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solar panels + grid alternatives = fun

I had a great weekend volunteering for GRID Alternatives to install solar panels for a low income family in Lynwood, CA. For those of you who don’t know GRID Alternatives, they’re a non-profit who’s on a mission to empower communities in need by providing renewable energy and energy efficiency services, equipment and training.

Since 2001, GRID Alternatives has been working to bring the power of solar electricity and energy efficiency to low-income homeowners, and to provide community members with training and hands-on experience with renewable energy technologies. GRID Alternatives believes making energy choices that are good for the environment can go hand-in-hand with improving the lives of those living in low-income communities.

It took Anna and Alan, experienced Grid Alternatives staff and the team of volunteers two full days at to complete the installation of the 1.4 kW solar electric system which consisted of 7 Canadian Solar 200 watt (CS6PE) solar panels, a PVPowered 2000 watt (PVP2000) grid tie inverter and Pro Solar mounting hardware.

The most difficult part of installing the solar panels over the detached garage was working on the concrete s-tile roof. These are very delicate type of roof tiles, walking on them without breaking them is impossible, it’s like walking on egg shells. It took us extra time to replace all the roofing s-tile shingles that were damaged in the process. The hot Southern California climate did not spare us over the weekend, during the afternoon the s-tiles shingles became extremely hot making it even more difficult and uncomfortable to get the mounting hardware installed.

Before the 6 inch standoffs were installed and sealed with silicon, the fast jacks needed to be attached to the rafters of the detached garage. Also each penetrations needed flashing to ensure they are water tight. Locating the rafters in a building and making sure you’re drilling into them is a challenging part of installing solar panels.

Once the standoffs were in place the roof team was ready for the rails which were assembled on the ground. We had to cut the Pro Solar Rails to size and have them prepared for the roof team to secure to the stand offs. There are many components involved with putting the rails together, which could be confusing if you don’t have all your parts organized.

After the rails were passed on from the ground to the roof, they were immediately attached to the standoffs. Once we got the rails secured to the standoffs, it was time to get the solar panels mounted on top of the rails.

It was easier to get the solar panels mounted to the rails because we had a lot of workspace since we installed scaffolding before we started the project. Standing on the scaffolding helped us maneuver the solar panels to the approximate location to clamp it down to the rails.

Pretty soon we had most of the solar panels in place, as we installed each row of solar panels we had to make sure the we connected them in series and ran the grounding wire along the rails.

Before we installed the last solar panel, we wired up the junction box. This is the connection point from the solar array on top of the roof to the inverter in the garage.

Down in the garage, we installed the grid tie inverter and a separate DC and AC disconnects, which are the components on the left and rite side of the inverter. Even though the PVPowered inverter had an integrated DC/AC disconnect, code required separate external disconnects since the inverter was mounted in the garage. It was time consuming task to wire up the external disconnects but was worth it because it improved the saftey of the overall system. This picture was taken with the inverter and disconnects opened up so we can wire them up.

Since a grid tie system has to be connected to the service, we had to run the cables to the service side of the breaker box and add a 15 amp breaker to the bus bar, Alan took care of the utility side interconnection.

Once we flipped on the inverter, it took the grid tie inverter 5 minutes to boot up and like magic we were generating clean power! Even at 4pm the meter was still spinning backwards which was a good sign newly installed system working properly. The homeowners were very excited to see their meter spins backwards, it was a great feeling for all of us.

It was a pleasure spending the weekend with GRID Alternatives to install solar panels for a family that really needs them. I personally thought the experience was very rewarding. It was great interacting with the other volunteers and GRID Alternatives staff since we all share a common value, the love for solar power. Obviously there was much more to the installation then what you see here, check out the rest of the pictures on our community. GRID Alternatives is a not for profit company, if you like the work they do, don’t forget to support them by visiting their website by clicking to logo below.

Author: Deep Patel

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