Photovoltaic Solar Electric Systems: A Veteran Builder Finds Something New Under the Sun

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“Our houses are selling well, and PV systems are part of an environmental package that I think is responsible for our success.”

— Bruce Wolfe


Carefully interconnecting each module, two crew members tie in the first two rows of the integrated PV system with the concrete roofing tiles.”Solar technology has a lot of pizzazz with customers,” says Wolfe. “Our houses are selling well, and PV systems are part of an environmental package that I think is responsible for our success. Home buyers have been very excited about the overall package that includes a wide range of energy-saving features. Our sales are brisk at a time when other builders are experiencing a cooling in the market.”

“If you put yourself in the homeowner’s shoes and think about the fact that you are producing electricity when you are not home and then using it when you get home, that’s pretty cool. It’s a big money saver. We estimated that the solar panels could provide up to 60 percent of power requirements for these homes. As it turns out, our homeowners have been happily surprised at their $50 utility bills. These same homeowners were accustomed to paying bills in excess of $200 a month and welcome the savings. On our model homes, the utility bills have actually been less than half of what we expected they would be.”


“Based on the decision to build environmentally friendly homes, our energy consultant, ConSol, suggested installing solar panels, improving the building envelope, and using efficient home products.”

“My main role was managing the installation and complying with the rules and procedures set forth by the utility company. Since the PV systems are interconnected with the utility grid, it takes a lot of coordination with the utility company. A substantial amount of paperwork is required from the very beginning of the project until the time you hand the keys over to the homeowner.”

At first, Wolfe found the cost of the system and the complexity of the utility’s paperwork difficult to justify, but multiple rebates and lots of assistance from the local utility overcame his concerns.

“Due to the uniqueness of the project and our participation in ENERGY STAR, Zero-Energy Homes, and ComfortWise, we experienced a number of advantages during the construction process. The first was receiving discounts on the county plan check and permit fees to the tune of 7.5 percent. Second, our plan check process was expedited, which allowed us to begin construction sooner. Lastly, our contract with the PV supplier was based on their handling the California State rebate processing. So even though each PV system cost roughly $18,000, the State rebate was approximately $9,000. ConSol is also looking into whether we can receive federal incentives based on the recent energy legislation.”

“We were also very fortunate that our local utility had people focused solely on solar technology and were able to help us comply with regulatory mandates. The utility’s solar specialist has been my hero, having guided me through the paperwork required to complete the regulatory process.”

“The utilities’ requirements can be intimidating at first, but our utility contacts were extremely friendly and very patient. They really helped speed the process and I’m not sure we could have done it without them. The utility process didn’t hold us up at all. It simply required an extra area of focus.”

“The county building inspectors were not too familiar with solar technology and asked a lot of questions. However, their inquiries were based on wanting to learn more about PVs since they see solar as an up-and-coming technology. Overall, they were supportive and interested in gaining experience with the technology.”


“The PV system we chose for WillowCreek is manufactured by GE and comprised of 48 GEPV-055 modules, engineered to produce 2.4 kilowatts during ideal conditions. GE designed the system

specifically for each house based on its orientation, roofing type, and our request that no solar panels face the street. Design and layout took less time than the county’s building permit process.”

“The size of our PV system was based on the estimated daily load requirements of the home. We used energy-efficient appliances, HVAC, windows, and lighting, and improved fiberglass insulation [R-38 in ceilings and R-13 in walls] throughout the home, which cut the daily load and avoided having to install a larger, more expensive PV system.”

“Another important design consideration is making sure your PV designer uses solar data specific to the area where the PV system will be installed. These steps will help control your expenditures on solar equipment and ensure you get a properly sized system.”


PV roofing systems are usually ready to install once they’re delivered. Depending on the type of product, they can be installed by a roofing professional or an electrician; however, they must be wired to the house power supply by a licensed electrician.

“Installing an integrated PV system just requires some coordination between trades, mainly involving the roofer and the electrician. We chose an electrician to install the PV systems and incorporated the installation into the construction schedule. We try to control our projects right down to the day and integrate everything we can to avoid construction delays.”

“We installed normal roofing felt over the entire roof and then we laid down composition shingles in the area where the PV system would be installed. Next, we laid a couple rows of roofing tiles–either concrete or mission tiles, depending on the floor plan elevation–on the bottom edge of where the PV system would be, to act as a stop for the solar panels to rest against. We then interconnected each module, or set of integrated panels, to create the larger PV array. Once the entire system was installed, the roofing tiles were laid. Although the PV panel slightly complicates the area of the roof that contains the PV array, we worked with our roofing contractor to ensure proper tie-in between the roofing tiles and the PV system. We used only flat tiles on the elevations where the PV systems were installed.”

“Training basically consisted of bringing all the players together and figuring out how it was going to work. We tried our system on the model homes first and found that it worked well. Besides working with the electrical and roofing contractors to coordinate the installation, we also had to manage minor issues with the plumber regarding the placement of roof penetrations for things like vents and exhaust fans. Since each house is oriented differently, there are individual adjustments that need to be made depending on the placement of the panels.”


“Lead-time and transportation were not a problem for us. We tried not to keep the PV panels stored on site for very long and we did our best to schedule their delivery to fit our production schedule. Ideally, we receive them, place them on the roof, and screw them down all in the same day. It’s pretty seamless.”

“One thing you have to be careful of is protecting the panels during the course of construction. For example, we used Visqueen to protect the panels from stucco and paint overspray.”


“Although PV systems have a high initial cost, we were able to save thousands of dollars on each house by participating in incentive programs. We saved on permit fees and were able to start construction earlier given our expedited plan check status. Equally important, we believe the long-term value of the PV systems will continue growing for our customers, especially since energy prices are slated to keep rising year after year. It’s been two years since the completion of our first home, and we have yet to receive any complaints or callbacks regarding the PV systems. I don’t think there is anything we would do differently next time.”

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