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.

Faces of Stellar: Gary Takahashi

gary solar collage 3

Job title and description

Electrician: Service upgrades, MCB replacements, Service, Monitor set up.

How long with Stellar Solar

Four years.

Best part of your job

Working physically in the field and the mentally in the office, it’s a healthy mix!

Challenges that go with it

Trying to juggle all the tasks in a 5 day work week…Stellar is very busy these days. My job entails coordinating jobs, scheduling jobs, ordering material, and helping other departments.

Where are you from originally and tell us about your family

I am from Marina Del Rey, California. I am the youngest of two siblings, a brother and sister. I am divorced, but have a great girlfriend of ten years. I have two cool sons. My oldest, Tyler, is thirty years old  and works for Time Warner Cable as a supervisor in Palm Springs.  Jason, my youngest, lives in San Luis Obispo and works for the Gas Company as a Field Tech. My boys are everything to me. My mom is 93 years young, still alive and well.

 Describe your perfect day off day at the beach with girl, my two boys, and their significant others.

Top 5 San Diego restaurants (any price point)

Bistro West (Carlsbad)

Hon Sushi (Oceanside)

BLVD (Oceanside)

Vigilucci (Carlsbad)

Los Olas (Carlsbad Village)

 What was your first concert and where was it?

T-Rex at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

First car or motorcycle

Honda 50 mini trail.

Faces of Stellar: Jorge Garcia

  1. Job title and description

Operations & Maintenance Engineer in the Service Department for Stellar Solar.solar jobs

  1. How long with Stellar Solar

October 2014.

  1. Best part of your job

The best part of my job is resolving a variety of different issues as they come along. I love dealing with problem systems where the solution isn’t immediately apparent, and it takes some figuring out to solve the issue.

  1. Challenges that go with it

The challenges don’t always come in electrical, mechanical or structural form. I am also responsible for Quality Control, which can be difficult due to unavoidable human error. This responsibility, combined with the rest of my duties, sets me up to be seen as the bearer of bad news. However, It does give me the opportunity to resolve a variety of issues and make the company stronger by creating solutions to problems instead of ignoring them and letting them linger.

  1. “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.

Dealing with service, I come across a variety of different situations with all different types of customers.  One customer had to go out of state to deal with his father going into emergency surgery, due to a car accident.   While out of state, the customer got an email alert form his solar monitor that his PV system wasn’t reporting. With everything else that was going on, he took it as his system wasn’t producing and he feared an electric bill would push him over a financial cliff.  Responding quickly, I took a look at his online monitoring site, and was able to set some of his concerns at ease by explaining that it looked like an internet connectivity problem not a production problem. I got his permission to go out to his home and verify my off-site diagnosis.

The next morning I found his PV system in proper working order and was able to fix his monitoring interconnection. I called to inform him about his system and asked him about his dad, after a sigh of relief he let me know that he out of surgery and doing good. He told me how much he appreciated the quick and calm response and thanked me.

  1. Where are you from originally and tell us about your family.

I was born in San Diego, My wife’s name is Michelle and have two daughters, Amber and Lilly.

  1. Describe your perfect day off

Taking the family down the coast in Baja to eat lobster and body board with my oldest, while my wife and my youngest play ninja against the waves on the beach.

8.  Top 5 San Diego restaurants (any price point)

1.  C Level / Island Prime

2.  Blue Water Sandwich Shop

3.  Goody’s Sushi

4.  Cowboy Star

5.  Porckyland

9.  First Concert

Santana and Mana 1998

10.  First car or motorcycle

1986 Honda 250R ATV for my fourteenth birthday.

 

 

Faces of Stellar Solar: Kristin Kirk – Energy Consultant

Every member of the Stellar Solar team plays a key role in our success and our standing as San Diego’s Best Solar Company.  From our energy consultants to our designers to our electricians and installers, each employee is an essential component of the team and is equally important.  These folks all have a passion for the solar industry and have their own unique story to tell.  We will be sharing those stories through a new weekly feature called the Faces of Stellar Solar.  Hope you enjoy it!

Our first entry: Solar Energy Consultant Kristin Kirk.

 

 

Describe your job title, and what it entails.

KK: Energy Consultant.  Assisting Residential homeowners in San Diego to determine the best solar option for their needs.

SS: How long have you been with Stellar Solar?

KK: Three years and three months.

SS: What would you consider the best part of your job?

KK: I really enjoy working with people!  And assisting them with a win-win of saving money and reducing the carbon foot print.  Every homeowner that goes solar is doing their part to move towards clean energy.  I enjoy the relationships I build with the customers through the process.

SS: What are the challenges that go with it?

KK: Unraveling misinformation. There can be very long days making sure every question is answered in a timely manner.

SS: Have you had a “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?

KK: A customer we installed a few months earlier called me on a HOT Saturday afternoon, in a panic that the air conditioning went out and a breaker in the electrical box was fried… and they had house guests.  There was an assumption that the issue had something to do with the recent solar install.  One of Stellar’s lead installers Mario responded to the call that afternoon and after discovering there was a breaker that needed replacing for the AC — that had nothing to do with the solar install — Mario went and got the part and fixed it for them.  Mario went above and beyond!

SS: Where are you from originally?  Tell us about your family.

KK: I was born on Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland where my family and I lived until I was 7 years old.  We then moved to the Chicago area, where both my parents were raised and I spent the bulk of my childhood there with my parents and two brothers. We are close with our extended family and celebrate the addition of my sister-in-law and niece!

SS: Describe your perfect day off.

KK: Depends on the season, and where that day off is.  Locally, I would start with yoga, followed by a nice lunch with friends, then a massage or some time to work on a creative project.  Then down to the beach for a round of Bocce Ball or Volleyball.  Watch the sunset, and have a beach fire under the stars.  In the winter, I would be enjoying the day snowboarding and taking in the fresh air. Throughout the various seasons I also enjoy traveling, hiking, painting, sculpting, dancing, writing, live music, yoga, snowboarding, volleyball, bocce ball, playing the cello, and reading.

SS: Top 5 San Diego restaurants (any price point)

KK: DaoFu (in Normal Heights), Lotus Cafe (in Encinitas), Le Papagayo (in Leucadia), Fish Shop (in Encinitas or PB), Urban Plates (in Carlsbad or Del Mar).

SS: What was your first concert and where was it?

KK: New Kids on the Block and Tiffany.  In the Chicago area… I was 10 years old.

SS: What was your first car or motorcycle?

A Chevy Cavalier

For more information on Kristin Kirk, visit her employee profile.

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