Fully Licensed and Insured in West Virginia • Maryland • Pennsylvania • Virginia

What it takes to be a Qualified Solar Installer

 

 

In a recent post I wrote that an Electrician license alone – even a Master Electrician license – does not qualify you to design and install solar systems. I totally respect the fact that a Master license is a great achievement that requires significant experience and training, but it’s not solar specific. Some took exception to that position, but those are just the facts, in my opinion, and I think I have the experience and credentials to have that opinion.

Most states address this by requiring a building and an electrical permit to legally install a residential or commercial solar system. And in most cases, the plans have to be sealed by a licensed Professional Engineer.

But in many parts of West Virginia, as far as I can understand based on multiple inquiries to the Contractor Licensing Board, there are no clear licensing rules.

At Milestone, we have two licensed Master Electricians in our group, and I’ve worked with other Master Electricians as fill-ins, and I can tell you with total certainty that until you’ve received some formal training on solar systems, or on-the-job oversight from a trained and certified NABCEP installer, you’re not qualified to install all of the electrical components of a solar system, let alone design solar systems. There are many specific electrical issues that are quite unique to solar systems. And electrical is only part of the process. That’s not just my opinion. That’s according to NABCEP’s Job Task Analysis (JTA), spelling out in detail the areas their installer certification test covers and the percentage of questions for each area of expertise (Content Domain in the table below). Continue reading “What it takes to be a Qualified Solar Installer”

Why don’t more solar installers offer ground mounts?

Merrell Ground Mount

We do a lot of ground mount systems each year, and over the last year or so we did an even higher percentage than usual.

The list below features a dozen recent ground mount systems – ten as part of battery backup (bimodal) systems. Ground mounts are a particularly good option for battery backup systems ( see reason 2 below).

  • 36 module system – New Martinsville, WVDSC_3252
  • 44 module system – Williamsport, MD
  • 48 module system – Sharpsburg, MD
  • 28 module system – Greenbrier County, WV
  • 20 module system – Monroe County, WV
  • 24 Module system – Harrisonburg, VA
  • 45 module system – Hagerstown, MD
  • 24 module system – Shepherdstown, WV
  • 32 module system – Romney, WV
  • 20 module system – Rockport, WV
  • 44 module system – Orange, VA
  • 36 module system – White Sulphur Springs, WV

While I encourage people with the property to at least consider a ground mount system, some installation companies take an opposite view. (This may have less to do with the merits of ground mounts and more because they haven’t invested in equipment needed for trenching for wire runs and augering for pier holes.)

DSC_3361

Of course, ground mounts aren’t an option for everyone, but for those with enough property they offer two major advantages over roof mounts (to say nothing of a lot more minor ones):

  1. Most roofs are not perfectly oriented to the sun path. You can precisely orient a ground-mounted array for maximum production, which you obviously can’t do with a house. Over time, the production difference will be significant.
  2. After a big snowfall, you can clear the snow off your ground-mounted array so it starts generating electricity to power appliances (and charge backup batteries, if you have them). When you consider how many snowstorms produce power outages, this can be a very big deal.

Why are some solar systems all black, while others show silver and white lines in the panels ?

All-black solar modules and racking are definitely an option we encourage customers to consider. In fact, at least one HOA in our area requires all-black for a solar system to be approved by the reviewing committee.

On some houses or roofs, an all-black system looks very subtle and elegant, in my opinion. You may not agree.

But appearance aside, there are two disadvantages: First all- black modules usually cost a little more. Second, they’re slightly less efficient than the clear (silver-framed) modules. That’s because all-black modules tend to get hotter in direct sun, and more heat means lower voltages and slightly less production.

For example, take a look at the PTC ratings for two popular solar module manufacturers – one with clear (silver) frames and white backsheet, the other with black anodized frame and black backsheet. By the way, PTC stands for PVUSA Test Conditions. This is a California lab that most in the industry consider to be the absolute gold standard for verifying the actual (real-world) performance that can be expected from solar components.

Solarworld

Solarworld 285 watt , mono, clear frame, white backsheet – 259.1 PTC.

Solarworld 285 watt, mono, black frame and backsheet – 255.6 PTC

Suniva

Suniva 285 watt, mono, clear frame, white backsheet – 258.2 PTC

Suniva 285 watt, mono, black frame, black backsheet – 255.0 PTC

The difference in output? Not very much, actually, but there is some. But if you like the looks of the black modules better, I wouldn’t let this small difference keep you from choosing an all-black system.

It’s also interesting to me that both companies’ 285-watt modules are so close in PTC rating. Next time some solar sales person (who probably never heard of PTC) makes inflated claims about the superiority of their product, you might want to keep this in mind. Or check out the PTC rating at http://www.gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov/equipment/pv_modules.php

Not just for Virginia homes

The Roanoke Times reports that starting a few weeks from now, a solar array will provide the Salem, Virginia, Veteran Affairs Medical Center  with 1,620 kilowatts of free electricity – about 10% of their power needs.

Another VA hospital, in Alexandria, has a 1,995 kilowatt solar system under construction.

The Norfolk Naval Station gets 2100 kilowatts from its solar system.

Washington and Lee University and Virginia Tech also save on electric bills with solar power (450 and 103 kilowatts, respectively).

At Milestone Solar, we’ve been helping commercial customers offset as much as 50% of their electric bills with

  • a 37.4 kilowatt solar installation for the Ernst Market in Clear Spring, Maryland (20% offset).
  • a 15.87 kW solar array for the Town of Man, West Virginia, town hall (50%).
  • a 5.04 kW solar system for the Beech Bottom, WV, town hall (more than 50%).

So if you run a business, are concerned about your bottom line and overhead, and thought that solar electricity was just for houses, it pays to think again.