NORCAL SOLAR BLOG: Guidelines for Blog Submissions

We welcome you to submit a guest blog post! Read more for submission guidelines.  


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Non-Bypassable Charges (NBCs) in Net Metering 2.0

This short video describes NBCs, where they are located in the rate sheet, and how they are calculated, and gives ways to easily estimate what they will be for most residential customers.

The Past, Present, and Future of Solar Shingles

Kyle Pennell, Guest Blogger

When Tesla acquired solar panel manufacturer and installer SolarCity back in 2016, it energized both the solar industry and homeowners interested in switching to solar power. Tesla’s solar roof makes it possible to produce clean, abundant solar energy without installing bulky rooftop panels.


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Five Cool Facts About Solar that Kids Should Know

This blog was submitted by Nicky Palmer, 7th grader in Foster City, California.

Did you know that if we add up all of the solar energy that is taken in by the Earth’s atmosphere, land and oceans every year, we end up with about 3,850,000 exajoules? To put it in more understandable terms, this amount of energy is equal to 2.7 million earthquakes of the same size as the 2011 earthquake in Japan. That's a lot of energy we can use!

Another cool thing is that NASA has been working on a series of solar powered unmanned aircraft since the 1980’s. Pathfinder, Pathfinder Plus and Helios Prototype, is the result of NASA’s efforts to use solar power for long duration high altitude flights. The Helios Prototype reached a record altitude of 96,863 feet in late 2001, which is the highest altitude reached by an aircraft that is not powered by rockets for sustained horizontal flight.

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Elaine's Climate Ride 2016

Elaine Hebert, NorCal Solar Board of Directors

Hi, everyone! You might have seen my note in a previous NorCal Solar newsletter. This past May I bicycled in a charity bike ride – the California Coast Climate Ride. I raised over $5,000 for NorCal Solar, the American Solar Energy Society, and the Climate Ride organization. THANK YOU to everyone who donated so generously! That $5,000 is an impressive number! 

Here’s a quick report: the route was 320 miles (Fortuna to San Francisco). It’s a hilly route, starting inland at Fortuna then south along the Avenue of the Giants (redwood forest) then to the beautiful Pacific coast. My knees were not accustomed to that many uphills, and my bike had an issue on downhills, so I didn’t ride every single mile. But it was overall a great experience with 106 other spirited, enthusiastic, earth-friendly cyclists from many parts of the country. At the campgrounds in the evenings, we had guest speakers addressing various environmental topics, including Paul Hawken, a Bay Area writer and researcher whom you might recognize from his previous work on the Smith and Hawken gardening catalog. Climate Ride provided wonderful food, and a pair of massage therapists helped us loosen our tight cycling muscles each evening!

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3 Reasons Why No One Will Show Up for California's Community Solar Party

Dan Lieberman, NorCal Solar Board of Directors

Community solar gives electric customers the opportunity to buy a portion of the output from an off-site solar facility. The beauty of community solar lies in how it encourages large, low-cost, solar projects to be sited where utilities need them most, while giving access to the environmental and financial benefits of solar power to those who cannot put solar panels on their roofs. In several states, renters can now subscribe to a community solar facility and save money on their electric bill because solar is cheaper than utility power. Community solar was pioneered by Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Solar Shares program, and is now being expanded to PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Last Thursday, after years of rulemaking in the wake of SB43, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the final rules for community solar programs at California’s three largest utilities. One would expect screams of joy followed by a gaggle of renewable energy developers lining up to submit project applications. Given the high cost of electricity in California, abundant sunshine, a robust solar industry, historically low cost of solar panels, a 600 MW program launch, and provisions that allow solar developers to contract directly with customers, this seems like a huge win. It’s community solar party time in California, right? Unfortunately, the program rules are so cumbersome, it’s doubtful that any solar developers will be able to build projects under the program.

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Not So Strange Bedfellows?

Pete Shoemaker, NorCal Solar Board of Directors

WARNING: I am about to use a slightly risqué joke to illustrate a point. The chicken and the egg are sitting up in bed together. The chicken is smoking a cigarette and has a satisfied look on its face. The egg is very grumpy and turns to the chicken and says: “Well, I guess we answered THAT question!”

The solar revolution has necessitated rather intimate relationships between solar vendors/customers and their local utilities, particularly in the realms of net metering. As the story above illustrates (my favorite joke, by the way), these relationships can easily be seen as constant struggles where only one party can come out on top, so to speak, and this is certainly not ideal for the long-term, sustainable growth that the solar industry wants. So a key question becomes, can utilities and the solar industry co-exist in a truly win-win scenario?

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Support Elaine's Climate Ride for NorCal Solar and ASES!

Elaine Hebert, NorCal Solar Board of Directors

Hi Everyone - I'm Elaine Hebert, and I've been active with NorCal Solar for 20 years. I really believe in protecting a beautiful, livable environment. I've decided to undertake a huge physical and social challenge in my 61st year of life on planet Earth. Have you heard of Climate Ride? I'm going to ride my bicycle 320 miles in 5 days to raise money for NorCal Solar and our "parent" organization, the American Solar Energy Society. I'll be in the California Climate Ride May 22-26. Could you support me with a donation? Climate Ride requires that each rider raise $2800, but I'd like to raise more. I'm about halfway to the Climate Ride goal as I write this. You can donate online with a credit card or download a form and mail it with a check directly to Climate Ride. Follow this link for details. Thank you! Feel free to contact me at [email protected]

If you'd like to ride in a Climate Ride or hike in one of their hikes yourself, these events are scattered around the country and throughout the year. for more info. It's a great way to meet great people involved in climate-related nonprofit work and support a lot of good causes!

Microinverters, String Inverters & Optimizers

Sean White, NorCal Solar Board of Directors

(Originally posted on Heatspring, NorCal Solar board member Sean White discusses the latest in inverter technology. 

Student 1: I am enjoying the course and I like the way you explain things by citing real world examples. I just want to get your opinion on microinverters. These provide great solutions for power optimization and rapid shutdown, not to mention the flexibility of combining and running the wires.

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Great news from Congress: The ITC is extended!

Eric Larson, President, NorCal Solar Board of Directors

The year-end omnibus bill recently passed by Congress includes an extension of the Investment Tax Credit for residential solar.  This was a welcome surprise for all of us working to grow solar and renewable energy use!  The  Federal tax credit was due to expire at the end of 2016.  With this bill, it has been extended for an additional 3 years at 30%, then ramps down to 10% for 2022 and beyond.  

We at NorCal Solar are very excited about this commitment by the US government to support the continued growth of solar installations in the US.  

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Net-Zero Energy, Soup to Nuts

Ann V. Edminster, M.Arch, LEED AP (Author of Energy Free: Homes for a Small Planet)

Ready or not, by executive order, California homes have been mandated to achieve net-zero energy: new homes by 2020, existing homes by 2030. In the simplest terms, this means that a home will have to produce at least as much clean, renewable energy each year as the occupants of the home use in that year. While definition details and implementation specifics have yet to be worked out, California’s Public Utilities Commission and Energy Commission are working furiously to put the infrastructure in place to achieve this extremely ambitious goal.

Net-zero energy is also taking hold nationally and internationally, with help from the US DOE’s Builders Challenge, the US-Canada Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition, the international Passive House movement (along with its domestic adherents), and other initiatives in Europe and beyond.

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Solar Permitting Fees Update

You may have read – or experienced yourself – that the fees charged by cities and counties for solar installation permits vary tremendously across the state – even in cities right next to each other. Some of those fees are exorbitant compared to the average. Kurt Newick, a NorCal Solar member and an activist, couldn’t take it anymore.

Several years ago, Kurt worked with his local chapter of the Sierra Club (Loma Prieta chapter) to begin contacting jurisdictions across California county by county to find out their permitting fees, to be able to compare them and understand the depth of the problem. We published some of his results in the 8th edition of this Resource Guide, and Kurt and his team keep updated information on their website.

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