The vast majority of solar installers are hard-working, honest, green-hearted individuals who want to spread the good word about solar power. We feature their fine work every week in Greentech Media's solar coverage.
In fact, a friend of mine recently contacted SolarCity for an estimate for a residential rooftop but SolarCity turned down the job because an analysis on Google Earth indicated that a neighbor's redwood tree would cast a little too much shade on the roof during fall and winter.
But sometimes a customer wants a solar system and good design practice or careful site selection takes a backseat -- and we end up with a design like the following example.
A few years ago, Anna Eshoo, a high-powered congresswoman in California's 14th district, unveiled the very first congressional office in the nation to go maximum green. Eshoo's office installed a 1.6-kilowatt photovoltaic system and 100 percent of the electricity used by the office is obtained from renewable sources. The office has made profound green modifications to its lighting, water, heating, cooling, materials, waste stream and the transit habits of its employees.
But taking a closer look at the solar installation in sunny Palo Alto, California reveals a few flaws.
The panels are mounted in such a way as to ensure that they will remain partially shadowed for most of the day.
I have stopped by the site at various times from noon to late afternoon and have yet to see an instance where at least a few panels or even all of the panels are not partially shaded. From what I could tell, the system is using a string inverter, not distributed electronics.
It's reasonable to believe that the system is always putting out just a small fraction of its nameplate electricity rating.
I've contacted the staff of the congresswoman to find out more -- such as what installer might be responsible -- but haven't heard back from them.
An installer colleague said, "That is one of the worst install locations I've seen," adding that it "wouldn't be allowed to qualify for incentives in New Jersey."
Here's a photo from Google maps that shows some rare sun reaching a few of the panels.
This is Greentech Media -- we support solar power. But we don't support bad design or wasting taxpayer money, and it's hard to see this as anything other than wasting money. There is a symbolic victory in having PV panels on the congresswoman's office but the money and the incentives would be better used in actually generating power in an efficient manner.
The quality energy solutions providers at Heliopower have devoted a section of their website to "Ugly Solar." Here's an example of another highly shaded, poorly designed rooftop. And here's the link to the PDF.