On the Job Working, and living, with solar power

May 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

For solar energy project manager Eric Lorenz, his favorite part of the job is the familiar “thump” sound when flipping the final switch and solar panels begin converting sunlight into electrical current.

“It’s a reminder that there is one more renewable energy system harvesting solar energy,” said Lorenz, who works for the renewable energy division of S+H Construction in Cambridge.

How did you get interested in solar energy?

My interest in solar began while forming a solar start-up in Maine with two college buddies. Our very first project, we installed two solar tracking ­arrays. Standing at the house, we looked into the field and witnessed the two large arrays slowly align themselves with the sun. It was this moment that hooked me on solar.

How has the technology of ­solar panels improved?

Photovoltaic panels, or modules, for residential applications were first available well under 100 watts and had ratings well below 10 percent efficiency. Current modules are available at 230 to 260 watts and are rated with efficiencies up to 17 percent. In recent years, panels have become more aesthetically appealing. My favorite application is solar awnings. Just imagine sitting outside under a solar awning and knowing that the roof above you is harvesting energy.

Is Massachusetts a good solar energy location?

Massachusetts is considered a good location for solar, ­although Massachusetts is not on the top of the list.

What was one of your more challenging projects?

Rebuilding an old solar thermal system and creating solar collectors that supply heat to both a swimming pool and the home’s hot water system.

How is extreme weather ­affecting solar energy installations?

A few years ago, the roof snow-loads in the state increased, which now requires us to strengthen our racking systems. In areas where there’s higher likelihood of hurricanes or tornadoes, there are similar ramp-ups in structural requirements. We don’t see wind damage very often, but we do see squirrels chewing wires, or near a golf course, balls hitting panels.

You recently installed a solar hot water system in your house. How’s it working?

It’s awesome. It’s very efficient. I believe in solar and I work with it, so I want to live with it and understand it better.

Is solar energy a do-it-yourself proposition?

The technology can be easy enough for someone who knows what they’re doing, but a licensed electrician needs to deal with the electrical components. Laying out the panels in an efficient and attractive way can be difficult. The racking that holds the panels needs to be structurally sound and ­everything needs to be level and plumb.

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