Spreading the Word About Grid- Connected Solar Electricity

Yurok PV Array

Jim Zoellick checks the shading profile for the Weitchpec solar electric array. (Photo credit SERC.)

When people ask me, “Does solar work in foggy Humboldt County?” I answer with a resounding “Yes,” adding that the large number of solar electric systems gracing our local rooftops is a good indication that solar works here. In fact, although coastal Humboldt County only receives about two-thirds as much solar energy as the rest of California, we have installed about three times more solar electric systems than the rest of the state on a per capita basis.

In an effort to promote solar energy, I’ve been teaching a class through HSU’s Extended Education program since 2002 called “Understanding Grid-Connected Solar Electric Systems.” It is offered three times per year and the class has filled up every time it’s offered. In the last five years I’ve reached about 375 students. The purpose of the course is to empower people in the local community who are thinking about installing a solar electric system. I try to give them enough information so they can decide whether solar is right for them, and if they choose to proceed, they can make informed decisions about the size and features of their system.

The class is held over two evenings for three hours each and all day on Saturday. We start by assessing home energy use and the associated opportunities for increased energy efficiency and conservation. From both an economic and an environmental perspective, it always makes sense to first reduce your energy consumption. Then we talk about how solar electric systems work, what the major components are, how to choose and match system components, and how to determine if your prospective site receives adequate sunlight. In hands-on exercises, students measure solar panel output and utilize a surveying tool to assess the solar access for a given site. Additional exercises challenge students to size a solar electric array and to match solar panels to an inverter. Our Saturday class ends with a visit to a couple of local homes to view their solar electric systems in action.

The final evening of the class is held in a computer lab where every student has access to a computer and the Internet. We work on sizing a solar electric system and determining its economic payback, and students use web-based simulation tools as part of this exercise. Information is also provided on rebates, tax credits, net metering and PG&E rate options.

If you’re considering solar for your home or business, come and join us and we’ll give you the information you need to make an informed decision. Visit www.humboldt.edu/~extended/ to find out when the next class will be offered.

About Jim Zoellick

James is a Senior Research Engineer at SERC. He has a B.S. Degree in Environmental Resources Engineering from Humboldt State University, and has worked professionally in the energy field since 1990. Since 1995 he has been a project manager at SERC and has been involved in the design, development, installation, and start-up of electrolytic hydrogen generation systems, hydrogen vehicle fueling stations, hydrogen fuel cell power systems, and solar electric power systems. Mr. Zoellick was the project manager and lead designer for both the Schatz Hydrogen Generation Center and the Zweig Education Building Fuel Cell System at SunLine Transit . Mr. Zoellick's additional work at SERC has included the development and demonstration of hydrogen fuel cell systems for real world applications, including vehicles and stationary, portable and remote power systems. Mr. Zoellick has also been involved in the design, installation, testing and modeling of photovoltaic energy systems, including the design and installation of a 2 kW AC grid-intertied system at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. Mr. Zoellick has taught several college level energy courses. He is the current chairman for the City of Arcata Energy Committee.