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WVU Solar Team Part 2: Hands-on Training

Posted 10/15/2013 by Sharrafti Kuzmar, West Virginian University Solar Decathlon Team

Hi, my name’s Sharrafti Kuzmar. I first heard about the Solar Decathlon through a friend and was instantly intrigued. Students get to design a net-zero house and then come to California to build it? Sign me up! It was my second semester at West Virginia University (WVU) studying Computer Engineering. I knew joining the project would be a great learning experience and getting to work with a team of dedicated students who want to see a project succeed would be highly rewarding.

WVU Solar decathlon 2013 - Sharrafti Kuzmar

Even better was having the chance to work with some of our sponsors, including Mountain View Solar (MTV Solar), a solar-installation company based in Berkeley Springs, W. Va. Colin Williams and Pablo del’Aguila from MTV Solar came down to WVU to help us practice installing the solar panels in West Virginia and later flew to Irvine, Calif., to offer much-appreciated help installing the panels during the competition. None of the students on the team had ever installed PV panels before, so having the MTV Solar team there to show us the process was very helpful.

I got the chance to be on the roof to actually install the panels in both West Virginia and California. To me, this has been one of the greatest experiences of the Decathlon. One day, after working with the team to install the solar panels in West Virginia, I went to my engineering class and learned about how the power coming from the panels worked. The difference between learning concepts in class will never compare to learning how to work hands-on, especially with new technologies and innovations.

WVU Solar decathlon 2013 - solar installation

Once we reached California, the roof of WVU’s PEAK house was panel-ready by the fifth construction day of the competition. I was slightly anxious. What if I couldn’t remember one of the installation steps? What if I did it wrong and the panels couldn’t perform? However, as I strapped on my fall-protection safety gear, I got more excited. As Pablo and I climbed the ladder to get on the roof, the installation steps started coming back to me: Lay the railings, square them, drill, flip, bolt, run electrical wires and lastly lay the panels. As easy as that, I didn’t even have time to worry.

The biggest challenge was installing the panels on our home’s carport. Since the carport was constructed late in the construction week, we had a big time crunch to lay the PV panels. By midway through the eighth construction day, it was installation time. Thankfully, we were able to lay the railings before the team raised the carport roof onto its structural beams. We had to work quickly and efficiently. Twenty minutes later, the panels on the carport were installed, completing the entire 37-panel array.

Once those were connected and the panels were live, we were officially producing power! We continued to produce power throughout the measured days of the contest days, as shown in the graph below.

WVU Solar decathlon 2013 - Solar energy graph

Looking back, joining the WVU Solar Decathlon team was a great decision. Working with MTV Solar to install our PV panels was a learning experience that I’m sure I will continue to use in my future. And above all else, it’s been really fun! Showing the public our house – and what solar power can do – is the most exciting part!

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