i woke up early today just so i could check the solar edge monitoring app to see what kind of energy production the solar install was making this morning after we cleared 9 panels yesterday afternoon 2 hours before sunset. a sunny and above freezing day was in the forecast, and i was hoping more snow would melt (especially the sunroom panels) so we could up our power production.
i crafted a carefully worded e-mail to lucas after he texted me whether or not my parents had scheduled an appointment with the bank to close on their mass solar loan and i didn't answer him back. it was time for him to sweat for a change, after i've been chasing him since november to our solar panels installed before the end of the year. i wanted to convey that my parents were on the verge of signing off except there was still a few issues with the solar installation that i was hoping could get fixed before that happened.
lucas wrote me back less than an hour later, and surprise surprise, there just happened to be electricians in the area who could troubleshoot our problems. funny how service speed changes when people need from you! they would arrive between 12-1pm and it was already close to 11:30am. i called the cafe looking for my father. my mother told me he was actually at home, cleaning snow from additional panels. i spoke to my father and told him electricians were coming. instead of waiting at home, i decided to grab the bus from harvard square.
i arrived at my parents' place by 12:20pm, the electricians not having arrived yet. my father ended up clearing 9 more panels, mostly from the sunroom. he thought he reset the inverter by switching it off and on, but the newly-exposed panels weren't showing up. i gave it a reset by the preferred way of pressing that one button for a few seconds until the inverter restarted and began pairing up to the panels.
it was around that time that the electricians finally showed up. turns out they were just the roofing guys, josh and an assistant. they climbed on the roof and asked us if we wanted the rest of the panels cleared of snow. we said sure. instead of a foam snow rake, josh just had an extensible brush rake. he wasn't as careful as we were, pounding some of the panels a few times to clear the snow off, but we figured he knew what he was doing. it was that time that my father told me he checked the basement inverter and it was now seeing 17 panels prior to josh's cleaning. with any luck, that number would be 24 by the time josh was finished.
it didn't take long for josh to figure out the problem: panel 1.1.13, the last panel that was installed, wasn't actually plugged in. he had one of his assistants put on that last one and he botched it up. josh and his assistant unscrewed the panel from the rack, plugged in the cable, and screwed the panel back into place. all done! we then all went back to the basement to reset the inverter and watch it pairing up, which was a long wait. josh told me about the big commercial solar project they have lined up in south boston, 1000+ panels. i also finally got the name of united's sister company, align electrical construction, local 103 IBEW unionized electricians (the address for both companies are the same).
eventually, all 24 panels were finally found. josh took a photo with his camera as documented proof, and i did the same as i'd never seen all 24 panels paired up before. he told me that an electrician might actually show up, not to fix the missing panel (already fixed) but to install a meter so united solar can monitor our energy production. it all sounded very opaque but i went along. he left a box of equipment before he left for the electrician, should he show up.
even though all the panels were cleared, my father and i decided to clear some more snow from the roof so it wouldn't just sit there, and possibly create new obstruction over the new few days of melting. my father climbed up from the east side of the house, now that the shingles weren't icy but could still pose a potential problem as they were now wet instead. i was amazed how josh and his associate seemed so sure-footed walking around on the roof. probably because they've been on higher roofs, and our single-floor ranch house was nothing by comparison.
while my father was clearing the snow, he stopped briefly and nodded behind me. i turned and saw an unfamiliar face, took me a few seconds to realize it was the electrician. he name was john and he was here to install the meter. it was actually salvaged parts from a busted inverter. why did we need an additional meter when couldn't they see our production from the solar edge monitoring app? turns out this particular meter was a "revenue-grade meter" which is required by the SREC program. it's nothing we can check ourselves (at least not that i know off, but maybe there's a hack) and it looked nothing conspicuous, just a rectangular box with a bunch of wires running out of it.
john ended up cramming the whole thing inside the DC safety box below the inverter. though he was bearded i could tell he was young. he knew the answers to some technical solar installation questions i wanted to ask. for instance, what exactly constitutes night mode? he told me the secret was the system needed at least 8 panels to be exposed to some sunlight in order to exit out of night mode. with our system, it's actually on two separate grids (main room 13 panels, sun room 11 panels) despite the layout map saying it's all on a single string. that meant when we had a mixture of exposed panels like we did over the weekend, the fact that they were on separate grids and none of them added up to 8 on their individual grids meant no power production. but yesterday when we cleared enough panels on the main room to reach 8 cleared panels, suddenly we had energy production. the fact that the run room panels weren't powering up is because there was only 4 exposed panels. john told me that solar edge has a technical hotline staffed with people who are very knowledge in the technology, and a lot of stuff he learned he actually got from the hotline. the LG panels are designed to detect light under 6" of snow, or so they say.
after john finished the install, he waited around to see the inverter show 24/24. like before, there was a bit of a wait, and i got to ask him some more questions. he told me they also did the commercial install for the new trader joe's at assembly square mall. commercial panels are bigger than residential (longer) but for some reason they're not as efficient (quantity over quality). he told me he used to worker for a solar lease company, and he doesn't have very good opinion of the leasing business. they strong-arm gullible clients into signing without all the facts and then take all the SREC points and bundle them into financial packages to be traded on the solar market. all this is happening without the homeowners being none the wiser, and all the profit goes to the lease companies, while the average residents only saves a few bucks in electricity bills.
since leased panels are owned by the leasing company, they used to pay john to go out during the winter and clear the roofs; the most satisfying thing is when he hits a sweet spot and all the snow coming crashing down in an avalanche. these solar avalanches can be dangerous though: he heard one story of how a client had a large sloping roof slanted towards his driveway. one winter a after a big snowstorm a sheet of snow slid off the panels and literally crushed a parked car. he assumed the lease company ended up paying for all the damage. as a rule, if the panels are above any doorway or areas where there might be people, they have to install snow guards on the roofs to prevent injuries from falling snow.
the inverter finally showed 24/24 and john left by 3pm. by then it was already so late i decided to stick around and have dinner with my parents once they came back from the cafe at 5pm. my father left to go pick up my mother and hailey.
by the end of the solar production day, the total amount of electricity generated today was 5.68 KWh. that's more than yesterday which isn't surprising considering we only had 6 panels cleared (7 if you count that unplugged panel), compared to today, where we increasing panels until we finally reach 24. the weather today also wasn't as good as yesterday: yesterday was a clear blue sky, and today started clear but turned semi-cloudy. also the whole installation was powered off several times, from my father hoping to reset the inverter, to the roof crew and the electrician turning off the disco to work on their respective repairs. but i can't wait until tomorrow, we've never had all 24 panels available. tomorrow looks like nothing but sun, and a cold day to boot (cold like 30's which isn't cold at all compared to the past 2 weeks), so we should have optimal production. based on today's production, i'm hoping for 20 KWh of power.
of course lucas wrote me e-mail to let me know that the panels were now fixed. i knew this already since i was here to witness everything. he pressed for my parents to sign the closing documents and let him know the date. earlier we'd already contacted the bank. their loan officer wrote us back to say she had an open schedule next week. i replied asking if there were anything available this week, but if not monday morning would be ideal.
for dinner we had some chinese sauerkraut broth with tofu and pork mixed with rice. we also cooked a whole black-skinned silkie chicken in the pressure cooker, the first time we used it without the help of my sister. we thought it'd be quick, but it took nearly 30 minutes to completely pressurize, and only after that did it just take 20 minutes to cook the bird on soup setting. i also couldn't figure out how to open the lid, and scalded myself when i released some steam. fortunately my sister was back at the house to pick up her dog and showed us how to properly open the lid. she give me a ride back to cambridge after eating some sauerkraut with rice.