Solar Update: Install Completed

We have solar panels! The install went great. I was very impressed with the Western Solar crew. They really know what they are doing and they do it well. They have great attention to detail and so produce quality stuff, but they do it quickly and efficiently. I want to extend my thanks to everyone who helped on site (Eric, Kelly, Markus, Zeke, and Tony) and those in the office (including Josh, Steffi, and Robyn) who worked on our project.

Day 1

Digging the trench and post holes
Digging the trench and post holes

On Tuesday, September 24, the Western Solar crew showed up in the morning to begin their work. They had already laid out the location of the panels with stakes a couple of weeks before. Since it’s a ground-mount system, they had to dig a trench to the site from one of our outbuildings, and dig holes for the posts that the array would mount on.

The posts at the front of the array, which are only a few feet above the ground, would be buried three feet deep in concrete. The rear posts, which are much taller, would be buried in five feet of concrete. We wouldn’t want the whole thing to blow away in the wind!

The crew set the posts in the holes, held them temporarily in place with boards, and poured concrete around them. They would come back the next day with hard concrete and solid posts ready to hold our solar panels.

The array at the end of Day 1. Poles in concrete, trench dug.
The array at the end of Day 1. Poles in concrete, trench dug.

Day 2

On Wednesday, the crew set up the rest of the mount to hold the array. After removing the temporary 2x4s, they cut the tops of the poles so they were all the correct heights, and began installing the rest of the mount hardware, which consisted mostly of hefty steel pipe. On top of the steel pipe were aluminum rails that the panels would mount to. These rails are the same kind of thing they use when they do roof installs.

They also ran a conduit through the trench (which was inspected by an electrical inspector in the morning) and filled it in.

End of Day 3: All mounting hardware ready
End of Day 2: All mounting hardware ready

Day 3

First panel installed. 23 to go!
First panel installed. 23 to go!

Thursday was the big day, already! The Western Solar crew showed up with all 24 panels in the back of their truck. They began by mounting the microinverters where each panel would go along the aluminum frames. Each microinverter plugged into one of two daisy chains that would eventually deliver the power to the house. After getting those set up, they started mounting the panels.

Meanwhile, electrical work was going on as well. Wire was pulled through the conduit from the array to the building. The production meter box and shut-off switch box were mounted on the outside of the building. And a breaker was installed in the load center inside the building for the array.

Meter box and shut-off switch
Meter box and shut-off switch

The panels went up very quickly and were all up and attached by about noon. Then the crew began connecting the microinverters to the panels. If they were doing a roof-mounted system, they would have to do this while they were laying down the panels. But with this ground-mount, they can work under the panels, which makes their job a lot easier!

Another electrical load center was installed by the array, with one breaker each for 12 panels. Once that was connected, everything was ready to test out.

Back in the building, we plugged in the Enphase Envoy Communication Gateway, which receives data from the Enphase Microinverters out on the array. We turned on the system and watched as it began detecting the microinverters. I walked around to the front of the house and excitedly saw that my power meter was “spinning” backward! I was very excited and should have taken a video of it happening, but I forgot. I will do it another day.

Once the Envoy had detected all of the microinverters, we had to pull the plug on the system. Puget Sound Energy, our power company, won’t allow us to keep the system connected until they have inspected it and installed a production meter. So now we will wait for them to come out and do that, which should happen in a week or two! I will write another post then.

Our two Nissan LEAFs in front of our solar panels, at the end of Day 3
Our two Nissan LEAFs in front of our solar panels, at the end of Day 3

Specifications

The company that makes the solar panels, itek Energy, here in Bellingham, is changing over their production to higher powered panels. As a result, they ended up running out of the 240 Watt panels we paid for. So they had to give us 250 Watt panels instead. This should result in about a 4% increase in the amount of solar energy we can gather from our original plan.

Panels: 24x itek Energy 250 Watt solar panels
Inverters: 24x Enphase M215 microinverters
Azimuth: 180 degrees (true South)
Tilt: Fixed, 36 degrees
Total panel rating: 6.00 kW
Expected annual production: ~6,200 kWh

That’s all for now. I will write another post once the system is up and data is being recorded, with a link to the site where it can be viewed. I will also write updates periodically about how well the system is working.

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