The Ranch Goes Solar!

This is a guest post by Lee Bruns, reblogged from our real-estate redevelopment blog, Hermit Haus Redevelopment. Since it’s also about the ranch, I figure it goes here, too – Suna

Sue Ann recently posted about whether or not installing solar panels makes economic sense—spoiler alert: it doesn’t; it’s more of a religious or magical decision than an economic one. So, I thought I’d spend some words (as few as possible) to describe the installation process with pictures. And even though a picture may be worth a thousand words, I’m not going to take that truism to the Ikea extreme. Sometimes you need words to understand the pictures.

Site Prep

a man runs a gas powered trencher

Our grid interface is dozens of yards from the building where the panels are to be installed. A trencher made short work of digging the trench. Okay, it took more than an hour, but that is much faster than digging an 18-inch deep trench by hand—especially through the compacted road base that makes up our driveway. The original trench for the power and water connections were about 36 inches, so there was little risk that we would cut power to the house.

a man digging by hand

Both ends of the trench must still be completed by hand to avoid damaging any water or electrical conduits that may be nearer to the surface where they connect to the buildings, not to mention that a trencher can do a lot of damage to a building or slab.

I was able to speed things up a little by filling in most of the trench with the backhoe. I’ll also have to dig out the water supply cutoff, which is underneath the fresh pile of dirt in this picture. The plastic box surrounding it was the only casualty of the operation. The trencher sliced through it as neatly as you could imagine.

The electrician adds a box to the rack while another man completes the trench with a shovel.

We had to add a new control box to the electrical interface rack. The electrician said already having a rack saved a couple of hours for him—not that it reduced the cost any.

The guys are working on the road side of the folly that Suna had built to hide the ugliness of the rack from the front porch. Sadly, the end poles are about a foot taller than the folly. So, we mounted kinetic sculptures to them. Celebrate what you fail to hide. While you can. The wind blew the kinetic sculptures to smithereens in just a couple of years. Sigh!

Solar Panels

A man carries a solar panel

While all that was going on, more of the crew unloaded the panels and began configuring them for installation.

A tech works with the microinverter on the underside of a panel

Each panel has a microinverter that converts the direct current (DC) electricity the panel generates into the alternating current (AC) the grid uses. A technician first attaches the microinverter to the edge of the panel. (We’re looking at the underbelly.) Then he twists the two lead wires into a rope and runs them behind the microinverter. Once he tightens the fitting that holds the microinverter in place, he secures the “rope” to it with a tie wrap. The panel itself will protect all this plastic from the hot Texas sun.

A tech aligns a panel

Our installation consists of three rows of 11 panels mounted on the garage roof, because I didn’t want to have to mow around a ground installation. The guys also say the panels absorb all the heat, making it up to 25 degrees cooler below them. Maybe I should have asked for enough to cover the whole roof!

The panels reside in rails about four inches above the roof. The rail mounts perforate the metal roof in the ridge. I had hoped they mounted to the C-beams the sheet metal mounts to, but, sadly….

At least the ridge is the strongest part of the sheet metal. And since the perforations are on the slope, the risk of leaks is minimal—even after the gaskets that surround the screws start to deteriorate with age. Nothing lasts forever. I intend to, but we’ll see….

Electrical Connections

The current from up to 16 panels (11 in our installation) goes to a control unit that monitors each inverter for proper function. It has its own cellular connection to the company’s servers, enabling them to remotely monitor and troubleshoot our installation. Not to mention report to us.

Just below the “head unit” is a device combines the current from the three panel rows into a single feed into the grid. The power goes from here to our rack out by the folly.

New Toy Alert!

Just look at this cool handheld bandsaw (and the slightly larger one in the lower right corner)! It cuts through aluminum conduit like buttah. Very shiny!

And the Finished Product

Solar panels on a metal roof

Now all we need is to pass inspection. Twice. Hopefully, we will be generating renewable—I’m not sure you can claim “green” with all the electronics—energy by the end of August.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

3 thoughts on “The Ranch Goes Solar!”

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