Picking up Nickels

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is the bar really set this low for joining the solar power industry?

A Boston Globe profile of a solar energy consultant caught my eye recently. It's a look into how former "financial adviser" (I'm guessing that means annuity salesperson) Cara Morano became a solar consultant at Borrego Solar Systems last year.

So what kind of a background in solar power systems is needed for this job? Not much, apparently:

Morano had to learn the difference between volts, watts, and amps, and says organizations such as Solar Energy International offer hands-on workshops and online courses; the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners provides certification programs. "You don't need to go in as an expert," says Morano...

You sure don't need to be an expert Cara, and you prove that with this beauty (disclaimer: I am admittedly no solar power expert, but I did take a physics class once upon a time):

I'll keep it simple. First, there's the solar module, which takes sunlight and converts it into energy. Then the inverter takes the sign waves that come from the solar module and converts it from DC to AC power...

First, let's have a little high school physics level background on DC and AC power (thanks to Doctronics for the images):

DC (direct current) has a constant amplitude and no frequency component:

AC (alternating current) has an amplitude that varies with frequency (like a sine wave):

So basically, the idea is that you get DC from a power source like a battery or a solar module and you must use an inverter to convert it to AC, which is what a device in your home like a television would use.

With that in mind, shouldn't the above quote talk about a sine wave and not a "sign wave"? Assuming this wasn't an honest mistake from a non-technical Globe author, isn't that a pretty big blunder for a consultant who assesses your electrical system to determine if a solar power solution is right for you?

Second, if sine waves (emphasis mine) did indeed come from the solar module, then why would there be a need for it to be converted from DC to AC? That's probably because the solar module generates DC power (which has no frequency component), and must be converted to AC by the inverter. Basically, you don't have a sine wave until the inverter comes into the equation. I'd say that's blunder #2 from Ms. Morano.

Now seriously, wouldn't you be a bit embarrassed by this article if you worked at Borrego? And would you feel confident about Ms. Morano coming to perform a solar assessment at your home or business?

Now don't get me wrong, I think solar power is a pretty cool technology. I just think that if you profile a solar power consultant in a major metropolitan newspaper, shouldn't they at least sound like they know what they're talking about?


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