Making Solar More Accessible for Every Southern Californian

For this week’s blog we wanted to make a special announcement. We’ve seen large changes affect the California solar industry over the past year and wanted to respond to these changes in a big way.

We wanted to make sure solar can fit within every family’s budget. So we’ve decided to offer southern California’s first ever $2.99 per watt solar program which means we are officially offering San Diego’s lowest priced solar – installed in under 30 days.

It’s a big deal, because it means that SD homeowners officially get the lowest priced solar in the county while having the quickest turnaround.

lowest priced solar

It is quite frankly some of the lowest prices for solar that we’ve seen yet. For example – a 4kW system (14 panels) can be installed for under $12,000 (as low as $8,400 after the 30% Federal Tax Credit). Likewise – a 6kW system (21 panels) can be installed for under $18,000 (or $12,600 after the 30% Tax Credit).

With lower pricing now available – solar can be more accessible for a wider range of homeowners, particularly with financing options available from Point Loma Credit Union.

It’s straightforward stuff. We hope this initiative is a step in the right direction in lowering the barriers for homeowners who want an upfront look at the cost of going solar in San Diego County.

This special price is only available while supplies last, so don’t wait! Visit our website today to get your free, no hassle quote and this just might be the last power bill you’ll pay!

The Real Cost of Solar Panels

What is the average cost of a residential solar installation? It’s a very common question that we receive as a solar company, but it’s difficult to answer as there is no such thing as an “average” home.
We are the oldest solar contractor in the San Diego Area and we have installed thousands of systems and over 100,000 solar panels. This year, 2016, our average residential sale has been about $31,000 and about $4.15 per watt before you take the Federal Investment Tax credit of 30% off the final price. We have seen prices drop from over $10.00 per watt a decade ago to today where many systems are sold for around $3.50 per watt.

Graph via SEIA.org

Graph via SEIA.org

Much like a new a car or a truck, the prices of solar installations’ can range dramatically. Take, for example, the Ford f150, the world’s best-selling vehicle. The truck can start around $25,000 for a basic version and run up to over $60,000 if you add a crew cab, four- wheel drive, air conditioned seats, etc. Much like these added amenities, factors such as a tile roof, limited roof space, long or difficult wiring runs, a ground mounted structure or a service upgrade can all add to the costs of a basic solar system installation, but rarely adds so much that the the project doesn’t make financial sense or pay for itself in a short number of years. Panel efficiency, types of inverters, and monitoring can also affect the cost of a system, so make sure if you have multiple quotes that you are comparing apples to apples.

Common Pricing Structures for Solar

There are several ways that companies will show you pricing. As an example I will use a $30,000, 7000watt system for the following examples.

1. $30,000 CASH purchase for a standard shingle roof installation. This price can then be divided into a cost per kW, or Watt. It is very common to divide the price by the DC rating of the system. For example $30,000 for a 7000watt DC system is $4.29 per DC watt.

2. $21,000 CASH Price. $30,000 less (30% Federal Investment Tax Credit of $9000) = $21,000. Paying $21,000 cash upfront can be achieved by financing the portion eligible for tax credit. Unless someone else is financing the Tax Credit you need to pay the entire $30,000 and wait to get your money back from the Federal Government.

3. ZERO DOWN purchase or Lease. There are many ways to pay for solar. PPA’s, leases and ownership financing are the primary ways to finance solar. The companies that focus on monthly payments will typically offer a lease with an escalating monthly payment. The idea is to offer a customer a monthly payment that starts lower than the utility bill it’s offsetting and does not exceed the rate of utility escalation. These companies often have easy to qualify financing but use less expensive components. Stellar Solar strongly believes in monthly payments and financing that remain fixed throughout their stated term.

ocean beach

Make sure you always understand the difference, and be careful of unconventional loans that promise complicated tax benefits. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. If you do not completely understand what you are getting into you should never do it.

Stellar Solar will present all your options in a no-pressure, educational manner and simply make suggestions as to what will work best for your situation.

Why You Should Get Your Solar Panels Installed Before Summer

Summer is fast approaching and that means it’s about to be rush time for solar companies here in San Diego.  As temperatures heat up, more and more homeowners will be turning on their air conditioning and will be looking for solar to lower their power bills.  That’s why homeowners who are looking to get the most value out of their solar system should look into going solar before the summer hits, as when the demand goes up, installation times will get longer, which means you will be needlessly paying for power longer.

college area

The average solar panel installation time in the off season can be around two months depending on the company.  In the summer these times increase as the demand for solar goes up, so some installations can take up to three months.  Many homeowners who decide to get solar mid-summer may completely miss the opportunity for savings on power during the summer months, as the installation may not be complete until the end of the season.  So to ensure maximum savings, homeowners will want to be installed before the heat hits so their installation happens as quickly as possible.

For homeowners interested in getting installed before summer, Stellar Solar is offering a unique program that ensures homeowners will get their system installed in one month.  The Stellar Solar Fast Track Program, as it’s called, promises that homeowners who sign up for solar in April will have their system installed in May, before the summer rush.  This ensures maximum savings over the summer while utilizing your air conditioning, and quick installation times.

So for homeowners looking to go solar this year, there are many benefits to getting installed early.  A maximizing of savings, plus the assurance of a quick installation time are enough to justify biting the bullet and going solar as soon as possible.  Stellar Solar can get your installation up in a month with their Fast Track Program, so check us out if you’re interested in maximizing your solar savings this year at  http://www.stellarsolar.net/fast-track-solar-program.html.

fast track

Faces of Stellar – Scott Forster

Scott Forster, Ground Mount Installation Manager

 

ground mount stellar solar

Scott rests easy after completing a large ground mount installation.

Job Description:

Train and manage ground mount crews to execute any size ground mounted PV array.  I also oversee all of our work, inside and out.  I can be a real stickler for neatness and I strive to make sure the structural integrity of everything we do cannot be matched or outlasted.

 

What differentiates Stellar Solar ground mounts?

Over the years we have developed our own proprietary ground mount structures.  Our arrays are, to an extent, over built with 12 gauge square tubing and stainless joints.  This allows me to build perfectly flat arrays that do not budge.  This could be considered overkill but it’s the way we do it and I would cringe if we had to do it any other way.

 

What influences homeowners to install ground mounts versus roof mounted systems?

There seems to be completely different view on this.  I run into homeowners that just love the look of a ground mounted array and on the other hand there are people that don’t like the look, so we put it on a hillside somewhere or behind structures or trees so that the array is not visible.  There are a few that are SDG&E’s best customers (heavy users of electricity) and simply do not have the ideal roof space.

 

First Position at Stellar Solar

I came on in 2010 as an installer and my first few jobs were almost all large commercial projects.  Salk Institute was where I could really show my construction knowledge and right after that went on to lead in the installation of a megawatt US Foods system in LA and several other large-scale projects.  Our high growth rate over the past few years and dramatic increase in ground mounts created this position for me which suits my skill set and construction experience.

 

What give you the most job satisfaction?

The satisfaction I get from the finished product for sure.  On top of that, it’s really all about the guys that I lead.  I enjoy seeing them succeed and at Stellar Solar there is a ton of opportunity for growth.  They really take pride in what we do and a lot of roof guys are envious.  Even with a shovel in hand, waist deep in a trench, every single guy on the team is happy to be a part of what we do.  Besides all that, the whole company is made up of a great group of people.

 

Describe some of your favorite installations.

My favorite job had to be one deep into Valley Center.  Out of all the land this customer had, he picked a spot on top of a rock the size of a large house.  There was absolutely no digging involved and it was a real game changer for everyone.  It was really great to see heads come together and pull it off.  Another recent job was in Rancho Santa Fe.  It required roughly 40 footing holes and was a completely commercial style array of 112 solar panels.

 

Life before Stellar Solar?

I was born and raised in upstate New York in the countryside.  The only way to describe it is my grandparent’s farm was right next to the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival.  I was into all sports, football being a favorite.  After graduation, I bolted off to New York City where I was the co-owner of a food truck at 19.  Later I joined the Navy and became a submarine machinist mate on the Asheville based here on Point Loma.  For the time I was in (the Navy) I really learned that great sense of leadership and camaraderie.

 

How many ground mount systems do you expect to build this year?

We have the capacity to build 100 and 22 are already sold.  We expect all 100 to be spoken for by mid summer.

 

Interests outside of Stellar Solar?

I like traveling and seeing new things.  On occasion, I’ll take trips with some friends to ride dirt bikes in different areas.

 

 

The Benefits of Micro Inverters

 

In the solar world, one of the big debates is the whole string inverter vs. micro inverter issue.  Solar inverters are the devices that convert DC power being produced by the solar panel into AC power.  The debate lies in which type of inverter is better, string or micro, which both have unique functions and compatibility.

Closeup

The Types of Inverters

Inverters are the element of the solar system that converts DC power into AC power to be sent to the grid.  There are two types, as we have mentioned, the single “string” inverter, and the micro inverter.  The conventional single “string” inverter is usually located at the ground level of a home, in the garage, or outside with the other electrical panels.  This string inverter converts power for all panels in the array.  So, if there’s 25 panels, there will still be one inverter.

Micro inverters have been around since 1993, but have only recently gained popularity in their solar applications.  Unlike the single “string” inverters, with a micro inverter setup, there is an inverter mounted on the back of every solar panel.

The Benefits of Micro Inverters

Micro inverters, with their setup on each panel individually, have many benefits.  The fact that each panel has its own dedicated inverter means that each panel is optimized individually, which ensures maximum production from each panel.  This means that one underperforming panel will not bring down the performance of the system as a whole.  String inverters optimize for the system as a whole, which can be affected by poorly performing panels.

 

Maximize Production

With Micro inverters, one panel that is malfunctioning will not affect the whole production of the system.  This can be useful for any system that may have shading problems.  The shaded panel will not affect the performance of the whole system, instead the individual inverter will adjust and treat the panel separately from the rest of the system.  With a central inverter, if as little as 9% of the system is shaded, the system will put out 54% less energy.  A system generating via micro inverters will not be effected the shaded 9%.

 

Longer Life-Span

Micro inverters have a much longer lifespan, and therefore warranty, than central inverters.  Central inverters, with the entire system running through them, are constantly hit with high power and high heat.  This takes a toll, which makes their lifespan and warranty significantly shorter (10-15 years) than that of micro inverters.

 

Easily Modified

Micro inverters allow for your solar system to be added on to or modified easier.  If you add a new panel or panels, with micro inverters there is no need to restring your entire system.  Also, with a central inverter based system, you may have add another inverter if you add enough panels.  This may lead you to buy an inverter that is much bigger than what you need for your system.

 

Performance Monitoring

Micro inverters, like those provided by Enphase Energy, often come with online performance monitoring systems that allow you to visually monitor the performance of every panel, and your system as a whole.  The ongoing monitoring of your system allows you to make tweaks to optimize it, and gives you the capacity to know when certain panels go out or are under performing.  The online monitoring provided by micro inverters is the best way for solar customers to ensure they are getting what they were promised as far as electrical production.

enphase monitoring system

Enphase’s online monitoring system for their Micro Inverter system.

 

Safer

In a central inverter solar system setup, the solar panels are strung together in a series before the inverter.  This means that there is extremely high DC voltage running through the wiring, which can be extremely dangerous, and life threatening to the homeowner.  Micro inverters eliminate this extremely high voltage current, which is safer and more efficient.

 

Silent

Micro inverters produce significantly less heat that central inverters, so no active cooling system is needed, which keeps noise down.  This is appealing to most homeowners as nobody wants a noisy solar system.

 

Are Micro Inverters for you?

If your house is in an area where there is potential for shading or if your roof is such that your panels are getting vastly different sun exposure, a micro inverter is probably the solution for you.  It will take a solar analysis of your home to find out, so contact your local solar provider today to find out if micro inverters are right for your solar system.

The San Diego Solar Rush (Infographic)

The solar industry in San Diego is officially firing on all cylinders.  Homeowners in know are aware of the upcoming changes to net metering laws, and are therefore jumping on the solar bandwagon by the masses.  In this infographic we explain how and why San Diego is in the midst of a solar boom.

san diego net metering

Faces of Stellar: Andy Kass

andy kass

Job Title and Description

Monitoring & Service Coordinator

How long with Stellar Solar

I have been with Stellar since September 2013

Best Part of Your Job

The best part of my job is meeting with our customers at the end of their installation process and finishing the setup of their monitoring. The look of happiness on their faces when they realize they no longer have to pay a utility bill is pretty priceless to see.

Challenges that go with it

As far as challenges go, each home I go into is pretty unique when it comes to connecting their monitor to their network. Some people may have a multi-million dollar smart home, while others may have your run of the mill wireless cable modem. We look into what works best for our customers needs and ensure them that their system will be covered for the next 20 years. With technology changing so rapidly in our field it can be a bit of a struggle to keep up, but at the end of the day I will make sure we get the job done right.

“Stellar moment” an experience at Stellar Solar where you, or someone else has gone above and beyond to solve a problem or provide a great experience for a customer.

One of the many “Stellar moments” that sticks out the most in my mind was a customer who had been scheduled for their monitor to get connected after they had received their permission to operate letter. This job was located up in the eastern hills of Poway, about a 40 minute drive from our offices in Carlsbad with little traffic.
 
Upon arriving at the site I began my normal setup process and discovered that the system was not producing any power. Prior to my current job position I logged some time with our installation crews so I was familiar with diagnosing system issues. Despite this, I was stumped for a good 20 minutes as to what the issue could be. I then discovered a lack of power coming from a breaker powering a sub-panel for our equipment. As a monitor coordinator I typically have limited parts that I need for my section of the installation, since most of it is digital, and in this case I was short a new breaker that was needed to be able to replace this defective one I had discovered. Not only that but here it was Friday afternoon, and rescheduling our customers for Monday without any solar production was out of the question.
I explained the situation to the customer and told them I’d be back with a replacement by 5 PM. So after driving through Friday afternoon San Diego traffic, I got to our offices picked up a new breaker from our back-stock and fought my way back to our patient customer’s home. I then quickly installed the new breaker and saw the system come alive on my monitoring equipment. I then gave them an in depth overview of their system, detailing how all of their equipment worked, and how we will help them over the next 20 years to ensure their system remains online and continues to output power.
The customers were pleased with how quickly the problem was handled, and were excited that they could now see how their system was producing by accessing the app on their phone. Many smiles were had that day, and that was all achieved by means of a little extra effort that showed how “Stellar” we are.

Where are you from originally and tell us about your family

I’m originally from upstate New York. I grew up in the village of Baldwinsville which is about 15 minutes from Syracuse. GO ORANGE! My family is relatively small and based mostly there in New York with the exception of my uncle and his family from Columbus, Ohio.
I have a younger brother who is now 25 that helps my dad with his general contracting business. My mother has been a stay at home mom for the last 30 years and knows how to make amazing chocolate chip cookies. She is also a survivor of Breast Cancer and even with only one lung she is living life as she did before, happy and active. I have two grandmothers, both are nearly 90 and still kicking. My wife, who I met in Syracuse while getting her masters degree, lead me out here once her career took off and now we have been married for over a year and couldn’t be happier.
One interesting tidbit of information about my last name is that it wasn’t always Kass. My grandparents immigrated to the US in the 50’s from the USSR and when they arrived they wanted to make it easier to pronounce their name so it was changed from Kashlakoff  to Kaszlak. After trying on the name for a while for some people it was still hard to pronounce. So in the 70’s our family name was shortened to what it is now.

Top 5 San Diego restaurants (any price point)

5. Ignite wine bistro
4. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
3. Le Papagayo
2. Solterra Winery and Kitchen
1. Wonderland Ocean Pub

First concert and where

I saw Yellowcard back in 2006 while they were on tour through Rochester, New York. I saw them live in the Water Street Music Hall, an amazing venue and one heck of a show. I even got Ryan Key’s autograph afterwards.
First car or motorcycle
 
My first car was a 1999 Saturn sedan which was a stick shift.  I was very happy to learn how to drive the right way, so now I can drive any car out there.

Solar Congregations:  How Churches have Embraced Solar

 

Across the nation, both homeowners and business owners have been enlightened to the benefits of going solar.

With rising utility prices, those with financial savvy have seen the path to financial freedom through solar, and many have made the transition.  The trend has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that even churches are jumping on the bandwagon, hence the newest movement solar: solar congregations.church solar

Inherently, solar power seems to make perfect sense for churches for several reasons.  Most churches work on a low budget, operating almost exclusively off donations, so saving money on expensive power bills is obviously a huge plus.  Most churches only hold congregations during the daytime as well, so the power being produced is being used, and not being sold back the power company for credit.  Also, solar is a natural resource and is therefore a religiously safe power source.  No one can argue with energy that is being derived from the sun.

The only problem with churches trying to go solar is that most don’t have the money for a large upfront payment, and, like other non-profits, they are not eligible for federal solar tax incentives.  That’s why many opt for a PPA, or a power purchase agreement.

Saving money on utilities frees up churches to spend money on other things.   Instead of having to worry about the extra cost of A/C in the summer, churches can have longer congregations and more activities in the heat.  Also, with the increased savings on utilities, the churches have money to spend on other programs and upgrades.

Solar Churches in San Diego

Churches here in San Diego have seen the light when it comes to solar, and are installing panels left and right to cut down on their energy costs.  For example, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego had Stellar Solar install a 73kW, 290 module solar system back in March 2014.  Church Director Robie Evans cited financial reasons and alignment of beliefs for the installation: “Along with this being a very smart financial decision for the church, we feel that going solar is an important expression of our spiritual values which include being good stewards of the planet.”

first unitarian universalist solar

Stellar Solar’s installation at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego.

 

This year, Stellar Solar installed a system on the Grace Lutheran Church in Escondido.  The Grace Lutheran is a large church and Christian School that has very large facilities.  Stellar utilized the large parking lots at the Grace Lutheran to install solar parking canopies that are powered by 500 Hyundai 300w panels.  This 150 kW system was completed in August and is set to zero out the church’s power bill almost immediately.

grace lutheran solargrace lutheran solar 2

So it’s clear that churches are beginning to wake up to the benefits of solar.  With the benefits of decreased utility costs and independence from foreign oil, solar makes sense for churches as it eases the operating costs off the members of the congregation.  For now it seems, the solar congregation is just getting started.

Faces of Stellar: Annie Eby

Annie Eby: Controller and HR

annie eby

Job title and description 

Controller and HR. I oversee all accounting functions, manage the front office, deal with all new and existing employees, and provide the management team with financial information regarding how Stellar is performing.

How long with Stellar Solar  

16 months.

 

Best part of your job  

All the employees. We have an amazing group of people! I also love the family dynamic here and how Stellar appreciates each employee for who they are rather than what they can offer.

 

Challenges that go with it  

The only challenges I have are the standard ones for accounting. Closing the financials in a timely manner!

 

“Stellar moment”: an experience at Stellar Solar where you, or someone else has gone above and beyond to solve a problem or provide a great experience for a customer. 

This is a hard one as I have seen more “stellar” moments at Stellar than any company I have ever worked with.

 

 Where are you from originally and tell us about your family 

I am a Southern California girl! Born in Oceanside and raised in Poway. I have an amazing family who have always been there for me and have taught me over the years how important keeping a strong family is. I have been married to my Husband Andrew for a little over two years, and we have three kids who are three years apart – Taylor, Kloey, and Wessley. Every day when I wake up I thank god for the blessings of both my family and my children as they are the driving factor that has made me who I am today.

 

Describe your perfect day off 

In the summer my perfect day is at the beach. Surfing/body boarding with my husband and kids and barbecuing with friends while watching the sun set. There is nothing better than a beach sunset. In the winter my dream day is on the mountain. I have been a snowboarder for over 15 years and absolutely adore seeing my kids killing it at the sport as well!

 

 Top 3 San Diego restaurants 

Thai Garden in Oceanside, In-N-Out, Dukes BBQ, Flemmings

 

First concert and where 

I believe it was Alanis Morisette at the Del Mar Fair in High School.  I went to SO many side show concerts that I can’t remember which one was first!

 

 First car or motorcycle 

A neighbor gave my dad a 1980 stick shift Toyota Corolla which was totaled in a car accident.  He fixed it, painted the front end with house paint, handed me the keys and said “figure it out.”

 

To learn more about Annie Eby’s role at Stellar Solar, check out her employee profile at http://www.stellarsolar.net/team.html.

Faces of Stellar: Armando Ramirez

solar work

Job title and description

Installation Manager at Stellar Solar.  I oversee all residential roof mount installations.  My responsibilities include ordering materials for jobs, and managing the installation crews.  I am also responsible for quality control of all installations, which includes fixing any issues we have with systems.

How long with Stellar Solar

I started with Stellar in June 2009.

Best part of your job

The best part of my job is that I am involved in every stage of the installation, from the site survey to the final inspection.  At the end of the process, I love to see the final product and know that the customer is satisfied.

Challenges that go with it

Sometimes, customers’ requests go beyond my responsibilities.  However, according to the company standards of customer service, I am responsible for customer satisfaction, so sometimes I have to think outside the box to come up with a solution that will not affect our installation cost but will still satisfy the customers’ requests.

“Stellar moment” an experience at Stellar Solar where you, or someone else has gone above and beyond to solve a problem or provide a great experience for a customer.

There was one time a few years ago when I had to meet with a customer on a Sunday.  The customer was traveling out of town for the beginning of the installation, and his only day available before the install was on a Sunday morning. So, despite it being my day off, I met with the customer and completed the job.  It was worth it as the customer was very pleased that we worked around his schedule.

Where are you from originally and tell us about your family

I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Mexico until I was 14, when I moved back to the United States. Same story with my wife Perla. I have a 6 year old, Zared, and another boy in the way, Noam.

Describe your perfect day off

My perfect day off is a day at the dirt bike track with my wife and my son. Any time spent with my family is perfect.

Top 3 San Diego restaurants 

-Miguel’s Cocina                                                                               –

-Pho Nam Cali

-Dave and Buster’s

First concert and where

My first concert was a Mexican rock band, Jaguares. It was at the Sport Arena in San Diego about 4 years ago.

First car or motorcycle

My first car was a 1996 Honda Civic that I got in high school.

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