Thursday, April 16, 2015

Solar Repairs- Is the Fourth Try the Charm?

For almost two and a half years I have struggled to have my solar photovoltaic system repaired. Finally, today, I have all 32 solar panels working and reporting to the Enphase system, the system has been rewired and I think we are good..

Almost two and a half years ago one of my solar panels appeared to fail. When I called the original installer, I discovered that he had gone out of the solar business,  However, the other business owned by the same man appears to be successful. It took us a while to connect, but he referred me to a Maryland and Washington DC based installer, Lighthouse Solar.

Lighthouse solar struggled working with Enphase and Sharp and replaced one solar panel, two Enphase inverters and moved two panels. This did not fix the problem or even relocate it, nonetheless they remained convinced that the problem with the system was a faulty solar panel or panels. However, the more they struggled to solve the problem, the more it seemed to expand. The problems with my solar system that seemed to get worse with each repair they tried to make, the franchisee of Lighthouse Solar that I worked with went out of business or moved on. During the months while I was attempting to have my solar system serviced a second panel then a third panel failed. By December of last year a forth panel or inverter appeared to fail and I was down to 28 panels reporting..

The solar photovoltaic system consists only of panels, inverters and wiring- to me it was becoming increasingly clear that the problem was not originating in the panels or the inverters. There had been difficulty with the original installation- it had failed the electrical inspection three times before  finally passing. Now it was clear to me how critical good electrical design and installation are to a solar system. I was fortunate that when Lighthouse Solar exited the business he arranged with ProspectSolar to install a second solar panel that he believed would fix my ever growing problems (at that time my Enphase system only had 29 inverters reporting). When the field Superintendent for ProspectSolar came out, he pointed out all the visible problems with the wiring that he observed and took several pictures so that I could see the problems, too.
one of the many wiring problems identified by ProspectSolar
Prospect Solar would ultimately propose to perform the repairs on the system for $9.200. I contacted the original installer and sent him the notes and pictures that ProspectSolar had sent me. He surprised me and took full responsibility and found another subcontractor to correct his installation (I assume less expensive than ProspectSolar.). Just before Christmas 2014 Jose arrived. Since Jose and his crew were hired by the original installer I could only ask a few questions and hope he knew his stuff, which he assured me was true. There is no certification that I could ask to see and though he had some experience with solar installations it appeared limited.  Jose assessed the situation and explained to me that the electrical wiring was all wrong, many of the components used in the installation were only rated for interior use and the system was not set up correctly.

New and hopefully improved wiring

And so between snow storms and frigid weather Jose and the crew rewired the system using rain tight fittings (see photosabove), replaced conduit with prefabricated fittings and proper grounding. When he was done and the system turned back on I had only 28 panels reporting. It would take until spring for Jose to get back here with 4 new Enphase inverters. After installing those I had 24 panels reporting-he had replaced the wrong inverters. During the rewiring the physical location of the reporting inverters had changed and no longer matched the map provided by Enphase. So once more Jose was on the roof replacing inverters using a hand mirror to read the serial numbers to make sure he had the right ones this time. After two days of that I once more had 28 panels reporting and producing power. Today, Enphase updated the system and added the new inverters. Jose called and I refreshed the system and had all 32 solar panels producing and reporting. Just in time for a sunny spring. It appears that just as Jose promised that the system is repaired.
In January no power was produced by the system while they were rewiring
I was impressed by how honorably the original solar company has treated this problem and stood behind their warantee of the original work. The truth is I could not even find someone to do a thorough inspection or even a repair without the assist from the original installer and Lighthouse solar. ProspectSolar and Jose De Jesus seem to actually have the technical expertise in house to repair a system in case you need help. In the end I think I was lucky to have it all work out and have both phone numbers for future problems with the system. Right now everything is working, though I still need to have the new conduit painted and a few broken roof tiles replaced. Jose says he’ll be back to take care of those in the next few weeks.His ladder and safety equipment are still at my house.

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