PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology

PATH Case Study

Passive and Active Solar Systems Offer Growing Niche Market


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[IMAGE: The complete PV array on the pavilion behind the house helps Stitt sell solar.] THE SYSTEM AND INSTALLATION

"We use a Sharp PV array. Alpha Technologies is our supplier of the PV system. They have an integrated system, with their own inverter. It comes as a kit, so it allows us to offer the customer a suite of options."

"The PV's need to be considered during the design phase. It's a matter of taking what roof is available. You define an area and then determine how many panels can go in there."


An inverter makes the output of a PV system compatible with utility power. The output is then connected to the house on a dedicated breaker, just like a large appliance. When the solar system isn't putting out as much power as the house needs, the utility supplies additional electricity. When the system generates more power than the house needs, the excess flows to the utility. The utility acts as a big battery bank that recognizes the PV system as a negative load.

"The manufacturer helped in the specifications of the system and sent a representative to assist with the installation. Our crew put the panels up. We installed them with the help of an electrician, which the state and utility require. With some support from the supplier, the electrician wired it and checked for voltage, amperage and function.

"The panels were up in a day; the wiring took another full day and a bit of the next. We checked the system on the third day. It was probably a day longer than it should have been, because we were green. The only snag was that one of the panels was damaged by a forklift. The supplier Fed Exed a replacement panel, and it arrived the next day."


"The supplier sent a very capable person to help on the first house we did. There was a good instruction manual, too. It was on-the-job training for our crew and for me."

"When we provide energy systems only, we have to work with the builder to persuade him to do things our way--saving trees, for example. We'd never take out a tree for the sake of solar, but we might trim the lower branches of one if it was shading the house or the solar array. We mark the trees when the house is staked, and talk with the owners, the builder and excavators on site about how the trees function as a part of the whole to minimize utility bills."

"But you can run into resistance from subcontractors and others who have never done an energy-efficient home before, so you have to educate them on the advantages right up front. HVAC contractors, for example: they'll think we need a bigger air conditioning system than we do. Friends and competitors might go right to the homeowners and tell them they're wasting their money. They can make an impression."

"Then there are the building and trade inspectors. Most of them need to be advised of the differences regarding PV's and solar thermal systems. For the most part, if it's done right and they have the knowledge and assurance they need, it's fine. They just want to know it meets UL and national electric codes."

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Content updated on 9/1/2006

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