My Green Spring Break: Installing Solar Panels

| 5/13/2010 4:50:16 PM

Rooftop Solar Install 

While other college students spent their spring breaks sleeping, drinking, studying or lounging on the beach, I had the opportunity to learn about green collar jobs hands on. I was one of 12 students in a unique journalism course offered by sustainability expert and journalist, Simran Sethi, at the University of Kansas. We traveled from the chilly plains of the Midwest to the beautiful Bay Area of northern California. The course, titled Green Reporting, Green Building, Green Justice, focused on spreading the green movement to the people who benefit from it the most, but are often forgotten—low-income communities.

We stayed in Berkeley, a place where curbside recycling and composting are the norm. Buses and BART take you anywhere quickly, cheaply and economically. Notes on the walls in our hostel encouraged us to conserve water by “letting the yellow mellow” and turning off the water in the shower while soaping up. It was a stark contrast to our fair Lawrence, Kansas (the home of KU) where there is no city-wide, curbside recycling, people still water their lawns in the summer and getting around without a car can present problems (If it’s not rain or wind, it’s the cold and snow.)

Our class took the BART just a few stops away to Oakland almost daily. A diverse, sprawling community, Oakland was once known as the “murder capital of the United States.” But Oakland gets a bad rep, and over the past decade community leaders and members have worked hard to improve all aspects of their city. A big part of the improvements has been a focus on being eco-friendly. In Oakland, we worked with a non-profit organization called GRID Alternatives. GRID was founded in 2001 and works “to bring the power of solar electricity and energy efficiency to low-income homeowners, and to provide community members with training and hands-on experience with renewable energy technologies.” Families that receive panels from GRID pay nothing. GRID is an organization that could only survive in California, thanks to the state’s solar rebate programs.

Solar Install Rooftop ViewOver two days, our class helped install eight monocrystalline solar panels on the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house. The Habitat development was constructed on top of a former brownfield, and all 54 of the homes in the development were built to LEED gold standards.

I spent the first day on the ground, preparing the inverter to be attached to the house, unpacking the panels and preparing them to be taken to the roof. Some of my classmates worked on the roof, attaching the support beams the panels would be connected to.

B Knight
5/30/2010 9:30:47 AM

Congrats Beth, on a job well done. Glad to see everyone used a harness. And glad to see you found a safe way to get the panels up to the roof - be very careful if passing them up a ladder as a breeze can cause a lot of problems - they aren't that heavy, but the make a large sail. Sounds like someone tighten the fastener to much, as the solar panels are covered in tempered glass, that will stand half in hail... not that you'd likely get hail where you were. Bottom line - solar PV is not a difficult installation task. Here's a bit more info I put together when we installed a 3.6kW system on my rooftop... Thanks for the article and the effort Beth!

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