My Lab Day at ImagineSolar

I recently had the pleasure of being a student for a one-day lab course at ImagineSolar in Austin, Texas on solar PV system design and installation. I could not recommend it more strongly for anyone who wants to get a hands-on primer with PV.

In particular, it’s a nice educational follow-on to the seven-week survey course I took at Austin Community College. That course covered everything from the chemistry of how PV modules work to the fundamentals of electricity and how to design a PV array against goals and constraints. But the course lacked hands-on experience beyond playing with a Solar Pathfinder and similar tools.

The ImagineSolar course, in contrast, was mostly a hands-on workshop. Over the course of the day, we:

  • Prepped solar modules by attaching SolarEdge power optimizers, a grounding nut, and some cable stays.
  • Assembled eight panels into a ground-mount array, attached the MC-4 cables and a grounding wire, and terminated the cables into a junction box.
  • Ran wires from the junction box to a SolarEdge string inverter, and connected the inverter to an AC utility meter through a cut-off box.

Our group of amateur installers did it right the first time, as our array immediately produced over 1.3 kW, just as we estimated! It’s really amazing to see how just pointing some off-the-shelf Canadian Solar modules at the sun and connecting some wires with basic tools can produce so much usable power—cleanly, quietly, and safely. I don’t think you quite appreciate it until you do it.

Ground-Mount-Solar-ArrayThe nearly-completed eight-module array.

Later, we installed flashing and mounting hardware on a shingled demonstration roof, then installed modules. This made me appreciate how important good BOS components are. In our lab, the modules connected to the rails using tiny, easy to lose, and difficult to use hardware pieces. Any installer up on a hot roof would lose half of them and waste hours to complete the installation. Newer hardware—like the kind I saw demonstrated at InterSolar—could easily cut installation times down to a fraction of what it took us. Still, it was great training because now I appreciate the newer hardware I learn about.

Soiled-Solar-ModuleWe also tested the effect on power generation from soiling, as revealed by data coming from the power optimizer to the inverter, sent over Wi-Fi, and then accessible via a PC.
It was minimal.

If you’re anywhere near central Texas and looking for some solid hands-on experience with PV installation, I strongly recommend ImagineSolar. (They do quite a few other in-person and online solar-related courses, too.)

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