"99" rolls over to "00." Though it's a very simple problem, it exists in a large number of instances in programs and hardware all over the world. It is so huge that just finding and fixing the problem may be impossible before the year 2000.
The End of Western Civilization?
What will happen on January 1st, 2000? I've heard lots of different answers, ranging from "nothing" to "the end of Western Civilization." I have done some reading and some listening and have come to the conclusion that there will be an impact. Actually, there already has been an impact. Several months ago, my bank sent a notice. It read, "The year 2000 presents a major corporate-wide challenge for financial institutions, their vendors, business partners, and you, our customers. Year 2000 is much more than just an information system problem, it is pervasive and complex. To assist you in your preparation for this undertaking, the following Internet sites are available "
I called my bank and asked, "What gives?" They assured me they were Y2K compliant and that the statement was made as a public service. My lawyer friends suggested that the bank was more concerned with reducing their liability than serving the public. In fact, one of those friends works in a law office that specializes in intellectual property. He tells me that they are gearing up for some real action around Y2K. Some big money will be changing hands.
It's Going to Cost
I found another example of the impact of Y2K in an October 13, 1998 San Francisco Chronicle article, titled "Survey Tracks Company Cost for Y2K Change." Focusing on the cost of the fix and on the fact that it will "sap investment in new technology, slowing growth for many computer companies," the author reports that as much as 44% of 1999 corporate computer budgets will be devoted to fixing the problem. This could be as much as $225 billion for the United States and perhaps $600 billion globally.
For our business, Y2K has been a boon, as it has been for the RE industry in general. At times, certain equipment has been on back order and lead times are increasing. Yet there seems to be a hesitancy to talk too openly about Y2K. When colleagues broach the subject, it's usually in the form of a toned-down question. They ask, "You seeing anything around Y2K?" When I answer affirmatively, they usually say things are "going like gangbusters." My customers are also usually reticent to tell me too much at first. But once they find out that I'm in the know, they open up. In spite of the muted acknowledgment, Y2K will be very big for the RE industry.
It's strange how quickly things change. Some PV marketers positioned themselves for the "green" market in grid-connected PV systems. Then along comes this Y2K problem. If there is a power disruption, PV modules on the roof without batteries will be just as useless as a two door energy-hogging refrigerator without the grid. Y2K is making off-gridders out of many grid-connected households. They are appropriately concerned about power reliability in the year 2000. They are concerned with independence and efficiency, just as the traditional off-grid customer is. Amazingly, we don't have to spend a dime on marketing to these people. In fact, it would be counterproductive to do so. Customers come to us because we are the solution to their problem.
I appreciated the comments by Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (CoSEIA) in last issue's letters section (HP67, page 120)—they were well presented and are well taken. But I need to set the record straight on one matter. In the IPP article in HP66 to which the CoSEIA letter referred, I alluded to possible influence of a SEIA agenda. Pat Osborne, board member of CoSEIA, assures me CoSEIA is solely responsible for the choices leading to the stipulated agreement with the utility. I was wrong.
On other matters, I think we can agree to disagree. As the directors point out in their letter, CoSEIA represents a wide and diverse body of interests, ranging from PV manufacturers to deregulated utilities. IPP, on the other hand, focuses strongly on the interests of service providers. Issues outside the scope of CoSEIA's action may well be of primary concern to IPP members. IPP looks forward to continued dialog with CoSEIA, their members, and other elements of the PV industry.
IPP has been working very productively with CalSEIA, The California Energy Commission, manufacturers, renewable energy companies, and others. We have been developing the Emerging Renewables energy program for California. The California PV Alliance successfully implemented a program that offers rebates to both residential and commercial purchasers of photovoltaic and small wind systems. The first phase of the project has begun and significant interest is anticipated. These systems must be installed at utility served locations but need not be interactive. Battery storage and autonomous operation is allowed!
The next Alliance project is to make sure that information about the program gets out to all Californians. A handbook describing the details of the program and what the benefits are is nearly finished. A listing of IPP and CalSEIA members who can sell and install systems will be included. Thanks to Alliance members Tom Starrs and Howard Wenger, who led this project.
Another more ambitious information project is in the works. As part of California's utility restructuring, approximately five million dollars are available for public education and information about the Renewables Program. The Alliance has initiated a plan to secure some of this funding. Quick action averted an attempt by large renewable generators to grab the entire fund. It is our position that the funding must be split equally between the large and small (emerging) renewable energy concerns. IPP represents the interest of installers on the newly formed Emerging Renewable Advisory Board. Other members include Mike Bergey and Ron Harmon (small wind), Howard Wenger (PV manufacturers), Joel Davidson, and Les Nelson (CalSEIA).
While working on IPP for HP67, Michael Welch and I had exchanged a few words concerning some of the new corporate marketers selling rooftop PV systems. Michael suggested that I contact Green Mountain Energy Resources directly to find out more about their program. Although our company operates primarily from an off-grid location, we do maintain a warehouse location in town that is grid served. Several months ago, we switched our utility service from PG&E over to Green Mountain, so I had the perfect opportunity to also check out their California rooftop PV program.
The customer package from Green Mountain contained a very clear description of the program, which offers a choice of single crystal silicon technology, polycrystalline, or thin film. The literature offers no battery options. Pricing is clear, though it is explained that site conditions will affect final cost. Financing is offered through a third party at less than 10% interest. The potential customer is given very clear guidelines regarding roof and space requirements. Shading concerns are also addressed.
Systems are designed and installed by Green Mountain's PV partner, Applied Power Corporation (APC), a subsidiary of Idaho Power. If the initial qualifications are satisfied, an APC installer will visit the customer's site and make a final evaluation and installation estimate. The printed materials are very attractive and well produced. Marketing focuses on environmental concerns, reducing pollution, and global warming. Included in the literature package is information on APC, detailing the company's significant solar projects and background.
Independent Power Providers
The installer packet is also very complete and does a good job of describing the systems to be installed. Selections from the installation manual and schematics are included. The qualifications necessary to be an installer are also very detailed. The candidate must provide an extensive narrative of past experience, proof of insurance, and a copy of a contractor's license. There is no doubt that the program is seeking the most qualified installers they can find. The basic requirement is a contractor's license—PV installation experience is not mandated. Licensed contractors willing to be trained will be considered.
APC installers have considerable responsibilities. These include making the initial site visit and evaluation, producing a shading report, providing a firm installation quote to APC, obtaining all required building permits and utility interconnection agreements, being responsible for client billing and all paper work involved with obtaining California Energy Commission rebates, and providing warranty and service work for APC.
I spoke briefly with Craig Benton, program manger at APC. My primary concern was that the potential installer should be paid for the initial site visit. Craig told me they would not. If APC screens the customer applications well, this could be OK. From my experience operating our own company, I know this pre-screening is very important and we often spend several hours on the phone with a potential customer before scheduling a site visit. It is not uncommon for serious customers to pay for this service.
PVUSA (Photovoltaics for Utility Scale Applications) is a PV demonstration site located in Davis, California. At one time, the facility was devoted to large-scale utility systems. Now, the California Energy Commission administers the site and its purpose has been refocused towards residential and commercial "on site" PV systems. As part of this new focus, a training program is being offered, including a one day short course and a more intensive "hands on" session. The program is directed towards building professionals and inspectors. The cost is very reasonable. Contact Bill Brooks at PVUSA for a schedule of training.
California Photovoltaics Alliance, c/o Vincent Schwent, California Energy Commission, 1516 9th St., MS-43, Sacramento, CA 95814 • 916-653-1063 Fax: 916-653-6010 • [email protected]
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