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Rooftop Solar Training Update

As the residential solar PV industry continues to show strong growth in light of an extended federal tax credit, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of solar training offerings. While we’ve covered some of the solar training degrees and workshops in the past, we’re interested to hear of a new offering from Boots on the Roof. Their 7-day Solar Boot Camp offers training for both aspiring and established solar professionals.

Boots on the Roof also prepares students for the NABCEP Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge of PV Systems, which demonstrates basic knowledge comprehension and application of key terms and concepts of photovoltaic solar electric system operations.

To learn more, check out the Boots on the Roof Solar Boot Camps.

Also, to learn about other solar training programs, check out our past write-up on solar training programs.

Melting steel with solar power

Although this isn’t the same solar (photovoltaic) power that goes on your roof, it’s pretty impressive to see this giant solar reflector generate enough heat to melt steel.

New Solar Park in Denver

In 2005, Colorado was the first state in the union where voters passed a Renewable Energy Source (RES) initiative. Now, Colorado continues its role as a leader in helping the United States transition toward more sustainable practices. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Rocky Mountain Region announced Thursday that it has awarded a $6.9 million contract to SunEdison for the construction of a solar park at the Denver Federal Center (DFC).

The park will consist of photovoltaic arrays located within a six-acre, quarter-mile long fenced area adjacent to 6th Avenue in Lakewood, Colorado. It will operate on a 1-megawatt system which will generate nearly 10 percent of the one square mile campus’ peak electric demand. This is equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power 145 homes annually. Construction is expected to begin in late summer-early fall of this year, with electric generation beginning as early as mid-December. About 3 percent of the electricity used by the DFC will come from this solar park by the end of this year.

This park is important in helping the GSA meet the renewable energy guidelines set by Congress, and in bringing the DFC closer to its goal of being the country’s most sustainable campus by 2020. The park will also help Xcel Energy meet Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard, which requires that large electric utilities generate 20 percent of their power through renewable energy sources by 2020. Also, Fred Stoffel, Vice President of Marketing at Xcel Energy, said that “the size of this project shows that solar power can be done on a medium-sized level.”

Just as important are the implication that this plan to construct the park brings. Leslie Plomondon, GSA Regional Administrator, said, “The solar park is a perfect example of how the federal government can work with its industry partners to embrace green technology.” Indeed, the fact that Colorado’s citizens, the GSA, Xcel Energy, and SunEdison are supporting this project and making it possible makes the prospects better for the rest of the country by proving that the government, industry leaders, and citizens can work together toward certain goals. In addition, Scott Conner, director of the DFC’s services center, said the project will show that “this is a technology that has finally taken hold and can be feasible.”

Thus this new solar park brings with it benefits, both tangible and implied, that affirms Colorado’s position as a leader in the deployment of utility-scale solar power, and, as Fred Stoffel said, “shows that the government can set a tremendous example by leading the way.” Some environmental scientists argue that solar energy is the only energy source that is truly renewable. Going with this argument, the construction of a solar park is the ultimate way for Colorado and the federal government to demonstrate that embracing sustainable practices is of the utmost importance at this point because our heavy reliance on non-renewable biofuels is proving to be more and more detrimental and difficult to maintain.


Solar Energy Systems In Denver

Going green has become a big, big issue. Scientists have long predicted that “the era of easy oil” is quickly drawing to a close. Homeowners have become more environmentally and energy conscious, choosing to decrease dependence on fuel generated electricity as well as decreasing harmful emissions with the alternative of solar energy. The President’s Advanced Solar Energy Initiative will spend $148 million to make “solar power systems” more competitive by 2015.

CSP Systems, photovoltaics, solar heating, and solar lighting are the most popular forms of solar technology used in homes. CSP Systems use reflective materials along with the sun’s rays to generate heat and electricity. Photovoltaics use semi-conductor material to directly convert sunlight into electricity. Solar heating employs panels to absorb the sun’s energy to heat water and the interior space of residential and commercial buildings. Solar lighting relies on “parabolic” solar collectors to focus light into “a filter optic system” to power interior and exterior lights.Out door pools and ponds can also be heated and operated with the technology.

Ninety percent of homes in the Denver Metro area make use of a “grid-tied system” says Greg Koss owner, of Adobe Solar. The grid provides electricity, heat and light. He says some of the systems have batteries and “others are without.” The most popular grid-tied system runs without a battery, “or back up power source.” They are custom-designed for conversion and construction and connect with Xcel Energy, the electrical provider. During the day your system produces more energy than your home uses and your meter spins backward. The excess power will be used by your neighbors. When the sun goes down your meter will spin forward and. At the end of the calendar year if you have produced a net credit you will receive a check from Xcel for whole sale rate.

Costs for converting to a grid-tie PV system can vary. John Thorton formerly Principle Engineer with Enrel, the National Renewable Energy Lab and Greg Koss estimate the system can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 before rebates and federal tax credits, to between $5000 and $14,000 after deductions. Ideally the system can produce 100 percent of the home’s energy needs and pay for itself within seven to ten years, says Koss. This can cover conservative usage for homes of 940 kilowatt hours of electricity to over 2000 a year.

The outlook for solar energy will continue to improve, says Thornton. He says a substantial decrease in installation costs by 2012 is forthcoming. He has been involved in solar technology since solar panels were used on satellites in the 1950s. The number of home owners choosing the grid-tied PV systems is small but continues to increase in the Denver area. The cost of manufacturing the system is dropping but sales price for the systems are remaining the same or higher because demand is rising. Xcel recently received 350 applicants in Denver who want to convert. The numbers are still small but growing. Koss says he’s seen sales “strengthen” by 300 percent from smaller numbers during the first year. Both feel that Denver’s environmental and energy conscious residential and commercial owners will have an increased need for custom designed systems and will need the expertise of installers to satisfy that need.

Building a Solar Powered Electric Scooter

In April 2005, Donald Dunklee decided to build a legal, affordable, and dependable solar-powered means of transportation by converting an electric scooter into a solar-powered vehicle.  Since then the scooter has traveled over 2000 miles, is still running on the original battery, and hasn’t been plugged into a factory charger.  Here we will learn how to build a scooter like Dunklee’s and why Dunklee decided to do it.

Dunklee’s bike is a basic stock EVT 4000E available from various suppliers in the U.S.  The rest of his system includes a Xantrex C-40 charge controller, four Atlantic Solar 30 watt, 16×25 inch solar panels, and mounting hardware available in most hardware stores.

The scooter first needs to be prepared for the installation of the structure on which the solar panels will be mounted.  The side panels of the body need to be removed so that holes through which the metal pipe supports will pass can be drilled on them.  The metal pipes have to be welded onto the frame of the bike’s body.  Once these have been welded, the panels should be able to be reinstalled easily if the holes are made accurately and cleanly.  Dunklee did all of this with special tools and had the pipes welded by a professional welder.

After this basic support system is installed, it needs to be modified so that the solar panels can be folded when the vehicle is on motion.  Install one and one-half inch angle stock aluminum on each of the vertical pipe.  These will provide a flat mount for the piano hinges that will be attached to the solar panels.  Install the hinges onto the stock aluminum.  These hinges will allow the panels to swing like doors and fold down when they’re not being used.

Once the hinges are installed, attach the solar panels onto the hinges.  Be careful when drilling or screwing into the panels so as not to damage the EVA plastic coatings.  Attach the solar panels onto the hinges such that the panels are facing inward when folded so that will be facing away from debris and other elements while the scooter is in motion.

With the panels mounted, the next step is to install a crossover/locking mechanism to lock and support the panels in both driving and charging positions.  This mechanism needs to be strong and easy to use.  If installed properly, the mechanism will help the panels withstand winds of up to 20 to 30 miles per hour when they are opened for charging.

Wiring the panels and the controller to the scooter’s batteries is the final and possibly most complicated step.  For a very detailed, step-by-step account of how Dunklee installed the mounts, the panels, and wired the panels to the batteries, read the account here.

Dunklee’s design is unique because it allows the solar panels to stay on the scooter at all times.  They fold down when the scooter is to be driven so that they don’t disrupt the aerodynamics and potentially slow it down.  Also, the weight of the system doesn’t seem to affect the performance of the scooter.  According to Dunklee, he is able to load packages as heavy as 55 lbs.

The cost of this system will vary, but the following is an estimate of the cost of the main components:

  • EVT 4000E: $3000
  • Xantrex C-40 Controller: $150
  • 30-watt solar panel: $100 – $400
  • Total: $3250 – $3550

The mounting hardware, tools for installing and possible professional service such as welding will add to this initial cost.

Despite the seemingly high cost, Dunklee still decided to build the scooter because he recognized the various benefits it would bring.  His family has been living off the grid for more than 20 years, and he wanted to extend the power of solar energy from his home to his means of transportation.  He recognized that the failing of the power grid is largely due to the rapidly decreasing world supply of fossil fuels.  Thus, using an electric scooter that was powered by sun would allow him to avoid being part of this problem and allow him to help the environment.

As of April of 2007, Dunklee’s scooter is still in very good condition, having endured all the different weather conditions of the seasons.  Dunklee hasn’t seen a change in the range the scooter is capable of covering.  He has even used the panels to help add power to his home during winter.

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