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PV351L Lab Class Gets Hands-on with the Fancy Tools of the Solar Trade

Posted by: chris
August 29, 2013

Blog by Brian Mehalic - SEI PV Team

SEI just wrapped up an amazing week, with 14 students attending the PV351 lab class “Tools and Techniques for Operations and Maintenance,” also known as “Hands on with the Fancy Tools”.

The course is a week-long combination of classroom theory, best practices, and analysis, along with hands-on time in SEI’s world class lab - commissioning, troubleshooting, and learning to safely use the latest tools in the PV industry.  Open to experienced industry veterans, this class is the cream of the crop – students who know there is always more to learn and are dedicated to designing, installing, operating, and maintaining safe and efficient PV systems that meet or exceed performance expectations.

Throw four of SEI’s leading instructors, with experience ranging from off-grid to multi-megawatt solar farms, into the mix and you’re in for a high-level, high-excitement week!

So what are these fancy tools?

Seaward PV100 and 150s were used to commission PV systems in accordance with IEC 62446 guidelines.  Part of this standard requires measuring short circuit current (Isc), open circuit voltage (Voc), and the insulation resistance of each PV source circuit.  The Seaward tools do this all in one shot, and log the data to create easy reports.

Insulation resistance testers from Megger and Fluke were used to verify insulation resistance of PV source circuits and runs of conductors.

Students got hands-on time learning to correctly use infrared cameras from Flir -  diagnosing problems in modules and finding loose/high-resistance connections in wiring systems.

And three different IV curve tracers (Solmetric PVA-600, TRITEC TRI-KA, and Hukseflux I-V400) were used to better understand the IV curve, the impacts of shading, and how the operation of bypass diodes effects array voltage and current.  Everyone, instructors included, gained a new appreciate for the not-so-simple IV curve!  By the end of the session students were able to predict what the shading on a 50 kW array looked like and what time of day it was, simply by looking at the IV curves of nine individual PV source circuits.

All these tools, along with the more familiar multimeters, clamp-ons, and irradiance and temperature sensors, were used on the troubleshooting day, which was a huge hit with the students. SEI instructors spent the previous evening introducing faults into systems, mis-wiring combiner boxes, introducing excessive voltage drop into ac wire runs, and putting faulty modules into arrays.  The next day, students put their knowledge of tools, PV systems, and troubleshooting skills to the test, finding, diagnosing, and remedying the problems.  This truly represents the highest level of understanding PV systems, and how to work on them safely.

Several manufacturers made brief presentations, and were eager to receive feedback on what students liked, didn’t like, and features they hoped the next generation of their tools would have.

Look for SEI to be taking this class on the road this winter when the Paonia labyard is snowed in, and be sure to check out the 2014 class schedule when it becomes available in the next couple of weeks, as our 351L sessions are sure to fill up fast next year!

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