Becoming a Solar Integrator – Day 1

Finally I got a chance to learn Solar Systems installation and design with lots of hands-on and theory!

This is the first in the series of reports that will include new technologies and methods of solar installation, as well as other renewable energy topics.

For the first time in 2 years, there is a Solar Training program running at the Community College of RI (CCRI). Their previous instructor moved to Maine, and there were no people willing and able to teach the class. There is now over 400 people on the waiting list, so I guess I’m one of the 15 lucky ones.

After reading through 100s of Renewable Energy websites and grasping all the theoretical aspects of Solar Photovoltaic systems, I had to finally get my feet wet. Unfortunately, except for one solar distributor out of MA, offering overpriced 1 and 2 day “Solar Training” programs, I could not find any college or tech school offering any courses in Renewables and Solar.

It all started over a year ago. Back in the summer of 2007 a course brochure from CCRI listed a Solar Training Program being offered in the Spring of ’08, but no detailed info was provided. Only a contact phone number of a person running a “Lifelong Learning Program”, an equivalent of a continued ed. program offered by most colleges for “working professionals”.

After making over 20 calls to CCRI and speaking to more than 30 people, most of whom never heard about this class, I finally got my name on a waiting list that was aimed at electricians who want to install Solar PV systems. Myself being a roofer, I was not their target audience in the first place.

As spring of ’08 rolled on, there was still no instructor. By late may, after a few voicemails I finally received a call that an instructor was finally found and the class was scheduled for the fall of ’08. On one rainy June day, when I could not “roof”, I got in my car and drove to CCRI’s Lincoln Campus, only to find out that the person in charge of the program was at the Warwick campus, so I had to drive through half the state to talk to him, and secure myself a seat in the class.

As I got to the Warwick campus, the person I was looking for left for the day (at 1 pm) so I had to run between 5 different offices to find someone else who knew anything about the class. After talking to a few people I had them put my name on another list of people interested in the class. However, nothing was certain, as registration for fall semester had not yet begun.

Finally, in July I got a letter with a Course Brochure and a registration form, which I filled out and mailed back the same day. A week later my Credit Card was charged for this course, and now I am on my way to becoming a “Solar Installer and Designer”. Unfortunately, I cannot actually install any Solar Systems, since I’m not a Licensed electrician. But I can certainly design one, and then have the electrician do his part.

Things learned in todays class:

Besides the regular Solar System Design diagram that includes Solar Panels, wiring, the Inverter, disconnects, meters, breakers panels, etc., I actually learned that in New England an average angle at which a fixed solar system should be installed is 42 degrees. Optimal for the summer is 25 degrees, and for the winter is 55 degrees.

Also, whenever designing a roof-mounted solar array, a structural survey must be done to account for wind and snow loads. Also, whenever a solar system is installed, a “power survey” should be done to reduce any power loads, install energy-efficient appliances and equipment to reduce electrical power consumption. Double benefit right there.

Fortunately for us, we install roof-integrated thin film solar systems, so all these aspects do not really concern us, as there is no additional weight added to the roof, and since PV panels are part of the roofing system, wind uplift is taken care of during installation.

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