Celebrate Earth Day…with These Giveaways and Promotions

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mattjiggins/Creative Commons

Tomorrow is Earth Day, the annual celebration of this amazing planet we call home, and a time to come together and show our support for environmental protection.

It’s also become a day for businesses to offer some pretty stellar promotions and giveaways. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite Earth Day deals. So tomorrow get out there, plant a tree…and then reward yourself with one of the special steals below – you’ve earned it.

Earth Day marks the end of the promotion celebrating our recent announcement.  Through 4/22, sign up to go solar with SolarCity at one of 60 participating Best Buy locations, and we’ll give you $100 gift certificate, valid on any other purchase in the store.  You also have a chance to win a free iPad Mini, just for helping us spread the word about this deal.

Speaking of Best Buy – through April 26th the company’s offering 10 – 25% Off All Major Appliances.  They’ll even haul away your old appliances and dispose of them in an environmentally-conscious manner – talk about a win-win!

Free Admission to All National Parks: over 400 National Parks will be waiving entrance fees during National Park Week, April 19th to 27th.

Earth Day Treasure Hunt at Pottery Barn Kids during the entire week of April 21st. Little ones who find all the green clues will win a plantable bookmark.

50% Off Green Household Cleaners at Whole Foods – choose from over 130 products, April 19th to 22nd.

Unlimited Free Refills at Caribou Coffee for the entire month of April when you purchase their celebratory tumbler.

Know of any other awesome Earth Day Deals we missed?  Share them with us in the comments!

 

Happy City

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We’ve celebrated some major milestones recently, and wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the customers and employees who believe in our company, and a better way.

Put Battery Storage in the Hands of Grid Operators

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By Peter Rive, SolarCity Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer

The design of an electrical grid for the 21st Century is one of the world’s most exciting challenges, and at SolarCity we are vigorously engaged in assisting the effort. Our  vision is of a grid that is cleaner, more efficient, more flexible, more secure, and more affordable than what we currently have today.

I’ve recently read speculation about one of the most valuable tools to advance this vision—energy storage—that needs to be addressed.

Battery storage for residential, commercial, and utility-scale customers is one of the most anticipated developments in the energy space, and recently SolarCity participated in media stories exploring some of the challenges we’ve faced trying to get our customers’ residential storage units interconnected in California.

That narrative is real, but it’s only half the story. While there is tension between utilities and companies like SolarCity, we work with them every day to connect our solar power systems, and there’s potential for much greater synergy. In fact, batteries should power that synergy.

One of the more polarizing ideas going around is that battery storage will lead to mass defections from the grid. Needing only their solar and their batteries, the story goes, Americans will simply cut the cord.

While this is technically feasible, SolarCity has no interest in this scenario. While cutting the cord enables one household to be 100% renewable and self-sufficient, it limits what these technologies can do. In short, the grid is a network, and where there are networks, there are network effects. When batteries are optimized across the grid, they can direct clean solar electricity where (and when) it is needed most, lowering costs for utilities and for all ratepayers. This is true of homeowners’ behind-the-meter storage units, and it’s also true of larger commercial and utility-scale units.

Grid operators are best-positioned to direct battery storage to discharge clean energy at optimal moments—for example when demand is at its highest, and when grid infrastructure is most under strain. Without this storage capacity, solar penetration in excess of 60% of mid-day peak could become problematic for the grid, as utilities have to contend with an abundance of power which can cause  voltage and power balance issues.

However, with storage in the hands of grid operators and utilities, this problem becomes an immensely powerful solution.   In this scenario, grid operators are suddenly empowered to store and discharge solar energy where and when it’s needed most,  smoothing out peaks and ramps, while powering more of the total grid consumption with clean and renewable sources. Additionally, utilizing storage to unlock massive benefits in the areas of frequency and voltage support can further lower grid costs. Many of these capabilities are available now through distributed resources, even without storage, and we should work together to put them into the hands of utilities for the benefit of the ratepayers.

Any utilities or grid operators interested in exploring storage benefits such as peak shaving, frequency regulation, and voltage support should contact us. I’ve recently created a Grid Engineering Solutions department made up of some of the brightest minds in power systems engineering, and its mission is to help solve the challenges preventing the shift from the grid that we currently have, to the grid that we need.

As with the example of the solar/storage customer who goes fully off-grid, we can do so much more working together than we can working alone.

 

Infographic: One BILLION Kilowatt-hours of Clean Electricity

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It’s official: SolarCity customers have generated a cumulative one billion kilowatt-hours of solar electricity!!!  We decided to celebrate this massive milestone with a fun infographic.  Enjoy!

What’s in a 3GWh Day?

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What did you do last weekend? We – and if you’re one of our customers, this includes you – hit 3GWh of solar generation!

Electric Meter Runs Backwards on Make A Gif3GWh, or gigawatt-hours, breaks down to 3 thousand MWh (megawatt- hours). Take it one unit smaller, and you’ve got 3 million kWh (kilowatt-hours).

Second only to terawatts, gigawatt-hours are typically used to express the energy consumption of states or nations. That level of consumption is comprised of large businesses and communities whose consumption is best measured in megawatt hours, and homes or small businesses, which consume energy in kilowatt hours. Consider the average U.S. home consumes 12,069 kWh of electricity a year, an average of 33 kilowatt-hours per day – and you’ve got the perspective you need to digest our latest 3GWh milestone.  On Sunday our solar systems generated enough energy in a single day to power the 90,000 homes that lost power in metro Atlanta in the early morning hours following the major ice storm that hit that area in February

Now that’s what we call a productive day.

Solar Cocktails

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It’s Friday afternoon, which means it’s time to kick up your heels and enjoy a hard-earned adult beverage.  In honor of warmer weather and longer days, we’ve concocted a summery cocktail to ease you into the weekend. Happy Friday!

The Solarita

You’ll need:
1 oz tequila
1/2 oz triple sec
4-6 oz orange juice
1 splash lime juice 

To Make:
Combine tequila, triple sec and orange juice over ice. Stir, top with lime juice and enjoy.

 

A Tribute to Zep Solar

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We made waves in the cleantech world last fall when we announced our acquisition of solar-module mounting startup Zep Solar. Zep products allow us to install more solar, at a lower cost – in fact, Zep technology has helped SolarCity installation crews double the number of residential systems we can install each day.  It takes an awesome team to create such an innovative product, and this video pays homage to the technology, and the spirit behind team Zep.

To Choose (or Not to Choose) a Commercial Solar Consultant: Four Points to Consider

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When cities, school districts, or other government agencies look into going solar, it’s not always clear where to start, and consultants are often available to help guide the process in exchange for a fee. Many state and local jurisdictions require government entities to source vendors and construction via Request for Proposals, or “RFPs”. For school districts, municipalities and water districts that are unfamiliar with the extensive work required to determine if a commercial solar power project is even feasible in the first place, a solar consultant is often called in to help facilitate the RFP process. Consultants typically understand the market and the strengths of potential providers in a way that a school administrator or town sustainability coordinator may not, and can act as an impartial third party to ensure projects are awarded fairly, breaking biases amongst board members or administrators. Furthermore, there are jurisdictions where local regulations require a commercial solar consultant to participate in a project to achieve eligibility for an incentive program.*  For organizations that worry about transparency, using a commercial solar consultant can assuage fears of opacity in the eyes of the public. When very knowledgeable, experienced solar consultants are brought in to manage an RFP, entities will typically recoup the initial fees and benefit from significant energy savings over the course of the next 15-25 years.

While consultants can simplify the project evaluation process, not all consulting firms are built to serve the best interest of their clients. We’ve come up with four quick guidelines for choosing a trustworthy commercial solar consultant:

1.     Know what services you’re paying for.

Inquire about the services the consultant will offer and what services the developer will perform. Most credible commercial solar developers will be able to give potential clients a feasibility study to determine if going solar is right for them. Asking for quotes based on feasibility studies from different companies can eliminate the need for a consultant in the early stages of project evaluation. Competitors will keep one another honest. Some developers will even offer quick, free feasibility studies with no commitment to help public entities determine if PV makes sense. The study is typically an analysis of potential sites, tariffs and if a project will be cash flow positive. If your organization then decides to move ahead with a consultant, that consultant should charge for their role in the RFP process itself, not for the initial feasibility study. There are also consultants that charge for services that the commercial solar developer should provide, including engineering work, which will ultimately lead to doubling up on design costs if the consultant does not perform due diligence on complicated sites. This can rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary fees for school districts or municipalities with limited budgets.

2.     Know the consultant’s experience and performance record.

If the consultant doesn’t have a portfolio of successfully completed projects to show you, chances are he or she won’t be much help with yours. Ask potential consultants for at least three client- and solar developer-references, and have a thorough conversation with those references about their experiences, both with the consultant and the outcome of the solar project itself. Look at the consultant’s history with a few questions in mind. Does the consultant tend to award projects to the same company over and over again, or do they have experience with multiple developers? Do their projects tend to be completed in a timely fashion as compared with others?  A capable consultant will have a solid reputation and track record, and will be able to help you find the developer to achieve the savings you need.

3.     Someone from the consulting firm should have an electrical engineering background, and the firm should have a strong understanding of solar financing.  

An unintended consequence of solar’s recent growth in the United States is that it has attracted a range of opportunists to the industry. Most are well intentioned, but some are not. Some individuals promoting themselves as consultants are simply not qualified to evaluate the engineering integrity or estimate the cost of complex PV projects. In an effort to offer you an attractive low price on a solar power project, this type of consultant may take shortcuts or make mistakes which could come back to haunt you.  Miscalculations of this type can lead to large change orders down the road. If a developer has a poor credit rating and history, it may have trouble attaining project financing, which can significantly delay a project, and in a worst case scenario, halt construction. More than a few projects are re-opened for bidding because the initial chosen firm couldn’t complete the job or severely misquoted the customer. These situations are detrimental to the entire solar industry, as they can occasionally discourage clients from pursuing solar projects altogether. A consultant with a strong understanding of solar engineering and finance can guide clients around related pitfalls. When the bids come in for your project and there is a large price gap between the lowest bidder and the middle of the pack, it’s generally best to ask a lot of questions about what created the gap. Bids that sound too good to be true often are too good to be true, and the benefit of the lower price is completely lost if the project can’t be financed or takes twice as long to install.

4.     Be wary of percentage-of-project fees.

A fair consultant will decouple the project cost from the consultant fee. Pay them hourly instead of as a percentage of the project if possible. When a fee is a percentage of the project cost, the consultant may be tempted to sell you a higher cost system than you actually need. A 5% fee on a large  commercial or industrial project can cost additional hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the final build cost. Large percentage fees will only cause all bidders to bulk up their prices to compensate for that cost, and you will ultimately be left footing the bill. As with any large and important purchase, we recommend shopping around and speaking with a number of consultants to determine who will best meet your organization’s needs.

Please note that SolarCity does not endorse any one consultant and works with a variety of consulting firms across the United States.

 


* For example, in California, Proposition 39 provides funds to allow schools to complete energy efficiency projects, including solar power systems, and schools must use a consultant to be eligible for those funds. Please keep in mind that there are no “Proposition 39-certified” consultants or solar developers. The California Energy Commission does not endorse any one consultant or firm over another, and it is up to your organization or district to determine if the commercial solar consultant is qualified.

Profiles in Voltage: Well-Connected Power Couples

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If one of the defining characteristics of a power couple is being well-connected, then SolarCity customers embracing the EV+PV (electric vehicles and solar photovoltaic) lifestyle are rubbing elbows with a very powerful pair.

“We have more WiFi hotspots than an Apple store, a smart thermostat from Nest and a backup power supply system on order from SolarCity,” says Colin Summers, who owns two electric cars and powers his Santa Monica, California home with clean electricity from the sun.

Summers is among a growing number of Americans making clean energy purchases for their homes and using their electronic devices (smart phones, laptops, etc.) to automate their green lifestyle: checking their solar production, charging their cars, controlling their thermostats and even managing their energy consumption.  It’s such a rising trend that Forbes recently coined it the “Energy Playlist”, in reference to the rise of rooftop solar, electric cars and smart thermostats among homeowners. SolarCity customers say they do it for the convenience, to save money and sometimes just for fun.

Colin Summers’ son, Rudy, helps the family stay connected with their plug-in hybrid electric
Chevy Volt, SolarCity system monitoring device,and Nest smart thermostat.

We installed an 8.4-kilowatt solar system on the Summers’ home in 2007. Summers likes to check how much electricity his panels are generating through our energy monitoring service, which is available online and as a smart phone app.

“It’s fun to see the output graph climb in August with the summer sun,” he says.

Summers is an EV app-reciator, too. “My wife has been driving electric for over 15 years. Currently we have a Toyota Rav4 EV and a Chevy Volt, and we’re able to check their state of charge from our phone. We’ve also programmed them, through the cars’ onboard computer, to start charging at midnight when power is cheapest.”

Even when Summers charges his EVs at night, his electricity costs are offset by the solar energy his home puts back into the grid during the day, which he receives credit for from his utility company through a policy called Net Metering. To see how much you could save by embracing the EV+PV lifestyle, check out our total energy costs calculator.

Derek Hydon’s connected homes in Pacific Palisades and Palm Springs with an electric car, solar panels and a
SolarCity battery storage system that uses technology engineered by Tesla.

Derek Hydon, who has a Tesla Model S and SolarCity systems on his Palm Springs and Pacific Palisades homes, uses PowerGuide®  - a tool that measures home electricity consumption and solar energy production – to better understand and make smarter choices about his family’s energy consumption patterns. Hydon checked it on a recent East Coast trip to find that his electricity consumption in Palm Springs had been unusually high, which seemed odd since no one was at home.

The solution? He checked the automated system that controls his home air conditioning and lighting to find that, somehow, lights had been left on. He remotely turned them off, and just like that, no more wasted money or electricity.

With a clear picture of his family’s usage patterns and recommendations from SolarCity,
Hydon can better manage his home energy usage patterns and save money.

Hydon also has a mobile phone app for his Tesla Model S. He occasionally uses it to find his electric car in the depths of a giant parking structure (“it makes the lights flash and horn honk”), but more often to cool the car’s interior.

“I’ll turn on the air conditioning two or three minutes before getting into the car, then it’s just the perfect temperature when I’m ready to drive,” he says. “It’s really fun showing people the app, it proves that the car of tomorrow is here now. For most people it’s like, ‘really, you can do that?’“

These well-connected customers are an indication that the car and the home of the future are closer than we think. And this has major implications for a smarter, cleaner and – well – cooler future. Our CEO Lyndon Rive said it best in his interview on CBS earlier this week: “With the two (electric cars and solar homes) combined, we can start living a carbon-free lifestyle without sacrifice.”

The Tonight Show, Starring Best Buy and SolarCity!

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Our SolarCity blog reader of the week is one James Fallon of New York, NY, who apparently read the post announcing our Best Buy partnership:

The joke is typically waggish, but he actually nails the deeper logic of the partnership. We all use electronics—it’s how we’re communicating with you right now—but the world’s challenge is to power those electronics with clean forms of energy. Best Buy sells some of the most impressive consumer goods in America, and in SolarCity they’ve found a partner who can help their customers enjoy those products while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels with residential solar power systems. Millions will soon be watching the NCAA Basketball “March Madness” Tournament on fantastic widescreen televisions. With this partnership, fewer of them will be consuming coal or fracked natural gas while doing so. I’m tempted to make a lame ‘slam dunk’ joke here, but in the company of a comedic giant like Fallon, I better leave the funny stuff to him.