Blog Published: June 2021
There’s a lot of solar nerds who work at Namaste Solar, and we’re lucky to have them! Their passion for learning all there is to know about the solar industry is what makes them experts and, in turn, offers customers a fountain of knowledge, experience, and confidence when they go solar through us.
One such expert is Co-Owner Michael Payton, who works as our Residential Service Project Manager. We talked with Michael about the ins-and-outs of what it’s like to service homeowners’ solar systems, the challenges that come up, and what are his favorite things about solar to nerd out on.
How long have you been at Namaste Solar?
I'm coming up on six years here now at Namaste Solar.
Were you originally working in service when you started at Namaste Solar or have you been in different positions?
I've been in a lot of different positions at Namaste Solar. I started on the commercial team and was there for my first six months, and then I jumped over to residential home solar installations for about another six months or so. Since then, I've been in the service department. I started off as an apprentice then eventually became a service crew lead after that. Now I'm a service project manager.
I think my different experiences at Namaste Solar have impacted my current role in that they inform my current work. With my background, I can bring a wide range of expertise to the table which, in turn, offers a better product and experience for the customer.
(Left) A microinverter zip tied on to a roof which goes against both manufacturing specs and code. Pictured right is a properly mounted microinverter properly.
What are your favorite things about solar to nerd out on?
Being in service offers a very unique perspective. We work on systems that are over 10 years old as well as new systems. I speak to customers whose systems were installed by another company no longer in business, and customers who tell me they were one of the first installs that Namaste Solar did. We get to see how the technology and our install practices have evolved. We monitor how industry codes are updated and how different pieces of equipment have become obsolete, including old battery systems.
We’ve also seen a lot of different monitoring equipment. Monitoring is one of the things I can really geek out about. I can go into a portal to understand what impacted a customer’s system performance and see things like snow that happened on a given day and how a tree’s growth has shaded a roof. It's fun playing detective for very technical problems.
What was an issue that you came across in your work that you were really proud to have solved?
There are errors that the inverters report. Inverters are the part of your system that converts the DC power generated by your solar array into AC power that your home can use. They report events like arc fault or ground fault errors. These are types of issues that can cause electricity to route into the ground via contact with other wires or metal racking and frames. This can happen at any electrical connection in the system therefore these issues are essentially like needles in haystacks most of the time, but with the advancement of technology, we have the tools to pinpoint such issues and resolve them.
I remember when I was in the field troubleshooting, and I'd see some of the codes that reflected either ground fault or arc fault, and I would hunt around the array and try to deduce what type of issue it was. If it were an installer issue, this type of problem can be traced back to a loose connection between panels, blown fuse, or animal damage. If it were a manufacturer issue, it would be an equipment problem and the manufacturer would have to issue a replacement. Those are always a lot of fun to get to the bottom of.
What is the challenge of working in service?
It’s a very diverse and ever-changing landscape. You see the error codes on older equipment that are pretty minimal and easy to solve. These systems are analog – you open up the cover of the inverter and there's five components in there with wires on each one. But on more current equipment, you open up an inverter, and they're far more complicated. There's circuit board, on circuit board, on circuit board with capacitors, wires, and terminations littering the whole thing.
Understanding how manufacturers build their equipment is important. They build them for different implementations, which could cause potential issues. More recently, the equipment is getting very intelligent. It can interact with your electric vehicle (EV) charger and battery systems. They can all talk to each other and all have different commands. At the same time, it can also build interference with the house wiring. At Namaste Solar, we work hard to vet the materials that we install so that we can have as complete of an understanding as possible as to how our equipment will interact with your home.
(Left) An improperly sealed animal guard with gaps and a crooked end clamp. Pictured right is a properly installed animal guard with seated end clamps.
What is something that a lot of customers don't know about solar?
The way solar panels are wired. In the time before optimizers and microinverters (similar to inverters, just smaller) shade to just one part of the array could reduce power production of the entire system. For example, if you had a solar array with 30 panels wired together in three strings of 10, and two panels on one of those strings were shaded, power production in that string of 10 would be reduced to zero. That was the way solar worked and was wired until optimizers and microinverters became available. With these newer technologies, the impact of shade on panels has been significantly mitigated because each panel is essentially functioning somewhat independently.
A lot of people also don’t think that solar needs to be serviced. You turn it on and then boom you forget about it. But, considering a lot of the changes in electrical code and advancements in the materials that we use makes equipment more complex, which results in these materials needing more attention. More product features drive the need for more advanced service. Manufacturers continue to support their equipment for the term of their limited equipment warranty, and we are proud to be here to support our customers when issues outside of the manufacturer warranty arise. Systems can last more than 25 years and include manufacturer warranties, but in order to promote your system’s longevity it is important to keep a diligent eye on it and to reach out for service if issues arise.
Good service departments are in short supply, but they're absolutely necessary. We believe that when we install solar on customers’ homes, we also have a responsibility to follow up and offer peace of mind by providing technical expertise and maintenance should they experience any issues.
In your experience, what do you think sets the Namaste Solar service department apart from other solar companies?
I think our service department is ahead of the curve. I haven't seen a better service department that is as advanced, capable, or technically oriented as we are. I think a lot of it is because we're a mature, diversified solar company with great people.
Our service department has continually ramped up its resources, training, materials, and expertise because we have the support of our company with 16 years of experience in all areas of the industry. We will walk customers through all the best solutions at the best price possible. If we caused an issue, we will absolutely take care of the issue. I think having the expertise and integrity to back that up is a very rare thing.
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