If you are considering a solar energy system for your home or business, it may seem intimidating. There are so many considerations and a lot of technical information to understand. At Brilliant Harvest, we strive to make the process as easy as possible for our clients. So, in today’s discussion, we’re going to explain how the process works, from initial contact to flipping the switch. In the end, we think you’ll find that going solar is as easy as 1-2-3!
PHASE 1: INFORMATION GATHERING AND PROPOSAL
This phase begins when a client contacts us. The process involves:
- Performing a rooftop assessment using satellite imagery (and sometimes a site visit, when necessary).
- Analyzing roof face orientation and size/s, roof obstructions that might impede the installation, and shading from trees or buildings.
- Preparing an array layout to determine how many solar panels we can fit on the roof faces (south facing roofs are generally best, but east and west are fine, too).
- Performing an initial structural analysis to determine how we will attach the array to the roof.
- Reviewing the customer’s annual utility consumption to determine how large a system they would need. One of the tools we often use for this is NREL’s PV Watts Calculator.
- Discussing with the client the parameters of a battery storage system (if the client is interested).
- Preparing a proposal for the installation of the system and scheduling a site visit to confirm the details laid out in the customer information and the proposal.
PHASE 2: CONSTRUCTION
2a: Design, Engineering and Procurement
Once the contract is signed, we move into the design and engineering of the project. This phase involves:
- Preparing a complete set of electrical and structural engineered plans for the project.
- Submitting the engineered plans for permitting with the “AHJ” (the Authority Having Jurisdiction – the building department).
- Ordering the materials needed for the project.
- Starting the interconnection process with the utility company, including the net metering paperwork.
Once we receive the approved permit, we can start construction of the array. Now things are starting to get exciting! This phase involves:
- Installing fall protection equipment on the rooftops where we will be working. Safety first!
- Laying out the arrays, racking, attachments, etc. on the appropriate roof faces.
- Installing the roof attachments, including reinforcing the building’s truss system as needed to accept attachments.
- Installing the rail system, which physically support the panels, transfer wind loads from the panels to the roof attachments, and provide space behind the panels for wiring and air flow.
- Installing rooftop wiring, including the system electrical grounding, junction boxes, home run wiring (from the rooftop to the inverter), and any rooftop power electronics (optimizers, microinverters, etc.).
- Key to this step is “wire management,” the practice of securing loose array wiring on the rooftop with appropriate clips and straps to ensure that wiring cannot be damaged by physical abrasion, and doesn’t have kinks or tight bends, which – over time – can lead to failure. A high-quality installation should have no wiring touching the rooftop.
- Installing the inverter and performing the interconnection of the system to the building’s electrical wiring.
- If batteries are involved, we also install the infrastructure for those.
- Installing the solar panels, taking time to address aesthetics (proper alignment) and following installation and wire management best practices.
- Attending to the finer details: trimming the rail ends, installing end caps, affixing labels to the various parts of the system, and setting up internet monitoring.
2c: Inspection and Approval to Operate
Once the array is installed, it’s time to get it approved by the AHJ. We are getting close!
- Scheduling the inspection (or inspections, depending on where the client lives) with the AHJ to make sure structural and electrical aspects of the installation comply with building and electrical codes.
- Sending successful inspection results to the utility company. This is the final piece of the net metering application with the utility company.
PHASE 3: OPERATION AND MONITORING
We’ve done it! The system is installed and ready to operate; now there are just a few more steps in the process.
- Once the utility company installs the “bi-directional meter,” we can turn the system on.
- Commissioning: we do a final walk-through of the system with the client to make sure everything is ready and then we start up the system, confirm operational parameters, and confirm the monitoring system is running and sending data to the client.
- If the system has a battery component, we also test that to ensure it is operating properly and would be ready for a real power outage.
- We deliver to the client the owners’ manual, which contains equipment specifications, a copy of the permitted plans, warranty and troubleshooting information, and a copy of the contract for tax credit submission.
- Once the system is and running, our clients will begin enjoying savings on their monthly utility bills!
- Every system installed by Brilliant Harvest includes internet monitoring capabilities, allowing our clients to stay on top of system performance and evaluate expected vs. actual solar production, consider strategies to increase performance, optimize energy use, and be alerted to any potential system failures.
- Brilliant Harvest also has access to the monitoring data so we can easily jump in and help our clients manage their solar energy systems, initiate warranty claims (if needed), and resolve any other issues that might come up.
- Going forward, we are looking into offering active weekly monitoring as a service – let us know if that would be of interest to you!
As with any construction project, sometimes things can get complicated (for instance, if the engineering is more complicated than anticipated). In those cases, we ensure our clients understand the situation so that they can make informed decisions.
As involved as all of this may sound, rest assured that our clients usually have to deal with almost none of the details of a solar installation (unless they want to! We love to go into geeky detail on all aspects of our installations but only if our clients want us to). Beyond reviewing, negotiating and approving the proposal, we handle every step of the process. It really is that simple.
Please do not hesitate to give us a call if you have any questions or would like to get the process started!