Education at Walden West [Saratoga]
Minshall Akeena Solar 2003.08 - seen in issue
#98 (Dec03-Jan04 HomePower magzine)
On a clear, sunny day in March, a group of women were outside a
California environmental science school talking shop - and that
isn't short for shopping. Discussing everything from conduit bending
to system voltage, these 23 women were at Walden West Center in
Saratoga, California installing a 1.5 KW solar photovoltaic system.
Instructor Justine Sanchez, bottom right, and the
array installation crew line up
behind the finished array as the sun sets.
West is an outdoor environmental science school in the Saratoga
hills that hosts weeklong science programs for 5000 to 7000 students
each year. The women - who came from everywhere from New York to
San Jose - had just finished four days of classroom labs in Santa
Cruz, California as part of a "Women Only" PV Design and
Installation class offered by Solar
Energy International (SEI). Each SEI course culminates in an
actual installation providing students with the hands-on training
needed to truly understand PV system operation and installation.
This PV system will begin its lifetime by educating future renewable
energy workers and advocates and, since it is installed as part
of an environmental education program, it will go on to teach tens
of thousands of children about the benefits and practicality of
solar electric energy.
The installation was accomplished through a collaborative effort
among Walden West Center, Solar Energy International, Rahus Institute
and Akeena Solar. Walden West received a Flex Your Power grant from
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) for the project, but that money
didn't cover the full $13,000 cost of the system and installation.
Tor Allen, Director of Solar Schoolhouse, a program of the Rahus
Institute brought the funding situation to my attention. Meanwhile,
we at Akeena Solar, having two SEI graduates on staff, had already
agreed to guarantee a local installation for the hands on portion
of the March 3-8 SEI class. Akeena President, Barry Cinnamon, then
offered to donate the remaining funds and set up the labor via the
SEI class attendants. Everyone involved was thrilled with this solution.
Most of all we were happy to be installing a system that will educate
future power buyers and decision makers.
"As a parent I want to do everything I can to help break our
country's dependence on fossil fuel energy sources, both foreign
and domestic. My kids go here in the summer, and they have a terrific
outdoor education program." said Cinnamon. "By helping
fund the installation at Walden West Center, we will be able to
communicate the clean energy benefits of solar to the thousands
of students and promote the transition from fossil fuels to clean
renewable energy. Akeena Solar's philosophy is simple: we believe
that producing clean electricity directly from the sun is the right
thing to do for our environment and economy."
The Walden West site was an ideal installation for the SEI students
for a variety of reasons. The site offered plenty of space for this
large group of women to work. The installation offered some unique
challenges - including a black widow spider (the female of the species)
- in the service panel closet, but was small enough to be completed
in the two days allotted. To top it off Walden West offered to feed
and house the SEI students during the class, helping to defray their
expenses. "Akeena Solar helped make this whole project happen
on our limited budget." said Richard Reid, Walden West's Supervisor
of Business Operations. "We appreciate this so much,"
says Anita Parsons, Walden West co-director. "We wouldn't be
able to do it without SEI and Akeena organizing and donating the
time and money.
Educating Women PV Installers
Colorado based Solar Energy International (SEI) is one of the nations
foremost educators for Renewable Energy Installers and Green Builders.
They offer classroom and laboratory work, complemented by case studies,
field tours and professional installations with real equipment in
real settings. Six years ago SEI began to offer some courses for
"Women Only" to support and encourage more women to enter
this traditionally male dominated field by providing a less intimidating
atmosphere for learning. The "Women Only" courses have
been extremely successful, greatly increasing the number of women
taking these courses and drawing in women from all walks of life
and all ages. Some come because they are thinking of installing
their own systems, some because they are looking to make a career
in the field and others to further their knowledge of the field
in which they are already employed.
Jennifer Seguin, a participant in the 2003 SEI class and the environmental
project coordinator for the city of San Jose, says the city is looking
to coordinate its energy policy to address statewide needs. She
was sent to the class to learn and report back to the city in hopes
of creating a coordinated energy plan. "I had learned all the
theory, but I wanted the hands-on experience," Seguin said.
"It has been great. I am definitely getting a clear understanding
of solar power and installation."
Carol Weis, an SEI instructor, says the classes are "a lot
of fun" and believes there is "something special"
about the women's-only class. "The women are all talking within
30 minutes; there is a deep level of conversation and camaraderie.
These classes talk much more and get hands-on for everything,"
Weis said. These classes allow women to talk about this very technical
subject in language that we are comfortable with. As a result a
lot more questions are asked and an inspiring amount of networking
I was a class participant in the first SEI Women Only course in
to be offered in Santa Cruz. I was pursuing a career in the solar
electric field and felt that the hands on aspect of the SEI course
and SEI's good reputation for training renewable energy workers
would make me ultimately more employable. This proved to be true
when I interviewed with Akeena Solar. The fact that I could work
as an auxiliary installer when needed tipped the scales in my favor
and I was hired as the marketing manager.
Educating Power Consumers/Children
Walden West Center, which is owned and operated by the Santa Clara
County Office of Education, provides residential outdoor science
programs with a strong environmental emphasis for 5th and 6th grade
students throughout the school year. During the summer they run
day camps with an environmental focus for children of all ages.
Using energy efficiently and having alternative energy systems on
site is a priority for this school both to decrease operating costs
and for educational purposes.
Walden West recognizes how critical it is to teach children about
renewable energy. Richard Reid said, "Our children will experience
a huge transition in how power is produced in their lifetimes. An
important goal of this school is to educate these students so that
they will understand, embrace and encourage this change." With
this installation the school will develop and implement a new curriculum
unit on solar electricity to add to the solar thermal unit they
already have. The students will conduct a weekly study on how much
power is generated. They will then quantify that to the number of
100 watt bulbs that could be powered for an hour. Rahus'
Solar Schoolhouse program has provided portable solar labs that
allow the students to experiment with operating motors, lights and
water pumps from solar cells. They will experiment with the effects
of shading and orientation. Rahus has conducted staff training
workshops and complimentary hands-on activities with the Walden
West staff over the last six months. Lessons are being piloted this
school year. "It is exciting because the kids will actually
be able to see the electric meter backing up. It is a great place
for them to learn, and we'll save energy but also show them how
we are saving energy for California," Parsons said.
Other Energy Efficiency Upgrades
To reduce its power needs the school has upgraded all the lighting
systems. They are using a combination of fluorescents with electronic
T-8 ballasts and high pressure sodium lamps. In addition they have
a large solar thermal system for heating the swimming pool and plan
to install a solar domestic hot water system to supply the shower
rooms. The new PV system will provide Walden West over 2,000 kilowatt
hours of clean electricity per year. By installing this system Walden
West will eliminate the release of 60 tons of CO2 over the 30+-year
life of the equipment and save $600 per year on their PG&E bill.
The system consists of an SMA 2500 watt 208-volt SunnyBoy inverter
with display, and 9 Sharp NE-Q5E2U 165 watt modules. When more funds
become available this system can expand to 16 modules. Since the
building's electrical service was 208 volts we were not able to
use the standard 240 volt model of the SunnyBoy. Note that the lower
output voltage of the 208 inverter means that the maximum AC output
power is less than the standard 2500 watts, and the maximum DC input
power can only handle 16 (instead of 18) modules.
Because the system was installed in an accessible, outdoor classroom
area the wiring was a bit tricky to prevent vandalism and accidents.
It was important to install the inverter and external AC display
meter in a place that was visible to the students; it was also important
to install the DC disconnect in a secure location inside a locked
electrical closet. The solution was to construct a complicated junction
box - affectionately dubbed the "artificial heart" - so
that conduit could securely pass through a concrete block wall.
In terms of actual wiring, the DC run from the array went to the
"artificial heart", through the wall to the DC disconnect
inside the electrical closet, then back out through the wall through
the "artificial heart" and into the inverter. The AC line
went out of the inverter through the artificial heart and to the
AC display meter, back through the "artificial heart",
and through the wall to the 208volt service panel. The inverter
was installed about seven feet above ground level to minimize the
likelihood of tampering by "playful" students or others.
EMT conduit was used on all exposed wiring. There was a fairly
long conduit run down the roof angle and across the face of the
building under the eaves. This required some complicated bends and
thus gave plenty of opportunity for learning the "art"
of conduit bending. A rooftop terminal box was used for the transition
from USE-2 wire from the modules to the to THWN wire used inside
The modules were mounted in a three by three array on UniRac rails
using top mount clips. The rails were then secured to the composition
shingle roof using aluminum L-brackets and stainless steel lag bolts
attached to the underlying 4-foot on center rafters. The women carried
the modules up an A-frame ladder one at a time instead of panelizing
the modules on the ground as this technique was easier and safer
in this location.
By about 4:30 PM on the last day of the class, most of the pieces
of the system were in place. But the sun was about to set beyond
the western hills, so we had to pick up the pace. We worked madly
to get all the modules aligned and finally secured, wiring completed,
junction boxes closed and final safety checks made. Just before
the sun went down we began to commission the inverter. After about
ten minutes of system initialization, the system fired up with minutes
to spare. A cheer went up as the AC meter started to spin slowly
and the inverter's display indicated that we were producing several
hundred watts of power. The class was delighted to see that they
had accurately applied the principles they had learned in class.
Costs and Savings
Total system costs were $13,984, broken down as follows:
9 Sharp NE-Q5E2U PV Modules $6,156
SMA 2500U SBD 208v Inverter $2,569
Balance of System components $3,744
Design & Engineering $ 1,516
Total $ 13,984
Out of this total, Walden West will receive a $4,921 rebate from
the California Energy Commission. Of the balance, Walden West paid
about $5,000 and Akeena Solar contributed the balance of system
costs of about $4,000.
In terms of real-world system output and savings, Akeena Solar
relies on a fairly conservative model of system performance. Total
DC output of 1,485 watts (9 modules, each producing 165 watts DC)
is reduced by 11% for PVUSA rating factors, 4% for low irradiance
conditions, 7% for annualized panel soiling, 14% for inverter efficiency/MPPT
and wire losses, and 3% for orientation/tilt factors. The end result
of these factors is that we expect the actual AC power output to
be about 66% of the full irradiance DC input. When we multiply this
output by 5.5 hours of peak sun per day and 365 days per year, annual
energy output is about 2000 kwh per year.
In actuality, the vast majority of our customers see real outputs
that exceed our conservative initial estimates. In the 120 days
that the system has been running at Walden West it has already produced
1,275 kwh, which is about 30% ahead of what our modeled performance
Due to tight budgets Walden West was only able to install this small
system even with the help of SEI and Akeena. Reid has hopes of adding
to the system size, perhaps as soon as this fall. Walden West also
has a new main building in the planning stage and have included
in the specs a PV system sized to provide for all the energy needs
of this new structure.
Nevertheless, Wallden West remains committed to demonstrating and
educating students on the viability of renewable energy sources.
One of the best ways we can ensure the long-term success of our
industry is to help educate future generations on the benefits of
solar energy - and teach the other half of population how much fun
it is to be on top!
About Akeena Solar
Akeena Solar provides customers with an unsurpassed combination
of solar design expertise, financial analysis and quality installation.
Their growing list of satisfied commercial and residential customers
is a reflection of the care and attention they pay to every project.
Akeena Solar's philosophy is simple: we believe that producing clean
electricity directly from the sun is the right thing to do for our
environment and economy.