Future-Proofed: Solar and Backup Power Installation
May 20, 2022
In northwest Austin in 2021, we at Freedom Solar Power completed our most complex residential solar and backup power installation project ever. Our team was inspired by the homeowner’s desire to pass along a property to his family that can not only produce enough power to zero out his energy bills but also provide peace of mind during grid outages and unpredictable weather.
We enlisted the in-house expertise of our most senior NABCEP-certified design engineers, a master electrician, three journeyman electricians, a seasoned four-person solar installation crew led by another journeyman electrician, and office operational support. We performed all work, excepting any work requiring vetted and certified third-party professionals related to the property’s existing telecommunications networks, gas service, gutters and irrigation systems.
We Take Pride in Quality Craftsmanship
The project was no easy feat, but we were determined to make the homeowner’s dream come true.
“Paul was motivated by something bigger than himself; he wants this to be a place for his family to be secure for decades. Because of the intricacies involved, I couldn’t recommend anyone besides Freedom Solar to do a job like that,” said James Garbo, energy consultant. “He had high expectations that set the bar above our past projects, and it motivated us to reach it. We were able to rise to the occasion, check all of his boxes and get the job done better than anyone else could have.”
The Freedom Solar team and the homeowner set out to accomplish three things:
- Fully offset the homeowner’s electrical consumption via solar panel production
- Install battery backup for critical loads at both the garage and main house
- Future-proof the entire property’s electrical capacity
A Path to Future-Proofing
The most in-depth aspects of the project included a 200-foot trench around the back of the house, a 45-foot utility-grade trench into the street and the complete relocation of the house’s gas service. Most importantly, the project involved the upgrade of the property’s main electrical service from 200 AMPS to 320 AMPS. We planned and managed all tasks through extensive preconstruction planning meetings with the parties involved, including the electrical and gas utility providers and city inspection officials.
Installing the 69 premium SunPower 415-watt AC solar modules with G-Series Factory Integrated Microinverters took only one day. The extensive trenching took five business days to complete. The electrical work, including the upgrade of the garage and main house electrical panels, required two days of prep work and a third day of primary work, during which the electrical team performed a controlled outage with the utility to upgrade the property’s service to 320 AMPS.
There were 10 inspections for this project across three separate permits. Every inspection passed on the first attempt. Since commissioning the system, the homeowner reports a net credit electric bill, even though the property has three air conditioners, an all-electric SUV and a climate-controlled 1,900-square-foot garage.
We mounted two 13.5 kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries inside the garage. The two Tesla Powerwalls back up all critical house loads in the event of a grid outage. We also upsized the underground conduit connecting the Tesla Powerwalls’ circuits to the main house’s electrical panel in case the homeowner wants to add more battery backup in the future.
We used 200 feet of trenching at a depth of 12 inches from the main electrical service at the house through the backyard to the garage’s electrical service subpanel. Within the 200-foot trench there are three utility-grade schedule 80 underground PVC conduits. These are “future-proofed” and upsized (both in conduit diameter and wire amperage) to allow for solar and/or battery backup additions:
- One conduit for the garage subpanel feeder wire
- One conduit for the solar feeder wire
- One conduit for the Powerwall battery backup feeder wire
We covered the trench with concrete and then sod to ensure the depth and coverage met all applicable utility inspection requirements.
We added another 45 feet of utility-grade trenching at a depth of 36 inches from the main electrical service at the house panel to the Austin Energy utility pull box at the street.
Within the 45-foot trench there is one 3-inch utility-grade schedule 80 underground PVC conduit to allow for upgrading 320 AMP service feeders from Austin Energy transformers up the street. Throughout all trenching, we carefully removed, replaced and returned the sod to its original state.
Getting the Job Done Right
This project was a perfect union of high expectations for an intricate, custom job and Freedom Solar’s dedication to bringing those expectations to life. Most solar companies would have turned away from this project because of its complexity, but we have the expertise to get the job done right. By moving the gas service and water spigots, rerouting the gutters and replacing the trench soil, completing this project was a major win.
Plus, all work took place during the epic winter storm of February 2021. Freedom Solar field workers, alongside our founder Adrian Buck, rallied together to work through freezing temperatures because of how much it meant to the homeowner.
“At no point did I ask for the cheapest way to get solar power. I wanted the best engineering, installation and equipment to maximize the solar benefits. I asked that they future-proof the design, so extra conduit was run underground and the cable sizes were increased to allow more amperage when needed. I installed the maximum number of solar panels allowed by the City of Austin for this house based on past power needs. The solar power installation complements my ability to charge electric vehicles from anywhere in the garage (for free). I wanted this project to be something to be proud of, and by not cutting corners, I have a system that is easily expandable.”Paul c., homeowner
Estimated Cost Offset
In September 2021, the electricity bill would have been $331.74 without solar. With solar, the bill was a $54 credit.
Freedom Solar provides a true forward-looking vision and the flexibility to further enhance the home’s energy efficiency and independence well into the future.