Note: The information contained in this periodical weblog may be outdated. This was my personal weblog published before January 1, 2015. Since then I have been the co-owner and Principal Solar Designer at Florida Solar Design Group.

7 Comments

  1. Author

    One more note on this. Although the Enphase D380 is now obsolete, there is a fantastic alternative in the M215 microinverter that also has a trunk-and-drop cabling system for a nice, easy, clean installation. Te D380 was an obvious choice for the designer of these systems because they were intended to be cookie-cutter two-module rack systems. Unfortunately, I just think it was a flawed design choice to go with a modular system that handcuffs the owner and installer. A “modular” system using single modules attached to the Enphase M215 or even M190 with a custom rack at each site would have been a better choice. But as I mentioned in my other post about this greenwashing project, it’s distributed solar taken to a degree that is completely cost ineffective.

  2. In journalism, objectivity is the first prerequisite to credibility. From first sentence to last, Mr. Szumlanski clearly reveals his bias in writing this “article”. Contrary to his belief, this is not a greenwashing project, and had he taken the time to examine Lamar’s record of undertaking viable sustainability projects, perhaps he would not have made such an uninformed and ignorant (to say nothing of libelous) statement. With respect to modular versus a “purpose-built” racking system, with a project this large (1500 billboards from what I read in the press release), it is not economically feasable to build a custom racking system for each install. Nor is it efficient to hire separate electrical contractors in every market. With respect to inverters, I suspect it is difficult to buy one inverter for a project when the manufacturer (Enphase) continually updates their product line with new models. As for the photo, as everyone knows, anecdote beats fact every time. This photo does not represent the vast majority of Lamar’s installs, calling into question whether this install had even been completed when the photo was taken. Perhaps Mr. Szumlanski should think twice about the content of his writing from now on, and do his homework, rather than drawing conclusions which have absolutely no basis in fact. His use of slanted, erroneous and inflammatory characterizations in attempting to make points which would intend to steer public opinion, lay bare his biased viewpoint. In order to be taken seriously, one must first have credibility, and regarding this article at least, Mr. Szumlanski has none.

    1. Author

      Dear Mr. Bernard,

      I appreciate you taking the opportunity to voice your opinion. I will respond to your points one-by-one.

      I have never hid my bias or agenda. This blog is about my experience and my opinion. In fact, I state explicitly that I wished the work was offered to local contractors. Call it sour grapes if you wish, but my points are completely accurate.

      In a way, you are making my point about the rack system. It is not economically viable (read: cost effective) to install very small distributed grid-interactive photovoltaic systems. Instead of installing 1,500 systems at 1,000 watt rating, wouldn’t it be more efficient to install one hundred and fifty 10,000 watt systems, or even a single 1.5 megawatt system? If the goal is to reduce overall operating costs or truly pursue a green agenda, there is no argument or math that would support 1,500 small distributed power systems. (Note: A press release actually put the number of billboards to be retrofit at 1,370).

      From a cost standpoint, you do have a point about having a single or few contractors assigned. However, that does not defeat the argument about whether this project should have been pursued in this manner. I do not know who Lamar engaged to design the systems, but a solar contractor rather than an electrical contractor may have taken issue with the efficacy of the strategy.

      Regarding the Enphase microinverters, I am not suggesting that the D380 is an inferior product or that is was a poor choice. I have specified and installed this product before, and I rather liked it. I was simply including this point so my readers would know that the product is no longer sold. Enphase is a major supplier of inverters for the work I do, and I highly recommend their products, especially the M215 that essentially ended the need for the D380. I have made the obsolete distinction in several other blog posts.

      I agree fully that most Lamar billboards do not look like this, and anyone driving around Florida can make this observation. This was just one that caught my attention because I pass it daily. I did a close inspection of the billboard, and it appears to be complete in every way. All wiring is complete and it is interconnected to the grid. It is not operational at this time, and I acknowledge that the county has not inspected it as of today (See Permit Status Here). It has been installed for quite some time, and I have seen no additional activity. It would be great if this installation gets fixed, and I will be happy to report when/if that happens. As of today, nothing has changed, and if the inspection is passed before it is fixed, I will also report on that.

      I have done my homework, and I do have ample basis for my opinion. The installation of very small distributed solar electric systems is not cost effective, especially when the owner has better, more viable alternatives. How much did this project cost? The Federal Government through the Governor’s Energy Office put up $2.5M on top of Lamar’s $10M investment. That kind of money buys you over 2.5 megawatts of solar power today. This project was to install a paltry 1 megawatt. How can anyone say this was a cost effective solution?

      The economy of scale gained from larger system is huge, and would have allowed for a larger economic and environmental impact. Even doubling the installed capacity on half the number of billboards would have been a far better choice. The only conclusion I can draw is that Lamar made the choice to install solar electric systems on as many billboards as possible to spread its message. After all, advertising is the company’s business! Unfortunately, the decision to implement solar energy and brag about it without regard to cost and economic impact is the definition of greenwashing.

      Look – I’m a professional in the solar business. What would I have to gain by telling companies not to install solar panels? I wholeheartedly support businesses using solar energy to reduce operating costs if it makes sense from an economic and/or environmental standpoint. I take a practical approach to solar energy. Lamar could have done so much more with the same dollars, and that’s a fact, not bias.

  3. Mr. Szumanski:

    I can appreciate your misunderstanding of the goals of this project.

    Since you know this project is partially (20%) funded with grant dollars, I am surprised you never took the time to read Lamar’s grant application. Had you done so (yes, your “homework), you would have discovered as I did that this is a demonstration project intended to increase the visibility of solar in the State of Florida. Accordingly, the “paltry” 1mW of solar being installed has little to do with the amount of power being generated, and everything to do with increasing the visibililty of solar to the millions of people who pass by these installations every day.

    This is all being done in the hope of helping to promote solar in Florida, and furthering the continued development of green industries in Florida. This, if I am not mistaken, will benefit you and your businss directly, yet you chose not to try and understand the big picture or the real motivations, but rather, focus on the deficiencies inherent in the systems as-deployed, a design that is completely and totally irrelevant to the intent of the project.

    As in many other instances, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    “Greenwashing” is an ugly and inflammatory word that taps into people’s worst perceptions about renewable energy. Yet, you throw it around with impunity, and it undermines the work of everyone in the industry.

    Would it have been easier, cheaper, and more efficient to install 1mW in a field somewhere? Certainly. But how many people would pass by this field, and think, “hmmm, if solar works for a big company like Lamar, maybe I should look at it also”. Not many, I would think. And before you refer to 1mW as “paltry”, you need to think about how paltry it was at $2.00+ per watt instead of the $1.00/W now common in the current market.

    If you consider “cost per impression”, I think you will agree that the cost per person for each person seeing Lamar’s current solar deployment is an almost immeasureable fraction of the cost per person for the 10 people a year who would see (or care about) a 1mW install isolated out in a field.

    Millions of people see Lamar’s solar billboards EVERY DAY.

    You’re a smart guy — can’t you see that it’s about VISIBILITY?

    Had you “done your homework” you would have understood this, and not done the damage you are doing.

    You speak of economies of scale for larger systems, but this is impossible because there are no returns for excess production other than at the avoided cost rate, so as you are well aware, it is impractical to install anything larger than a system to offset actual use, and have the expectation of any reasonable return.

    As you do, I also suspect that Lamar “made the choice to install solar electric systems on as many billboards as possible to spread its message”, which is: BUY SOLAR.

    No selfish motives, just: BUY SOLAR.

    The last time I looked, Lamar was not in the renewable energy business, so they have nothing to gain. As you so rightly point out, if Lamar were interested in generating revenue through the use of solar energy, there were far more efficient ways to go about it. I am sure they understand this.

    I just find it regrettable in the extreme that someone in your position, with obvious knowledge of the solar industry and the challenges it faces with public perception, who is also in a position to influence this perception by virtue of your blog, chooses not to fully understand the issues involved and the motivation behind this particular project, before commenting so negatively and publicly.

    1. Author

      I do understand the motivation behind the program, and I simply disagree with it. You are delving into a public policy debate with respect to spending of public money- money which would have been better spent by creating a real renewable energy policy in Florida.

      Lamar is free to do what it pleases with solar energy, and I’m not usually in the business of talking people out of solar. As you stated, I stand to benefit from the program in an indirect way. I simply disagree that this is an effective use of limited dollars.

      Again, thanks for your opinion. I do value it.

  4. I thought you objected to this technically, on the basis of it not being as efficient an install as it could have been?

    Neither your original, first nor second responses made any reference al all to public policy. Only when you realized you were off base from the very start with respect to the rationale behind the system design did your argument morph into a public policy discussion.

    Tell me, how do you feel about the efficiency of using $2.5 million in public money to promote solar to hundreds of millions of people per year, for 20 to 25 years?

    I cannot think of a better investment.

    Creating a “real renewable energy policy in Florida” has nothing whatsoever to do with this program. If you are so empowered, why don’t you take on the utility companies and the PSC and see how far you get in establishing a RE policy in Florida, and stop berating a company simply trying to do the right thing.

  5. Author

    Greg,

    I thought we agreed to have a civil telephone conversation today, but it appears that you have no interest in resolving this issue offline.

    I do object technically to this project. YOU brought up using government dollars to promote solar. That is a public policy debate. I do feel there are better ways to accomplish this, which I will go into in a future post perhaps.

    Once again, I invite your employer, Lamar Advertising, to make an official response and I would be happy to post it. Until then, I consider this discussion closed.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.