Volunteer Solar Installation


Residential Solar 101’s goal is to help educate home owners about how simple and cost effective it is to add solar power to their lives, so we thought we’d start by doing an actual installation to see just how easy it really is.

Residential Solar 101 team and a SunPower solar panel

This past weekend we participated in Grid Alternatives’ “Solarthon 2009”. Solarthon is an annual one day volunteer event installing solar power systems on low income housing. Grid Alternatives is essentially Habitat for Humanity for solar power. Their goal is to put solar panels on low income housing, thereby reducing the financial burden of the homeowner. In addition to installing solar panels during Solarthon and throughout the year, Grid Alternatives educates each family receiving these solar panels on how to make their homes more energy efficient in the long-run. An extra $100 a month saved on electricity can make a big difference as a % of the total expenses for these low-income households.

Testing the voltage of a SunPower solar panel

They had around 300 volunteers show up for Solarthon 2009 and the teams installed 2 kW solar power systems on 16 houses, each of which had been built by Habitat for Humanity. As you can imagine, the homeowners, who helped with the installations on their roofs, were pretty excited.

Installing solar panels on the roof

The first thing that struck me was how simple it was to set up a house with solar power. We had Joe, a professional installer from REC Solar as one of our team leaders, and he said that generally it would only take one day to install a system like the one we worked on. Grid Alternatives had been on site in the days prior to get everything set up, so a quarter of the work was already done. The prep work made it such that Grid Alternatives was able to put 16 different teams of 15 people to work all at once. Last year’s Solarthon, which was previously their biggest ever, was only half the size of this year’s.

wiring the SunPower inverter

The major steps of the process were: 1. Mounting the railings (mounting hardware) on the roof 2. Bolting the solar panels to the mounting hardware 3. Installing the inverter on the side of the house 4. Pulling the wires from the roof down to the inverter via conduits. (These were installed in the days prior to our volunteer day). 5. Connecting the wires from the roof to the Inverter 6. Connecting the inverter to the power meter, which is connected to the grid (aka utility company) 7. Connecting the solar panels to the wires on the roof leading down to the inverter. 8. Flipping the switch and turning on the system.

Placing photovoltaic solar panels on a roof Connecting the solar power inverter to the net-meter

That’s about it. It was surprisingly simple, and both very fun and rewarding. As you can imagine, Marie, who owned the house we were working on worked along side us and was thrilled to be helping out and to be getting a free solar system. We worked as part of the CleanTechies team, organized by Ian Thomson and Jared Freidman.

Ian of CleanTechies.com and David of ResidentialSolar101.org

Attached are a handful of photos from the event, as well as a link to more on our Picasa site. Enjoy!

The CleanTechies team after installing a solar power system

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