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In November of 2011, Run on Sun was hired by Westridge School for Girls to install a 54 kW solar system on the roof of the school’s Fran Norris Scoble Performing Arts Center (the “PAC” as it is known on campus), and that project was just recently completed. This multi-part series will document the process by which we went from a signed contract to a signed-off solar power system. Not surprisingly, there were a few twists and turns along the way that had to be resolved before we could deliver a successful project, and this series will showcase those developments in the following five parts:
Part 1 - The Rebate Application (this post)
Part 2 - The Permit Process
Part 3 - On the Ground
Part 4 - On the Roof
Part 5 - Putting it All Together
The rebates being offered from Pasadena Water & Power (PWP) for this non-profit project were scheduled to step-down on December 1, 2011. Indeed, this was a substantial rebate reduction - 26% - such that failure to secure the existing rebate rates would have amounted to a hit of tens of thousands of dollars for our client. And PWP had made it very clear - unless applications were 100% complete and correct, they would be rejected and when resubmitted would be subject to the reduced rebate rates. Clearly the pressure was on to get this right the first time!
The application package consisted of eight parts - most of which were straight-forward, but a couple required substantial work to guarantee that the application as submitted would be acceptable the first time. Here are the parts that went into the rebate application: 1) Signed Rebate Application (PWP’s form, signed by client and Run on Sun under penalty of perjury!); 2) Single Line Diagram for the electrical components of the system (more on this below); 3) Site Plan; 4) CSI Report (as produced by the California Solar Initiative’s rebate calculator); 5) Shading Analysis (i.e., a Solar Pathfinder report to support the shading values used to create the CSI Report); 6) PWP’s Net Metering Agreement (executed by the client); PWP’s Net Metering Surplus Compensation form (for AB 920 compliance); and 8) Installation Contract between the client and Run on Sun. Also, since this was a non-profit client, proof of non-profit status was also required.
PWP wisely requires the submission of a shading analysis in addition to the output from the CSI rebate calculator. Since the amount of shading at the site directly impacts the performance of the system - and hence the CSI AC Watts of the system (or the predicted annual energy output in the case of a PBI rebate) - it really doesn’t make sense for a utility to simply trust that the installer is telling the truth about shading.
The output from the Solar Pathfinder proves that the shading numbers claimed are the shading values present at the site.
The site plan needed for the rebate application is a much simpler plan than what will ultimately be required for the permit, really only requiring an indication of where the various components of the system will be relative to the overall site. However, our system occupies three different areas of the PAC: the roof where the array itself is located, a ground-level storage area where our step-up transformer will be, and the utility switchgear, located on the far north end of the building. Thus our site plan included drawings for each location.
The array drawing showed the three sub-arrays and the clear space allocated for fire department access. Each sub-array consisted of three branch circuits, each of which was “center-tapped” to reduce the voltage drop in the associated branch circuits. Each branch circuit landed at a sub-array service panel which then fed a master “solar-only” sub-panel in the transformer area.
The transformer area drawing detailed the conduits coming down off the roof (one each from each sub-array sub-panel), the master sub-panel which feeds our step-up transformer (to change the 208 VAC three-phase power coming from the roof to 480 VAC three-phase supplied by the utility service) and then a safety disconnect switch located adjacent to the transformer. From the safety switch a fourth conduit carries the required conductors back across the roof to our service switchgear area.
The service panel area drawing showed the placement of our lockable PV AC Disconnect, the associated performance meter, and our circuit breaker for the system located in the existing service switchgear.
Our most significant deliverable in the rebate application packet was the single line diagram (SLD) for the electrical circuits. Since this diagram shows how all of the electrical components of the power generating system interconnect - including the tie into the utility’s grid - we knew that this would be the most closely scrutinized piece of the submission. To be sure, PWP has a generic SLD that installers can use (in fact, we helped develop it!) but that drawing does not cover the use of Enphase Micro-inverters which we were featuring on this job, nor does it allow for a step-up transformer.
Fortunately, we had developed a very flexible SLD format from prior jobs that we could readily adapt for this project. However, before we submitted it to PWP, we forwarded it to the application engineers at Enphase Energy to make sure that they were comfortable with what we had designed. Enphase was more than accomodating - given our tight time frame they bumped us to the front of their engineering review queue and came back promplty with the good news - the design was good as we had drawn it and no revisions were needed. Of course, that was no guarantee that the utility would agree, but it is always nice to have a P.E. on your side!
Included in the SLD preparation was a complete set of voltage drop calculations. This was complicated by the fact that we had 9 different branch circuits, three different sub-panels and two different operating voltages! Good design calls for limiting total voltage drop to less than 3%. To keep our worst case scenario within that limitation (covering the branch circuit farthest from the main “solar-only” sub-panel) we ended up with 4 different gauge sizes of conductors at different legs of the run: #12 in the branch circuit cables (supplied by Enphase), #8 from branch circuit jbox to sub-array sub-panel, #2 from sub-panel to main “solar-only” sub-panel, #3/0 from that sub-panel to the transformer and then #2 from the transformer back to the service equipment area. (One change that occurred during the install process increased the length of some of these runs - and that necessitated some wire size changes to insure that we stayed comfortably below our 3% limit. Those will be discussed in future episodes.)
All of those documents, plus pages and pages of cut sheets describing all of the key products being used, were then submitted to PWP - one day before the deadline! With no margin for error, our submission had to be perfect. Thankfully, it was - PWP gave us their official blessing to proceed three weeks later, just three days before Christmas. One big present, indeed.
Our first hurdle successfully surmounted, it was time to prepare for the most nerve wracking part of the process - pulling the permits! That’s the subject of our next installment - stay tuned!