August 13, 2014 | No comments yet
After seven years in the solar industry and almost three years as a homeowner I knew it was time to go solar. It was time to cut my electricity bill. It was time to invest in stable, safe and clean energy.
Please note that my experience is far from normal, and this is NOT a DIY tutorial on going solar. This is simply a story on how my sister and I finally switched our home and (soon) transportation to solar energy.
With so many years in the solar industry, I knew I didn’t want to tackle the permitting, roofing and electrical work myself, but I also had some solid connections so we didn’t hire an installation company. Instead we reached out to friends who installed solar for a living and were willing to give up their free time for food and gratitude.
The first step was to draw up the plans and single line drawings for the building permit and interconnect agreement for the utility. Luckily both were fairly straightforward and I know solar well enough that I could do 80% of the paperwork. Friends helped with the rest. With permits secured, we placed our order for panels, inverter, racking, and all the other components that makeup a solar array.
Then we assembled our labor force. We were lucky to have close friends with experience in roofing and electrical that didn’t mind spending their weekend hanging out on our roof. My sister and I did a lot of grunt work that weekend, but we also learned to drill anchors into our own roof, and then how to appropriately seal and flash those penetrations. I’ll admit that the first hole was a bit nerve racking but after a couple, we calmed down, our helper friends forgot that the ‘homeowner was on the roof’ and we all enjoyed ourselves.
The racking went up quickly thanks to SnapNrack and before noon on the first day, we were ready to start installing panels. We used REC 245 watt panels and these suckers were big! They look small when they are on the roof but they dwarfed by five-foot tall sister. We bought beer and lunch for our friends to do the heavy lifting (beer of course was for after the work was complete) and it might have been the best investment we made.
Laying the panels brought me to my second ‘ah-ha’ moment: aligning the panels. It takes a lot of time, energy and attention to detail to ensure that all the panels are in line and level. You also have to take into account the roof. Most roofs are not level so there is a balance between a perfectly level install and an install that matches the roof line. A sloppy installer could put the panels up in no time, but a good installer will take the time to do it right.
With the panels laid, the next big step was the electrical. Once again, this is not something you want an amateur fiddling with. Most of the second day was spent installing the inverter, a SMA Sunny Boy, fitting the conduit that held the wires, and establishing the electrical connections. Finessing the conduit to match the house lines and minimize visibility turns out to be an art form. We were impressed by how the metal tubing was bent to match the lines of the house and with a little paint, blends right in.
The process was easier than I could have imagined and our 2.2kW system was up and functioning in well under two days. As an advocate in the solar industry I have always encouraged solar buyers to invest in an installation company that values quality over simply the lowest price and I can say first hand now how important that is. If a company doesn’t take the time and energy to do the little stuff right, it can have a drastic impact on your final project. If I didn’t have the network to recruit from, there is no way I would have taken on this project. I would advise hiring professionals.
That said, I am so glad that I got to see my solar go in from beginning to end. I am also endlessly appreciative of all our friends who made this installation a reality. The experience has given me a new appreciation for the technology, the craft and the power of solar electricity.
What’s even more exciting is that this small system will kick out enough power to cover all of the electricity used in our 1,000sqft home (three permanent residents) PLUS leave some energy left over for when I get an electric vehicle in the next couple months. By years end I’ll be living and driving on sunshine.
Megan Birney is the Director of Strategic Affairs for Wiser Capital. She handles account management, business development, partnership initiatives and outreach.