Archive for the ‘Solar’ Category

Operating Our Solar Photovoltaic System!

Friday, October 7th, 2011

PG&E inspected our solar photovoltaic system and installed a bi-directional electric meter so we can be a generator of electricity and send power into the grid.

The following web site shows our electricity production through Enphase’s Envoy reporting system:


Our 'smart meter' that is calibrated accurately in both directions. PG&E installed the meter thi\s afternoon.

Installing Our Permanent Electric Meter

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

With our permanent meter in place, we’re a step closer to our rebate.  Every day we seem to get closer …

It rained today and is forecasted to rain through Wednesday.  We are prioritizing our activities to keep our materials dry … bone dry.

Installing Our Permanent Electric Meter

Before we can have an electric meter for our solar generation, we need to have a permanent electric meter in place.  To have a permanent electric meter, we required a ‘meter release’ from the City of Monte Sereno.  The meter release was issued by the City of Monte Sereno on September 29, which was our rebate filing deadline.

Bryan called PG&E several times this morning and learned that our permanent meter was scheduled to be installed on Wednesday, October 5.  Knowing this was delay, Bryan started to call our various contacts at PG&E.  When speaking with the scheduler, Barbara Aker, Bryan explained that if a crew was available at the last minute then we would be ready to have our meter installed.

To our delight, Barbara called and said that a crew came available and they could install our permanent meter today.

Way cool!

Portable Charger for a Nissan LEAF

While getting some parts for Al at Electrical Distributors in San Jose, Bryan noticed a Nissan LEAF in the parking lot.  Bryan spoke with the owner of the LEAF, who explained that he was assembling a portable charging station that could plug into various types of 240 volt circuits.  Further, he explained, the benefit would be to use 240 volt circuits that are available in RV/trailer parks.

For people who buy the LEAF from Arizona used Nissan Dealers, or anywhere else in the country, it can be frustrating not having many charging stations easily available when driving. The portable charging station can fix all of that.

Installing charging stations in RV/trailer parks could be done quickly and easily, which would help deploy the infrastructure for electric vehicles across the U.S.

An interesting idea …

The two-person truck arrived at our job site at ~ 11:30 am this morning.


The service entrance panel had to be secured and then sealed before the meter could go in.


Our permanent meter is in! This meter will be replaced with a 'net meter' that will measure the electricity that we generate and send into the grid.


Charging station that can be used in RV/trailer parks for charging a Nissan LEAF.


Making Our Solar Rebate Filing Deadline

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

We made it!  It was a complete team effort by everyone involved and we filed our rebate under the NSHP by September 29, 2011.  Yeah!

Focusing on Our Solar Permit Approval and Meter Release

The first item that we needed was the approval of our solar permit with the City of Monte Sereno.  Then, we needed a ‘meter release’ from the City so PG&E could install a permanent meter to measure the net electricity that we are generating/consuming.  With these two items, our rebate application will be complete and we will meet the deadline of September 29, 2011.

These two items are linked to the indemnification that the City asked us to provide them with regarding the live electric panels in the house.  Bryan agreed to the indemnification yesterday with Brian Loventhal, the City Manager.

When Bryan went to sign the indemnification agreement this morning, Brian explained that we would have to provide a certificate of insurance in with a minimum of $2 million per occurance.  This was a surprise.

Rolling with it, Bryan called our insurance expert, Ed Szylko, at EJMS Insurance Services in Los Gatos.  Ed explained that the first step would be to get the City of Monte Sereno as a named insured on Al’s insurance.  He would investigate our insurance.

After calling Al’s insurance agent, First Service Insurance Inc., Bryan learned that Al’s insurance is limited to $1 million per occurance.  Another issue to resolve.

While Ed worked on the our insurance, Bryan met with Brian Loventhal and explained that we have $1 million per occurance, not $2 million per occurance.  Brian agreed to discuss it with the City Attorney, Kirsten Powell, to see if the lower level would be acceptable.

Then, Ed called Bryan and outlined how he could get insurance for us at $2 million per occurance and, with our approval, could have the certificate of insurance prepared today.  Cool … Bryan agreed to this.

Brian Loventhal called Bryan, who was sitting in the parking lot at City Hall, and said that they had finalized the indemnification agreement, with the $1 million per occurance, and it was ready for signing.

Bryan scootted over to the counter at City Hall and both Brian and Bryan signed the indemnification agreement.  Brian gave Bryan a copy of the signed agreement, then he approved and signed the solar permit, and gave Bryan a copy of the meter release for PG&E (Brian was going to fax it to PG&E directly).

With the documentation in place, Bryan headed over the hill to see Roseanne at the Real Goods Solar office in Santa Cruz.  Roseanne scanned the documents and Bryan returned over the hill, now headed to PG&E’s service planning group in Cupertino.

The PG&E representative that Bryan met with previously, Catherine Only, met with Bryan and reviewed the meter release.  Since we had missed the scheduling deadline for Friday, Catherine set expectations with us that the permanent meter would be installed no later than Tuesday, October 4.  Way cool …

As Bryan drove back to the job site, he spoke with Jo-Anne (who is in Boston as it is the end of the quarter and she has to be available for any and all last minute legal issues that may arise).  Jo-Anne reminded Bryan of his obligations under the indemnification agreement and that he should focus on those items so we are in compliance.  Focus, focus, focus …

Back to the Job Site

At the job site, Bryan reviewed the progress on insulating the ceiling in the Wine Cellar and Wine Dining, and the installation of the siding on the East wall of the house.  Then, he printed the insurance certificates that he had received via e-mail.  Also, Bryan drafted language for the warning signs for the electric panels (required under the indemnification agreement) and then called with his brother, Darryl, in Calgary, Canada who is fluent in Spanish.  Bryan explained to Darryl that we need signage on the electric panels in both English and Spanish, and asked if Darryl could translate into Spanish for us. 

Darryl agreed to do the translation and said he would call back.  Meanwhile, Bryan got Nep to do the initial translation and then went to the City of Monte Sereno.

City of Monte Sereno and Signage

Bryan provided Brian Loventhal with copies of the insurance certification, which named the City of Monte Sereno as an additional insured.  Brian reviewed the certificates and said they were fine.  Then, Brian reviewed the wording for the signage and selected, ‘Warning – Do Not Open.  Live Electric Panel’.  Having fufilled the insurance certification obligation, Bryan headed to Frankie’s Awards to have the signs engraved. 

On the way, Bryan received the Spanish translation from Darryl on his Blackberry.  At Frankie’s Awards, Gloria reviewed the signs and said she would create a draft sign for approval.  Bryan waited and then reviewed the layout and wording.  There was a spelling error, which she caught, and Bryan approved the layout.  The two signs will be available tomorrow morning.

Back to the Job Site, Again

Bryan saw that everything was shut down for the evening and then Kel Marchbank arrived.  Kel hadn’t been to the job site in more than six months so Bryan provided Kel with a quick tour.  Kel loved the siding glass doors at the back.

Oh, Scott and Sue arrive tomorrow …

Al works on the siding on the East wall, by the Kitchen door.

Kitchen window with siding over the Tyvek.


Dan completes the siding on the North corner of the East wall.


Approved solar permit!


Approval and note, referring to indemnification agreement that Bryan signed.


We moved the wine racks into the Conference room so the insulation can be installed in the ceiling of the Wine Cellar and Wine Dining.


The wine racks, looking great, take up a lot of real estate inside the house. It would be great to get the ceiling and cooling panel completed in the Wine Cellar so we could install the wine racks permanently and get them out of the way.


The insulation is attached to the ceiling using sharp spikes, which are attached to the underside of the concrete with no VOC adhesive.


Insulation hangers attached to the underside of the hollow core concrete panels.


The insulation in the ceiling in the Wine Cellar. We will have closed cell polyurethane foam sprayed over the sheets of foam, which will create a moisture barrier inside the Wine Cellar.


Ceiling in the Wine Dining. The central vacuum system is in the dropped ceiling so we will have another layer of insulatin in the ceiling here.


Completing the Siding on the West Wall

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Dan, Al and Nep completed the siding on the West wall.  They put in the two pieces of siding on the West side of the North wall and will start on the East wall in the morning.

The best news of the day came with a phone call at 4:38 pm when Bryan received a call from Brian Loventhal, the City Manager with the City of Monte Sereno.  Brian said that they had a arrived at a potential solution to approve our solar photovoltaic system so they could do a ‘meter release’ and we could get out rebate.  Brian was going to have the City Attorney, Kirsten Powell, draft an agreement so they could release the meter tomorrow.

The deadline for our solar rebate is tomorrow …

Dan (left) and Al fitting a sheet of siding on the North side of the house.


The West side of the house, now completed. The siding has been primed and needs to be painted.


The siding on the entire West wall is now complete.


The North West corner of the house ...


The West side of the North wall, by Kate's bedroom.


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.