The slowing economy hasn't slowed down Paul Hobbs, a California electrician living in an off-grid home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Business is skyrocketing for the contractor, who specializes in solar installations.

“I have always had a steady business, but now it's booming,” said Hobbs, who launched Boulder Creek, Calif.-based Redwood Solar Electric nine years ago. “I've got enough work for the rest of this year and the end of next year.”

Rolling blackouts and rising electrical costs may have placed some utilities on the brink of bankruptcy, but they have also boosted the demand for solar-powered homes and businesses. California contractors, such as Hobbs' Redwood Solar Electric, are now reaping the benefits of the deregulation disaster. The state's generous rebate program, which often pays for as much as half of the cost of the solar systems, has also fueled the solar market.

“We had those rolling blackouts here at the beginning of the year and that scared a lot of people,” Hobbs said. “The rates have been going up so a lot of people are getting fed up with PG&E. They just want to be able to do something about it.”

More Californians are now hiring electricians to install grid-tied battery-less or stand-alone solar systems, and manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with the demand. Hobbs said he would have to wait at least a month to get more panels and inverters.

“The major manufacturers kind of got caught off guard by the nonsense here with the energy shortage,” he said. “They are funneling a lot of their panels and inverters to California because the demand is so great here.”

The solar market is not only sizzling in California, but it is also strong in other states, such as Idaho, where Electricians Scott Jochim and David Haussler have broken into the solar industry. While Haussler does solar installations only occasionally, solar is a way of life for Jochim, who lives completely off grid in the mountains.

“I have been interested in solar since I lived in Colorado in the early 1980s,” Jochim said. “I had seen it on some remote locations and realized that as an electrician, there was a way to make power without having power lines.”

Haussler, who now runs a consulting, estimating and design business, said after 25 years in the business, he gained the knowledge and experience to specialize in solar.

“My training as an electrician has allowed me to adapt to anything in the electrical industry,” said Haussler, president of Leisure Electric, Sandpoint, Idaho. “My formal training in solar was self-taught but when you have that kind of background, self-teaching means you go and figure it out because you understand what's going on.”

Haussler said he prefers to work with homeowners who are interested in solar electricity and how it works.

“Solar is a hands-on operation because the person is generating his or her own electricity,” he said. “I usually turn down the job where somebody wants me to do everything and doesn't want to get their hands dirty.”

Haussler sees plenty of opportunities for good, well-rounded electricians in the solar market.

“There are a lot of opportunities for someone who can understand, design and install,” Haussler said. “But the guy that just thinks he can go out and start hooking the tinker toys together usually doesn't have enough experience to make a cost-effective and good product for the customer.”

Allan Sindelar, president of Santa Fe, N.M.-based Positive Energy, agreed that electricians need to get proper training and education to specialize in solar.

“It's not easy,” he said. “Ten years ago, solar electricity was understood as this hippie thing that anyone could do — wire up batteries to a few lights and away you go. No inspector ever took a look at it. It's a wonder that some of those systems ever worked at all. That day has changed. It is not something that the average person has a clue how to do anymore.”

All of the solar installations now need to meet the provisions of the National Electrical Code and Article 690, which specifically addresses photovoltaic systems.

Electrical contractors from coast to coast are now brushing up on the NEC, attending specialized training courses and learning on the job. Here's how five electrical contractors got into the solar installation market, and their advice to other electrical professionals who might be interested in thinking solar.

CALIFORNIA

Gold in the hills

The California solar market is so hot that even non-electricians are trying to break into the industry.

Hobbs, of Redwood Solar Electric, said everyone is trying to get a piece of the booming solar market in the Golden State. This year, a dozen companies, rather than just a handful, were listed under “solar” in his local phone book.

“Right now there's a lot of people who aren't electricians getting into it and that's starting to create a problem,” Hobbs said. “People are jumping on board and saying, ‘Hey, this looks like a quick, easy way to make money.’ They're starting companies and hiring electricians who may not be familiar with solar to do the work. That's sort of giving it a black eye.”

One of Hobbs' neighbors, who worked in an auto junkyard, even launched his own solar business.

“All of a sudden I saw a new truck with a big sign on the side and he was in the business,” Hobbs said. “He just hired a local electrician to do the electrical part and a couple of laborers and they were off and running.”

California also allows homeowners to install their own systems, which often causes problems, Hobbs said.

“If you're in California, you can actually do it yourself, but then the inspectors look at it more closely and they're a little more picky about signing it off,” he said. “I've sold the things to a few people, but usually I'm sorry that I do that because then the phone never stops ringing.”

Hobbs said the solar business has taken off in California because of the state's attractive rebate for homeowners, who are often looking to lower their electricity costs.

“California has a really good rebate right now where they're paying up to half for a plain grid-tie system with no backup capability — just a regular grid-tie where when the sun's out, you're selling power back,” Hobbs said. “The average installation is somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 and the state will give you back $12,000 or $15,000. So that's a pretty good incentive.”

Homeowners, who often pay between 14 cents/kWh to 20 cents/kWh for conventional grid electricity, also have other incentives to think solar — no extra insurance or increased property tax.

“The only thing that the utility requires here is that you maintain whatever homeowners insurance that you have and that's the state law,” Hobbs said. “It also doesn't raise your assessed value of your property so you don't have to pay property tax on it. I think if you have the right accountant, you can even write it off as a home improvement.”

Californians are not only supplementing their grid power with solar electricity, but are also choosing to live completely off grid.

“People sell their regular old houses in Silicon Valley for half a million dollars and then come up here, buy 20 acres and build a house,” Hobbs said. “They are really nice pieces of property, but they don't have utility lines running to them, so we use solar.”

Hobbs, who has been an electrician for 25 years, also lives off the grid with his “cast-off” system.

“Being an electrician, I did my own and then did all my neighbors and took it from there,” Hobbs said. “I took home everything that no one else wanted and put in my own system. I have a lot of mismatched modules, a small inverter, generator backup and battery systems. I love it.”

Hobbs' house, which is situated in the coastal redwood forest above Santa Cruz, has a propane water heater, refrigerator and stove and wood heat. So far, the system has been very reliable, Hobbs said.

“We have a lot of power outages because we live up in the mountains and I never know when there's power out,” he said. “Everything always works at my house.”

Redwood Solar Electric will help the Santa Cruz American Red Cross building have the same efficient and reliable power by installing a 10,000W grid-tied system with battery backup capability.

“Right now they're on grid so when there's an earthquake here, they're out of power,” Hobbs said. “It does not make sense for the Red Cross not to have power. They're the ones coordinating all the rescues.”

WASHINGTON

Living off the grid

Jim Stanfield, a 64-year-old electrician and mechanical and electrical engineer with 23 years of experience, lives off-grid on a small homestead in eastern Washington.

“If you look at a map of the state and draw diagonals from NE to SW and NW to SE, they will intersect in a sort of blank space on the east bank of the Columbia River,” he said. “That is where we live. We are at about 3,500 ft elevation on the south slope of Badger Mountain. If you know just where to look, you can see another house. At this minute, the sun is shining and there is a light breeze. A load of laundry is drying and we are pumping irrigation water. The battery gauge reads full.”

Since Washington has among the lowest power rates in the United States, solar power can't compete directly, he said. Many people, however, are moving off-grid and seeking green power, such as he and his wife, who moved from California to Washington to live off the grid.

“We bought 35 acres in eastern Washington that had never been lived on or seen a plow,” he said. “We designed and built our own house, paying a lot of attention to thermal efficiency.”

An antique 200W wind generator generated their first electricity. Then, they added their first 12 solar panels and inverter for AC power.

“In those days, these devices weren't easy to find,” he said. “There were few retailers and no installers. You were on your own.”

Two and half decades later, he and his wife are still living in their solar-powered, off-grid home.

“People who visit us aren't aware they are in a solar-powered home unless we tell them,” he said. “When you live as we do, you must be aware of what is going on around you. When the sun hasn't been out for a few days and the wind hasn't blown, we won't be washing and drying three loads of laundry. We can continue to use all our other appliances, lights and stereo all we want. We have been living off the grid for 25 years and wouldn't consider any other lifestyle.”

After Stanfield provided solar power to his own home, the word spread throughout his region about his expertise.

“I don't advertise,” Stanfield said. “Customers seem to show up here or get steered to me by local contractors and suppliers. This is a small community scattered over a very large area, so everyone seems to know each other.”

He now only does a few installations a year, mostly for eastern Washington families. All of the systems have been off the grid.

“I tend to over-engineer the installations,” he said. “Since I'm not making my basic living on them, I can take more time and effort on each installation. If you are a typical electrician who just wants to install the goods and collect the money, you are doing your customers a terrible disservice.”

Living off-grid requires a different mindset on the part of the owners, he said.

“The customer is now the owner of his own power system and must learn to live with and manage a finite supply of electrical power,” Stanfield said. “If the installer doesn't explain this properly and if the customer doesn't make the effort, the whole project is doomed. In the past, I have declined several projects because I didn't think the customer was capable of learning how to live with the systems.”

Installers need to not only be well trained themselves, but also need to be able to educate the customers.

“Often, people who want your services are changing their lifestyles by moving off the grid,” Stanfield said. “They need your help even for selecting appliances. For example, no one off grid will be cooking electrically except for microwave.”

Stanfield just finished a very large $35,000 system for a couple who wanted a lot of comfort.

“They even operate a hot tub on solar power,” Stanfield said. “They want a ‘transparent’ system with backup, so I installed a 12kVA propane back-up generator with fully automatic operation. The system was so large that I designed a separate building for the generator, inverters and batteries.”

Stanfield, who started out in the electrical industry as a troubleshooter for Washington State Parks, said the future is bright for solar power.

“We have dammed all the rivers and are on the verge of pumping out the last dead dinosaur, so our power supplies are finite,” he said. “We can improve the situation with conservation but, as a species, we're much too stupid. The electrical industry continues to encourage more and more inefficient use of power.”

NEW MEXICO

Santa Fe Style

Allan Sindelar, owner of Positive Energy Inc., said about 80% of his company's projects are independent power systems for off-grid homes.

“The area around Santa Fe is undeveloped high desert, semi-arid land and yet the area has grown enough that it has become a very popular residential area,” said Sindelar, who lives off-grid with his wife and three children in the Ortiz mountains south of Santa Fe. “It has always been a mecca for creative people outside of the mainstream. There's a history of people living off-grid since the 1970s, more so than in many parts of the country.”

His interest in solar energy dates back to 1977, when he took a course at an Oregon community college.

“It was a permanent shift for me,” he said. “Efficiency and renewable energy just made so much more sense. But back then, it was not solar electricity, which was still too expensive for anyone but NASA. It was passive and active solar heating, biomass and wind power.”

Sindelar installed his first photovoltaic system while living at Lama Foundation in northern New Mexico in 1988. After studying at Solar Energy International in Carbondale, Colo., he started Positive Energy Inc. in 1997, by buying the retail business of Windy Dankoff, an early solar and wind power pioneer. Initially, the company was not licensed, and he worked with a local contractor to install permitted and inspected systems. In 1999 his chief technician earned his journeyman's license, and his business got a residential contractor's license. This year he hired the top graduate from the Photovoltaic Systems Certification Program at San Juan College, Farmington, N.M. Sindelar said his company got licensed to maintain the highest standards in the solar specialty.

“We didn't start out as conventional electrical contractors who have gotten into this specialty, as some have,” he said.

Instead, Sindelar, spent two decades as a carpenter before breaking into both the electrical and solar industries. He is now the owner and president of a specialty electrical contracting firm specializing in independent electric power systems using photovoltaic and wind power.

Like carpentry, Sindelar found that professional-quality solar work demands a carefully and tightly designed process, which needs to involve all the trades from the design stage.

“Like any other specialty, it has its own rules, its own particular materials and best ways of doing things,” he said. “Careful planning is essential. You don't work from a set of plans or do things like you've always done them. It starts back at the design stage. The electrical contractor has to talk with the plumber, the architect and especially the heating contractor, because there are things that just aren't done the same way.”

With a background as a carpenter rather than an electrician, Sindelar said he had less to unlearn.

“Some of the worst mistakes that I have seen are entirely reasonable and logical,” he said. “They are done well, but done wrong by conventional electrical contractors that don't know the specialty. “It's good that licensed contractors get into it. The good ones will bring professional standards and trade techniques to the field. But it's not easy money or an easy specialty.”

For example, Sindelar said he was called by one customer, who lived about 50 miles from Santa Fe, whose solar-electric power system had been installed by a skilled, licensed electrical contractor.

“The system couldn't keep up with the demand and there were problems with getting the generator to interface in with it,” he said. “The system had two inverters, two DC disconnect breakers, and two strings of batteries, each of the proper voltage. The installing electrician took the logical step of connecting each inverter to one of those strings of batteries, through one of those disconnects. Absolutely sensible, absolutely logical and absolutely wrong.”

Instead, Sindelar said the batteries must be wired as a single battery bank, so that the entire system feeds and draws off of one set of batteries.

“That one half-hour change suddenly made the system work as it should,” Sindelar said.

On another installation, the field electrician didn't understand that independent power systems can't use multiwire branch circuits, because most single-inverter systems provide 120 AC rather than 240 AC.

“We were called in to upgrade the power system after the walls of the addition had gotten covered with gorgeous plaster,” he said. “By the time the job was done, the house had two power systems and three inverters. That one oversight added $15,000 to the job because of one $20 mistake.”

Along with novice installers, most electrical inspectors also aren't familiar with photovoltaic systems.

“It's so different than what they're used to seeing,” he said. “It's not commercial, it's not industrial and until it goes to the panelboard, it's not standard residential. Inspectors look for the stuff that's familiar, but some completely miss what makes the system work or be safe.”

For example, the concept of power flowing only from source to load goes out the window in solar installations, he said.

“DC power flows in both directions, and AC usually comes from multiple sources — an inverter, a generator, and maybe even the utility grid,” Sindelar said. “We often correct inspected systems with multiple neutral-ground bonds and grounding conductors carrying lethal amounts of AC current. There is a whole industry education that has to happen with this. It's not just the contractors.”

Another fundamental difference is that conventional electricians are working with an essentially unlimited energy source, he said.

“With photovoltaics, the amount of energy gained each day is finite and the equipment is expensive, so efficiency is paramount,” Sindelar said. “The installer needs to take time to educate the client, encourage efficiency at every stage and enjoy establishing long-term relationships with his customers.”

Positive Energy Inc. is now working on a very large residential system for a well-known movie star.

“This is a system running over $100,000, which is highly unusual,” he said. “Most home systems cost between $10,000 and $30,000 installed.”

Positive Energy Inc. is also doing its first battery-less grid tie system with an array and a synchronous inverter that tie in with the utility power.

“Why is that the first?,” he said. “There are no buy-downs, financial incentives or tax credits like there are in California. It's not something that's primarily done for economic reasons. In New Mexico today, it takes a client who has both the means and the green motivation.”

FLORIDA

Angling toward the subtropical sun

The Sunshine State's residents have a wealth of solar power, but not the resources to harness its energy.

The state of Florida increased the rebate for solar installations from $2/W installed to $4/W, which fueled the solar market. Florida Power and Light, however, stomped out the competition by requiring homeowners with grid-connected solar systems to carry a $1 million liability policy.

“If your system does not shut down when they shut the grid down and their lineman is up on the pole working and gets hurt or killed, your insurance policy covers him, not Florida Power and Light,” said Bill Parks, president of Advanced Electrical Services Inc., Bradenton, Fla. “You become basically like a small power plant.”

While the rebate program offers an incentive, the liability policy often discourages homeowners from thinking solar. In fact, FPL has not tied a single homeowner with solar power to the grid, according to an Aug. 4 article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Utilities in 34 states, however, allow consumers to tie in to the grid to spin their meter backwards. The utilities then give homeowners credit for electricity generated through net metering.

“The insurance policy exceeds the annual savings so it's kind of pointless for the customer to do it unless they want to make an investment for the environment,” Parks said. “Right now it's at a standstill here.”

Instead of providing grid-connected solar energy, Advanced Electrical Services Inc. is setting up backup systems for homeowners. Parks said he likes to sit down with his clients to learn about their needs and expectations. He also surveys the site to make sure the yard does not have an excessive amount of shading, which can ruin the effectiveness of an installation.

“If you have any kind of shading, then you would try to talk the customer out of doing it or you would talk them into trimming some trees,” he said. “What we're looking for is optimum sun between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. That's your peak sun hours.”

Parks said contractors have to educate homeowners on monitoring their energy usage.

“If you're converting the sun's energy into the batteries for storage, then repulling that energy out of the batteries and then converting it, you have a little bit of loss in the conversion,” he said. “If you're not overgenerating what you're consuming, sooner or later you're going to run out. That's what's hard to overcome for people — They think that they can use as much as they want because now it's free.”

Thirty-three-year-old Parks, who became a master electrician and owner of his own business at 26, looks forward to the time when FPL's requirement will subside. Until then, he is working with local clients, such as Homeowner Stanley Dale, who lives almost completely off-grid in his 3,300-sq-ft home.

“I have a local fellow here that's been putting his own little thing together for the last 10 or 15 years,” Parks said. “He's got a little garage out back that's covered with solar panels. His electrical bill for May and June was $4.08.”

Advanced Electrical Services Inc. also got hired to install solar-powered street lighting in a trailer park with an outdated infrastructure. To keep up on the latest solar products, Parks also installs his company's solar products, such as a solar-powered roof fan, mailbox number and sign, in his own home. He said he added a solar specialty to his repertoire to provide a full-service solution to his customers.

“Since I started in the trade, I realized that you have to do something a little bit different or just be part of the crowd and I've never wanted to be part of the crowd,” Parks said. “Basically, my goal is to become this area's leading alternative energy supplier. Right now, I feel like I'm going to achieve that because at this point in time, I'm the only guy in this area that's doing what I'm doing.”

IDAHO

Traveling the globe

An Alaskan hunting lodge now has lights and electricity because of one Idaho electrician.

Scott Jochim, owner of Paradise Electric, Sandpoint, Idaho, lived in the Alaskan bush for a few weeks to install a small solar system for the lodge, which caters to wealthy Germans, who often pay $30,000 for a hunt.

“I put it in a system at this guy's hunting lodge out in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “It took five planes to get there and the last one was just a little puddlejumper. I was out there in the bush where the native people live. It was quite an experience.”

The exhausting plane rides and challenge of living in a completely different culture all paid off when the job was done.

“Basically, I've dedicated my life to trying to help the planet,” he said. “If I wasn't doing this, I'd be doing something else. So in a lot of ways it is a business, but it's also my life.”

Jochim, an Arvada, Colo., native, wired mansions for millionaires, including actor Jack Nicholson, in Vail, Colo., before breaking into the solar business in Sandpoint, Idaho. He said a solar specialty is often more rewarding than traditional electrical work because you have more of an opportunity to build an ongoing relationship with your customers.

“When I see a lot of my customers in town at the store or pass them on the road, they wave at me. They have become friends,” he said. “Some electricians just want to be left alone with their tools all day so they can bend thousands of feet of pipe. In solar, you need to be a people-person and learn how to deal with folks.”

Working with homeowners is one of the best parts of the job, he said.

“I do electrical work, but it is really about empowerment,” he said. “That's really what I get out of the job is helping people empower themselves and offering them a choice.”

The solar market is growing in Idaho, where many people live off-grid, Jochim said. Installers in his area, however, have to take certain precautions to protect the solar components from the cold winters and heavy snow.

“I've had more than 18 ft of snow here at my house,” he said. “I had to dig my panels out of the snow. People insulate their batteries or put them in their houses. You can also mount your panels up on concrete so the snow doesn't cover them up.”

Jochim started Paradise Electric in 1990 and has enjoyed installing off-grid systems for his neighbors, friends and even customers thousands of miles away. Along with Alaska, Jochim got called down to Georgia to work with a veterinarian who raises South African meat goats.

“I went down to Georgia and put in a 24-panel system on top of a guy's monolithic concrete dome, which was really different,” he said. “Three of them were hooked together and a fourth one had 24 panels and 24 batteries and all his power equipment.”

He said the local community was not only surprised by the unusual construction of the home, but also with the tools that Jochim used during the solar installation.

“I'll never forget when I turned on the skilsaw and these three Georgia electricians' jaws just fell open,” he said. “They couldn't believe that I was running that. They had never seen anything like it.”

Jochim ran into the same thing in a rural area of Kentucky, where the locals had no clue what he was doing with the solar panels.

“They thought we were building a roof with a nice blue color on it,” he said. “A lady said, ‘That's real nice there. Is that going to be a shed roof?’ I told her that it was going to be a power system, and she said, ‘I guess you can put a generator up there.’”

It is often the easiest to do solar installations for homeowners or businesses who do not have electricity already, Jochim said.

“They're happy to have enough to run a little TV or a radio or make coffee in the morning,” he said. “People are like, “Gee, if I could just use my coffee maker. That's how we are in our society.”

While Americans may be concerned about how to power their appliances, other countries would be thrilled to simply have solar-powered lights. Jochim recently attended the SolWest Energy Fair and watched a presentation on a Nepal monastery.

“They hadn't had light for centuries,” he said. “They spent $32,000 a year on kerosene, which had to be hauled 50 km up to 11,000 ft. Then they breathed the fumes all day and all night long.”

Rather than solar lighting or electricity, the monastery used kerosene lanterns.

“They showed a movie of one of the guys starting up one of these lanterns and it looked like ‘America's Funniest Videos,’” he said. “The flames were shooting about 3 ft in the air and they were kicking it. The audience said, ‘Oh my God, it's going to explode.’ Well, that's how they typically start their lamps.”

Jochim said they installed a $20,000 solar system in the Nepal monastery, and it has worked like a charm. Because the monks had never had any form of electricity, the installer put a locked box in everyone's room with a half amp fuse in it.

“They were locking those little boxes so that no one could get in them,” he said. “They didn't know what it was. In another words, these people had never had electricity. They had to teach them how to use it.”

Americans, however, know how to flip a light switch or turn on the TV from an early age.

“We already know how to use it when we're little kids,” he said. “It's inoculated into us when we're growing up. Some people think that the rest of the world lives like we do, but it's very different out there.”

Jochim said that schools need to teach children about electricity from the start.

“People need to understand watts, volts and amps,” he said. “Little kids are eager to learn. Why can't we teach that along with two pints to a quart and four quarts to a gallon? We are electrically-oriented folks now. It's only been 100 years and we're probably not going to get rid of it tomorrow. We're turning on a whole new generation of people who understand electricity.”

Jochim lives about ¼ mile from the power lines but has decided to live completely off grid. He said that more and more people are going to make the same choice.

“As energy gets more expensive, it's only a matter of time before it's going to cost as much to be hooked to the grid as it is to be solar,” Jochim said. “It used to be that if you were within a quarter mile of the power lines, you should get electricity. Then it became a half mile and now it's almost a mile.”

Jochim said he doesn't expect the entire country to go solar overnight, but said rather through an eventual societal shift.

“This is just the tip of the iceburg with California,” he said. “I've said it in the past but never thought it would happen in my lifetime — eventually only rich people are going to be able to afford electricity unless we change our ways.”

SOLAR CHECKLIST

BREAKING INTO THE SOLAR BUSINESS

  • Read and understand Article 690 in the National Electrical Code.

  • Order a free copy of the book, Photovoltaic Power Systems and the National Electrical Code Suggested Practices at (505) 844-3698 or download it on Sandia National Laboratories' Web site at www.sandia.gov/pv/lib.htm.

  • Subscribe to Home Power Magazine and buy one of their CDs. All of the magazine's back issues and the educational lectures are available on CD.

  • Find a training course near you by visiting Sandia Laboratories' Web page at www.sandia.gov/pv/training.htm.

  • Go back to school. San Juan College, Farmington, N.M., offers a one-year community college-level certificate and two year-associate's degree in photovoltaics with a heavy emphasis on the Code. Visit the school's Web site at www.sjc.cc.nm.us/ to learn more. Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C., also offers photovoltaics workshops.

  • Visit the Florida Solar Energy Center's Web site at www.fsec.ucf.edu/. Click on “photovoltaics” to get access to a wealth of resources, such as a Question and Answer Guide for Installers in a PDF format. The Florida Solar Energy Center is a research institute of the University of Central Florida.

  • Beware of fly-by-night companies, who may sell the cheapest materials but often will have little in the way of customer service.

  • Learn about solar rebates and incentives from utilities in your area.

  • Check with your local utility to see what they require as far as an interconnection policy.

  • Get trained. Don't dabble. Do it right.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

  • Build a good relationship with both your electrical and solar-electrical suppliers because they may be special ordering materials.

  • Get to know other solar installers in your area. For a list to get you started, go to www.backwoodssolar.com/newsletter/solar%20helpers.htm

  • Apprentice to a dealer and familiarize yourself with the solar products.

  • Try to educate your local inspectors about the solar installations and develop a good relationship with them from the start.

TOOLING UP FOR THE JOB

  • Use cordless tools because often you're the first one bringing the power.

  • Buy a few simple tools like crimpers and knockout punches.

  • Purchase a specialized tool, such as the Solar Pathfinder, which can help you plot the path of the sun for the whole year at different times of the day. Call (931) 593-3552.

  • Invest in better test equipment, such as a digital multimeter with True RMS capability and an amp clampmeter that can measure DC current.

LEARNING CURVE

  • Learn how to use the load charts.

  • Try to plan for future expansion when selecting components. A 40A charge controller costs only a few dollars less than a 20A device and allows for future expansion. Four panels on an eight-panel rack can allow the same expansion capabilities.

  • One of the advantages of today's solar power systems is modularity. Use it.

  • Size transmission cables for future expansion.

  • Don't take it lightly if you're a contractor wanting to expand. Take the time to learn.

SOLAR SOURCES

American Solar Energy Society
www.ases.org/

Florida Solar Energy Center
www.fsec.ucf.edu/

Home Power Magazinehttp://homepower.com/

National Renewable Energy Lab
www.nrel.gov/

Sandia National Laboratories
www.sandia.gov/

Solar Energy Applications Laboratory
www.colostate.edu/Orgs/SEAL/sites.html

Solar Energy Industries Association
www.seia.org/

Solar Energy International
www.solarenergy.org/

U.S. Department of Energy Photovoltaics Program
www.eren.doe.gov/pv/

SOLAR CONTRACTORS

Northern New Mexico.

Positive Energy Inc., Allan Sindelar. 3900 Paseo Del Sol #201, Santa Fe, NM 87505. Phone: (505) 424-1112. Fax: 424-1113. E-mail: info@positivenergy.com

North Idaho, Western Montana, Eastern Washington.

Paradise Electric, Scott Jochim. Licensed electrician who lives in a solar electric home and specializes in alternative energy systems. Web site: www.netw.com/~paradise/home.html

Central Washington.

Jim Stanfield, licensed electrician with 23 years of wind and solar experience. Phone: (509) 884-8596. E-mail: jstan@televar.com

California, Santa Cruz Mountains.

Redwood Solar Electric, Paul Hobbs. Licensed contractor who lives off-grid. 13200 Highway 9, Boulder Creek, CA 95006. Phone: (831) 338-1069.

Florida.

Advanced Electrical Services Inc., Bill Parks. A specialty electrical contractor that does alternative backup. 5615 23 St. East, Bradenton, FL 34203. Phone: (941) 954-0242. Fax: (941)954-0242. E-mail: thwireman.com.