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No end in sight for solar revolution, says Burnham Energy

No end in sight for solar revolution,
says Burnham Energy

by ROB McMANAMY | Oct 1, 2015

The sun may set in the West every day, but the prospects for solar energy certainly are on the rise there, offering a likely preview for the rest of the U.S. Today, there is more happening in the solar energy market than ever before, and nowhere is that more true than in sun-drenched Southern California. This month, BuiltWorlds had the chance to chat with John Dalton and Lyleen Dauz, two veteran managers in the San Jose office of Burnham Energy, a solar permitting and consulting unit of Chicago-based Burnham Nationwide Inc.

Dalton is senior manager in charge of Burnham's Photovoltaic (PV) inspection services, while Dauz, a former permit and inspection coordinator, serves as intra-office operations manager. They shared their insights with us on the prospects, projects and politics surrounding solar today. 

BuiltWorlds (BW): How long has this division been a part of the company, and how has the growth of solar affected your services? 

Senior manager Dalton.

Senior manager Dalton.

John Dalton (JD):  Six years. This division started as a full solar resource, engaging in permitting, initial pre-install site assessment and post-install site inspection. The developments in the industry and the marginalizing of costs with permits and pre-install site assessment services prompted us to focus on developing our core around post-installation inspection and documentation services.

BW: How is Burnham Energy a different animal within the company?

Ops manager Dauz

Ops manager Dauz

Lyleen Dauz (LD): We are no different, actually. We are an extension of the Burnham work ethic, and the Burnham culture. We have four full-time employees here in our office and five contract inspectors covering our service area in California. Our contract workforce had been at 30 inspectors across the nation, but the advent of the BurnhamEYE has allowed us to downsize in that area. BurnhamEYE enables installers to document their installations in a standardized and consistent manner. Already, it is being marketed and used on site by installers, in lieu of dispatching inspectors.

BW: What's the latest on California's net metering battles? 

JD: This changes constantly. The rates fluctuate, as more PV gets returned to the grid, the utilities are becoming reluctant to pay for managing a resource that they do not produce. It becomes a philosophical question as to what's good for an economy, environment, etc. Who reaps the rewards of the surplus? PV is not the answer to solve all our energy problems, thinking that it's going to produce all the power we need when we need it. So, it becomes a lifestyle responsibility for everyone.

  • NET ENERGY METERING = a billing mechanism that credits solar producers for the electricity they add to the grid. Across the U.S., there is growing interest in this for distributed generation. 

LD: In general, there has been some noise in regards to 'net metering'. For example, one of the friendliest solar policy states, Nevada, announced in July that its 235-MW net metering cap was approaching. That cap had been in place since May, under SB 374, after months of conflict between solar installers there and Nevada Energy. [The bill] was a temporary fix to maintain the status quo which also allowed the public utilities commission to craft new solar policy. In late August, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission voted to extend the solar net metering policy through the end of the year. 

In California, the public utilities commission has until the end of this year to create a successor to the NEM 2.0. Utilities have proposed basically cutting in half the per-kilowatt-hour rates for solar generating customers. They also have proposed imposing fixed or per-kilowatt-hour charges, and other restrictions. Key public interest solar groups like The Alliance for Solar Choice, Vote Solar, and the Solar Energy Industries Association, have asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to retain key features, such as retail payments for power that solar customers feed back into the grid. (For the latest news on net metering, go here.)

Solarthon 2015: Burnham Solar installers last week celebrated the San Francisco Bay Area's 10th Annual Solarthon. Rest assured, the trio on the roof are ALL wearing safety harnesses!

Solarthon 2015: Burnham Solar installers last week celebrated the San Francisco Bay Area's 10th Annual Solarthon. Rest assured, the trio on the roof are ALL wearing safety harnesses!

BW: Storage seems to be a growing issue. With products now like Tesla's PowerWall, where do you storage heading?

JD: The sky's the limit. Storage is an aspect that is being embraced. Its primarily starting at being used for non-peak hours of energy use. My question, though, is this: Do we see regulated use on the horizon?

BW: Microgrids? How small can they go? Counties? Towns? Neighborhoods?

LD: Exactly, this may be determined by usage needed, or usage allowed. Right now, there are certain communities that are “islanded”, though. So they have to still rely on some larger grid resource.

BW: Are tax incentives even needed anymore to promote more solar use?

JD: Personally, I don’t think so. The solar industry wil survive and if incentives drop than Solar will find innovative ways to continue to make it profitable and responsible to own. However we all like capital incentives. For some reason it seems to add credibility to an industry when they receive tax incentives. There is benefit to both sides.

BW: What impact do you see the White House's new energy initiatives having on promoting more solar use to more areas of the country?

LD: The White House and Congress need to lead in this area. Let's put it this way - alternative energy is here to stay. Its growth is inevitable. Better we all take a closer, objective look at our future, all politics aside. Also, in the auto industry, there will be more legislation coming to implement the use of PV-powered vehicles. When that escalates, it will also affect the public acceptance and use of more PV, and that tech will advance even more.

BW: Do you use solar power at home or at work? In between? How has this job changed how you approach every day life?

JD: No. If I owned a residence in California, I would look into some PV supplements to my energy use. I am thinking of supplementing my home in Illinois, although the state offers minimal incentives. That said, my recognition of the energy that I waste has become profound. Since relocating to California, I have become much more aware of responsible personal energy usage.  

BONUS: Anything else you'd like to add?

LD: This industry changes rapidly. There are more opportunities in it now than can be realized at this time. We need to start out educating our young early on about energy usage and alternative energy resources, not just through the workforce and markets. Energy use is a cultural and social responsibility, so it really needs to be led by individuals with integrity.

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