregarded entities have not been able to take advantage of thelucrative 30% treasury cash grant or the federal and state depreciationbenefits (IRS 200 MACRS).  However with the participationof a lease partner, organizations that were previously left out of theARRA funding picture now have a new opportunity to build solar powergenerating systems on their buildings utilizing the support of the ARRAcash grant for renewable energy installations. 


Thissolar financing structure involves an interested third party utilizingthe tax incentives in the role of a Site-Delivered Equipment Provider.  Theresulting solar financing product is much simpler and less costly toarrange than a solar power purchase agreement (PPA) for smaller sizedsolar power installations. The minimum transaction size is $200,000.


Thissolar lease structure is available to well-established, creditworthyU.S. based companies and nonprofit organizations. It can also benefitmunicipalities, churches, schools, and 501c3 structured entities thatwant to leverage ARRA funds and state utility rebates to go solar. Theeffectiveness of this solar financing structure will be impacted byconstruction site considerations and the financial strength of the hostas it would be in any other type of solar installation.


HelioPoweris working with financial partners who are able to offer a low costseven (7) year financing program for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems tofinancially strong commercial firms and nonprofit entities inCalifornia and surrounding states. We work with our solar financingpartners to provide 100% financing of a PV system at a fixed paymentfor 7 years with an 8.5 year amortization. Normally no additionalcollateral is requiredother than the solar equipment. The nonprofit entity applies to theU.S. Treasury for the 30% cash grant which, when received, is appliedagainst the financing agreement.  Additionally the monthlylease payments required from the organization are offset for the firstfive years by the CA State Performance Based Rebate payments to theproperty owner.


Wesee great promise for endowment foundations, grant makers and personalcontributors that make annual contributions to their selectedcharities, to rethink their contributions.  These contributions could take the form of milestone payments on energy leases.  Thus the supported solar panel system benefits the organization for decades  -generating electricity from a self-generated and sustainable source,hedging the nonprofit against escalating and unpredictable power ratesthus creating a stabilized utility burden.


As in the Old Chinese Proverb, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.  Teacha man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” When supporters fund aturnkey solar electric system through a true lease solar financingstructure they empower the organization to create their own electricityfor years to come as well as enable them to benefit from ARRA federalcash grants and CA state solar incentives. 


Disclaimer:  This is not tax advice.  We encourage you to talk with your tax advisor before proceeding with any financial agreement.


Source information:


American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

U.S. Department of the Treasury


Click here for link to page that includes Frequently Asked Questions:


21.Question: Is an applicant who owns eligible energy property eligible toreceive payment if the energy property is leased to a non-profit orotherwise ineligible entity?


Answer:  Yes.  Ifthe owner of the energy property is the applicant and is otherwiseeligible, the fact that the property is being leased to an ineligibleentity does not impact the eligibility of the owner/applicant providedit is a true lease and not a disguised sale. 


For more information contact Steve LoRusso directly at  

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Telling Your Solar Story

At HelioPower we help our clients tell their solar story. 

We workwith commercial, community and utility clients creating communicationprograms to herald their new solar power installation.   Our effortshelp them weave the aspects of a solar installation into an overallgreen marketing message that supports their brand.

Solar is an exciting addition to an organization’s environmentalefforts.  In fact, a solar power system assists on multiple levels of aTriple Bottom Line approach benefiting the company’s people, its profits and environmental efforts (the planet).

Having successfully completed several affiliate marketing programsfor HelioPower clients, this information is designed to contribute tothe industry’s knowledge base and guidelines for successfully telling aclient’s solar story and thus contributing to their overall greenmarketing message.

Nearly all of our commercial and public sector clients have workedthrough the normal list of “reduce your energy and energy use costs”before they adopt solar.  Way before the solar conversation starts theyhave harvested the “low hanging environmental fruit” of recycling,green purchasing, etc.  Past this phase, they move to implementingenergy monitoring to determine peak demand usage and reduce it, andenergy use overall to create cost reduction programs. Out of thisinformation comes the use of energy efficiency technologies includinglighting, motors, HVAC, etc.  Solar is not generally where they startor where they should start, unless they are building a new U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in LEED(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) structure. Then solarpower technologies should be part of the design from the initial stagesof the development.

Once solar is part of the client’s overall green building, thusenvironmental strategy, HelioPower works with them to communicate therole solar plays in these efforts and thus the environmental aspects oftheir brand.

A marketing / communication program for a HelioPower solar clientbecomes appropriate when we can implement the following guidelines:
• Assist our clients to communicate environmental benefits of solar
• Optimize strategic partner alliances
• Involve the community, green building, local and state government
• Utilize Internet and social media to provide transparency & communication
• Educate stakeholders
• Work as a team

Each solar promotion program will have its unique opportunities andchallenges.  In order for solar promotion program to be successful wehave found that it is essential to meet all of these objectives. 

HelioPower assists our clients to communicate environmental benefits of solar. Part of our responsibility as an organization’s solar power partner isto help them gather the information needed about their solarinstallation.  We assist them in developing a full understanding oftheir solar power system, how it works, energy generation data,environmental offset data, how to explain it to their constituents andwhatever information they need to communicate their solar program. 

We provide information online about the client’s solar power installation on the HelioPower website. Our efforts are coordinated with the client’s to create informationthat is easy to access and captures all the correct data about thesolar project. 

Affiliate marketing programs must optimize strategic partner alliances. At HelioPower we have

Bill Nye, the "Science Guy" shines light on Bob’s Big Boy solar event, supported by Canadian Solar, SMA and sponsors

the distinct pleasure of working with some of the industry’s greatbrands and high profile clients.  Any program that we participate in orspearhead for one of our clients must involve strategic partners in theindustry and those affiliated with our client.  Communicating the solarstory would not be complete without involving the solar power panelmanufacturer, inverter partner, and potentially the energy performancemonitoring company.  It can also involve brands that do business withthe client as was the case with the Bob’s Big Boy campaignwe implemented last fall.  The key is to involve those within theindustry who have participated in the solar installation by way ofproduct and those who do business with the client.

Involve the community, green building, local and state government. One of the very exciting aspects of taking on a communication programto highlight a solar installation is involving the stakeholders in thecommunity. 

Community groups gather to support Porsche solar panel dedication

Community groups gather to support Porsche solar panel dedication

We are all obviously familiar with the solar “ribbon cutting/ throwthe switch” ceremony.  These are important celebrations of thecommitment the client has made to solar power generation.  This type ofevent is the most valuable when it is an opportunity to reach out tostakeholders in the community and give them a chance to support theclient. 

In the construction phase of a solar celebration or marketingprogram, it is our job to identify community, green building, local andstate governmental groups and leaders who should be involved in aprogram.  And you don’t need to stop here.  You can reach out to aloyal customer base, supporters, local charity groups, and any otherorganization whose contribution to the program will enrich all partiesinvolved.

Utilize Internet and social media to provide transparency & communication.Marketing messages regarding environmental strategies must betransparent and easy to find online.   This upholds the integrity ofthe message. 

It is critical to strategize the online aspects of a client’s solarmarketing program.  The effort may be as simple as identifying the bestmedia distribution source and insuring the joint press release issupported with accurate online information about the solarinstallation.  It may be a more comprehensive approach that involves aprogram-specific website.  Each effort is unique.  Insuringopportunities for an online program are investigated and maximized asneeded is essential.

Educate stakeholders.  Telling a solar story mustinclude programs to educate the client’s constituents.  Programstypically include communication to employees, investors, media andpress, community members, etc.  When you are considering a program,think about what groups are involved with your company or client andwhat aspects of the solar installation would hold meaning for them. Within a particular solar story, different themes and information willhold meaning for each distinct constituent group.  Thinking through allthese “story lines” will create positive communication and honor themany groups that support or are involved with the client, and thus havesome level of involvement with the solar installation.

Work as a team.  Our renewable energy industry isfilled with talented, positive professionals who are a joy to workalongside and truly are impassioned by their mission within theindustry.  We have the distinct pleasure to assist our clients incommunicating their solar story.  Thus we work to create a teamapproach for each marketing program, from a relatively simple pressrelease to solar ribbon cutting events and more elaborate affiliatemarketing programs. 

It takes a dedicated team of client and solar installation companyindividuals to successfully design and install a solar power system. Sotoo the best programs to tell a client’s solar story, within theauspices of their brand message, also involve a team effort.

You can reach me at  I welcome your comments, insights and observations.

Guidelines for communicating the solar aspect of a green marketing program

By Glenna Wiseman, Vice President, Marketing, HelioPower


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Tips for Selecting A Solar Installer

This past year’s tremendous growth in residential solarinstallations hasn’t gone unnoticed and new solar companies are hangingtheir shingles out every day! 

Contractors that up until last year werebusy installing aluminum windows and garage doors or wiring parking lotlights are now touting themselves as solar power experts. Californiaalone has over 1,500 solar installers operating in the state. More thana few of these companies are very small operations run out of theowners’ garage.

Designing and installing a reliable and efficient solar power systemrequires expertise in engineering, roofing techniques, and electricalsystems. Another overlooked skill is the ability to accurately submityour permitting and rebate application paperwork in a timely manner.

Selecting a contractor can be stressful! This is a significantinvestment and you’ll have to live with the results for decades. Somequestions a homeowner should ask include:

Does the contractor have more than one crew? If not, managing your installation along with inspections and follow up visits will be challenging.

What is the likelihood of this contractor being around in ten years to back up their warranty?The California Solar Initiative requires all installers to warrantytheir workmanship for 10 years but if your contractors is out ofbusiness, you’re out of luck.

How does this contractor manage their cash flow?This is very important considering they may be floating literally tensof thousands of dollars in rebates. Cash flow problems can result indelays or substandard materials used on your home. Make sure yourcontractor is well capitalized. Evidence of a financially strongcontractor can include direct relationships with their industrypartners. Larger contractors are able to leverage their size to get thebest pricing and availability of components from their vendors as wellas offer residential solar financing services from companies that trusttheir installation abilities.

Fortunately for homeowners there are several on-line tools to helpanswer these questions and steer you to an experienced professional.

The first place to start is at the California Contractors Boardwebsite to check their license. Just type in the contractor’s licensenumber (if they don’t provide you with a license number be suspicious!)and this website will verify that their license is current and in goodstanding. Confirm that the license number they gave you correspondswith their company name. You can also check the contractor’s bondingand workmen’s compensation policy information as well as if there areany complaints against them.

Next go to the California Solar Initiative websiteto find out a little more about your potential installer. This webpagehas a search function so you can see how many, where, and what sizeinstallations they’ve done. The data is compiled from reservationrequests filed within the last three years with Southern CaliforniaEdison, San Diego Gas and Electric, or Pacific Gas and Electric.(Municipal utilities like LADWP or SMUD are not included in thisdatabase.) Many solar water-heating installers with limited solarelectric experience inflate their installation number claims – this iswhere you’ll see just how many installs they’ve done. Another red flagis an inordinate amount of withdrawn or cancelled applications.

One of the best features of this site is the ability to determine ifyour installer is actually the one doing their installations! Many newsolar marketing companies function as a middleman and are not theactual contractor on the job. Note the two different fields “Seller”and “Contractor” in the search tool. If they aren’t the same, this maybe the case.

Two other useful resources are Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau.You can see if anyone else has experience with your contractor. Ofcourse, a potential contractor should be able to provide you with a fewcustomers as references.

It’s a fact that a well-engineered and properly installed solarsystem will deliver you clean low-cost power for decades. Spending alittle time researching your solar power contractor is the best way toavoid headaches and ensure that you get your money’s worth out of yourinvestment!

Contact Derek Girling at

By Derek Girling, HelioPower Energy Consultant


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Update: Solar Rebates in Nevada

By Matt Turville, HelioPower Solar Consultant in Nevada

On February 17 I posted on overview of the SolarGenerations solarrebate program status here in Nevada.  This week NV Energy circulatedan update, setting March 24 as the date they will begin taking rebatereservations for SolarGenerations,with applications being taken then throughout the year. Applicationswill be accepted on a first come first served basis and reservationswill be issued from available incentive steps. Incentive stepscorrespond to program years and have declining incentive values.Example:

Step 1
Corresponds to Program Year 2010/11
Rebate per Watt Installed
Residential – $2.30
Small Business – $2.30
Public Building – $5.00
Schools – $5.00

Step 2
Corresponds to Program Year 2011/12
Rebate per Watt Installed
Residential – $2.10
Small Business – $2.10
Public Building – $4.90
Schools – $4.90

Step 3
Corresponds to Program Year 2012/13
Rebate per Watt Installed
Residential – $1.90
Small Business – $1.90
Public Building – $4.80
Schools – $4.80

Pending the approval by the Commission of NV Energy’s Annual Plan,the maximum incentives per meter per step will also increase to thefollowing kilowatt levels:
• Residential from 5kW to10kW
• Small Business from 30kW to 50kW
• Public and Other Property from 50kW to 100kW.   
• School applicants may apply for 50 kW per meter or up to a maximum100 kW per meter if the applicant applies to the Commission forapproval of capacity greater than 50 kW within 10 calendar days ofsubmitting the application.

If you are interested in going solar or even thinking about it,please give me a call with your questions.  HelioPower will provide youwith a free solar pre-site of your home or business and an estimate foryour solar power system in Nevada.

For more information contact Matt Turville at or call him directly at 775.297.5579.
Click here for the NV Energy information site.


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Solar Rebates Shine On in Nevada

The Nevada Solar Rebates are coming back!

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved new regulationsfor the solar, wind, and hydro power incentive programs at the end ofJanuary 2010. On February 1, 2010, NV Energy submitted its Annual Plansfor the three programs that described the implementation of the programper the new regulations. The Commission is deliberating the AnnualPlans and has until July 1, 2010 to approve them. During this process,there could be adjustments to the Plans.

Here are a few preliminary highlights of the New SolarGenerations Guidelines for Nevada per

Rebate Levels: Residential rebates will begin at$2.30 per watt in step 1, declining by $0.20 cents per step. Schoolsand Public Buildings start at $5.00 per watt in step 1, declining by$0.10 per step. *These levels are at the same level as 2008 forresidential and commercial installations.  With the declining costs ofPhotovoltaics in late 2008 and 2009 customer who install in 2010 willenjoy more accelerated returns on their solar investments: Lower costsolar + high rebates = faster ROI.  These high rebate levels are morethan twice the level of rebates that are being paid in California!

Awarding of Rebates in Step 1-3: Beginning in 2010,Steps 1 through 3 can be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basisuntil the capacity limits are reached.  However, the rebates for steps2 and 3 will not be paid out to customers until 2011 and 2012respectively.  NV Energy will be required to issue a confirmed rebatenotice, which companies should be able to use to secure capitol tocomplete projects.

Start Date of Revamped Program: The step 1 startdate was left to the discretion of NV Energy in their annual plan.However NV Energy stated in the public record that they plan to releaserebates tentatively on March.

System Size Limits: NV Energy shall be able todetermine individual system size limits in the annual plan.  However atthe workshop we came to a verbal agreement with the utility thatresidential customers could receive rebate for up to 10 kilowatt (kW)systems, while public agencies could receive a rebate for up to a 100kW system.  Systems on school will remain at 50 kW with the ability ofa school district to petition for an exemption to rebate up to 100 kW. Small commercial projects will be capped at 30 kW as to not eat up theentire combined residential/small commercial category capacity limit.

Revamped Website: NV Energy is required to keep anupdated website to indicate total kWs available in each step and eachcategory, including kWs newly available due to reallocations.  Thisinformation should be real-time, at the least updated weekly. (We needto make sure that this accurately reflects unspent previous allocationwhen the website is published!)

Signed Contract: To apply for a rebate a customer must have signed a contract with a solar installer.

Completion Timeline: All categories of projectsneed be completed within 12 months. However schools and public buildingwill be given an initial 90 day period to submit a “checklist” approvedby the Commission documenting progress towards project completion.

This is all very good news for anyone who is planning for solar in Nevada.  As a result of these large rebates and pent up demand we are expecting a big rush  ofapplications at the end of March in order to secure the highest levelrebates available.  If you are thinking about going solar or if youhave already made the decision HelioPower is standing at the ready tooffer free solar pre-sites, evaluations and estimates for your home orbusiness.  With ten years of solar installation experience and over1,000 installations to date HelioPower is your best option for alicensed, quality engineered solar power solution that will eliminateor lower your electricity costs while improving the value of your homeand business and contributing to a cleaner environment for all.

Please visit our installation galleries online at www.HelioPower.comto see a sampling of our professionally installed systems or call oremail your local Nevada Solar Energy Consultant: Matt Turville at (775)297-5579, email: with any questions or if you would like to schedule a free pre-site and energy analysis for your home or business.

Image: Tahoe Regional Planning Agency 30 kW solar installation by HelioPower

By Matt Turville, HelioPower Solar Consultant in Nevada


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Canadian Solar Modules Receive Top Ratings (CSIQ)

Last week, Canadian Solar Inc (CSIQ) announced that five of its solar module series, CS6P- 220P, 225P,230P, CS5P-240M and CS5A- 180M, rank amongst the highest performingin last month’s PV USA (PTC) ratings.

PTC ratings are quickly becominguniversally accepted standards for measuring real-world module powerand performance.

The PTC measurement, a mandatory test in the State of California,measures a PV system’s power output at atmospheric conditions thatclosely resemble true solar and climatic variable conditions. A higherPV rating indicates higher actual production on-site per-wattinstalled, which translates directly into higher rebates for systemowners.

“With this industry recognition, it is again confirmed that CanadianSolar brings high quality products to market,” said Scott Gordon, VicePresident Sales, Residential for HelioPower. “We are very pleased to offer Canadian Solar modules to our customers because of their compelling value proposition.”

Resource: Go Solar California, List of Eligible SB1 Guidelines Compliant Photovoltaic Modules

Image: HelioPower Temecula, CA solar installation using Canadian Solar modules


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Solar – The Cost of Doing Nothing

2009 was a watershed year for residential solar photovoltaic (solar PV) installations in California.

Lower panelcosts coupled with the uncapping of the Federal Personal Tax Credit(previously limited to $2,000) made solar PV more affordable than ever.Factor in announced rate increases from state utilities and you can seewhy solar system integrators are one of the few bright spots in today’seconomy.

As a Solar Consultant with HelioPower,one of the most common questions I hear from my customers is “Do youthink I should wait another year or two to install my system?”Homeowners are fearful that either the cost of the systems will comedown significantly or new technologies with significantly betterefficiencies will come on the market.

There are several reasons why this argument does not hold up!

First and foremost is the fact that our current state utilityratepayer funded system is functioning exactly as it was designed. Whenthe California Solar Initiativewas created, the incentives were high to reduce the impact of theinitially high system costs. The theory was that, until enoughmanufacturers and installers entered the market, homeowners andbusinesses would need large rebates to incentivize them to invest intheir solar PV systems. As competition drives pricing down, the rebatesrequired to make solar PV a sound financial investment are reduced aswell. The program is functioning exactly as planned and is even aheadof schedule!

Another good reason to invest in your system now is that when youfactor your current utility bills in the period between now and whenyou decide invest, you’ll have to increase the system’s efficiency ordecrease in the system’s price just to compensate for the lost coststhe solar PV system would have avoided. If your current bill is $200per month and you wait 18 more months, you’ll need to save almost$3,400 just to break even. More efficient technologies are on thehorizon over the next several years but their actual efficiencies,price-points and reliability have yet to be determined. Solar PVmodules have been around for over 30 years and have a well-establishedtrack record of production and reliability.

Postponing your decision has a dramatic effect on the back end ofthe investment as well. To get the best return on your solar system(IRR’s of over 14% are not uncommon), you’ll want to use your systemfor the longest time possible. In fact, solar systems are designed toproduce clean energy for over 25 years. Unless you’ve figured out afoolproof way to extend your life, you’ll lower your return by waitingto install.

Here’s an example of exactly how much doing nothing costs. A typicalhomeowner in Southern California uses about 10,000 kWh. They will spendover $150,000 on electricity over the next 25 years if rates followtheir historical rate of inflation. The typical system to offset 90% ofthis use would be around 6.4 kW. Right now this system will returnnearly $110,000 in avoided utility bills including factoring in thecost of the system! So the cost of doing nothing is $110,000. Whowouldn’t want to have an additional $110,000 in their retirementaccount?

New financing vehicles like SunRun’s residential Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) bringthe investment required to go solar down to as low as $1,000. Yourinstaller designs and installs the your system exactly as if you’dpurchased it from them and SunRun pays the installer and sells you thepower produced at a greatly reduced price. You get most of thefinancial benefits of solar right away with a minimal investment.

Finally, let’s not ignore the reason that most of us were interestedin solar in the first place – our environment! Whether or not youbelieve global warming is both real and controllable, solar PV reducesthe amount of pollutants introduced into the environment from burningdirty fuels.

The bottom line is that by installing your solar PV system now,you’ll make a big impact on your cost of living for decades to come.

By Derek Girling, HelioPower Solar Consultant

You can reach Derek Girling at


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AB 920 Net Energy Metering

If youreceived a letter and selection form recently mailed from SouthernCalifornia Edison’s (SCE) to Net Energy Metered (NEM) customers, asrequired by AB 920, this information if for you.  On October 11, 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 920(AB920 – Huffman – Solar and Wind Generation) into law.  This lawaddresses several aspects of renewable energy in California.  Oneprovision of the law that directly affects SCE NEM customers is arequirement that SCE offer customers compensation for any net surpluselectricity generated over a 12-month period.

AB 920 also requires that the California Public Utilities Commissionset the compensation amount for surplus electricity by January 1, 2011. The compensation amount will be used to pay eligible customers for netsurplus electricity generated during their relevant period ending in2011.  SCE will notify customers of the compensation amount as soon asit is established; then, they will have the option to either receivepayment for their surplus electricity, or have the surplus electricitycredited towards their electricity usage in their next relevant period.

Note that although SCE isautomatically enrolling its NEM customers in the compensation optionbeginning with customer’s next relevant period, customers have theoption to end their current relevant period now and start a newrelevant period for tracking their surplus energy.  To do this,SCE customers are encouraged to fill out the form which was mailed tothem in January and return it to notify SCE of their choice.

When available, the revised NEM tariff will be posted online at:

SCE is available to assist with any questions regarding these new options. Please feel free to contact SCE Customer Service:

Residential NEM Customers
(866) 701-7868

Business NEM Customers

(866) 701-7869  


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