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April 18, 2011–With the Latest Step-Down in Renewable Energy Incentives, Will 2011 be the Year Your Readers Go Solar? Black Platinum Solar has the Answers to the Questions Your Readers are Asking.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW
kendra (at) blackplatinumsolar (dot) com
toni (at) blackplatinumsolar (dot) com
Toni Black, president and CEO
John E. Black, vice president and COO
Black Platinum Solar & Electric, Inc.
Phoenix metropolitan area
Turnkey photovoltaic systems, which includes:
- Consulting with customer
- Analyzing historical electrical usage
- Performing site assessment
- Designing custom photovoltaic system
- Applying for all necessary city building permits
- Installing the photovoltaic system to be aesthetically pleasing
- Completing all necessary paperwork for the utility rebate
- Coordinating, scheduling and overseeing city and utility inspections
- Setting up customer’s Energy Management Unit for Enlighten monitoring
- Instructing customer in the Enlighten monitoring system
- Monitoring energy production on a weekly basis
Years in Business:
Black Platinum Solar & Electric was established in 2007
Installations as of June 9, 2011:
60 grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) systems (ranging in size from 8 panels to 111 panels), 57 of which are microinverter systems producing a current lifetime total in excess of 1.24 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power.
Largest installation for APS: 23.86 kW system with 111 panels
Since its founding in 2007, Black Platinum Solar has been designing and installing custom PV systems for residential customers. They are committed to understanding customers’ needs and delivering on the promise; they don’t walk away from the complicated install. Customer service translates into communication and ensuring that 1) the customer has all the information needed to make an educated decision and 2) Black Platinum Solar fully understands customer wants and usage requirements. Black Platinum Solar is a turnkey service provider, which, of course, includes providing the legwork to secure permits and schedule and oversee final inspections. Black Platinum Solar is a certified installer of Enphase Energy microinverter systems and an Arizona Public Service Qualified Solar Installer (QSI).
The technology behind a Black Platinum Solar installation is the use of 1) a choice of 3 top-quality solar panels, varying in price point, all with a minimum 25-year warranty and 2) the Enphase Energy microinverters with the Enlighten monitoring system. We believe Enphase microinverters are currently the best technology in the business because:
- Microinverters have a 15-year Standard Limited Warranty (and the new M15 microinverter is guaranteed for 25 years).
- Microinverters have 100 percent (greater than 99.8 percent) Uptime Guarantee.
- Enlighten 24/7 web-based monitoring and management provides real-time tracking from mobile devices and auto-email notification of issues (for greater customer peace of mind). And now all Enphase systems receive free LIFETIME Enlighten monitoring.
- Systems typically exceed NREL-estimated energy production by 4% – 10%.
- Microinverters have a service life of more than 15 years and are so reliable, that the mean time between failures is 331 years.
- Microinverters eliminate worries of a single point of failure. If a solar panel or microinverter fails, the power loss is limited to a single solar panel, with minimal impact on the total system.
- A failed module or inverter is easily identified, as diminished power or equipment failures are reported to the homeowner and the contractor via email from the monitoring system.
- In the rare instance that a microinverter fails, it is quickly replaced, thanks to the Rapid Replacement Program
Enphase Burst Mode capacitor technology provides greater production in low-light conditions.
- The system is expandable to grow with customer needs.
- Conversion of DC to AC electricity on the roof at the microinverter means increased safety and reduced fire risk.
Certified & Licensed:
- Member, Better Business Bureau of Arizona
- Enphase Energy microinverters, Certified Installer
- Arizona R-11 Electrical License, ROC #232364
Estimated Years To Pay Off a System:
Homeowners can expect it to take up to 10 years to pay off a system—with a serviceable life of the system extending out for decades. Furthermore, experience shows that larger systems, especially ones that cover not only 100 percent of electrical usage but 100 percent of the utility bill will enjoy the shortest time to pay off system.
Average time Spent to Install:
The process begins with submission of the incentive reservation application to the utility company. Because APS approves reservation money on a quarterly basis and city government approvals vary in length, delays can draw out the time from initial consultation to activation by anywhere from 3-6 months. Actual time to design and draw plans, submit plans for review and permit issuance, order equipment, install system, conduct (oversee) city and utility inspections can be as little as 3-4 weeks.
John Black Quotes:
“Every home is different. Every customer is different. Every need is different. That’s why you can’t say, ‘It’s a 1600 square foot home; it needs this.’ You can’t even say, “It’s 1600 square feet with two people, and it needs this.’ It’s possible for four people in a house to use less electricity than a house with just two people. Everything needs to be based on electrical usage habits—what the homeowners use on a daily basis. So when I design a system it’s designed from the perspective of USAGE.”
“There is a difference between a system that covers 100 percent of electrical need at peak performance and a system that covers 100 percent of the electric bill. It’s the difference between lowering one’s bill and zero, where zero means never paying an electric bill again. Zero is achievable in the second year…if a kilowatt per hour excess is in place at the end of the first year. The dollars carried over can cover meter read fees, resulting in the zero-dollar scenario.”
“Remember, you’re not paying to have someone else’s system put on your roof. To give you the results you want, your system must be built around your usage history and requirements, your roof space and home orientation, and your objectives.”
“The bottom line with a PV system: It works. It absolutely works. My only caveat is that the system must be designed to the specific needs of the client. This is not a cookie cutter business. If a salesperson sells a homeowner a 5-kilowatt system when he really needs a 10-kilowatt system…well then all bets are off.”
Toni Black Quotes:
“Cost is everyone’s major concern. People know that energy costs are going up; they want to put in a PV system to protect their future…now while the renewable energy incentives and tax credits are in place to bring down the out-of-pocket outlay. They are also looking to eliminate their electric costs and never pay an electric bill again, as long as they remain in their home.”
“If we could give homeowners only one piece of advice, it would be this: Ask your questions, no matter how insignificant or silly you might think they are. Understand the process thoroughly…because not all systems are created equal…and neither are all solar contractors.”
“There are a lot of numbers and a lot of calculations that go into the design of an optimal PV system. But the number that most homeowners are looking for is zero. They never want to pay an electric bill again.”
“I am a customer service professional, employed for 33 years at IBM. I am TOTALLY IMPRESSED by John Black’s and his team’s professionalism, project quality, accuracy, communications and courtesy. In fact, I am so satisfied, that I have already moved forward with additional projects with John and his team. BRAVO!” M. Wulff, Cave Creek
“John Black is the most dependable contractor I have ever hired. His attention to detail and his willingness to explain options, etc. was outstanding.” L. Hervey, Scottsdale
“John, you still walk on water!” J. Abrahamson, Desert Hills
“In my view, Black Platinum exhibited the highest ethical standards and professional expertise throughout this solar electric project. Your company went far beyond our expectations to ensure the project was completed in a most timely manner with the highest quality standards.” M. Logvin, Phoenix
“I got that [Enlighten] alert while I was at work, I did not have time to respond. Thank you soooo much for looking into it for me! You are the BEST!!!! The electric bills are non-existent. I had a $243 credit [APS utility service], so that is paying all my bills this year! I LOVE my solar!!!!” D. Fox, Phoenix
“I obtained bids from six companies prior to selecting Black Platinum Solar to install my solar power plant. My two-story house does not have a lot of southern real estate for panels, but I wanted to get the largest system possible. Black Platinum`s bid provided the largest kW STC system size of all the bids, almost three times the size of the smallest bid. Black Platinum had no problem with any of my several change requests, even relocating a furnace flue to squeeze one more panel in. John Black, owner, spent hours on the phone and in person explaining the technology, and working on the design. Every aspect of this project exceeded my expectations. I must say that Black Platinum Solar ranks at the top of my satisfaction list of all companies that I have ever done business with. Now if only I could find a dentist and auto mechanic with the same honesty, friendliness, and work ethic.” B. Kolkebeck, Anthem
“There was an issue with the city permitting, and Black Platinum dealt with it very professionally. I did not have to take any time to deal with the situation. They did the research into it, and resolved the problem with little delay in the project. I was very pleased with the service. They still send messages to ensure the system is working properly!” M. Detmer, Buckeye
“Black Platinum explained all details in advance, talked about options, gave an itemized proposal, and recommended a system size estimated to supply all needed power over a year. The system was installed on schedule and works fine, providing expected output. We really appreciated the personal attention and excellent work provided by John Black and his team!” R. Crowe, Cave Creek
“John Black, [vice] president of BLACK PLATINUM SOLAR & ELECTRIC, INC and his people were a pleasure to have worked with. John and his organization were extremely knowledgeable and professional. I chose Black Platinum because they presented a solar system that met my requirements and offered the latest technology in DC/AC invertors, the Enphase microinverter. In addition, I liked John’s installation philosophy to hide the work so nothing would be visible on the exterior other than the meter. John and his organization not only speak to customer service and satisfaction but deliver on those ideals. John has a very engaging personality, and I enjoyed our conversations about solar and the newer technology he is utilizing. He was always available to answer any question and encourages his customers to become more informed and knowledgeable about solar. I am extremely satisfied with the performance of my system. I feel extremely confident my decision to have Black Platinum do my solar has been validated and would not hesitate to have Black Platinum do additional solar work for me.
“I had the highest confidence in the contractor I selected in terms of ability to get the job done properly. The city and the utility made the installation more difficult by requiring unexpected upgrade work be done that was not directly related to the solar system. The contractor did the upgrades with no additional work to me. I believe the contractor showed a great deal of patience and integrity.” A. Robbins, Glendale
“This project exceeded my expectations in all categories. I just hope I can work with John and Toni Black again. Every once in the while you find a contractor that is competent, forthright, honest, and in every way a pleasure to work with—that describes Black Platinum!” T. Andreski, Buckeye
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BLACK PLATINUM SOLAR & ELECTRIC DELIVERS ON THE DREAMS AND EXPECTATIONS HOMEOWNERS HAVE FOR SOLAR ENERGY
Phoenix, AZ—These days many of us watch the prices of crude oil and natural gas even more carefully than we watch the stock market. Our lifestyles, our very lives, depend on it. And as energy costs continue to climb, sustainable energy sources and alternatives to fossil fuels are topics of serious discussion.
With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, solar seems a practical choice for the average Arizona business or homeowner. But while we know that solar power is hip. It’s trendy, and it’s green. Does it make dollars and sense? This is the Number One question. In fact, among your readers, right now, someone is probably asking:
With Renewable Energy incentives shrinking, is solar still a good investment?
Can I really eliminate my electric bill?
How long is the payoff on a solar system?
Should I wait for better technology and prices to drop further?
Can I find an honest contractor to do my installation?
This backgrounder is designed to give you solid, no-nonsense answers to these questions and more…the questions your readers are asking Black Platinum Solar & Electric every day.
Meet John and Toni Black—owners of Black Platinum Solar—who have been delivering on homeowners’ dreams to go solar in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area since 2007. As of June 9, 2011, they have installed 60 grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) electrical systems ranging in size from 8 panels to 111 panels that have produced a total of 1.24 GWh (gigawatt hours) of solar electricity. Black Platinum Solar designs to the specific needs of each customer—factoring in budget, electrical usage requirements and the home (everything from very basic to multi-area roof designs) and its orientation on the property. The company uses some of the best technology available in the world today, and most specifically the Enphase Energy microinverter system.
To help you focus on what your readers really want to know about solar energy solutions, we’ve selected topics based on actual questions prospective customers are asking Black Platinum as well as on what a Google keyword analysis shows to be the most searched words and phrases.
Is Solar Worth It?
Bottom line, yes. Arizona Public Service (APS) recently announced another step-down in its Renewable Energy Incentive Program to $1.45 per watt for residential, grid-tied PV electrical systems. Those who know that only a year ago the incentive was $3 per watt might think they’ve missed their opportunity. But when all the benefits are factored in, residential customers will still pay only about 50 percent of their system costs out of pocket, and that’s not that far from where it was 2 or 3 years ago. Here’s how it breaks down (we’ll base our numbers on a typical 10kW system):
First, even with the step-down, APS is still paying an incentive of $1.45 per watt, which translates to $14,500 on a 10kW solar installation.
Second, the Federal tax credit is still in place. Homeowners can take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of 30 percent of their total system cost, which they can apply in its entirety in a single tax year or carry credits forward, as needed and until used up, all the way through 2016. Arizona also has a state tax credit of 25 percent (capped at $1,000 per residence).
Third, the price of solar panels has come down significantly. At the same time, the technology is better and more efficient. Equipment costs have dropped somewhere between $1 and $2 per watt in the last two years alone. So a 10kW solar electric system costs between $10,000 and $20,000 LESS—and that’s before incentives and tax credits are factored in.
Fourth, homeowners won’t pay sales tax on their systems. While that exemption doesn’t put money directly in one’s pocket, it also doesn’t add a couple thousand dollars to the cost. And solar is the one home improvement that adds value to a home without raising property taxes. APS estimates that a PV electric system increases home value as much as $25,000 or more (depending on system, size and home).
“There are enough savings,” says Black Platinum Solar’s Vice President and COO John Black, “that more than one customer has commented that the rate of return on his investment to convert his home to solar power is greater than that on his 401K today.”
Investment is the operative word here because installing a PV electrical system will still require a capital expenditure. But S&P Equity Research predicts that the United States “could see at least a 60 percent rise in unit installations” in 2011…even while incentives are shrinking. What do these people know that could help your readers make the right decision for their homes and businesses?
Can I really eliminate my electric bill?
Yes that is the question. As Black Platinum Solar’s President and CEO Toni Black explains: “Cost is a major concern. People know that energy costs are going up; they want to put in a PV electrical system to protect their future…now while the renewable energy incentives and tax credits are in place to bring down the out-of-pocket outlay. They are also looking to eliminate their electric costs and never pay an electric bill again, as long as they remain in their home.”
Ahhh…to never pay another electric bill. While this is doable, John Black stresses: “There is a difference between a system that covers 100 percent of electrical need at peak performance and a system that covers 100 percent of the electric bill. It’s the difference between lowering one’s bill and zero, where zero means never paying an electric bill again.”
Here’s the dirty little secret: As long as the customer is tied to the grid, service delivery fees, meter-reading fees and taxes will apply. But business and homeowners shouldn’t start thinking about going off-grid. That brings a host of challenges, costs, maintenance issues and limitations of their own. Rather, if their budget allows, they should work with an installer that can design a system to their specific needs.
It starts with USAGE because every home is different. Every customer is different. Every need is different. There is no chart, no cookie-cutter formula that determines what the average homeowner requires. In short, there is no such thing as an average homeowner when it comes to installing a PV system. It’s even possible for four people in one house to use less electricity than another house with just two people.
The company designing and installing the system will need to see at least a year’s worth of the homeowner’s electrical usage (broken down by month) in order to determine the size of system needed. A homeowner can usually pull from these records together or download a report from the utility service. The installer will need to calculate for peak and off-peak production times. The true professional will factor in roof space, orientation, longitude and latitude, altitude, azimuth and roof tilt when calculating the number and placement of solar panels.
In Arizona, production looks something like this (using APS as the model): If the system is put in around March or early April the customer will start producing more electricity than he or she uses. The utility company credits the excess to a sort-of solar kWh savings account. Then July through September and possibly into early October, when Arizona is at its hottest and demand exceeds production, the homeowner will draw upon those accumulated kilowatt hours. By the end of this period, he’ll have used up almost all the “banked” kilowatt hours, but that’s okay because from October through mid-December the system will be back to producing an excess.
At the end of the year, the utility company calculates the excess and converts it into dollars, which go on the homeowner’s electric account for the coming year. From the winter solstice in December, through January and into early February, the days are short and production drops. Once again, the homeowner will probably need to draw electricity from the grid. If the system is well designed and the homeowner has selected the correct rate plan (your installer can advise), there should be enough money in the account to cover the draw and pay service delivery fees, meter-reading fees and taxes until solar production again exceeds usage. Under this scenario, it is possible to never pay another electric bill.
What if my budget doesn’t allow for a system that covers 100 percent of my electric bill?
Not every budget allows for a system that will cover 100 percent of the electric bill. In fact, 50 percent systems are quite common. While a 50 percent system will reduce the amount of electricity purchased, it’s important to remember that as long as electricity is consumed, the service delivery fees, meter-reading fees and taxes will apply. Rates, of course, vary from one utility company to another, but it’s possible that even $30 worth of electricity usage could cost as much as $100 (and maybe more) when all the fees and taxes are factored in.
In this scenario, the homeowner may want to talk with the installer about trying to design a system that will cover 50 percent of the electric bill, rather than 50 percent of electrical usage. If the homeowner doesn’t currently have the budget for a 100 percent system, he or she could plan to build on to the system over time. This needs to be discussed with the installer at the time that the system is being designed. “You don’t want a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all system when you’re planning to expand over time,” advises John Black. “And you want to know that you are getting quality solar panels…no ‘B’ or blemished panels, which are the equivalent of factory seconds.”
And two final considerations: First, any Renewable Energy incentive is applicable ONLY to the original system. Add-ons after initial activation of the system may qualify for incentives, but will require reapplying for a separate reservation, and there’s no guarantee the same incentive rate will still be available. Finally, the larger the system, the better (or lower) the unit price on equipment will most likely be. That’s because the installer can pass along bulk purchase savings.
What’s my return on investment and how long is the payoff on my solar system?
Systems that cover 100 percent of the electric bill will reach the payoff point faster, and these homeowners can estimate that the typical pay off is between five and 10 years. It will be longer for 50 percent systems. For the homeowner who expects to stay in his or her home for 10 years or more, an investment that protects what one is paying (or not paying) for electricity going forward, may make a lot of sense.
As indicated above, APS estimates that a solar installation can increase the value of a home as much as $25,000 or more. But 2011 is a buyer’s market. With about 16 percent of homes in Arizona vacant, solar may be the difference between selling one’s home in a timely fashion and not. “In any case, it’s a hard number to prove,” admits John Black, “because people with solar rarely sell their homes.”
More than a few people have chosen to install PV electrical systems in order to do their part toward preserving the planet and helping the environment. “Solar is a completely green technology,” says Toni Black, “that enables the homeowner to become a small electric-generating plant with a zero carbon footprint.”
Should I wait for better technology and prices to drop further?
There is no question that technology will continue to improve and prices will drop over time. Although as long as demand for panels remains strong in Europe and China, we probably won’t see any dramatic decreases. Solar costs have been declining by about 10 percent each year, but delaying installation is probably offset by what the homeowner will save in electricity now.
Black Platinum Solar is a certified installer of Enphase Energy microinverter systems for a reason. “Quite simply, Enphase is the best technology that we can offer to our customers,” says John Black. “Microinverters have been used in Europe for more than 15 years, providing customers increased energy harvest, greater reliability, simplified design and installation, and state-of-the-art monitoring and management.” The list of benefits for Enphase microinverters is extensive: 15-year Standard Limited Warranty (25 years for the new M215 microinverters) with Rapid Replacement program, virtually 100 percent system uptime guarantee, rapid replacement, greater energy production in low-light conditions and systems that regularly exceed NREL/PV Watts energy production estimates by anywhere from 4 percent to 14 percent.
The real benefit of the Enphase Energy microinverter is the modular design. Traditional central inverter systems are designed with solar panels—connected in series—all sending DC electricity to a central, wall-mounted inverter. The central inverter converts DC electricity into AC power. Here’s the problem: A central inverter represents a single point of failure. If this inverter goes down, the entire system shuts down. And that’s not all. With all the solar panels feeding into the one inverter, a single underperforming panel in an array impacts the entire system. It’s the old Christmas tree light effect. In the case of a partial failure, production will decrease, but it may go unnoticed for some time. Eventually the customer will notice the reduced energy production reflected in the electric bill. Then comes the challenge of finding the source of the problem, which will require taking the system apart and testing each panel separately. That’s expensive.
Enphase Energy microinverters are attached beneath each solar module. Converting power from DC to AC at the modular level and exporting the power directly to the system leads to gains of 4 percent to 14 percent in energy harvest. And not only are these units easily swapped out in the event of a failure, but the exclusive Enlighten 24/7 web-based monitoring and management system provides real-time tracking from computer and mobile devices. “The peace of mind this system provides our customers is so important,” says Toni Black, “we chose to include a free five-year subscription to the Enlighten monitoring service with every installation we do. But Enphase has done us one better: Now all systems come with free LIFETIME Enlighten monitoring.” Homeowners and service providers can monitor the Enphase system from any Internet service—even a smartphone.
A Black Platinum Solar customer on vacation in the Australian rainforest reported: “Hi John, This is amazing. We are in the (Australian) rain forest. Absolutely no signs of civilization, in the middle of absolutely dense forest, and I am able to get on the Internet. Such is technology!!! I checked my solar panels, and we were able to see the entire panels working for the past seven days. It was really neat…”
Can I find an honest contractor to do my installation?
Ask a group of homeowners about contractors and you’re inviting them to unleash torrent of pent up frustration and anger. Sometimes it seems that customer service just isn’t what it used to be.
That’s not to say good contractors and honest solar installers don’t exist. You may just need to look a little harder, ask enough questions and check references. Perhaps the best place to start is the APS Qualified Solar Installer (QSI) list at www.aps.com/findsolar. Another is www.solar-estimate.org; click on the “Find a Pro” button, enter your zip code and start reading reviews.
“If we could give homeowners only one piece of advice,” says Toni Black, “it would be this: Ask your questions, no matter how insignificant or silly you might think they are. Understand the process thoroughly…because not all systems are created equal…and neither are all solar contractors.”
And know what to look for in a contractor:
- Beware of the salesperson that tries to sell you a cookie-cutter system without thoroughly analyzing your electrical usage, understanding your objectives and studying your property and home.
- Look for attention to detail. A good solar installer will fasten your solar panel mounts directly into the roof trusses. And rather than running unsightly conduits off the edge of the roof and down an outside wall, where possible, they’ll run the cabling from the roof straight into the attic and inside walls so it’s more aesthetically pleasing.
- Find the contractor who is willing to take the time to talk with you and explain every aspect of the installation. You need all your questions answered if you’re to make an educated decision and select the right system for your needs. Remember retrofitting a mistake or undersized system can be difficult and expensive.
- Make sure your contractor explains the difference between covering electrical usage and covering the bill. Even if you’re only putting in a 50 percent system, you probably want to work with your installer to come as close as possible to covering 50 percent of your annual electric bill.
Can I build my own PV solar system and save money?
Search the Internet for solar power, and you’ll find information about do-it-yourself (DIY) kits and plans for PV electrical systems. You’ll also find a lot of information about solar enabling the homeowner to go off the grid entirely. Well that’s a good thing because the handy person who builds his own solar panels won’t be allowed on the grid. Utility companies like APS have strict licensing requirements for both the equipment and installation. They won’t allow someone to build their own solar panels, slap them on the roof and connect the system to their grid.
And the DIYer who buys commercially manufactured equipment but chooses to install it himself may negate his warranties. Nor can he take advantage of utility rebate or incentive programs.
As for usage, here’s one final word of advice. Homeowners who plan to increase their electrical usage habits after the PV electrical system is installed need to advise their solar installer of this intention up front when they provide their usage records. This way the installer can account for that increase in the design…the key to performance and savings is attention to the details throughout the design process. Having a PV electrical system does not give homeowners a license to leave on every light in the house. If they suddenly begin out-using their power production, they’ll soon be back to paying electric bills.
About Black Platinum Solar
Since its founding in 2007, Black Platinum Solar has been custom designing and installing photovoltaic (PV) systems for residential customers. As of June 9, 2011, their 60 grid-tied Enphase Energy microinverter PV systems have produced in excess of 1.24 Gwh (gigawatt hours) of electricity. Although BPSE has also installed 3 central inverter systems, they have no production statistics for these, as there was no remote monitoring system for them. Black Platinum Solar is committed to understanding customers’ needs and delivering on the promise; they don’t walk away from the complicated install. John and Toni Black are well known to Phoenix residents for their construction business established in 2003, Black Platinum Custom Homes.
Customer service translates into communication and ensuring that 1) the customer has all the information needed to make an educated decision, and 2) Black Platinum Solar fully understands what the customer wants and their usage requirements. Black Platinum Solar is a turnkey service provider, which means we will handle everything required to install and activate your PV system. Black Platinum Solar is a certified installer of Enphase Energy microinverter systems and an Arizona Public Service Qualified Solar Installer (QSI).
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