Week 2 with RS Energy

2011 June 21 10:23
tags: ,
by roma

On the morning of Monday, June 20, I went around houses to talk to homeowners in southeast Portland, around where I live. The overwhelming majority of the people were not home.

In the afternoon, I met up with Koa Hester, who does too many things to name back at the office (calling our leads, setting up areas for us to work in, briefing us before our shifts). We started out canvassing together. Koa listened to my spiel and gave me very valuable pointers. Like some of the other guys in RS, he has been on a Mormon mission, and so has loads of experience in knocking on doors.

It was mostly due to Koa's smarts that we made an appointment with one particular gentleman. I'm gradually understanding how to counter various objections homeowners throw out there and will continue to refine my approach.

Week 1 of Beaverton Canvassing Roundup

2011 June 17 10:09
by roma

Knocking on doors for the rest of the week definitely became a routine. I stumbled many times, talked to quite a few people and began to work on refining my spiel.

One thing I noticed is that the script SunRun is very well thought-out. Practically every phrase in there has a specific purpose. For example, given that the deal is almost too good to be true, we repeat this fact almost right after introducing it to get the prospect focusing on the right things.

I noticed that people would interrupt my spiel if I gave them a chance - if I left a pause for them to but in. Once this happened, the conversation was over. You must remember that I am knocking unexpectedly on someone's door without an invitation. Even if the prospect has good intentions, they have other things on their mind. The only way to counter this is to plow through giving them the little information that we give with our 1-minute spiel.

I decided to challenge myself by going through the spiel and not giving people a chance to interrupt me. I would see prospects' attempts to but in, but politeness is a powerful concept. Throughout the week, it would indeed be rare for anyone to interrupt me, unless they genuinely needed to. I could usually tell this myself by their body language. Then I would stop and ask them if it was an inconvenient time.

A person going from house to house knocking on peoples' doors quickly realizes the power of the human mind. Canvassing is a perpetual exercise in reframing. Got shooed away by some old lady who doesn't want to open up? Her loss. Homeowner told you that you are in fact soliciting, even though you're just talking to people? Look at the beautiful flowers and fresh air that I get to call my office.

This teaches you to persevere.

RS/SunRun Program Real Cost

2011 June 13 21:35
by roma

In order to justify possessing an economics degree, I want to analyze the real costs of the SunRun lease program. We must take the time value of money into account in order to do this.

After shelling out six grand for the system, the homeowner is eligible to receive a $1,500 tax credit from the state of Oregon for four years. First, it must be noted that the homeowner must have a tax liability higher than $1,500 in order to benefit. For someone who has $6000 in cash this is likely not a problem.

Let's say the homeowner shells out the $6000 for the system on April 16. One year later, they are able to pay $1,500 less on their state taxes due to the credit. It must be noted that $1,500 in a credit is not the same thing as cash in hand. But even if we discount this, $1500 today is not the same thing as $1500 a year from now. What is $1,500 a year from now worth today? It's worth the amount of money we'd have to put in a bank in order to get $1,500 at the end of the year.

According to bankrate.com, a 1-year CD from MetLife will get us a 1.29% rate. That $1,500 in one year is worth $1480 now. A 2-year CD will get us a rate of 1.54%. That $1500 two years from now is worth $1454 now. 1.79% for a 3-year CD. The $1,500 in three years will be $1422. Bankrate didn't have 4-year CD's, so I'll just use the 3 year rate ($1397 dollars for $1500 in four years).

-6000 + \frac{1500}{1.0129} + \frac{1500}{1.0154^2} + \frac{1500}{1.0179^3} + \frac{1500}{1.0179^4} = -244

If one were to get higher rates, the present value of the future payments would go down, and the system would be more expensive.

As it stands, $244 gets you 20-year use of a solar array that offsets around one quarter of the average electricity bill. Not bad at all!

RS Energy / SunRun - Day 1

2011 June 13 19:43
by roma

Today was my first day going from house to house signing up people for RS Energy's solar program. Finally, a job!

RS Energy has partnered with SunRun to offer a 3.24 kW system at an upfront cost of $6000 to the homeowner. RS Energy installs the system, while SunRun owns, insures and maintains the system for 20 years. After the initial cost, the homeowner is able to offset the cost with an annual Oregon tax credit of $1500. For four years! In nominal terms, the system is 0 dollars (check the next post for an analysis of the real cost).

RS and SunRun are able to do this because of the federal tax incentive, as well as the $1.00-$1.25/watt Energy Trust of Oregon rebate (depending on the utility). This IS the program that will start getting solar on the roofs of everyday, non-environmentalist folks.

We convened at 10 AM at RS Energy's offices in Tualatin. Kristin Stringer and Kellyann Lamb of SunRun came at around 10:30 to train us. Kristin and Kellyann, both very thorough and patient, worked hard to instill confidence in us in the pitch. By about lunch, each of us took turns roleplaying the spiel while the others ate pizza.

We headed out to southern Beaverton on our first mission after lunch. Kellyann, who manages SunRun's account managers for the western region, paired up with me to go door-to-door with the pitch. A mom and her daughter were unloading their car in the driveway of the first house we came up to. I stumbled a little at first, but got the ball rolling with the pitch. The woman immediately reacted with, "Solar in Oregon?" Before we had the chance to collect our thoughts on how to counter that after saying "Yes", she said "I wouldn't want those ugly things on my roof." Here Kellyann thanked the woman for her time and asked her to contact us if she ever became interested in installing solar panels.

The next couple of houses had no response. We then came to a house where a woman listened to me and simply said, "I'm not interested." Kellyann thanked the woman for her time. After a couple of more houses with no-one home, we came to a house on the corner. Nobody was home, but a man was getting out of a parked car as we were exiting the driveway. I didn't react, but as we rounded the corner, Kellyann asked me whether the man was coming into the house. Kellyann started out by saying that we were a solar energy company and asked if we could talk to him out on the front porch. Great, smooth transition.

The homeowner was very receptive to solar. One of the elements we are qualifying in this program is a monthly electricity bill over $60. We actually need the electricity bill in order for the solar energy consultant, who will meet with the homeowner, to draft a customized sales proposal. The homeowner said his wife would be e-mailing them to us. I scheduled an appointment with him. I was so excited that I forgot to ask his wife's name, as well as the phone number. Overall, though, great going.

Another couple of houses with nobody home. Then a young Asian lady opens up. I could see she was having trouble understanding me. I started to speak slower. About halfway through the spiel, she said she doesn't know English. I asked her what language she speaks. She said Japanese. Without thinking I asked her what time her husband is around. She said he leaves home early and comes home pretty late.

It was a great opportunity to practice Japanese. I did miss asking if the weekend would be okay. Then again, there was no way I was going to be able to give her our program description on the fly in Japanese. Of course, something to work on in the future.

We rounded the corner again and happened upon a house with a bunch of tools and an electronic drum pad out in the front. The homeowner opened up. He was quite receptive. Upon hearing that we were there to see whether he qualifies for the solar program, he said he didn't. I thought he was just brushing us off, but he knew that his roof was too old. Good lesson for me to assume less. He said he was actually thinking of re-roofing relatively soon. Kellyann didn't skip a beat and asked him to consider us after he had replaced the roof.

We reconvened at a local Starbucks to talk about how everyone did. All in all, pretty good for a first day. I'm looking forward to getting the sales pitch down and doing my share to change how energy is generated in the US.

On that note, I must say that one of the very important things I took home from the NABCEP course was how having solar panels changes homeowners' energy consumption patterns. Homeowners are naturally curious about how much energy their array produces. Once they have the modules up, their energy production capability is limited by their array size. But they can increase the share of energy they've produced by limiting consumption. In this sense, I truly believe residential solar has tremendous potential to change energy consumption patterns, more than other energy efficiency measures! It's nice knowing I will be doing my small part to make this change.

NABCEP Entry-Level Course, Las Vegas

2011 June 9 14:07
by roma

The NABCEP Entry Level PV course, organized by Heatspring Institute, course ran for three days from June 6-8 at the Local 525 in Las Vegas. Interestingly, the 525, which specializes in pipefitting, plumbing, heating and cooling was right across the street from the local IBEW, which was outfitted with solar panels. Didn't matter, we still got top-notch training.

The first day of the course covered electricity and PV basics, site surveys and array installation. I completed the assigned readings covering these topics during the online portion of the course. This created a false sense of security and I thought I might have overprepared.

I got hit hard with the rest of the material. We were presented with detailed information on grounding, ampacity, disconnects, inverters and battery-based systems on the 2nd and 3rd days of the course. Keeping up with this detailed technical information was a challenge. I had done a silly thing by leaving the electrical integration chapter of the Photovoltaic Systems text for the end. Well, I was just going through the pre-course reading assignment in sequence, but I should have tackled the most difficult material first. This is especially clear in light of the fact that Ken Thames, our instructor, is a master electrician with a ton of experience. I could have been asking him more intelligent questions had I studied the hell out of the book.

Ken (thamessolar.com) was extremely knowledgeable about the subject. I appreciate his comprehensive understanding of PV's, his expertise, experience and thoroughness. I also found his focus on doing quality work admirable. The coursebook was also very thorough and relatively easy to understand. The material and the sequence it was presented in was obviously thought through well. Also, the cheat sheet with the NEC excerpts applicable to all parts of PV systems Ken created is marvelous!

There are a couple of things I think Ken could have improved. I have teaching experience, and I believe that a teacher should strive to build rapport with his students, irrespective of the subject matter. Making an effort to remember the names of the students goes a long way. There were only 9 students in the class, and Ken was still referring to some students with pronouns on the 3rd day.

It is quite a challenge teaching all of the diverse subjects covered by the test to a diverse group. Some students had no electricity knowledge at all. As I have been studying my head off for the past 2 months, the electricity basics were a review for me. Ken managed to lose me when he got to the domestic electricity section, though. I wonder how the absolute beginners felt.

It may be virtually impossible to teach all of this from 0, but I think some things can be improved. The beginners can be brought up to speed by incorporating a review of basics as more complex material is introduced. For example, examine an excerpt from a question in the coursebook:

If the PV array has 12 modules (Voc=25) in series, with a temp coefficient of -0.35%......

This is a golden opportunity to review how individual voltages add and current remains the same throughout a series circuit. The instructor can draw a quick diagram, or call on a beginner student to explain. These types of opportunities were passed up. Passing up such a review ignores the fact that the majority of people are not able to remember concepts after being exposed to them only once.

Yes, it may be a total waste of time for the electricians. Yes, it will take more effort on the part of the instructor to go slower. The inability of experts to understand the difficulty of their subject matter is actually extremely common. Nevertheless, it's the teacher's responsibility to gauge whether ALL of the students understand. It's not enough that the top student gets it.

Additionally, I felt that Ken didn't create an atmosphere conducive to asking questions. Perhaps I'm a softie, but I felt that he was at times condescending. Also, he sometimes went way too fast. I often had just barely enough time to mark the answer to the question in the chapter reviews off before Ken was firing away reading the next question from the slide.

Given the huge amount of material, it is probably a little bit unrealistic to expect this, but it would have been great to get hands-on experience with PV installations. We did have many BOS (balance of system) components passed around. Additionally, Ken showed us very detailed photos of an installation class at his shop. Still, there's no substitute for experience an install for yourself.

The facilities were great. Lou, one of the students and a member of the Local 525 arranged feasts for us every day. The other students in the class were also great. Jeannie Vaughn of Solar Electric Distributor treated many of the students to a delicious dinner at a tapas restaurant. I'm also thankful to Heatspring Institute for giving me a hefty discount. I wouldn't have made it out to Vegas without it. I'm also thankful to Ken.

The exam was initially scheduled for the end of the course, but there was a change. Heatspring is arranging for the students to take the exam at an independent testing facility near the students' residence. Fine by me!

That's just about it. Enough of the ranting, I must review the material and study for the test.