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Alternative energy sources— green, clean solar and wind power—certainly get a lot of “air time” of late. (Pun intended.) Of course, water power has been around a long time. And still is for power generation on a large scale. But it’s not so convenient for single user electrical supply, or even most municipalities.

Planning for Consumer Solar Energy Installations

Steve Maurer, IME
Alternative energy sources— green, clean solar and wind power—certainly get a lot of “air time” of late. (Pun intended.)

Of course, water power has been around a long time. And still is for power generation on a large scale. But it’s not so convenient for single user electrical supply, or even most municipalities.

Wind and solar are the two major alternatives for commercial, industrial, and residential power. They do have a few quirks for power generation.

After all, what happens if the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow?

But they really are viable options to complement, if not replace fossil fuel power. You just need to plan for those circumstances when they might need supplemented.

Of the two—wind and sun—I’m kind of keen on solar power. I just can’t see setting up a wind turbine in my side yard. It might be the talk of the neighborhood …

But not in a good way.


So, let’s talk solar energy.

City governments are starting to share a little “solar love”
A lot of municipalities are beginning to give solar energy a big thumbs up. In Fayetteville, Arkansas (my hometown), the city government is making it easier to install solar energy for public, commercial, and residential use.

They adopted an Energy Action Plan in 2017 that projects 100% community-wide clean energy to be achieved by 2050. They recently completed a project at the West Side Water Treatment Facility with the installation of a 10kW solar array farm that includes 24Mwh of on-site energy storage. That brought the clean energy use to 72% for City facilities.

Fayetteville is really into getting solar energy online. Sure, it’s still a regulated task and requires some specific permitting. But for many projects, the permitting follows a Solar Photovoltaic Systems Checklist that makes it easier to get the ball rolling.

And solar installation permitting is often fast tracked.

Fayetteville is a SolSmart city with a Gold designation. SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.

The designation helps reduce the cost of solar installations. The savings are passed on to the consumer.

Items to consider for residential customers
For all solar PV installations, the permitting and actual construction of the array must be done by licensed electrical contractors, and in some cases a general contractor is involved. You can provide added value to your customers by providing pre-install services when possible.

Here are some ideas to think about:
  • Help them conduct energy audits of their residence. A home energy audit indicates where the house could be losing energy such as in appliances and electronics, lighting (switching to LEDs really helps), and in heating/cooling inefficiencies or deficits.
  • Solar potential assessments help determine the amount of solar power that can be generated at the site. Solar power uses both direct and scattered light to generate energy. The layout of the grounds has an impact on those figures. Shade from trees, both on the homeowner’s property and their neighbors’ yards, does have an impact on available sun for power generation.
  • If the panels are going to be roof-mounted, the condition of the homeowner’s roof should be addressed. If replacement is in the near future, the time might be now, not later to get it done.
  • An estimation of a home’s solar electricity needs should be made. This can be done by reviewing the electricity bills for a year’s worth of power. Finding the highs and lows, and calculating the averages helps determine the size of the panels or array needed.

Of course, some neighborhood or homeowner associations (HOAs) try to limit what can be installed. However, more and more states are stepping in to limit those restrictions. Check your state and local governments to see what’s possible.

Solar power payment options
It’s a given that the solar energy installation must be paid for. Nothing is free … but options are available. The homeowner doesn’t always need to foot the entire bill. Check into this and present them with the possibilities:
  • Outright purchase is often number one.
  • Community or shared solar can possibly be tapped into.
  • Solar leases might be an option to consider, even with rental customers.
  • Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and “Solarize” programs may help subsidize some of the cost.

Plan it right, do it right
A lot of what you’ll use is standard for any electrical installation. However, there are some installation requirements that are specific to solar power installs.

Grounding and bonding can be one of them. You may need special fittings and tools to complete ground installation properly and to code. Multiple panel installation is one area where bonding and grounding must be carried out properly. Conduit transitions may also require specific components to be done properly and within code.

Some ground mounted arrays may require fencing. And as mentioned, a home’s roof condition must be considered if installing panels on it. You don’t want the system to end up on the kitchen table!

And there are components that aren’t commonly used for utility-provided power installations. Check with an electrical distributor or manufacturer that specifically carries the tools, equipment, and components to ensure a safe, code compliant solar energy installation.
Photo courtesy of Bridgeport Fittings
BURNDYWeld Exothermic Grounding
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