I N · T H I S · I S S U E
Our Solar Story Part III - Rooftop Engineering
"Engineering" - or more accurately a really nice clean- cut sailor from Huntington Beach - came two weeks later, right on schedule. I was psyched; our process was beginning. I had so many questions. How would the panels be configured? "Let's talk racking!" How would system efficiency be impacted by putting some of the panels on west faces? Would this require two inverters? How deep did the trench from the house to the main panel behind the garage need to be?
I'd had two cups of coffee by the time the technician arrived and I began to pelt him with questions. But no, this was his first day on the job, his first assignment as site assessor. He'd be happy to pass along my questions to "engineering." Then he clambered into our attic with flashlight, digital camera, tape measure, and note pad. I liked this guy, but I was let down. Shucks, I'd have to wait for "engineering" to call.
After the attic, our new friend spent a couple hours on the roof, drawing and measuring, re-drawing and re- measuring. He was certainly working hard to make a good impression with his new employers and me. I went up on the roof to gauge the task at hand. No doubt about it, our "double hip" roof sounds pretty cool, but makes solar installation a bit complex. We also have lots of roof protrusions, plumbing and furnace vents, and a chimney. OK, so where do 18 panels go?
By now, we were starting to develop more of a feel for our contractor and the blooming solar industry. Our contractor is a national firm with 500 staff located in five states, clearly on the go and grabbing young and able talent from a variety of backgrounds. So far, we'd been served by two brand new employees who made up for lack of experience with focused expertise and stellar communication skills. Good hires.
So the visit came and went, and I must say, I had little confidence in the site analysis. Then a week later, Andy called to see if he could come again. "Sure, come on over!" He apparently needed to re-check a few dimensions. In fact, he completely redid his work. I liked that.
FRESNO'S SOLAR AIRPORT
Fresno Yosemite International Airport soon will be home to the largest solar power system of any airport in the country. In early April the Fresno City Council approved the installation of a 2 megawatt, $16 million solar system that will be completed by March 2008. Best of all, the solar system will not require a single dollar of out-of-pocket cost for Fresno. Instead, it will be owned and operated by the New Jersey-based World Water & Power Corporation.
Thanks to a "power purchase agreement" (PPA) supported by state incentives and federal tax credits, the solar system is projected to save the airport $13 million in electricity bills over the next 20 years. According to the aviation director, "It's the right thing to do. It continues the City's green policy, and, frankly, who wouldn't want to fix a portion of their utility bill for 25 years at rates that are comparable to today?"
The solar power system will consist of 25 acres of photovoltaic solar panels in two locations. An empty field within the airport's restricted "clear zone" (meaning no buildings can be erected there) is a perfect fit for solar panels. A five-acre rental car return lot will also have a set of solar panels doing double duty as sun shades for rental cars. (Fresno's California Air National Guard is also going solar for its armory.)