Probably True Solar Stories

Tor "Solar Fred" Valenza

Probably True Solar Stories tells urban legends and fairytales about the solar industry and solar homeowners. Through edutainment solar stories, consumers learn about solar, and solar pros get to feel more important than dragon slayers, who aren’t even real. Just sayin’. Probably True Solar Stories is written and read by Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza, a solar pro since 2009 and a former Hollywood screen and television writer (Stargate SG-1, Dharma & Greg, The Dead Zone, and other screenplays locked in the development hell vaults of Hollywood studios.)

The Solar Heist, or How I Got into the Solar Business, Part 3: The Favor
4d ago
The Solar Heist, or How I Got into the Solar Business, Part 3: The Favor
In the next episode of Probably True Solar Stories, we continue the story of two neighbors who are part of the solar industry. Charlie is a large-scale utility solar developer while Mazz is a medium-scale thief who successfully "liberated" Charlie's solar panel shipment from a U.S. customs warehouse in Part 1 and Part 2. Now,  in Part 3, it's a year later. Mazz has invested in a home solar company and trying to go legit. Meanwhile, Charlie's big solar project is almost complete... but there's a complication. Somebody knows about the solar panel heist. And that somebody now wants a favor that Charlie and Mazz can't refuse. True Solar TakeawaysWith the passage of the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act of 2022), all solar projects, regardless of size, receive a 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC).Solar projects that are built on landfills, brownfields, and EPA superfund sites receive an extra 10% bonus ITC. There are other ITC bonuses that could net the solar owner as much as 70%. The solar industry is filled with acronyms and jargon. AHJ (Authorities Having Jurisdiction) are the permitting authorities that review and approve the building of solar projectsPTO (Permission to Operate) is the official utility permission to start generating solar power on the utility's grid. PUC (or in California, the CPUC) stands for Public Utility Commission. The PUC regulates utilities and approves or modifies utility rates and sets policies for a state's public utilities.20% efficient solar panels are considered high efficiency and cost more. Efficiency means that solar panel converts 20% of the sunlight that hits it into electricity. That means that 80% of the power gets reflected. So, the higher the efficiency, the more solar you'll generate with fewer panels. High-efficiency panels are more expensive than panels in the 17% range, but they produce more energy on small rooftops and reduce the number of panels needed.Single Axis Trackers (SATs) are used in most large solar projects today. Like high-efficiency panels, they're more expensive than fixed-tilt racks. But because they automatically track the sun throughout the day, they generate more power.Solar project owners are paid by utilities for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) generated by the solar farm. So their goal is to keep projects online and pumping out as much solar in a day for 30 years or longer.  There are maintenance costs, but if a project is well maintained, it's a very steady revenue stream. That's why they often use trackers with high-efficiency solar panels. So, even a tiny boost of 2% efficiency can generate more power--and more profits over a 30-year contract. Solar project owners don't always own the land. Landowners often lease their land to solar developers and receive a steady and predictable revenue stream for 30 years.Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
The Solar Way -- A Fable About Successfully Riding the Solar Coaster
Nov 23 2022
The Solar Way -- A Fable About Successfully Riding the Solar Coaster
Gather around the fireplace, solar friends. Pull up a seat at the bar. On the next, Probably True Solar Stories, we're going to tell the first-ever solar fable. It's a fairytale. A hero's journey sort of thing. With a Texas accent. (Forgive me in advance.) This story may be a familiar one to people inside and outside the solar industry.  It's about a young, ambitious solar installer who seeks her fortune to be the most successful solar installer in all the land.  And like many fables, our ambitious installer meets a wise guide--or in this case, a wise couple--who teaches her about The Solar Way, a solar-inspired guide to living life on The Solar Coaster. Will our fable have a happy ending? Let's find out.True Solar TakeawaysThis episode doesn't have many solar facts about the solar industry. The main takeaway is that the solar biz is difficult. It has so many ups and downs and policy twists and turns that people have called it "The Solar Coaster." The people riding the solar coaster can get discouraged, including me. To help smooth out the ups and downs, I've read a lot of philosophies, but mostly Taoism and Stoicism. For this fable, I turned some of my philosophical learnings into "The Solar Way." The Solar Way's main points are:Be warm. Shine like the sun.Let go of broken solar panels. Be interconnected. The sun rises every day. Be as consistent.The sun sets every day. This too shall pass. If you're interested in learning more about Taoism and Stoicism, here are a  few audio and text resources:The Daily Stoic. Through his website, podcast, and books, Ryan Holiday offers modern insights through ancient Stoic wisdom. Although the Stoic philosophy is very old, Holiday keeps it simple and relevant to the way people live today.  Check out his free daily podcast and daily email. Of course, his books are a great resource, as well. The Tao of Daily Life by Derik Lin is a well-deserved bestseller. It teaches the principles of Taoism through the classic Taoist and Buddhist fables. Although the stories are still set in ancient China, Lin translates these stories in a way that is very accessible for our modern world. Then he cites a passage from the Tao te Ching and explains the wisdom behind each story. This book and other David Lin books are also available in audio and digital forms.Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown. You may know Derren Brown as an international illusionist, but he's also a professed Stoic. Happy is his easy-to-read guide to happiness using examples from his shows, his illusions, and from his own life. He often cites Stoic texts, but it's not a book about Stoicism. Check out his many YouTube videos to see his stage performances and British TV shows. Brown also has two shows on Netflix. They're always entertaining and educational. They offer tips for how we can stop our minds from tricking us... or at least how we can become aware of the trickery. Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
I'm Sorry, Ma'am, But You Can't Go Solar
Nov 16 2022
I'm Sorry, Ma'am, But You Can't Go Solar
In this episode of Probably True Solar Stories, a feisty senior citizen is determined to haggle with a solar salesman to buy the solar system of her dreams. But her haggling plans fall through when an honest salesperson refuses to sell an installation at any price. Can they find the solar win-win?True Solar TakeawaysNot every home is a good fit for solar. The home may have too many trees or other obstacles that block the sun--and solar production. The home may need a new roof. The home's wiring or service panel may need an upgrade. A good installer will make an evaluation and let you know these things in advance of signing a contract.  You can always make these upgrades and go solar in the future. Solar installed on North-facing roofs will generate very little solar power...unless you live in Australia. Then it's perfect. For the U.S. and Europe, a South-facing roof is ideal. West and East are okay, and in some cases, may be better. Your solar installer should design the best system based on your roof and many factors.   To find a good installer, get a referral from a friend who's already gone solar.Even with a friend's referral, always check out solar installer reviews on the internet. Yelp, Google Reviews, Angie's List, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) will usually reveal the bad and good installers.After reading reviews and doing your homework, always get at least three quotes. You'll learn something about solar and your home's electricity usage with every quote.Beware of the installer's utility inflation rate when a proposal estimates your payback period and ROI. No one can predict utility rate inflation over the next 25 years. Just because your bill went up 10% for two years in a row does not mean it will go up 10% every year for the next 25 years.  You can find more buying tips on the internet. The most important thing is to get at least three quotes and compare them. If you're confused, ask the installer questions. If they get frustrated or pressure you to just sign without understanding the proposal, costs, and payback period, walk away. If you're not familiar with computers and the internet, find someone who is. Shopping for solar is complicated. You can't properly shop for a solar installer from ads in the yellow pages, no matter what special discounts are promised. If you can't go solar, your state may have community solar programs that allow you to go solar by "subscribing" to a large solar farm in your area. Search Google for "community solar in YOUR STATE" to learn about the available programs. Hope that helps!Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
Why Solar Man Joined the Ultra League of Super Defenders
Nov 9 2022
Why Solar Man Joined the Ultra League of Super Defenders
There's a new superhero in town. His name is Solar Man, and he's here to help the world, but not in the way you might think. To defeat his arch-nemesis,  Solar Man reluctantly decides to join the Ultra League of Super Defenders,  a band of superheroes that are beyond the law.  But will Solar Man be able to show his Super Solar strengths and pass the audition?True Solar TakeawaysThe U.S. solar industry installs the equivalent of a residential solar installation every 60 seconds. All solar projects require some type of local permitting and utility connection ("interconnection") approvals.Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) are the catch-all name for the county, city, and utility approval bodies that oversee solar permitting.A "PE" is a licensed Professional Engineer. Some AHJs require their review of a solar installation design. Some don't. Sadly, there are no national standards or building codes for installing solar on a home, business, or utility-size project. Each county, city, and state has its own special rules, regulations, codes, and official requirements. As a result of different permitting codes and standards, solar's installation and interconnection processes can get slowed down. Local differences also increase the costs and time to install solar.AHJs and utilities can also be slow to approve projects due to the increasing number of solar projects being installed. AHJ staff need to be updated on the latest solar and battery products and new technologies.Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
How Winnie the Pooh Went Solar (And Found More "Hunny")
Nov 2 2022
How Winnie the Pooh Went Solar (And Found More "Hunny")
Note: For this episode, we're temporarily changing the name of Probably True Solar Stories to Probably POOH Solar Stories in honor of our main character, Winnie-the-Pooh. Once upon a time, not long ago, after public domain laws freed Winnie-the-Pooh from A.A. Milne's copyright ... there lived a bear who wanted to go solar but didn't understand the process or the technology. After some discussion with Solar Fred, the narrator, and Pooh's friends Piglet, Owl, and Rabbit, Winnie-the-Pooh decides that he will go solar ... as long as more "hunny" is somehow found by the end of the story.   True Solar TakeawaysThe main parts of a solar installation are the solar panels, the inverter, and the mounting or racking system.There are two types of inverters. Micro-inverters are installed behind solar panels. String inverters are installed on walls. Both work very well. You can also install batteries for backup power, or as Pooh likes to call them, the "batter-bees."Most solar installations do not need batteries.Solar panel installations need to be designed and receive a "permit" by the city and/or county and other local officials. Solar pros call these "the AHJ's," (Authorities Having Jurisdiction.)Your utility (or as Pooh says, your utili-bee) must also inspect your finished solar installation before turning it on. This permission is called PTO (Permission to Operate).Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
We Have a Pigeon Problem
Oct 19 2022
We Have a Pigeon Problem
Solar homes come with minimal maintenance, especially when the solar has just been installed. But when a new solar owner sees that a pigeon is unrelentingly shit-bombing her brand-new solar array, she calls in a pro to do the dirty work. But then she discovers that her pigeon also has a problem, and there are very few things that can be done to fix the situation. Indeed, it's a probably true solar panel pigeon poo-poo problem that's probably more problematic than precisely pronouncing this preposterous sentence 10 times fast. But instead of doing that, just listen all the way through. Then ask yourself, "What would I have done in the same situation?" Two small warnings about this episode: 1) Characters say some naughty words, so keep your earbuds on in front of the little ones. 2) I sing part of a Rolling Stones tune, so I beg your forgiveness in advance. It's brief, but it still might be painful for both Stones fans and non-Stones fans. True solar takeaways:Cleaning solar panels can be dangerous, even if it's simple. Hire a pro to clean them once every few months. Bonus: They may find other problems that need attention.Critters may make a home under your solar panels. Once again, hire a solar O&M pro to prevent nests and warrens from being set up. If you clean your own, use a mild soapy water solution with a soft cloth or brush. Never use anything sharp. You may cause damage to the solar panels--or even yourself.Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
Good Afternoon, Dude. I’m Solar Sam, Your Solar SalesBot
Oct 12 2022
Good Afternoon, Dude. I’m Solar Sam, Your Solar SalesBot
How will solar sales be different in the year 2040?  Today’s solar sales experience is fairly familiar: You call for a solar quote. Or maybe someone comes to your door to set an appointment. Then you give some basic info about your electric bill, and the salesperson uses software to quickly generate a quote. And then you think about it, maybe compare it to other quotes. It’s a little painful and fairly easy, but could it be even easier in the future? And if it could be easier, at what cost to your personal life and privacy?  And speaking of privacy, this Probably True Solar Story does reference when two people fall in love, yada, yada, yada. So  you should probably listen to this one when young kids aren't listening and it's just you and your significant other...True solar takeaways:Ideally, your solar panels should face South in the Northern Hemisphere. If designing a home, Sothern exposure can also provide energy-saving natural lighting and heating benefits.  You need to make sure that any trees are trimmed below the solar panelsYour home's wiring and fuse box may need an upgrade.Solar can come with batteries for backup power, but it's an option, not a necessity. Today's grid is still 99% reliable, but if you want peace of mind for three days out of the year, go for it. If you're getting new air conditioning, consider a heat pump, which both heats and cools the air.Get all solar quotes in $/DC watt so that you can compare apples-to-apples pricing. In other words, "$3.00/DC watt" could be one quote. $3.25/DC watt is another quote. If all have quality equipment and good online reviews, select the least expensive one.Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
The Solar Heist, or How I Got into the Solar Business, Part 2: The No-Good, Rotten Heist
Oct 5 2022
The Solar Heist, or How I Got into the Solar Business, Part 2: The No-Good, Rotten Heist
In real life, you never hear about the perfect heist. That’s because when a real-life heist is perfect, there are no witnesses, the criminals disappear, and the case goes cold. Boring. Now, in a fictional heist story, something always goes wrong. It has to. It’s a story telling rule. So why should that change for a solar heist story? When we last left Mazz Botticelli in Part 1, he’d made a deal with his neighbor, Charlie Boston, to liberate some illegally imported solar panels from a U.S. Customs warehouse. In part 2, Mazz makes the perfect plan. And of course, that perfect plan becomes an unlucky, no-good, bad-day heist. But it makes for a fun solar story. True solar takeaways:Large-scale developers typically only buy solar panels that are on a "Tier 1" list that's sold by Bloomberg. Bloomberg researchers evaluate manufacturers based on their financial viability, mostly, to make sure that the manufacturer will back up any warranty claims over 25 years. Most Tier 1 manufacturers are historically reliable.Being on the tier 1 list does not mean that the modules installed are going to last, but there's a good chance.  Even if the Tier 1 solar manufacturer is financially sound and honors the warranty, if you have a huge project, the replacement time and cost will be huge. That's why some developers hire a quality assurance company to inspect and test the panel shipment before installation. Residential solar referrals are very common. Once one neighbor goes solar, others soon follow. P.S. About a month after the publication of this fictional story, Reuters news reported that US Customs has blocked or confiscated over 1,000 solar panel shipments. But there's no word on what happens to those confiscated panels. Truth may be stranger than this episode's fiction. You never know. :-)Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
The Solar Heist, or How I Got into the Solar Business, Part 1: The Proposal
Sep 28 2022
The Solar Heist, or How I Got into the Solar Business, Part 1: The Proposal
In this first episode of Probably True Solar Stories, two neighbors meet unexpectedly at an Oakland, California coffee shop that specializes in dark, rich coffee. Mazz owns a trucking business by day and is a thief at night. Charlie is a solar project builder by day and a guy with an international solar problem that can only be solved by Mazz. Will they come to a deal? Or will their neighborly relationship become... awkward?All Probably True Solar Stories are fiction. If this episode sounds familiar to your experience in the solar industry, get help.True solar takeaways:The solar installation industry is made up of residential, commercial, and utility-scale installers. They're very different.Many high-quality solar panels are imported from China. Some are made ethically, and others are made with forced labor. There's a law against importing solar panels made with forced labor.Some solar developers hire quality assurance companies to monitor the supply chains and factories.All solar installations, regardless of size, can now receive a  U.S. 30% tax credit. That's just the start. Big developers can also receive other tax incentives.Chinese solar panels still have import tariffs, as of 2022."Procurement" means sourcing, purchasing, and delivering equipment.Generally, large solar asset owners hire an experienced solar developer to take care of building the product. The solar developer may in turn hire an "EPC," which stands for engineering, procurement, and construction.After the writing of this story, it was reported that the U.S. government has confiscated gigawatts (GWs) of solar panel shipments. That's a lot. BUT... It's also being reported that the confiscated panels are being shipped back to China, not shredded.. It's another reason why we call this podcast "Probably True Solar Stories."  The facts are a little different from reality, but the made-up bits make for a good story!Visit ProbablyTrueSolar.com to sign up for the newsletter Follow @SolarFred and/or @ProbTrueSolar on Twitter to discuss episodesYou can now leave a voice comment on ProbablyTrueSolar.com. We might even share your comment on the next episode.Don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review!