Misleading Solar Rooftop “Pitches”

Perhaps it is no surprise to any of you but today’s solar vendors are misleading customers about the economics.  Customers are being told that rooftop solar is free and paid for on the savings on their electric bills. How can they make that claim?  Easy … just exaggerate the savings and understate the costs.

Several of you have shared the detailed stories about listening to the pitches yourselves where the savings are unrealistic and escalated every year even when the electric rates have no history of rising at all at these levels.  And, the costs seldom include added insurance, possibility of needing an umbrella policy, or the higher cost of reroofing.

Why do customers fall for this?  For many, their money is simply not earning enough in savings accounts and they like the idea of doing something to show they are advocates of solar.  Part of the current situation is also the deceptive way financing is used.   After all, customers do not think about the purchase price if they are offered low-cost financing.

So, what happens when they sign up and they still receive high bills from the local electric provider?  They call their electric utility to complain.  They are mad and they think they are being cheated.  Of course, in many cases this is the first time the utility found out they had installed panels even though customers were supposed to file applications in advance.  So, wouldn’t it be a lot wiser to head this off at the pass with some educational online tools to help alert customers to the true costs of going with rooftop solar.  The free ones provided by vendors are not presenting the full cost of ownership and use misleading and unrealistic assumptions.

Plus, most of you now have better options for your customers anyway … like buying into your true supply-side solar farms, which the application we build will encourage as a better alternative.

To learn more join Joel Gilbert for a webinar presentation, Solar Shenanigans, Oct. 5th at 2 Eastern, when he will take a candid look at this topic.


The Waffle House Index

There are times when the free market can offer a better interpretation to weather and its impact than all the meteorologists combined.  I am a regular customer to Waffle House and have talked to the staff there about their company views about being open when storms ravage the area.  It is almost a religious commitment to stay open if it is at all possible.  So, when Waffle House closes or indicates they may not be at full capacity … beware … it is one hell of a storm.

The term “Waffle House Index” was apparently coined by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in May 2011, following the 2011 Joplin tornado, during which the two Waffle House restaurants in Joplin remained open. The measure is based on the reputation of the restaurant chain for staying open during extreme weather and for reopening quickly, albeit sometimes with a limited menu, after very severe weather events.

My conversations have always indicated that Waffle House has become a societal barometer of the wellness and survivability of a community.  If Waffle House is closed (condition red as they call it) you really do need to worry about the situation.  It is funny how the innovative initiatives to be open when others are not is such a symbol to a community.

So, here’s to Waffle House … smothered and covered with appreciation from its loyal base.

Falling into Good Habits

The name itself comes from the fact that the leaves fall from our trees.  Wow … one more year is about to end, and we thought we were finally done with COVID!  Who would have believed that we are still being impacted by this after almost two years?  This is wearing on everyone in our community and has done so much damage it’s hard to comprehend.

So, when we think of the season of Fall, some become understandably depressed.  We remember how to set our clocks with another negative connotation.  In the spring we set them forward and it the fall we set them backward.  Backward sounds negative, and even the word Fall sounds less than optimistic.  On a positive note, we need to remind ourselves that we gain an hour at this time of the year!  I really like that because I read an article that eating hot dogs took an hour off my life.  You know what?  I really enjoyed that hot dog and I am OK with debiting my life one hour.

Maybe we need a new name for the season … calling it windfall since the winds pick up at this time of the year.  I don’t have the answer here, but I do have an illustration for those of you who want to call things what they are.  Life insurance was originally called what it is … death insurance.  But they couldn’t sell it when they called it what it was.  So, they switched the word and meaning on its head and called it what it wasn’t but in fact what people wanted to buy.

Of course, we are not selling this season for any reason are we?  Perhaps we need to market this season for what it truly is: wonderful!  This is one of the prettiest times of the year here in Atlanta.  The weather is once again mild, the mornings are crisp, and we still have flowers blooming.  We can sit outside most days and enjoy the gentle weather and the first signs of the leaves turning beautiful colors.  It is a glorious time of the year.  Let’s celebrate that!

My Jewish roots remind me of the wise sayings I grew up with about how to think about our lives.  While it might be considered terrible theology, it does help.  I was taught not to complain to God about anything in my life.  My rabbi said if you complain to God he will say: “Oh, you think that’s bad?  Let me show you what bad is!”  I was told, by contrast, we should give thanks no matter how bad things were because God would say: “Oh, you think that’s good?  Let me show you want good really is!”   As I said, this might be bad theology.

Or is it?  My medical friends all tell me that a positive attitude is essential to good health and that despite the best medical treatments a bad attitude can literally kill you.  Then, we should have a thankful attitude, no matter what our circumstances are. But what does it take to do that?

I observe that we allow way too many things into our lives and beings that simply do not help.  I stopped watching TV years ago because I found most of it far from uplifting.  I have chosen now to go back to that strange thing that sits on our shelves that does not need a battery to operate … books.  Read a good book or two.  Trust me, you can still do it.  Turn the TV off and read without any background noise.  Let your mind and heart escape to the world described by that author.  If you have a book you read once before a while back, read it again.  You will find different things hit you upon another reading.

In Search of Excellence?

Do you remember the Tom Peters era several decades ago where his research team studied excellence? He wrote several books in the series with the first one titled precisely this way. He pointed out that firms such as Federal Express and Nordstrom used excellence as the critical differentiator to their business success. 


Why then is it so common to hear of just the opposite today?  We seem obsessed with mediocrity and everyone being graded the same or not graded at all.  I thought excellence was to be applauded, but apparently I have been sadly mistaken if this article in USA Today is to be believed.


Work life balance has been with us since recorded civilization, but today’s younger generation has pulled up hard on the idea of hard work being any kind of a measure of success. I attended a national working session on the tribal polarization questions which centered on one of the missing elements: civics… kids today have no idea what this country was built on.  Evidently civics is no longer taught as part of the core, so kids don’t know how government really works here.


The other major culprit identified with the thousands of participants is the dangerous impact of social media as I have been stressing… which almost everyone agreed was tearing up society as I have been pointing out. Then, of course, there is widespread blame deserving in the media. The work ethic that built this country is dying very quickly.


I needed to get my wife’s PC to her after she had left it at home on a business trip. I called Federal Express and asked how quickly I could do that. The person who I spoke with asked me for the dimensions and weight which I felt was irrelevant to my question. When she insisted I answer I made up some numbers so she could fill in the computer screen in front of her which would eventually answer that question. She told me it would take 2-3 days.


I asked her where the company statement “when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight” went? She said … without a pause … “oh, we don’t do business that way any longer.”


Maybe that is why I don’t hear much about Tom Peters any longer either … he is still on that search.

Basic Electric Service?

Electric utilities are required to provide service to any and all customers, but they are not obligated to do that and lose money in the process.  Yes, there are some protected classes and situations where they may be forced to offer services below costs but they are then also allowed to recover those costs across other customer classes.

Perhaps the more important question today is “what is basic electric service” in the first place?  Restoring service after storms is clearly implied, but offering underground service just because it is more reliable is clearly not.  In fact, even though it seems to be the obvious answer to reduced outages due to wind it exposes utilities to even more widespread challenges when they have to deal with flooding.

Personally I would gladly pay a premium for enhanced electric service, but I would expect the lights to stay on all the time: something they don’t do during storms for sure.  I was impressed how hard Georgia Power worked to restore service at our house when they detected that the problem was a damaged underground feed to our house.  They did some amazing digging and then restored all our plants to their original places.  Very impressive and a lot of people working together seamlessly.

But, let’s take a deep breath and step away from the front line situations and think creatively.  Why do we assume people value things just because they are better?  Don’t people buy “Junker” cars because they are prepared to face the maintenance headaches along with the cosmetic fixer upper tasks.  Don’t you know people who buy dilapidated houses and fix them up and make money doing that?

Isn’t it time to recognize that many people have the same idea about electric service … they just want cheap service … they don’t value the reliability others do.  As we continue to see our world segment into those who embrace and care about energy stewardship and those who don’t, isn’t it time the prices reflect that?  Personally, I think it is high time we start thinking about this in all dimensions of electric service.

You want hassle free electric service with no requests for demand response and no warnings about system reliability? … you just want to flip the switch and be assured the lights come on? … you should pay more!  Or, if you want to be a prosumer and partner with the energy industry as an active part of the system?  You should pay … ?

Caught you!  You wanted to end with “less” didn’t you?  Why?  Does it cost us less to partner with customers?  Are they as good as the supply side options?  If they do perform well, they will pay less.  However, if they don’t they will pay more.

Our industry must face the music.  We are on a path that leads squarely to pay for performance in all aspects.   Just because you can afford solar and batteries doesn’t mean you are a partner to the industry.  Act as one and your costs can go down.  Act as a self-serving elitist and your costs for the electricity you continue to demand from the system will go up.

There is no free lunch.