This second part deals with panels, electrical, and system safety.
Now, we deal with the electrical connections, the inverters, and the feed into the house. This is really the most critical part of your system. If this is not done right, your system, at best, will not work properly. At worst, it can be lethal. Unfortunately, this is also the part of the system that you, generally, do not see and have no idea as to the quality of workmanship.
One of the issues that I find very difficult to get used to is a lack of color coding when doing electrical work. Open up any switch plate or wall plug in Canada or the US and you will find a nice, neat color-coded package of wires. The black (and if included, the red) are positive or, live wires. The white is a neutral wire and the green is always a ground wire. This is a simple and safe process for wiring most homes and almost anything else. It allows anyone who needs to work on the electrical system to know, just by looking at it, what is what. Do the same here and you will find any combination of colors of wires with no rhyme or reason. In many cases, there is, in fact, only one color for all wires. This makes it very difficult to identify which wires are live or neutral or ground. In fact, most homes here either have an inadequate ground or are not grounded at all. A switch or wall plug without a ground is not a big problem. A solar system without proper ground is a huge problem. Many installers, if not most that I have seen, depend on the ground system of the house they are installing solar on without ever checking to ensure the ground is adequate for the solar system.
At Emerald Coast Solar, we install new ground rods when we do an install. We do not depend on the work of others, we ensure the system is properly grounded with a 3 meter ground rod. Many electricians and solar installers will cut corners by using a smaller 1.5 meter ground rod. This just does not ensure the correct grounding of the system.
Here are a couple of examples of a very poor and dangerous install. This is a solar system using a standard wall mount central inverter. The people waited over 6 months to get the job done and the system in operation. They even had to hire another solar company to come out and fix the system after the original company refused to return. This is wrong on so many levels.
You can see from this picture that the black line actually has the copper wire exposed. This system and this wire actually carry up to 600 volts of power from the panels to the inverter. Someone could have been seriously injured or killed contacting this open wire.
Same company, same installation. If you look carefully at the wires, you will see that most of the copper wire has been stripped away and only a few strands are available to make a connection. For those who do not know, wire comes in different thicknesses (gauge). The thicker the wire (lower the gauge), the more power you can run through the wires. If you have too small a wire, it will heat up and eventually short out. These wires would not have lasted long, given the amount of power that was going to be sent through them. Six months, maybe a year down the road and this system would have failed.
Here is one example of what happens when you send too much power through an electrical cable that is too small.
Certainly not what you would want to happen with your solar system.
You need to be able to trust the company you hire to install your solar system is not more concerned with how they can reduce their cost for your system than the safety and operation of your system.
You also need to understand that there is no inspection of your system by CFE or anyone else. There is no government regulatory body that oversees solar installers and there is not even a requirement that the installer be certified. There is supposed to be, but in the almost three years I have been doing this, I have never been asked for my certification from anyone.
Buying a solar system based on the lowest price is a recipe for disaster. Even going with an established company without doing research on that company can result in huge problems. The homeowner with the above issues found out the hard way.
One final point: experience does not equal skill. The installer for the above system claims 20 years experience in solar installs.
At Emerald Coast Solar, we will not compromise the quality of your install to save a few pesos. We only use the right equipment for the job. Are there choices that can be made for which equipment to use? Yes, and we will always go for what will work best, not what is cheapest.
You will not find, in most homes here, any wire greater than #10 gauge.
Here is an example of bundled wire
and an example of single line wire
The difference between these two wiring types is substantial. Both for ease of installation and safety of the system.
We always use the correct gauge of wire or better and we always color code our wiring. Not only do we color code the wires, we use a type of wire that is bundled. What I mean is the black, red, white and green are all bundled in one neat package with a rubber sheath over all to protect from the elements. This is substantially more expensive than the single line wires used by the competition but far better for longevity and much easier to work on if the need arises. It is also weather resistant and eliminates the need (in most cases) for green polyvinyl tubing.
I almost never see wires joined together using the proper wire nut. Wires are just twisted together and wrapped in electrical tape. This is the #1 reason wiring shorts out down here, especially if it is exposed to sunlight, heat, salt, and moisture. The tape just disintegrates and then you have exposed wires in easy contact with each other.
Emerald Coast Solar always uses proper wire nuts.
Even this use of wire nuts, while an improvement, is far from correct. Every time one wire is joined to another, it needs to be secure in a junction or switch or plug box. Wires should never be simply joined together.
Here is another common issue for wiring down here. This type of splicing is used constantly here. It has not been widely used in Canada or the US for at least 80 years.
Junction boxes. I have yet to see anyone use an exterior grade junction box with proper cable or tube feed in. Most of the time, it is just an interior junction box and if there is any tubing, it is set into the box or just up to it. Most boxes have no cap and it does not matter as they are open to rain etc. on all sides anyway. Sealed and water proof are almost unheard of here.
These pics to the left are the most common electrical boxes we see (in one form or another) on peoples' roofs today. Two are electrical cable junction boxes and the first one is a breaker panel box.
There are a number of points to be made about these.
1) None of them are water proof.
2) All are designed for interior use.
3) The metal ones are subject to rust.
4) Even with the proper covers on them, they still have no protection against water.
5) They do not stand up well against the elements including sun damage.
6) A breaker should not be used on the roof as part of the solar panel system.
At Emerald Coast Solar, our cable connections are color coded, bundled cable that we feed either through polyvinyl tubing or directly into waterproof, sealed junction boxes. These boxes have a rubber seal at each cable hole opening that is cut to fit the cable passing into the box or, the rubber seal is removed and locking nut connectors are used to feed the polyvinyl tube to the box. In either case, the junction box remains water proof and protects the connections inside.
These boxes are waterproof and UV resistant.
Note the use of bundled wiring, waterproof junction box, color coded cables, wire nuts and electrical tape.
This is our standard install.
When necessary, we use a special cable connector to go from one line of panels to another line of panels. This is a specific cable connector used for Enphase cable and Enphase micro-inverters. We also use the special end caps from Enphase to seal the ends of any open cable run.
Our competition generally uses the same electrical panel boxes inside as they do outside. While these boxes are suited for the inside, they are not the best choice. They are plastic and break easily. They use the Mexican style breaker. This breaker is not even close to the quality and safety of a standard Square D breaker.
Each of these breaker boxes is designed for interior use. Each of these breakers does not need to be outside. If you look closely at the last box,you will note it is a 220 breaker but only has 3 wires going into the box. This means that the breaker is either not grounded or does not have a neutral line.
We use the Schneider Electric Square D small load centre when necessary. This allows for direct input of the power from CFE to the box – not to a breaker. We then install the necessary breakers and fully wire with 2 hot wires, a neutral, and a ground, when possible. This box can be mounted either in the wall for a flush mount or on the wall. It is metal not plastic and is much more aesthetically pleasing.
We do not usually install breakers on the roof. If a disconnect is necessary on the roof, we use a specific disconnect box.
The Square D small load center.
The roof top disconnect box. A simple on/off switch set into a waterproof case mounted to a wall or column.
Back on the roof, it is time to run the cables and make the connections. Our competitors use the same DC cable we use however, most do not color code. Generally they run all black wire, for both the positive and negative power lines coming from the panels and running into the inverter. As well, they mostly use galvanized tubing to run the wires through. These are both problematic. With the cables it is easy to mix up the positive and negative lines if they are the same color. Using galvanized pipe at the beach is just asking for rust to take over the pipe which, can over time cause sharp edges and the possibility of damage to the cables. Even galvanized pipe cannot stand up for long against the climate, here at the beach. As well, these pipes are attached to your roof and or walls with either concrete nails or by drilling a hole in your roof and inserting an anchor and screw.
At Emerald Cost Solar we take a different approach. We do color code all our cables. As well, we do not use galvanized tubing to run the electrical lines. All our electrical lines are exterior grade and do not require tubing at all. On your roof however, we do run the cable in green polyvinyl tubing, as a safety feature so the cable is not damaged by people walking on the roof. We also only use screws to secure the tubing or the cables to your roof and/or walls. We use our nylon coated galvanized strapping to secure the tubing or cable and drill into the roof or wall for the achor to go in. Before the anchor goes in the hole, we take the extra step and fill the hole with silicone as a protection against water penetration. Once the strapping is in place and secure we then cover the tops of the screws with silicone to prevent rust.
I hope you have found this to be informative and now have a clearer understanding of what makes an Emerald Coast Solar system not only different but, also far superior to any of our competitors.
While the industry in general has been moving more and more toward faster and cheaper, we are bucking that trend. Since we only install systems at the beach, we have taken the approach that quality is our number one goal. Quality of product, quality of installation and quality of service after the install. We deal with different conditions at the beach. Our climate is much harsher than even just the short distance to Merida. We build systems to last out here and we back them up with the highest level of service available. We do not do lots of systems but, the systems we do are the best available.