Team SPW volunteered on a residential solar installation in 2017, but our two-day 2.5-kW system was amateur hour compared to what I watched at Intersolar North America’s inaugural Solar Games contest. Installation teams from Colorado, Nevada and California competed to install a 3.15-kW system in under 90 minutes — and got extra points for getting it done in 75 minutes.
Intersolar was able to recruit three installation teams to compete in the three-round competition: Two of Solar Power World’s Top Solar Contractors, Sullivan Solar Power of San Diego and Sol-Up USA of Las Vegas; and SunKey Energy of Denver. The prize for winning first place was $5,000 cash, but all participating installers received free SEI training, safety gear and ISNA 2021 conference passes.
For rounds one and two, installers were tasked with installing a 3.15-kW grid-tied array with Tesla Powerwall battery backup on the sloped composite roofs set up opposite the observation bleachers inside the San Diego Convention Center. Equipment was donated by manufacturers including Everest Solar Systems, SMA and Tigo Energy. Flashing and mounts were pre-installed to make sure the installations could be completed in 90 minutes or less. After the Solar Games, all equipment will be donated to Twende Solar for charity solar installations.
Teams were scored on a 100-point scale based on quality, speed and safety and judged by Portland, Maine, installer (and fellow Top Solar Contractor) ReVision Energy.
The first round featured Sullivan Solar Power vs. Sol-Up USA. The teams prioritized the jobs differently, with Sullivan focusing on pre-assembly work on the ground at the beginning and Sol-Up getting straight on the roof to install the racking.
Sullivan won the first round with 70 points, while Sol-Up lost with 50 points because of uneven racking. Lining the racking up was likely a challenge because there was no chalk line dropped to keep it even for either side.
Since there were only three teams total, round two gave Sol-Up another shot to make it into the championship round. This time, Sol-Up competed against Denver installer SunKey Energy and prevailed by a tiny margin — 89 to 87 points. Jim Callihan, director of partnerships and strategic alliances at Intersolar, said both installations were excellent.
Sol-Up went on to compete against Sullivan again in the championship round on day two of Intersolar, but with a different project this time: An off-grid system using MidNite Solar charge controllers and Rolls Battery storage.
Team Sol-Up finished the installation and got the battery-powered light turned on in 75 minutes, while Sullivan Solar switched on the light at the last second.
In the end, judges said both teams performed identically except that Sol-Up got extra points for finishing under 75 minutes. Both teams only got one infraction for leaving terminals exposed on inverters, making the final score 99 vs. 89. The Sol-Up team jumped around and hugged when they found out they were taking home $5,000 cash for a job well done.