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Many Hands Make Light Work

MAREA held its fourth hands-on solar electric installation workshop, June 13-16, 2011 at the Karch home in Kutztown, PA. This was the third MAREA workshop at a residence, following two similar MAREA projects last year at Muhlenberg College and Penn State’s Hazleton Campus and an installation at the Kempton Fire Company. These workshops give participants the unusual opportunity to learn about solar by doing it, in an actual installation. For many of us, this is the best way to learn and it’s certainly a fun way to spend a week!

Berks Solar was the solar contractor for the Karchinstallation, delivering a 9.9 kW system designed by Bill Hennessy, a PA-approved NAPCEP-certified PV installer. Bill also organized and led the workshop, along with Vera Cole author of Pennsylvania Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Electricity and Senior Lecturer at Penn State. Both are MAREA board members.

Seven students enrolled in the workshop from as faraway as Kennett Square, including homeowners planning a solar project, engineers, a mechanic, builder, plumber, contractor and even a pretzel baker! We began each day with coffee and doughnuts (and red beet eggs!) in a nearby classroom with presentations on a range of topics including the basics of solar electricity, the system design and components planned for this installation, shading analysis (using Pathfinder), electrical safety, principles of grounding, solar electric financial considerations (costs, incentives, RECS and payback) and daily Q&A—always interesting!

Presentations were a team effort, including some by Bill and Vera, plus Bruce Hankins (an electrician on this project and a solar electric teacher) and an invited speaker.

After lunch (very important) we spent each afternoon on the site, installing a 9.9 kW pole-mounted system. Before the workshop, the site was prepped with eight schedule 40 6” steel pipes mounted in 6-ft deep footings, 2 feet in diameter, in a single row. This setup permits the homeowner to adjust the tilt of the array seasonally.

On top of this steel structure, workshop participants installed a DPW Solar array mounting system (manufactured in the USA), with 22 parallel rails creating 11 sections.

Students then installed 44 Solon 225-W solar modules (manufactured in the USA) on the mounting system, including all electrical connections and grounding.

electricians, Bruce Hankins, a licensed electrician, directed the electrical wiring and system integration which included two Solectria 5000 inverters, upgrading and replacing an electrical subpanel, disconnects, production meter, combiner box (for four strings of modules), a line-side tap, and all necessary conduit (PVC and metal).

By mid-day Friday, the system was fully operational and students watched the homeowners’ meter turn backwards!

This 9.9 kW system is expected to generate about 11,700 kWh per year and earn 12 RECs per year. It qualified for a PA Sunshine Rebate and the Federal Renewable Energy Tax Credit. To learn more about residential solar electricity and see if it’s right for you, visit