Renewable Meter Adaptor Cuts Solar Installation Costs

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By Roy L Hales
Originally published at The Eco Report

Installing solar panels on San Diego’s existing homes used to involve a 4-6-week long process.  San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) Renewable Meter Adaptor cuts solar installation costs by eliminating the need for costly panel upgrades.

Renewable Meter Adaptor Cuts Solar Installation Costs

 Ken Parks and Michael Coburn, the two SDG&E employees that invented the RMA - Photo Courtesy SDG&E
Ken Parks and Michael Coburn, the two SDG&E employees that invented the RMA – Photo Courtesy SDG&E

According to co-inventor Ken Parks, the Renewable Meter Adaptor (RMA) has cut the length of time homeowners are deprived of electricity (while their system is being connected) to 10 or 15 minutes, reduced the cost to around $1,200, and simplified the process so that it can be completed in less than a week .

Prior to this, Parks said, “The minimal cost of a panel upgrade was $2,500. It could be as high as $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the transformer.”

Some solar installations have not gone forward because of the additional cost of a  panel upgrades.

“They can’t buy solar for $10,000 to $15,000 and then pay an additional $10,000 for trenching. This RMA allows them to become part of the solution, as far as renewables is concerned,” said Parks.

More than 3,000 RMAs have been installed since August 2015 and Parks says that customers that chose to use this option collectively saved about $3.5 million U.S..

When they announced this invention, SDG&E invited the local media to a press conference where they could meet Parks, an SDG&E customer (photo at top of page) and a solar installer.

A Solar Installation Companies Opinion

As I am about 1,700 miles away, I asked one of the installation companies I am acquainted with for their opinion of this device.

“While the Renewable Meter Adapter (RMA) is not always necessary for a PV installation or even our first choice for every application, it serves a much needed role as an alternative to a main service panel upgrade for customers who may face costly trenching and/or street crossings, to meet conduit size requirements to the utility hand hole or transformer related to upgrading their main service panel to accommodate their PV needs,” said Keith Randhahn Director of Engineering for Baker Electric Solar.

“Also, SDG&E has done a great job of refining their RMA scheduling and installation process to the point that they can usually install an RMA within 48 hours of receiving the application, as compared to a several week process for a Planner’s Report and Scheduled Utility Disconnect/Reconnect associated with a full main service panel upgrade.

“In addition to the time savings, the RMA provides a safe and easily accessible point of connection for the PV system, providing up to 60A of additional available solar back feed capacity and the Utility operates and maintains the equipment through the life of the device.”

Applicable for 95% of Installations

“Today we are about 95% success on installing RMAs. Some panels just need to be upgraded because of fatigue or they are rusted out, etc … (In some cases RMAs could not be installed because) we’re not able to meet meter standards, or gas standards. We have to ensure we have proper clearances for electrical and gas,” said Parks.

“The device is UL listed (Underwriters Laboratory). Typically products that are owned by the utility are not UL listed. We stipulated for that because of safety and reliability, to ensure all the electrical tests were performed on it and it did exceeds the natural electrical code requirements and it also meets the utility metering standards. ”

He has only heard of one product similar to this.

“There may be one on the East Coast. I’ve heard about it, but I think it has a different format from ours.” said Parks.

“We think we have a very good case that there is nothing else like it that has protections build inside of the Renewable Meter Adaptor, which is really our claim to fame. That is what sets us apart from everybody else.”

Photo at the top of page Courtesy of Baker Electric Solar