Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

Solar: The First Panels Are Installed

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The deed combination on the properties finally got done last Friday and the new paperwork showing the correct setbacks for the array has gone to the city permits division.  While we wait for them to re-approve the electrical permit, our master electrician gave us the go-ahead to start putting up the solar panels. 
Here's what we started with on Sunday:
These pipes are running west to east

Kind of looks like a demented parallel bars, doesn't it?  This pic below shows a closeup of the connector that holds the cross pipes onto the posts (and a gratuitous advertisement for IronRidge, the racking manufacturer that we chose).  Nothing extravagant here - it's just a cap that sits on top of the post with a flat part on the top.  You can barely see it, but there's a groove in the middle where the crossrail sits.  It comes in handy when you're trying to put the heavy crossrails up there because it keeps them from rolling off onto your foot.  Trust me, you don't want that to happen.

From the steel pipes, we go to aluminum everything.  The vertical rails that run from north to south on top of the two steel pipes are used to hold the actual solar panels and they're all aluminum.  Thank goodness for that, as it makes them light enough for one person to carry easily.  You can see the tail end of one of them in the picture below.
Each rail has a slot in the top and on the side that you slide the bolt heads into and then you tighten down the nut to hold everything together.  In this next pic, we're looking at the bottom of one of the rails.  The top edge is the side of the solar panel, so the first bolt from the top is holding the "end clamp" to the rail.  I took a crappy picture so you can't see it, but the end clamp has a lip on top of it that goes over the edge of the solar panel and holds it down firmly.
The next nut is holding down what is called a "weeb lug", which is part of the grounding system.  Everything needs to be grounded together, so we'll have to go back and add a ground rod and then run copper wire from it through these loops along the entire length of the array.  The bolt at the bottom of the picture is then used to tighten the copper wire down so that it doesn't come loose.

Here's my lovely assistant, J., demonstrating adding antiseize compound to a mid-clamp before putting on the nut.  That crap is silver and it gets everywhere!  By the time we were done for the day, I had it all over my arms, on my lips, on my face and one of J.'s ears was completely silver.  He looked like the tinman from the Wizard of Oz.
Each panel is 39" x 77" and weighs 51 pounds

Pretty much everything is tightened to 10 foot pounds, so we had to buy a special torque wrench for this project ($23 on a special deal from Sears).  It's important that it's tight so the panels don't fly off in high winds, but you also don't want to tighten too much of you can crack the panels.

Close-up of the mid clamp
The array is built in what I think of as columns:  you put down the aluminum rails and line them up as best you can.  Our solar panels conveniently had holes that we could use for this purpose, or you could just measure.   In our case, the panels are 77" long laid in a portrait fashion (long side is running west to east).  Once you have the first panel in place, you add mid-clamps and then slide the next panel on so that it rests against the mid-clamps.  Tighten and then repeat until you have 4 panels in a column.  Finish with an end clamp.

Close-up of how the aluminum rails connect to the support crossrails
And voila!  You now have a great place to sit in the shade!

That's our house in the distance.  This shot shows how everything goes together.  Now let's see it from the front.
J. couldn't resist adding our vintage army trailer to the pic
And, with that, we're a quarter of the way done.  Now that we know how everything goes together, putting up the other 24 panels should be much faster.
I did notice as we were working on this that we have some shading issues in the early morning, so we have more tree work that needs to be done.  The optimum time for solar is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and that last picture was taken at about 6 p.m., so I'm not concerned that it's shaded at that point.
One question I get asked when I mention we're putting up our own solar array (aside from the look that tells me the person thinks we're completely cuckoo) ) is "how difficult is it do it yourself?".  Really, the hardest part was having the funding ($20k) up front and dealing with the utility company and the city permit office.  *knock on wood*  Hopefully, we don't run into any more issues.  Everything else is just physical work and the hardest part there was dealing with the heavy crosspipes.  You'll need at least 3 if not 4 people for those. 
In other words, you can do it yourself!  If you have any questions about the project, I'd be happy to answer them.  Either leave a comment here or email me at crankypuppy at gmail dot com.

1 comment:

  1. My other torque wrench is kind of a "working on cars" unit. It bottoms out at 35 ft-lbs, so it wouldn't work for the 10 ft-lb stuff on the solar array.


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