solar panels

Solar Lease, R.I.P.

David Crane, former president & CEO of NRG Energy, is one of the solar industry's most prophetic and emphatic pundits. When he speaks, the industry (and analysts and investors) listen. Crane's latest opine in Tuesday's GreenBiz: TeslaCity: Will car company + solar company = shareholder happiness?

Worthy of a quick read, Crane lambasts national solar leasing companies (including SolarCity) for their fundamentally fragile business models, specifically their practice of "no money down solar leases." Quick anecdote:

But, most of all, SolarCity needed a quick phase-out of zero-money-down, long-term-lease financing, a funding arrangement which once was essential to the kickstarting of the entire industry, but has mutated into the crack cocaine of home solar companies that still depend upon it.


We receive calls -- probably two or three a day -- from either prospective solar homeowners who were propositioned a solar lease, or existing solar leaseholders (or their Realtors) who are trying to sell their home (with a leased solar system). Solar leases are sugary-sweet on the surface, but the hangover is brutal. 

I hope SolarCity survives -- we enjoy competing with them. Perhaps they'll figure out how to make money. But, leasing solar systems is a bad deal for homeowners, and potentially fatal for SolarCity and its leasing comrades (e.g., Sunrun, Sungevity, Vivint, et al). RIP, solar lease; Viva la vida, solar ownership!

Solar solicitations

Dad, this is hilarious, my 16-year-old son chuckled. Check out this voicemail I got today on my iPhone: 

If you're a homeowner you should take advantage of this program. Your new solar panels will cut your electric bill in half. So, my job is just to inform you about the program and see if you meet the qualification. Okay?

Click. Fourteen seconds. No name, no company name, just noise. Hilarious (to my son), but annoying too for anyone on the receiving end. 

Another good solar sales solicitation story: In a two-week period, I had three solar salespeople (from three different companies) knock on my door. Their canvas-the-neighborhood pitch went something like this: Hello, my name is Joe, did you know you have qualified to have solar installed for free and slash your PG&E bill immediately?

Really, I'd reply, it’s that easy?

Yes. All you have to do is sign here and we take care of everything.

In each of the three cases — for hugs and giggles — I would drill down regarding the type and quality of solar panels and inverters, the term and strength of their installation warranty, the cost per watt, and whether I could own/purchase the system. Blanks stares/no responses to each question. Amazing.

But here’s where the chortling kicked in to full gear: I asked each salesperson to step out toward the street to take a look at the roof (of my one-story home). Clearly visible from Willowbank Road are two arrays of solar panels. We would then turn the corner and walk down Almond to view three solar arrays on our backyard-facing roof.

Oh. I didn’t know (read: take a peek at my roof).

And, the kicker: All three asked me if I was interested in adding more panels to my system. Kudos for their gumption.

Not that we (Repower) are nobel, but we do not spend a dime on sales/marketing/advertising. No cold calls, door knocks, direct mail, or radio advertisements. Instead, we pass the savings along to friends and neighbors in Yolo County. 

The #1 reason homeowners do not go solar

We’ve had the fortune of helping hundreds of homeowners evaluate solar. One of the first things we do is try to talk them out of it. Taken aback — Wait, I contacted you because I want to go solar; help me figure out how to do it — homeowners are puzzled. We walk through the primary reasons to not go solar, including how long a homeowner intends to reside in their residence (if less than five years, it probably does not make sense) and the condition of their roof (age/shading).

Net-net, if a homeowner in our community intends to live in their house for at least the next five years, solar pencils.

But, the number one reason homeowners do not go solar is not obvious: They do not have to. Solar is a choice; nobody has to do it. Paying your PG&E bill is not a choice; you do it or it’s lights out.

Building on the fact that homeowners do not have to go solar is the reality of time: Solar is not a priority, and many homeowners lack time/interest/energy to evaluate whether it makes sense.

Amplifying this, an increasing number of homeowners are tired of solar solicitations: Daily cold calls, propositions when shopping at Home Depot or Costco, direct mail offerings filling their mailboxes, radio ads airing constantly. The sun is abundant, and so too are companies selling solar.

Candid pessimism to the side, solar is booming in our community for one primary reason: economics. The average cost of electricity for homes in Yolo County is $0.24/kilowatt hour. The average amortized cost of solar-generated electricity (for Repower homeowners who own their solar systems) is $0.09/kilowatt hour. 

You do not have to pay PG&E when you can profit from the sun.

YoloShines: Repowering community organizations

When we conceived RepowerYolo, we made two conscious commitments:

1. We will not solicit homeowners. No advertising, cold calls, direct mail or commission sales people.

2. We will reinvest in and support local nonprofit organizations; in other words (excuse the trite phase), repower our community.

The obvious residue of not knocking on doors, cold-calling homeowners, or peppering mail boxes with sales collateral is that we will sell less solar. We can live with that, because we strongly believe markets are conversations and nobody likes to be solicited (sans their permission). And, by eliminating sales/marketing/advertising costs, we significantly reduce the cost of going solar for friends and neighbors.

Furthermore, many an eye has been rolled at our community fundraising efforts: Why are you donating large amounts of money to nonprofits (when you could/should be pocketing the money to send your kids to college)? In simple terms, we believe RepowerYolo is a community program and our commitment to — and support of — local nonprofit organizations is a community dividend.

This community dividend is growing. To date, we have donated upwards of $23,000 to more than 25 local causes on behalf of RepowerYolo homeowners. And, in 2016, we created YoloShines: Every time a homeowner goes solar, we donate $500 in their name to their favorite Yolo County nonprofit.

The first four recipients of YoloShines donations in 2016 are Progress RanchYolo Crisis NurseryDavis Schools Foundation, and River City Rowing Club. 2016 is off to a great start … the future is bright for both homeowners who go solar and nonprofit organizations that stitch the fabric of our community.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh solar!

Over the past month or so, three regulatory and financial developments have strengthened the investment viability for homeowners who go solar. I love lions, tigers and bears ... let's review the three solar life springs.

1. The 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit was, surprisingly, extended for four years. Originally set to expire at the end of 2016, the tax credit was extended thanks to a bit of horse-trading between  Dems and Republicans in Congress. Via the Omnibus spending bill, Republicans were granted removal of the 40-year ban on exportation of domestic oil. Democrats received an extension of the solar tax credit. An all-of-the-above energy approach? Yes, but to the benefit of homeowners who repower with solar.

2. Today, the California Public Utilities Commission extended solar net-metering for PG&E (and the other two investor-owned utilities') ratepayers. This comes on the heels of the PUC grandfathering -- for 20 years -- net-metering for existing solar customers. Big deal? Yes. It is a continuation of compensating PG&E solar customers at the full retail rate. Doesn't get better. Here's a good overview of the PUC's decision.

3. Commencing January 1, 2016, PG&E raised residential electricity rates 8.7%. Across the board. Predictable but painful (for homeowners who do not have solar). But, higher rates increase the avoided cost -- what you would pay PG&E -- for solar homeowners, thus boosting their investment returns.

Importantly, extensions of the tax credit and net-metering programs temper the urgency to go solar. Homeowners we work with obviously want to monetize the tax credit and receive full value for their solar-generated electricity. They're locked. That said, the primary urgency in their decision is twofold: Do the right thing (for environmental reasons) and stop paying PG&E.

Please contact us if you would like to elaborate any or all of the above. Quite a trifecta in the solar world, and a great month for Yolo County homeowners.

Sacramento Business Journal profiles Chris Soderquist

[Originally published September 9, 2015]

THE GREAT Ed Goldman -- one of our favorite, iconic regional treasures -- recently sat down with Repower Cofounder Chris Soderquist. Here's his story:

Ed Goldman: Chris Soderquist’s newest (ad)venture: Sharing the sunshine

When scientists get around to studying the biological basis of entrepreneurship, Chris Soderquist will make a splendid case study: He seems to prove that it runs in families.

At 46, Soderquist is a former venture capitalist and a serial entrepreneur. He calculates he’s created “about a dozen” businesses and has been an investor or board member of “another 30 or so.” Restlessly intelligent (maybe even antsy), he appears to have settled into a single company that he loves: Repower Yolo, a Davis-based solar energy firm that in the past year-and-a-half has installed “more than 2,500 solar panels on 60 homes and 10 commercial projects,” he says, adding, “all in Yolo County.”

Soderquist is pursuing the venture with business partner and operations manager John Walter. Repower Yolo doesn't install solar systems. Rather, “I consult with the clients and tell them what will work for them and what won’t. Sometimes I talk myself out of a sale, but that’s a small price to pay for integrity.”

There’s a circular perfection to Soderquist’s latest passion. His dad, Charles Soderquist, was also an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who started amassing his wealth building and installing solar-powered hot tubs in Davis. Soderquist the elder, who died 11 years ago of an aneurysm, was also a philanthropist: he left the bulk of his estate to UC Davis.

I had interviewed Charlie Soderquist for my Working Lunch column in Comstock’s Business Magazine two years before his passing. He was a fascinating guy and Chris reminds me of him save for one attribute: while warm and soft-spoken, the dad had a somewhat dour, dark-ish aspect to him (possibly only with columnists) whereas Chris, despite being a serious man, has a lighthearted, almost impish quality.

He’s also, like his dad, a philanthropist, who donates money from every sale to one of 18 Yolo County nonprofits. While he says the principal motivation for doing so is “helping out,” Soderquist says, “There’s a kind of a domino effect at play. If we can re-power homes” — convert them from running solely on gas and electricity, “people will save money and will have more to spend in the community. There’s a lot of sunshine out there.”

And that, he says, “is the only positive thing about climate change I can think of. The less rain, the more sunshine, the more electricity we can generate. But I’d prefer it rained.”

Soderquist and his wife Karen, a manager at a medical software company, have two sons: Scott, who’s 16, and 13-year-old Ty. Perhaps because he majored in journalism at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — he also has an MBA from UC Davis — he elects to help out his interviewer. “I’m pretty easy to summarize,” he says. “I’m a father, a husband, a Little League coach and the son of amazing parents. I got my work ethic from my dad and my loving side from my mom.” Yes, but that sunshine is all his own.

Ed Goldman’s newest book, “And Now, With Further Ado: More Gravitas-Defying Profiles and Punditry from the Sacramento Business Journal,” is available at

PG&E’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) is Wonderfully Simple

[Originally posted September 1, 2015]

PG&E’s accounting methodology for solar homeowners (aka, Net Energy Metering) is wonderfully simple. It’s the bill credit mechanism that makes solar lucrative for Yolo County homeowners. Unfortunately, many solar homeowners we speak with are caught off guard when they receive their annual “true up” bill from PG&E. In all of these cases, the homeowners have leased their solar system from a national company and said that the company's salesperson did not explain the process.

To wit, when you have solar, here’s how it works:

1. You are enrolled in PG&E’s Net Energy Metering program, and you have a 20-year contract with PG&E whereby they are required to credit you for the solar electricity you generate.

2. When you generate electricity, you are credited at the full retail price (per kilowatt hour), the same rate you pay when you use electricity.

3. As a solar homeowner, you only pay your PG&E electricity bill once a year. Every month, PG&E sends you a Net Energy Metering statement, quantifying and valuing your net electricity use. Some months, you are a net generator (you make more electricity than you use) and PG&E owes you money; conversely, there are months where you use more electricity than you generate and you owe PG&E money.

4. At the end of your 12-month solar year with PG&E, you receive an annual true-up, reconciling each month’s net electricity use. Thereby, if you were a net user, you pay PG&E; if you were a net generator, PG&E pays you.

It’s that simple. Please feel free to contact us — whether you already have solar or are considering it — if you have any questions.

Synergetics, à la Aleksy Golovka

[Originally posted August 21, 2015]

Did you know that Stanford University, the alma mater of Repower cofounder John Walter, has a Solar Poetry section, among many fascinating soulful solar-related expressions--art, photography, folklore, ancient observatsion and more--on its Stanford Solar Center website? Check it out. 

Synergetics is written by Aleksy Golovka, a Russian Solar-Terrestrial Physicist. Enjoy! And, by the way, if you've been wondering about whether or not going solar is right for you, fill out the form to the right of this post. We'll get back to you right away. 


Through the telescope I observe the Sun,
And I must aver: no, the ancient
But still unanswered key question
Of life's relation to the Sun is not simple.

A flower grows, collecting in its stem
Particles of air, and moisture, and earth.
And in about the same way, playing in forms,
A spot grows, adorning the Sun's face.

Cascades of flares, webs of fibrils,
A waterfall-like sheet of a prominence -
The work of the fire-breathing dragon,
Bathing in plasma, stuns us.

Such harmony of motion exists
In a crystal, a laser, in boiling wax,
The arraying of a row of instants
And positions into a regular network.

We are close to the truth! The mosaic of neurons
Organizes what I took in with a glance:
I think! Bowing, I proffer to the Sun
The Sunlike globe of my head.

-=Aleksey Golovko=-
Senior Researcher of the Institute of Solar-Terrestrial Physics

The Sun, According to Poet Mary Oliver

[Originally posted July 3, 2015]

Welcome to Repower's Friday Solar Poetry Corner. We're as ecstatic about the Sun as is poet Mary Oliver. Mary pegs it! Frankly, solar makes us feel good...really, really good. We're helping Yolo reduce our Greenhouse Gas Emissions and giving our friends and neighbors the opportunity to save big on solar installations and electricity bills. 

Here's to you, Mary Oliver! Enjoy.

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun, 
every evening, 
relaxed and easy, 
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills, 
or the rumpled sea, 
and is gone– 
and how it slides again

out of the blackness, 
every morning, 
on the other side of the world, 
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils, 
say, on a morning in early summer, 
at its perfect imperial distance– 
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love– 
do you think there is anywhere, in any language, 
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you, 
as the sun
reaches out, 
as it warms you

as you stand there, 
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power, 
for things?

One Year After Going Solar: PG&E True-Up

[Originally posted July 2, 2015]

Happy Repower homeowner Fred Lee went solar a year ago. Yesterday, he emailed us the numbers on his ROI in Solar. Here is what he wrote:

Subject: PGE True-up on our one year of solar cells

PGE has just released the "true-up" on our one year of our solar cells use. 

Last year, before installation of the solar cells, we paid PGE over $5550 for use of electricity. 

The True Up total electric use was $452.20, i.e., our total electric use cost during the past year compared to solar cell generation was a negative $452.20. Therefore we have saved about $6,000 last year as a result of solar cell generation and our reduced rate of electricity use. 

During the past year, we paid $210/month on the Yolo Federal [Credit Union] loan that enabled us to purchase the solar cells. We also saved about $11,000 in our 2014 federal tax credit due to the solar cell purchase.

Thanks for all your help in obtaining our solar cells.  


We Can Lead by Example, Right Here and Right Now, in Yolo

[Originally published June 25, 2015]

All right. Pope Francis's call for swift action on climate change got me to thinking about leadership toward sustainability. Other world leaders, too, are stepping up to the plate. But it occurred to me that there is a lot that each one of us can do to lead on the very real and mighty micro-levels of our families, neighborhoods, and communities. In other words, I realized that we don't need to be world leaders to benefit the world. But we do need to be leaders and we need to lead by our example ... right here in Yolo County.


The Most Popular Guy at the Party

I then remembered  an article I read a while back about the most popular person at a party. The writer asked, "Who do you think the most popular guy at the party is? The one telling tons of jokes? The handsomest? The richest?" No. The most popular guy at the party is the one who listens well to what others are saying...who shows a genuine interest in others. So doesn't it play out that to lead by example requires us also to be genuinely interested in others? 


The Invitation

Humans are insatiably curious about and aware of one another. They are interested in other humans. Large hotel chains experimented with signs that asked their guests to reuse their towels to help reduce water usage and wastewater output. One type of sign provided facts about water usage and towels, assuming that the facts alone were enough to compel people to change their behaviors and reuse their towels. The other type of messaging invited the guests to join all the other people who are already helping to save the environment by reusing their towels. Which type of messaging was most effective? The invitation to join the others at the party! 


Primary Reasons People Go Solar

For most, economics are the primary motivating force behind the decision to go solar. Freedom from PG&E rate hikes. Greatly reduced or Net Zero energy usage.  The fact that solar is clean and green is a great "added benefit." While the economic rationale of going solar is important, there is something more serious at stake here than mere dollars. 


What We Do and Don't Do

It's interesting that, when people see their friends and neighbors going solar, they become interested in going solar, too. What we do and don't do influences the people around us. Not doing whatever we can to mitigate climate change runs counter to the environmental and economic intelligence we need to exercise to get out of this Climate Change Pickle


The Biggest Yes

Yes, going solar usually a sound economic decision. And, yes, it increases the value of your home. And, yes, it frees you from PG&E's ambiguity and rate hikes. But it's bigger than all this. The biggest "yes" is that going solar feels so good because we're taking action to mitigate the damage we've done to the environment, so that Earth can begin to heal. And, by doing so, you invite others to the party. What we do has a big impact. Can you feel the (re)power?

Understanding Net Energy Metering and Solar's Relationship with Public Utilities

[Originally published May 12, 2015]

We launched Repower--a community-focused, group purchase program to help our friends and neighbors in Yolo County go solar--18 months ago. After more than 40 residential solar installations, here are a some  observations from PG&E country:

Net Energy Metering (NEM). Net metering helps solar customers, especially when their usage is low in the spring and fall (less air conditioning and heating). In those months, customers bank their surplus energy production and use it to offset summer and winter usage.

ROR. Repower's 40+ installations generate an average of approximatley 6.5 kw--a bit higher than the state average--and customers get their money back in about 6 years, for a rate of return in the 12% range. I characterize solar as a bond investment, i.e., very low risk and steady returns for long periods of time.

Greater Personal Power. Our homeowners value and enjoy the feelings of independence and control that generating their own clean power gives them. Yes, they are tied to their utitlities through Net Energy Metering (NEM), but they are no longer subject to its rate hikes and complicated fee structures. 

Community Choice Aggregation Districts. The Investor Owned Utility's (IOU) general reluctance to change their business models to support locally-generated power is forcing many communities to consider setting up their own Community Choice Aggregation Districts, another poke-in-the-eye to IOUs.

One IOU's Approach. The Modesto Irrigation District, which serves a relatively large customer base in the Central Valley, generates its own power. Because its Net Energy Metering program has already reached capacity, it's no longer available. Instead, solar customers qualify for a new rate structure that lowers their rates across the board. Installing a solar system instantly reduces the total bill by more than 25%, without taking into account the value of the solar generated electricity. While better than nothing, Modesto Irrigation District's fix still falls short of the ROR that homeowners should be getting for the surplus electricity they generate.But, it's a start. 

A Big Game Changer ... Down the Line. On April 30, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the new Tesla Energy battery for businesses and utility companies. Tesla's relatively inexpensive battery solutions for storing solar-generated electricity will be a game changer, but the extent of the transformation depends in part on the utilities developing favorable rate structures. The other major factor rests with battery development. Tesla's announced battery is intended for backup power supply, not for leveling usage. While Tesla's innovation is exciting, it will take years before it becomes pragmatic and adoptable for IOUs. 

Solar Selfie of a Happy Repower Homeowner

[Originally published May 8, 2015]

When Jeff Tweddale moved from redwood country to sunny Davis, he went solar. Motivated by his general philosophy of energy conservation, Jeff said, "I never doubted it. There are so many options for how we go solar. Anybody who lives in a places that generates so much sunlight is stupid not to go solar." 

The thing that caused him to act so quickly was the hungry sound of his swimming pool pumps guzzling non-renewable electricity. It was wasteful. 

Jeff checked out a few companies, Sunpower and Solar City included. Why did he choose to go solar with Repower? Local owners and the local ownership model. He wanted to invest his money in the long-term of solar to own. With Repower, the solar energy system will stay with the house, if and when he sells it.  The economics of Repower's plan, plus his own personal commitment to energy conservation, sealed the deal.

And, now that he's generating his own electricity, he feels great. In Jeff's own words, going solar makes him feel:

"Excellent. Confident. Appropriate. Empowered."

The installation went "perfectly well and took only six weeks, from beginning to end. Repower gave excellent presale support, and Chris and John were very thorough." 

A Solar Story that Began with Love

[Originally published April 23, 2015]

Richard Kaiser fell in love. Then he moved to Davis to be with his darling and her children. They lived in her home and decided to remodel the inside. In the throes of renovation, Richard bumped into his friend and Repower homeowner, John Mott-Smith, who suggested they go solar with Repower.

"I never talked with anyone else. I'd trust John with my life. And I know that he never wastes money. I don't have a bone to pick with PG&E, but I liked the idea of making our own electricity and saving money. The economics seem to work out.

"Repower's solar energy system installation process was a lot quicker than I expected. It was painless, quick, sooner-than-later."

Repower is community-focused. Richard's story illustrates just how powerful friends and neighbors can be. And this is exactly what energizes our Repower team.