On August 25, 2007, the day after we finished installing the system, we hosted a “Throwing the Switch” open house to celebrate. Representatives from Pacific Power came to install the net meter and brought along a photographer to cover the story for their company’s newsletter. Our project was apparently big news, as it had established the first “truly” net zero-energy commercial facility in the company’s six-state service district.
Even as a solar installer who has personally completed almost 2,000 solar projects, I still get a thrill when flipping the switch for the first time. Ironically, the big moment was delayed by a local power outage caused by a car accident that had damaged a transformer. But we didn’t let an outage slow down the party. We quickly rigged a battery-based portable PV system to provide electricity for lighting and music, including the ever-so-appropriate Beatles’ classic, “Here Comes the Sun.” We roasted hot dogs and baked cookies in solar cookers.
Unfortunately, when we did finally flip the switch later that day after power had been restored, we discovered a technical problem—the SMA inverter kept blowing fuses. We got the company’s technical support on the phone and worked through the possible scenarios. Based on their suggestion, we decided to rewire and bring the three individual strings into the inverter rather than combining them at the array.
A week later, with the rewiring complete, we gave it another go on a gorgeous, sunny day. The system cranked out 31 AC KWH on that first day. And the best part: Our new Pacific Power bidirectional meter read zero when it was first installed, and the first number recorded was -1. There was nothing like watching the meter spin backward, knowing that we were well on our way to net zero-energy use.
John Patterson is president of Mr. Sun Solar and inventor of the Sol-Reliant solar water heating system. Over the past 28 years, his company has installed more than 1,900 solar energy systems, including solar hot water, solar pool heating, and photovoltaic systems.
Suzanne Olsen is a writer and photographer specializing in renewable energy and the environment.
Naturalite • www.vistawall.com
Velux Sun Tunnel • www.veluxusa.com
PV System Components:
Sharp Solar • www.solar.sharpusa.com • PV modules
SMA America • www.sma-america.com • Inverter