Archive for the ‘Electrical’ Category

Signing Up for Acterra’s High Energy Homes Project

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

When Bryan was in the City of Monte Sereno’s offices yesterday, he saw a flyer for Acterra’s High Energy Homes Project.  Curious, he took a copy of the flyer and followed up today.

Also, our ferrules arrived this afternoon so now all we need is the pink CAT5 and then we can wire our C-Bus network that will connect all our switches and sensors.

Ferrules and Pink CAT5

We’re at the point where it is time to run the CAT5 around the house to every switch and sensor location, and then back to the six control panels in the house.  Schneider Electric’s C-Bus system requires either a daisy chain topology, star cable topology, or combination daisy chain and star cable topology.

To connect the CAT5 in either daisy chain or star cable topologies, we need to physically connect the CAT5 cables together.  In addition, although there are eight individuals conductors (wires) in a CAT5 cable, two pairs of the wires must be connected together.

For the C-Bus system, the orange and blue wires are connected with a 'bootlace crimp' as are the orange-white and blue-white wires. The green and green-white, and brown and brown-white are not connected.

While trying to find a ‘bootlace crimp’, Bryan learned that the the correct term for the connector is a ‘ferrule’.  Ferrules are used in Europe and other countries to connect stranded and other wires to devices.

At the same time, Bryan learned that, under the Australian electrical code, all C-Bus wiring must use pink CAT5.  This is to identify the wire uniquely so it is not confused with data wiring.

Bryan ordered two boxes of pink CAT5 from ADI, and strips of 500 1.0 mm ferrules (red), 1.5 mm ferrules (black) and 2.5 mm ferrules (blue) from Rob at Ferrules Direct.  Each switch in the C-Bus system come with two 1.0 mm ferrules.

The ferrules and crimping tool arrived today.

Signing Up for Acterra’s High Energy Homes Project

Using his handfree speakerphone, Bryan called the contact name in Acterra’s High Energy Homes Project flyer, Davena Gentry, and learned about the project.  Essentially, Monte Sereno is the fifth highest energy-using towns (based on a per household energy use) out of the 225 cities served by Pacific Gas & Electric.

Acterra is a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ‘bring people together to create solutions for a healthy planet.’  Apterra has served Silicon Valley for over 40 years.  Here is a great video clip about Acterra.

Apterra applied for a grant from the California Energy Commission to fund on-line studies for residents of Atherton, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Portola Valley and Woodside.  These are five of the seven highest energy-using cities that PG&E serves.

Monte Sereno is the fifth highest energy-consuming city that Pacific Gas & Electric serves.

For Monte Sereno, if the average annual electric use per residence is 13,000 kWh and the cost per kWh is $0.40 then the average annual electric bill is approximately $5,200 per year.  Or, more than $425 per month.  This usage is more than double the average electric use of 6,000 kWh per year.

The graph below shows the energy consumption per residence of each of the 225 cities that PG&E serves.

Monte Sereno's average electric usage per residence is ~13,000 per kWh.

Here is a link to the presentation made by Acterra to Portola Valley Town Council on December 9, 2009:

We signed up for the remote assessment regarding our rental property at 17740 Vista Avenue so we will see if there are any no-cost measures that we can take to reduce our resource consumption at our rental house.


Buttoning Up the Ladder in the Vertical Culvert

Friday, September 16th, 2011

We can stroke this one off the list – the ladder inside the vertical culvert is done.  Bryan was at the bottom of the vertical culvert on December 8, 2010.  It feels good to get this element of the project completed.  Finally.

As well, we finished off the solar installation and now we need to get connected to the grid.

Excellent progress …

The ladder and safety post are now mounted securely inside the vertical culvert.

View from the bottom of the vertical culvert (17 feet to the surface).

We put a wooden plywood deck inside the vertical culvert so we could add the electrical and other components safely and quickly.

The cast aluminum ring and manhole cover fit nicely over the vertical culvert.

Panels inside the East Mechanical room ...


Panel open with spacers over deadfront, with labeling. Ready for inspection ...


Our solar permit, which needs to be signed off and closed.

Although we are connected to the grid, this permit should be closed.


Inspecting Our Photovoltaic Solar Panel Installation

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

The City of Monte Sereno reviewed our photovoltaic solar panel installation and signed off on all the components that Real Goods Solar are responsible for.  The one remaining component is a cover for the 200 amp electrical panel in the East Mechanical room.

Although the cover is required, there is no current flowing through our electrical system as we are not connected to ‘the grid’.

We were honored to have Bob Sobota and Eufermiro Cariaga from Schneider Electric, and Jim Laberty of Lighting Systems tour our project site today.  Bryan met Bob Sobota when Bryan attended the C-Bus training course in Palm Desert in March 2011; Bryan had hosted Jim’s visits to our project site previously, and it was Eric Westphal and Jim that recommended that we engage Randall Whitehead Lighting Solutions to design the lighting throughout the house.  Eufermiro and Bryan met for the first time today.

Bob works in the lighting controls division and Eufermiro is in the Juno Lighting Group.  Jim Laberty is the local distributor for both C-Bus lighting controls and Juno lighting.

Changing Our System to 100% Micro-Inverters

Solar photovoltaic panel installations are new and evolving.  One of the technology elements that is continuing to evolve is the inverter.  Usually, an entire array of panels (or string of arrays of panels) are connected to a single inverter.  The inverter takes the DC and converts it to AC.

For our installation, we changed the design from a mix of one string inverter (for 32 panels) and 16 micro-inverters, to 48 micro-inverters.  Changing to all micro-inverters reduces the conductors (wiring), increases the efficiency of the electricity generation, and increases the safety of the overall system.

One of the challenges with micro-inverters is that not many people understand how these systems work.  Liam Ryan, from Real Goods Solar, explained the details to Bryan.

Before Operating, Micro-Inverters Require a Connection to the Grid

Generally, when solar photovoltaic panels are exposed to sunlight they produce electricity.  The panels create direct current (DC) electricity and that flows to the inverter.  In the case of a micro-inverter, the transmission of DC is only a couple of feet as the micro-inverter is mounted to the panel.  The micro-inverter then creates alternating current (AC) which is connected to the building’s electrical system.

Enphase micro-inverters are ‘UL-listed’ as they have been certified (tested and approved) by Underwriters Laboratories.  Products certified by Underwriters Laboratories are identied with a UL Mark.  According to Underwriters Laboratories’ web site:

The UL Mark on a product means that UL has tested and evaluated representative samples of that product and determined that they meet UL requirements. Under a variety of programs products are periodically checked by UL at the manufacturing facility to make sure they continue to meet UL requirements. The UL Marks may be only used on or in connection with products certified by UL and under the terms of written agreement with UL. In addition to these marks, UL also provides access to the marks required in a number of other key world markets.

Liam explained that the Enphase micro-inverters in our system cannot convert the DC current to AC unless the micro-inverter has recognized the 60 Hz wave form has been stable for five minutes.  The 60 Hz wave form is present in the electrical grid throughout the U.S. and Canada.  Thus, the micro-inverter cannot create AC current unless our system is connected to the grid.

In addition, Liam explained that the micro-inverters will stop creating AC current immediately upon losing recognition of the 60 Hz wave form.  The software in the Enphase micro-inverters is what recognizes the 60 Hz wave forms and then controls the output.

Underwriters Laboratories has certified the Enphase micro-inverters that we are using.

Consequently, although we have our entire solar photovoltaic system built, installed and inspected, we cannot create electricity until we are connected to the grid.  There is no electricity present in our system.

Roseanne Prevost-Morgan and Matt Knobbe of Real Goods Solar dropped by our site to take a quick look at the installation. Bryan, of course, took their picture on the Upper Flat roof.


Completing the Installation of Our Solar Photovoltaic System

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Real Goods Solar completed the installation of our solar photovoltaic system today.  It rocks!  The team from Real Goods Solar is exceptional and we endorse them 100%.

Taking Deliver of our FSC-Certified Siding

Our FSC-certified siding was delivered today.  In following our principle of sustainability, we are using FSC-certified wood materials whereever possible.  We spoke with Robert Spalding from Roseburg Forest Products and he recommended that we use their FSC-certified Douglas Fir siding, manufactured with grooves every 8 inches, as it would be a close match to the original siding on our Eichler.  Chris Tritschler, from Channel Lumber, coordinated our order as we wanted clear siding, with no blemishes.

The 41 sheets of siding were delivered to the job site today.

Darryl Arrived Today

Bryan’s younger brother, Darryl, arrived today on a flight from Calgary.  Darryl has not visited us in California for several years and it was great to host his visit.  Bryan coordinatated a test drive in a Tesla (go figure).  While in the Tesla showroom in Santa Row, Bryan looked at one of the bodies of the Model S, which will be manufactured at the former NUMMI plant in Fremont, California.

On the test drive, they brought a color sample back to the job site.  We wanted to see how close the Fusion Red was to the color of our (powder coated) red front door.  Take a look at the photo below and let us know what you think.

Completing the Installation of Our Solar Photovoltaic System

With the spacing of the four arrays on the Upper Flat roof established yesterday, the team quickly completed installing the remaining 28 panels.  After a team photo, Liam Ryan and Bryan McFarland focused on completing the wiring connections and then configuring the system.  Matt Knobbe joined them to complete the installation certificate (CF-6R-PV).

Just as the system was being tested, Devon Kelly, from Builder’s Energy Services arrived at the job site to verify the installation for the rebate application.  Devon is a HERS rater and will verify the installation, perfor4mance and shading specifications as set forth in our rebate application.

The Enphase Envoy unit registered all 48 solar photovoltaic panels and recorded the generation of electricity through the system.  Liam, using a notebook at the job site, configured the orientation and layout of the solar photovoltaic system.  The final configuration that will be accessible via the Internet can be completed tomorrow.

So, the construction and installation team has now ‘passed the baton’ to Roseanne Provost-Morgan, who will file the applications for the rebate and all associated documentation (e.g., interconnection agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric, etc.).  After the City of Monte Sereno signs off on our solar building permit, Ro will submit our rebate application electronically.

It is a race to the finish line!

Installing the remaining 28 solar photovoltaic panels on the Upper Flat roof.

Bryan McFarland, on the roof over the Garage, directs his team.


The arrays are now in place ...

Load center to shut off the array on the East Gable and North Gable is hidden behind the post on the West side of the North Gable.

Completing the wiring to the load centers on the Upper Flat roof.

A quick photo of the installation team from Real Goods Solar!

The Channel Lumber delivery truck arrives with our 41 sheets of siding.

For the siding, we decided on 'Clear' grade.

FSC, of course ...

Al, Nep and Bryan unloaded the 41 sheets of 19/32 siding by hand into the Garage quickly ...

Our HERS rater, Devon Kelly, recording his findings on the Upper Flat roof.

Liam Ryan registered the Enphase micro-inverters directly from our job site.

The Envoy unit, located in the East Mechanical room, showing our solar photovoltaic system is producing electricity at a rate of 8,290 kW. This is one of the largest residential systems that Devon has verified.

A Tesla Model S, currently in the showroom on Santana Row in San Jjose.

Bryan's younger brother, Darryl, holding a Fusion Red color sample against our red front door. We think the color is a close match - what do you think?

Darryl enjoyed the test ride in a Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport.


Installing Our Solar Photovoltaic Panels

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

The deadline to complete the installation of our solar photovoltaic panels is approaching rapidly.  The team from Real Goods Solar is determined to meet the deadline.

The Operations Manager from Santa Cruz, Dana Farquhar, came to our project site today.  Dana is coordinating the team from Real Goods Solar and ensuring the the construction manager, Liam Ryan, has the resources he needs on site to meet the deadline.

Bryan McFarland ensured the arrays on the Upper Flat roof were spaced correctly, so no array would cast a shadow on the adjacent array.  We wondered if Green Building with Autodesk’s BIM software could be used to design the spacing between the arrays using its three dimensional capabilities.

The electric distribution panels are now enclosed and all of the components will be completed for our solar panel inspection, which is now scheduled for 1:00 pm on Monday, September 12, 2011.

The white stickers for our Nissan LEAF arrived in the mail from the DMV.  Bryan got the LEAF washed, put the stickers on, and had it waxed.  We’re ready to use the carpool lanes now!

The first pallet of solar photovoltaic panels arrived today. Our complete system will include 48 of these panels.


We purchased Sanyo's HIT-N215A01 panels. These panels are rated to generate 215 watts of power.


Liam Ryan (left) and Dana Farquhar, Operations Manager for Santa Cruz, review the installation on the Upper Flat roof. Dana is ensuring that our project has the appropriate resources from Real Goods Solar and Liam will configure the Enphase inverters.

Our solar photovoltaic panels will be seen briefly by people as they drive North on Winchester Boulevard.


Our solar photovoltaic array design has a total of six sets of 8 panels each. The Real Goods Solar team lined up one panel on each of the four arrays on the Upper Flat roof to ensure they were spaced correctly so eacharray would not cast a shadow on the adjacent array.

The spacing between the arrays on the Upper Flat roof were established today. The remaining seven panels in each of these four arrays will be installed tomorrow. We'll make the deadline!


The array on the North Gable is complete!

Side view of the completed array on teh North Gable.

View from behind the swimming pool of the completed array on the North Gable.

The covers are in place on our 400 amp electric panel. The solar photovoltaic system will have the shut-offs inside this cabinet, so it has to be ready for the inspection on Monday.

After having the LEAF washed at the carwash on Lark Avenue, Bryan put the white stickers on as required. Ready for its first wax ...

Our LEAF looks infinitely better with the white stickers!


Our newly waxed LEAF, waiting patiently for the charging system to start at 12:10 am tomorrow morning.


Installing the Enphase Inverters

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

The team from Real Goods Solar completed the racking today, and also installed the remaining 40 Enphase micro-inverters.  They ran wires through the conduit to the East gable, and installed the load center under the North gable.  They did well during a very hot and sunny day.

When Bryan returned to the site after attending an ‘administrative matter’ in downtown San Jose, he was delighted to find that our new aluminum manhole ring and cover were delivered today.  The manhole cover goes over our vertical culvert.

Using Enphase Micro-Inverters

In our original design for our solar photovoltaic panels, we had planned to have two inverters, both located in the East Mechanical room.  After learning more about photovoltaic panels, we decided to use micro-inverters on two of our six arrays, which would have been 16 micro-inverters.  After Jonas Villalba reviewed our installation plans, he recommended that we go to 100% micro-inverters.  The benefit of micro-inverters is that it makes each of the photovoltaic panels in the system independent of the performance of the other photovoltaic panels.

In an array of photovoltaic panels that are connected to a single inverter, the electricity generated is a function of the performance of the photovoltaic panel producing the least amount of electricity.  This means that is one panel is dirty or has degraded performance, for whatever reason, all of the other panels in the array connected to that inverter will have their output reduced.

During the time from the original design to the change to 100% micro-inverters, the cost of micro-inverters dropped.

Thus, we increased the number of Enphase micro-inverters to 48.

Each of these micro-inverters has to be installed individually, which was completed today.

Our Aluminum Manhole Cover

The water from under the foundation goes through a drainage system and ends up in our vertical culvert.  From the vertical culvert, we have two sump pumps (one is redundant) that pump the water up and into our underground cistern.  From the underground cistern, we irrigate our draught-tolerant landscaping.

The vertical culvert is approximately 17 ft deep and has an inside diameter of 36 inches.  We have a ladder that goes inside the vertical culvert for maintenance and servicing of the sump pumps.  The vertical culvert needs a safe and secure cover.  We decided to have Barry Foundry of Birmingham, Alabama manufacture our manhole cover using aluminum.  We chose aluminum to reduce the weight of the manhole cover and to avoid corrosion.

The aluminum manhole cover, and ring, arrived today.

Way cool …


The aluminum manhole cover and ring, sitting on top of the vertical culvert. We need to cut the vertical culvert so the manhole cover is at grade.


The vertical culvert, and aluminum manhole cover, is at the top of the stairs and will be a feature of the house.


The project manager for the on-site work by Real Goods Solar, Bryan McFarland, sets up to pull the first set of conductors through to the array on the East gable roof.


The racks to hold the photovoltaic panels are completed on the Upper Flat roof. The Enphase micro-inverters are installed on the racking system.


The Enphase micro-inverters are being installed on the racking system. Note the Enphase box, which holds 10 micro-inverters.