Penn State Solar PV Installation Course

Wed, 2011-08-24 15:57

Last month I was lucky enough to attend Penn State’s Solar PV Installation Train-the-Trainer course. Hosted at the Eaton facility in Warrendale, PA, the course lasted a week and included three different PV installations. In attendance were solar instructors whose backgrounds varied from electrical engineer to solar installer. Leading the program was Penn State’s solar team who represent a collective resume that more than qualified them for the job. Credit is due to the Department of Energy, which has funded this project known as the Solar Instructor Professional Development (SIPD) program. Over the course of the week, I learned an extraordinary amount about installing, testing, commissioning, and teaching solar PV.

Teal Brown at Solar PV TrainingOn the first day, we were inundated with safety and OSHA procedures. I learned more about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) than I ever thought I would. Apparently working on a roof in sweltering heat (or extreme cold) with heavy, flat objects that are prone to catching the wind and happen to be electrically hot as soon as they are exposed to light can be dangerous. You have to have the right shoes, clothes, harness, anchor, gloves, hard hat, insulated tools, and awareness of arc hazards in order to safely install PV (on a roof). Take away the roof, and you can lose the harness. In general, a healthy fear of death is recommended. The graphic pictures in the slideshow spoke louder than words.

Next was an exercise in shading analysis. The measurement device of choice was the Solar Pathfinder. To me, this is one of the most beautifully simple and effective tools ever invented. It requires no power other than that of the brain to make it effective. By orienting this glass dome 180 degrees of true north and making it level, you can tell immediately tell not only how much shade that specific location will receive, but what time of day (and year) you can expect it.

Installers use Solar Pathfinders

At another activity station, we were asked to begin mounting the Unirac hardware to a roof prop that was ingeniously mounted to a trailer. Here we were drilling into the rafters and flashing the hardware to maintain a sound roof structure. We did this while sporting the latest in fall protection equipment. We would revisit this station when we actually mounted an array on it and hooked it up to the grid. The last thing we covered on the first day was IV curve analysis. We measured module performance by comparing irradiance and temperature readings with the effective power output. We were also shown how to trace an IV curve with the readings we got from adjusting a rheostat that was connected to the module.

On day two, we talked about grounding, string sizing, and inverter matching. We also continued our work outside, assembling three different types of arrays. The first one, mentioned above, was a roof-mounted, grid-tied, battery-backed system. Next was a traditional grid-tied array mounted on a rack and ballasted, intended to simulate a ground level installation. Finally, a grid-tied micro inverter system on a rack concluded that day’s work.

In between our classroom and outdoor work, the folks at Eaton showed us their new PV installations and massive 2000 Watt inverter called the S-Max. Most impressive was the car port in the parking lot comprised of 96 modules that not only protected your car from the elements, but could also charge it if you indeed drove an electric car.

The highlight of the week for me included a trip to Burns & Scalo, a roofing company in Pittsburgh that has started incorporating solar. They are offering a “whole roof” product that includes a roof, a solar installation (with a variety of types available), solar windows for natural light, and vegetative plantings for draining and cooling. The best part of this is that the entire thing is warranted together for 20-30 years. The Solyndra product, which boasts 360 degree light absorption, made an impression on the group as well. I also marveled at the skylights that have a built in, solar-powered reflector and GPS device to track the sun all day.

Finally, we were taught how to properly commission and troubleshoot an array. It was a fantastic week that taught me all of these aforementioned skills as well as how to teach them myself. I am looking forward to incorporating many of these lessons into classes as I go forward. Join me in one of Everblue's Solar PV Training Courses!

- Teal B.