Leo was one of the speakers at last weekend's Solar Fest. We talked to him after the event about why he believes in solar, and what he is doing to help other Wyomingites put panels on their homes.
When did you become interested in solar power?
When I was in college I had an interest in earth sciences. I was really fascinated by the fact that we had the ability to power things with clean technology. In the 90's solar and wind were available but, expensive and not as streamlined as they are today. I have a degree in Geology from UW but, I was more interested in the environmental aspect of it, rather than the oil and gas exploration side of it. I recognize that we need to use our natural resources for power. However, I was interested in ways to lessen their impact. All forms of energy production are going to impact the environment but, I believe it's our responsibility to lessen that impact as much as possible. I actually worked in the oil and gas industry for a few years, it was an eye opening experience. I also completed the Wind Energy Technology program at LCCC but, that's a completely different beast. Solar has less moving parts and people seem to be far more open to it.
How do your solar panels work?
That's a complicated question without getting into how solar panels produce electricity. I can tell you how I set up my system. I have twelve 285 Watt panels for a total 3.4 kW. It is a grid tied system meaning that I don't have batteries to store the power that is produced. All of the power produced by the system gets directly fed onto the electrical grid and essentially offsets my electrical bill. My savings are a rolling credit with the power company, it fluctuates depending on how much power we produce per month. I get about 3 cent per kWh. Power is only produced during daylight hours so at night production is at zero. The technology allows me to monitor each individual panel through an app on my phone to see how much power are producing. It's actually really cool, I can be anywhere and as long as I have a WiFi signal I can check in on the system.
What was the process like, as you were trying to put panels on your home?
It was fairly complicated and took me almost 2 years to complete. I have some electrical knowledge that I picked up from the wind energy program at LCCC so, that helped in that I understand the electrical concepts and the lingo. I started by reading a couple of books and that helped me figure out how to go about designing the system. It also allowed me figure out how to approach the city for building permits. Picking out the components was a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, a friend introduced me to a guy here in Laramie that did his own house. He was a very knowledgeable resource, I refer to him as my "Solar Sensei". I also consulted with a friend in Denver who is an installer and he was a tremendous help. Then there was the financial aspect, of saving the money to do it. I received some grant money and will be getting some money back from the government with my tax return. I had to do everything in steps. I built my own frame because I don't have a south facing roof. I completed the frame last fall and then had to stop because of the weather. This allowed me to order the components little by little until I had everything I needed. It was a process but, the building and installation were really fun and made it worth the wait. Seeing the completed product was really rewarding, especially when I received that first electrical bill or lack there of.
What about trying to get licensed in Wyoming?
Every state has different licensing requirements. Wyoming only allows licensed electricians to install solar arrays on people's homes. In other states you can work as an installer as long as you have the proper education from a solar installation program or trade school. Other states require you to have a certification from The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
What are you working on now?
I'm currently working toward acquiring my NABCEP certification so that I can work in Colorado. I'm also working with the State of Wyoming to see what I need to do to in order complete their requirements. I want to be able to work as an installer here so, that's important. My attitude is that the more knowledge, certifications and licenses I can get my hands on, the better off I will be. It's a challenge but, I'm committed to helping people learn about solar energy hopefully allowing them to pursue projects of their own. If I can be of help to them that's a bonus. It's a collaborative effort and education is key. With an average of 300 plus days of sunshine it's seems crazy not to embrace the technology here. It just takes people becoming familiar with it and wanting to do it themselves. I think we are headed in the right direction in regards people's interest in it and it becoming more affordable.