FTC Workshop Will Examine Competition and Consumer Protection Issues in the Rooftop Solar Business #00142

Submission Number:
Thomas Roberts
Initiative Name:
FTC Workshop Will Examine Competition and Consumer Protection Issues in the Rooftop Solar Business
Solar is the way. As Thomas Edison once coined - I hope we do not have to use all the fossil fuels before we turn to the Sun for our energy needs, and he is so right. I am a solar photovoltaic system designer and installer. I install high-quality systems for clients who want value. When making a 25-year investment, saving a thousand dollars on the front-end of the investment is really trivial compared to looking at the investment's ROI over 25-years. On average, solar is an 8-year ROI, and that number is getting smaller and smaller as the technology matures. Right now, I could install a 4kW solar system for $7,500 or $1.87 per watt and still make a decent profit. This was not true 5 or 10 years ago. Sadly, where I live in the Sunshine State, only about 9,000 households have solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, and that is abominable, and it is due to the fossil fuel companies' hegemony, the Koch Brothers, et cetera. Currently, the single most pressing need for solar photovoltaic systems is understanding them, and for the consumer to understand that there are 2 predominant types of systems being sold - the cheap-o and the quality system. Consider the computer revolution, that is, when centralized mainframes ruled; now central mainframes are truly obsolete because everyone has a laptop or an iPhone which has enough computing power to equal a room-sized mainframe of the 1970's! Now consider solar PV - the antiquated central string inverter and the accompanying DC power optimizer are being sold to customers who are not aware of the technological inferiority of the configuration; the decentralized, smart micro inverters with AC off-of-the-roof, not dangerous DC, is the way. Do you have DC appliances in your home? Of course not, and that is because DC is dangerous high voltage, and AC is much, much safer to use, and the wiring cost is much less expensive. And so, having an AC appliance on your roof verses a DC one is the preferable choice - think of solar in that way. Micro inverters convert the DC from each solar panel to AC right there on the roof, and underneath the panel, and micro inverters are modular, scalable, and if one fails, or a panel fails with a micro inverter, then only that panel is out of action, and the other 95% of the solar panels remains operational - not true with a central string inverter approach. A failed central string inverter brings down the entire system and creates an emergency situation. This is the problem. The Solar City's, the Vivint's the SunRun's et cetera, want to make the sale, want the money, and they know the cheaper the system, the more the customer will go with it - not knowing that they are buying into an inferior system. The horse-n-buggy took a while to eradicate by the automobiles, and the central string inverter can be seen in the same way - micro inverters are the better approach. Central string inverters on average fail within 8 years. Micro inverters are warranted for 25 years. The service industry wants the central string inverters with optimizers because they will net more service, but it does not make a better solution. Decentralization is the way, not centralization. I have 73 panels in my solar PV configuration; I have 6 separate, mutually exclusive, fault-toelrant solar strings on my property. My utility bill is minimal. My solar PV system is superior. With micro inverters, I can see the status of every panel in my system every day, and it gives me great comfort and security knowing I am generating my own electricity. Furthermore, I am helping the grid stay up and running by doing my part. This is the knowledge people need in order to make the right decision, and I don't see the solar installer companies giving it. How to fix it? Get rid of the bureaucracy, and allow local installers to install solar systems just like an electrician installs an outlet in a home - no permitting, no inspection - the micro inverters are anti-islanding anyway!