Tulchin Family: A Hawaii Solar PV Case Study and Testimonial
Testimonial For Kama'aina Solar Solutions (KSS)
By Ben Tulchin, a satisfied customer
I had done considerable research on solar PV systems. Being retired and on a fixed income all opportunities to reduce living expenses interested me. At my age, however, it seemed impractical to invest in a PV system unless the return of investment (ROI) period could be reduced to less than about 5 years. It was now apparent that market conditions and tax credits had combined to reduce the ROI period substantially from what it was a few years ago making PV practical even for senior home owners.
TAX CREDITS were a big factor in my decision to buy PV. Heard the expression "Rob Peter to pay Paul"? Well, I figure that all the Peters are the folks who are not buying PV but are paying the taxes to the state and federal government so that those governments can afford to give the Pauls money (in the form of tax credits) to buy PV systems. Well, I decided it would be better to be a Paul than to be a Peter.
WHY KAMA'AINA SOLAR SOLUTIONS?
Kama'aina is best known for their termite and pest control business. They also have other businesses for other service and construction related trades. Just to mention that they are not new to business in Hawaii but are new to the PV business. I happened to need an estimate for termite tenting and was asked by Kama'aina if I wanted a PV estimate as well. I said OK but I didn't really have any expectations about them since I was in the process of deciding which of five well known solar companies I would contract with having recently gotten estimates from them. In fact, I had gotten strong family recommendations for three of those five companies. I decided to take the risk and go with KSS because price was very important to me and the KSS price beat the lowest estimate from the other companies for essentially the same system by 30%. By essentially the same I mean same or similar rated brand, equal or better power output, equivalent warranty for equipment and labor.
While their company is new to the solar business, the sales, administration, management and skilled tradesmen are not. They are all experienced professionals in the solar business with one NABCEP certified solar installer on staff. For example, their electrician has 27 years experience in his trade. I visited the company, at their downtown location. I was welcomed as one of their first customers. Everything appeared to be newly installed in their office and some of the computer network installation was still underway. The most important thing I noted was the obvious excitement, enthusiasm and energy they all had to make the start of their new company a success.
When the sales manager, Ka'ala, first visited my home to give me an estimate, he quickly realized that I had done my homework, received several estimates and already knew what I wanted and how I wanted the system installed. He focused on how to provide what I wanted at the best possible competitive price. He was able to make a few changes to the standard contract that were important to me. Later, when I wanted the contract changed to add an additional panel he was there for me. I was always able to communicate with him and he always promptly returned e-mails and phone calls. No complaints, Ka'ala was always friendly, easy to deal with and anxious to show that KSS, although new, was capable and professional.
The project manager, Zack, who I met when I visited the KSS office, is a young man with construction experience, including 5 years in PV installation. He came to KSS from one of the other five companies I had gotten estimates from. He wasted no time getting started on planning my system arriving at my house with Cary, the electrician, early in the morning tow days after I signed the contract. While Cary inspected my electrical service, building electrical ground connection , the proposed panel and inverter location and planned conduit routing from the roof entry through the garage to the inverter, Zack went up on the garage roof to make measurements to insure that the array placement I desired would fit and be placed out of some early morning shadows. Zack proposed adding an extra panel on the roof over my entrance to compensate for the shadowing that could not be avoided. The extra panel was added to the plan and the contract with Ka'ala's help at a reasonable cost that did not add to my cost per watt. It was a great idea that resolved any shading issues.
It turned out that after having a conversation about my upcoming solar install with a friend and neighbor (who happens to work for HECO) we both came to the realization that Cary was the same electrician who installed his PV system for a different company a few years ago. He highly praised the work that Cary did on his install and said that I was in good hands with this veteran electrician with 27 years of experience in the trade.
Lisa is the "go to" person at KSS. She is the voice of KSS. She was on top of every aspect of the install including obtaining permits, submitting the NEM agreement to HECO, getting change orders completed, scheduling installs, preparing for trade shows, and many other aspects of the business. She always knows what's going on and what needs to be done. Her communication and management skills are remarkable. She is KSS administration, management and customer service all in one person, just what every small business needs. Thanks to her a month was saved by her getting the HOA approval request filled out and sent in to my association's design committee in time to be considered at their monthly meeting.
The project was completed in one day. The date of completion was 7 weeks from contract signing but two weeks delay was because I wanted my termite tenting done before the PV install. It was done very professionally. Panels, inverter, disconnects, load center, PVC and EMT wire runs were all mounted securely. The panels were mounted as close to the west side of the roof as possible to keep the east side panels out of early morning shadows. The install is one of the best aesthetically of any that I've seen. PVC was used to connect the inverter and other wall mounted boxes on the outside of the garage and to connect the entrance roof extra panel to the rest of the array. The roof mounted PVC 3 ft. run is painted to match the roof and is the only item visible on the roof not covered by the panels except for the combiner box which is near the peak of the roof and barely visible. The roof intrusion for the wiring is flashed and covered by the panels. All the rail mounting bolts are also flashed. All the electrical boxes with their PVC connections mounter on the north garage exterior wall are straight and level.
The system is producing an average of 15 kWh per day. We only need 13.4 kWh average per day to minimize our HECO bill. ROI 3 years. We still need to get the City & County inspection completed, finalize our NEM agreement with HECO and get a new digital meter. Am I satisfied and pleased with KSS. Unequivocally, YES! It is such a pleasure to watch our HECO meter running backwards.