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Shining a Light on Lumio

From Eric Peterson at Utah Investigative Journalism Project:

McDole has hired a lawyer and is still battling the company over her claim of roof damage and for giving her what she said is false information about tax rebates being able to offset a third of the $40,000 loan she had to take out.

When McDole heard about Lumio’s tax incentive, she was astounded.

“Where’s my fucking tax break?” she asked.

Sigh. Another day, another large solar company accused of defrauding their customers. The entire article’s very good, go read it and then come back.

I keep getting Pink Energy vibes, here. For better or worse, I’ve been obsessed with the Powerhome Solar/Pink Energy story recently, along with diving into the CEO’s claims and actions over the course of the last several years. Pink Energy, of course, went bankrupt in 2022, after years of customer complaints— similar to those being brought to Lumio. Of course, Pink Energy’s death was brought much more swiftly due to issues with Generac’s solar product at the time, but I tend to think Pink Energy wasn’t going to last, anyway. I’ve seen enough reports of bad training and mismanagement at the lower levels that is really hard to fix, especially when the CEO bragged in his own book about firing 20% of Powerhome staff, every time the performance numbers weren’t where they needed to be1.

Solar is complex. Honestly, more complex than it often needs to be, mostly due to regulatory shit. Changing codes, especially when you’re a company that’s multi-state, can be a nightmare for training designers and installers. And I don’t know for sure what Lumio’s business model is, either, because there’s a ton of conflicting information about whether Lumio’s installer’s are all in-house or if they use a number of contractors (I dare you to try deriving any conclusion from this Reddit thread, for example). Regardless, they started by buying or merging with a number of solar companies. Especially in that situation, quality and customer care becomes a super difficult thing to manage and maintain under the expectation of immediate growth, a problem with most investor-backed companies.

Growth at all costs is extremely costly. And in this industry, growth at all costs for a solar company usually ends up being more costly for the customer. Large solar companies are often able to hide behind well-paid lawyers, flashy marketing, and tedious games of phone tag, where the solar company never tags back.

And again, we come back to the question: Will solar ever get to a place where we’re not identified largely as scammers, and if so, what are the market forces that will finally make it happen? Do we need yet more regulation, this time in sales contracts? Do we need “Nutrition Facts” labels for solar contracts, explaining in consistent terms how if you don’t have the tax liability to get your 30% credit, you’re gonna suddenly be paying way higher monthly bills for the next 20 years? Do we need some faster, state-enforced means of forcing lazy solar installers to come back and fix their fucked installations? Or is this simply an inevitable by-product of the opportunity presented by federal tax credits and grants, seized by salesmen and CEOs with dollar signs in their eyes?

Just stop screwing up my industry, geeeeeez

  1. Own Your Power by Jayson Waller, p138 ↩︎

“Racing” Toward Perovskites – TL;DR

From CleanTechnica:

In a new paper published February 26 in the journal Nature Energy, a CU Boulder researcher and his international collaborators unveiled an innovative method to manufacture the new solar cells, known as perovskite cells, an achievement critical for the commercialization of what many consider the next generation of solar technology.

Here’s the TL;DR – No, perovskites are not dramatically closer to being commercially viable. They found they could reduce oxidation in open air (which is what kills the performance of perovskites over time) by mixing dimethylammonium formate with the perovskite solution before it’s sprayed onto the panel. This allows for retained performance of 90% after 700 hours, up from 300 hours. As the article notes, there are over 8000 hrs in a year.

Still have a ways to go.

Tesla Roof comparisons by Matt Ferrell

Absolutely fantastic video from Matt Ferrell here. He does a pretty fair apples-to-apples comparison between his more typical solar setup and Paul Braren from TinkerTry.com‘s Tesla solar roof installation. Where I often see very abstract cost comparisons to Tesla’s solar roof, this takes a look at the costs and benefits in a ton of different ways. Both systems are definitely higher in cost than your typical solar install, but the comparisons are fair and useful! Loved this.

Fiberglass PV Frames?!

From pv magazine:

“This composite material is used in applications such as wind turbine blades, to withstand wind pressure, vibration and centrifugal force, as well as railway tracks, to withstand the pressure and vibration of passing trains,” a spokesperson from the company told pv magazine. “Fiberglass-reinforced composite materials have been used for over 20 years in outdoor environments and fields with higher load requirements, with countless successful application cases.”

Fiberglass-reinforced composite for panel frames is fascinating on a number of levels.

  • Panel frame wouldn’t need grounded, which is a very weird thing to think about.
  • Would it make the panel heavier or lighter than aluminum frames? Presumably heavier.
  • Not having to deal with any leakage to ground through the panel frame in 20 years might actually lead to better longevity.
  • Then again, I don’t know how fiberglass-reinforced composite will fare after 30-40 years in direct sun. We know the silicon lasts forever if it’s treated well, but will the composite match aluminum’s durability?
  • This would be worse for recycling

What do you think?

Solar Adoption in Rural America

From Mike De Socio at CNET:

“We were able to find that adoption of these technologies is highly related to income,” Mayfield said. “We also find that education is also a main factor of these technologies.” In other words, rural Americans with higher incomes and more education are more likely to put solar panels on their roof or buy a heat pump.

I mean, yep.

And the big “solution” many companies turn to for low-income and low-education folks, is leasing. I’ve met maybe a handful of people who were a big fan of their lease, but they were markedly at the beginning of the craze in the early 2010s when the deals were much better. However, most leaseholders I’ve encountered, especially in recent times, have become cynical about solar, mainly due to poor service.

Solar leasing companies historically have very few service people available, and it often takes months of hassle to get people to come out. The usual scenario involves residents reaching out to the leasing company for months without a response or with dismissive gestures. As a last resort, the resident stops paying the monthly bill, finally grabbing the attention of the company. However, instead of getting someone to fix the system, the company contacts someone like me to disable the system outright until payment continues.

Every single one of those kinds of jobs I’ve seen are on low-income housing. When these leasing companies mess up, it reinforces the belief that solar is a scam. Paired with fast-talking salesmen with no morals, leasing is the fastest way to introduce solar to low-income Americans — and a recipe for alienation.

Best way to educate, as with anything you want to incentivize, is to increase the accessibility of ownership.

Solar, but in space!!!

From Corey S. Powell at WSJ:

In this age of wireless everything, engineers are trying to perform the ultimate act of cord-cutting: generating abundant solar electricity in space and beaming it to the ground, no power cables required.

The idea and how it works is basically putting a huge solar array in space, and beaming it the power via microwave like a huge wireless charger, which is genuinely cool. But it’s not like we’d suddenly be getting rid of large power farms on earth:

Bringing space-based solar power to the masses will require not just a lot of satellites but also a lot of antenna farms on the ground. Two gigawatts of beamed power would require about 25 square miles of receiver, according to a Solaris-funded report by the research firm Roland Berger.

Doing some googling, 2 GW of solar farm would likely also require close to 25 square miles of land use, but you’d get less interruption due to weather since microwaves don’t give a fuck about clouds. And I’m sure a lot of this tech will continue to miniaturize over time.

Regardless, this kind of tech development excites me, even though it’s still in early stages.

Republicans are trying to screw the solar industry to spite Democrats again

From PV Magazine USA:

The “Build it in America Act” contains cuts to the two cornerstone tax credits. The Act also makes cuts to the federal electric vehicle tax credit, both for new and used EVs.

This is the second attempt by a coalition of House members to overturn the Investment Tax Credit and the Production Tax Credit, two policies that are at the core of the United States push toward low cost, carbon-free electricity. The first attempt, which smuggled IRA cuts into the debt ceiling raise bill, was thwarted in negotiations that led to expedited environmental reviews for energy projects of all types.

Why. Just stop it. Get some help.