In our previous article, we discussed why we chose to go solar, what the advantages and disadvantages were, and how the process was progressing so far. This article picks up where we left off. Today we’ll discuss the final steps in the installation process, and what it has been like to have the panels installed and working.
The Solar Process, Continued
Moving and Installing the Electrical Panel
Our house is almost 50 years old, which means our original electrical panel was an ancient dinosaur. Through the years, we’ve had various electricians tell us that they don’t even make the breakers anymore, and if one went out, we could have a hard time finding a replacement.
That is why, when our sales rep told us that the solar company would have to upgrade and move our electrical panel (at no charge to us, of course), we were secretly overjoyed. That was a $4000 job we knew we needed anyway, but just scored for free. Nice!
The solar company has a fleet of electricians to take care of the work, and after a polite phone call to schedule the work day, the fleet arrived. Trucks, electricians, and equipment swarmed the house like a hive. I was told to expect the power to be off for several hours, but these guys were pros. They did everything they could to prepare, and left cutting the electricity to the last part. The power was out for only 20 mins. It took a full day of hard work from the electricians to move the box, install the new one, patch to holes, and restore power, but they got it done by dinner time. They were friendly and professional to boot, plus complimented me on my chickens. It was a crew I was comfortable having at my house, and comfortable having back if they were ever needed.
Rewiring the Power Line
The electrical box was ready, but there was more work to be done. Our older homes have power poles in the back yards, and and we are connected to the pole by a big, fat, feed wire (sorry, I don’t know the technical name). This feed line had to be upgraded as well, which involved having an electrician go up the pole and replace a lot of scary hardware.
Within two days of the electrical panel being replaced, a second crew was back out to the house. Again, we were warned about an outage, but again the crew left cutting the power to the last minute. We went without power for only 10 mins, and received a fat, new electrical umbilical cord for the house at no charge. Boo-yah!
Note: I’d like to take a moment to point out how glad I was that I outsourced all this stuff to a solar company. I’m not afraid to be a DIY kind of girl, but the thought of having to purchase and coordinate all these materials, activities, work crews, permits, and exotic electrical hardware on my own was mind boggling. I was glad to be under the umbrella of pros who knew what to do, because I certainly didn’t. Just sayin’.
Before the power was cut during the rewiring work, we were told to make sure all computers were off, etc. This, I did. When the power came back on, everything was fine. Except for one, tiny detail. The power supply to our Internet thingy in the garage fried the next day.
I called Verizon, and they admitted that our neighborhood had had a series of defective power supplies installed, and that the power outage had killed if off at last. Verizon sent a tech out and replaced it the same day, free of charge.
The moral here: there may be hiccups when the power gets rewired. Talk to your electricians about what to expect and protect yourself in advance. Also leave room in your schedule to make a few phone calls if something goes wrong. Chances are it won’t, but it’s best to be prepared.
With the fancy new electrical box and feed line to the house up and running, inspections were in order. The inspector came and went with out me even knowing. Everything passed, and the paperwork was submitted in the background like magic. I didn’t have to lift a finger.
Solar Panel Installation Day
By now it was the beginning of August, and I got a call to schedule the actual panel installation. I was anxious to get started, and they squeezed me in a few weeks ahead of schedule. Our panels were now set to go in August 30th.
The big day came, and so did the trucks. Again the house was like a hive, swarming with installers and equipment. They parked in front of the house around 7:30 AM, put up big, yellow tape across the driveway, and started hauling in the actual solar panels. It was exciting to see them at last!
The crew was great. They worked, sweated, and clomped up on the roof until 6PM. It was a big job, and a very hot day. There was little I had to do, except keep the dog inside and be on hand for any questions.
I brought the crew ice water, because it was so hot. I wish I could have brought them a beer, though, because they deserved it. By the time the sun went down, the panels were up was I was feeling legit, like a real solar panel customer.
Everything had to be inspected again, and I was ok with that. The day after the work was done, an inspector from the solar company came out to make sure the job was done right. He spent several hours up there, checking all the details. Thankfully, we passed.
At last, the home stretch was in sight. The panels were on the roof, wired, and ready to be turned on. The final hurdle was getting approval from Edison to flip the switch.
We were originally told it takes from 1-3 weeks to be approved. Edison then revised that to 4-6 weeks. By the 6th week after installation, and with no word from Edison, I started making some phone calls.
I began with the solar company. They were helpful as always, but their hands were tied. The ball was in Edison’s court, and there was nothing the solar company could do. But as an Edison customer, I had the power to get involved. So I started making some phone calls to Edison to see why there was a delay.
I’m not going to lie – this took no less than 11 phone calls to Edison. I started with the general information number, and began working my way from department to department. I was polite but persistent, I had waited patiently for my panels and now I wanted some answers. I finally worked my way through the phone system to the local manager of our district. She apologized for the delay (unexpected workloads, shortage of resources, etc.), but was kind enough to approve my paperwork on the spot.
The lesson here is that although your solar company might be prompt and helpful, your electric company probably won’t be. You are taking away their business, after all. You’ll be warned in advance that the electric company may take some time, so be prepared to be patient. But if your time has come, don’t let the slow wheels of bureaucracy stall you project. Make some phone calls, be persistent. With a little detective work, you might be able to get your project back on track.
PTO (Permit To Operate)
Our PTO (Permit To Operate) was finally issued and transmitted by Edison to the solar company. We received some paperwork in mail, along with a tag to attach to the electrical box. This process only took about two days.
Flipping The Switch
The time had come at last to flip the switch. A rep from the solar company walked me through the process over the phone. It was very easy!
Watching The Power Flow
Once the power was on, the panels were working! Part of the installation process was receiving a wireless router that sent data from our panels to the internet. We hooked it up, and I was now able to log into my personal solar web account and watch the panels churn out electricity. Hooray! It was like watching money fall from the sky.
Life After Solar
As of the writing of this article, we’ve had the panels up and running for about three weeks. The whole process from start to finish took about 5 months. We were originally quoted 8 months, so shaving 3 months off the process was a huge improvement.
Now that all the work is done, having solar panels is… boring. But in a good way. All the drama and excitement was during the installation process. Once you go live, the panels just sit there, quietly churning out power day after sunny day. There is nothing left to do but pay the bill and enjoy the feeling that I’m generating clean, renewable energy, right on my roof. I like that. A lot. It was the whole point of the project, after all.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey of putting solar panels on our home. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about our experience. Please feel free to share this information, my hopes are by sharing my first hand account with others, the process will no longer be a mystery and more people will be empowered to investigate solar as an option. Thank you!