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Back to the Grid, Designing PV Systems for Code Compliance

Posted By John Wiles, Sunday, January 01, 2006
Updated: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In the September/October 2005 issue of IAEI News, the "Perspectives on PV” article discussed making the utility connection for utility-interactive PV systems. In some of the larger residential PV systems and in many commercial PV systems, the grid connection must be made on the supply side of the service disconnect to comply with the requirements of NEC 690.64. In designing PV systems for code compliance, knowledge of all of the various Code requirements is a must. This article will cover some of these requirements as they apply to a supply-side tap of the service-entrance conductors. PV systems employing supply-side connections should be inspected with these requirements in mind.

Photo 1. Utility-required AC PV system disconnect. Note improper grounding connections

Service-Entrance Conductor Taps for Utility-Interactive Inverter Systems

Section 690.64 of the NEC establishes how and where a utility-interactive PV system may be connected to the utility system. The point of connection may be either on the load side of the service disconnect or the utility (supply) side of the service disconnect. In many cases, the complex requirements for load-side connections established by 690.64(B)(2) make such a connection impractical and dictate that the utility-interactive inverter be connected on the supply side of the service disconnect. Figure 1 shows the basic one-line diagram of a supply-side tap. Here are some, but not all, of the major Code sections that address the requirements for such a connection.

Can a Service-Entrance Conductor be Tapped?

Section 690.64(A) allows a supply (utility) side connection as permitted in 230.82(6).

Section 230.82(6) lists solar photovoltaic equipment as permitted to be connected to the supply side of the service disconnect.

It is evident that the connection of a utility-interactive inverter to the supply side of a service disconnect is essentially connecting a second service-entrance disconnect to the existing service and many, if not all, of the rules for service-entrance equipment must be followed.

Section 240.21(D) allows the service conductors to be tapped and refers to 230.91.

Section 230.91 requires that the service overcurrent device be co-located with the service disconnect. A circuit breaker or a fused disconnect would meet these requirements.

A Frequent Utility Requirement May Also Be Met

When the new PV service disconnect consists of a utility-accessible, visible-break, lockable (open) fused disconnect (safety switch), it may also meet utility requirements for an external PV ac disconnect. While this utility-required switch is not a Code requirement, it is installed on the premises, and the NEC requirements for such an installation must be followed. Photo 1 shows a typical disconnect required by a utility for a 10 kW three-phase PV system. Note that it has been grounded improperly by using lugs and sheet metal screws rather than with the required ground-bar kit listed by the manufacturer.

Section 230.71 specifies that the service disconnecting means for each set of service-entrance conductors shall be a combination of no more than six switches and sets of circuit breakers mounted in a single enclosure or in a group of enclosures. The addition of the photovoltaic equipment disconnect would be one of the six.

Locations and Markings

Section 230.70(A) establishes the location requirements for the service disconnect. Whether the service disconnect is allowed to be inside the building or outside the building is usually governed by the local jurisdiction.
 

Photo 2. Label on ac PV disconnect

Section 705.10 requires that a directory be placed in a central location showing the location of all power sources for a building. Locating the PV service disconnect and the direct-current PV disconnect (690.14) adjacent to or near the existing service disconnect may facilitate the installation, inspection, and operation of the system. See photo 2 for a typical label that is applied to the ac PV Disconnect.

Size and Rating

Section 230.79(D) requires that the disconnect have a minimum rating of 60 amps. This would apply to a service-entrance rated circuit breaker or fused disconnect used to connect the output of the PV system to the utility grid.

Section 230.42 requires that the service-entrance conductors be sized at 125 percent of the continuous loads (all currents in a PV system are considered worst-case continuous currents). The actual rating should be based on 125 percent of the rated output current for the utility-interactive PV inverter as required by 690.8. The disconnect must have a 60-amp minimum rating. This 60-amp minimum requirement would apply even if the inverter rated continuous output current dictated only a 15-amp circuit. Conductor ampacity adjustment factors for temperature and conduit fill may have to be applied.

For a small PV system, say a 2500-watt 240-volt inverter requiring a 15-amp circuit and overcurrent protection, these requirements would require a minimum 60-amp rated disconnect, but 15-amp fuses could be used; fuse adapters would be required. While 15-amp conductors could be used between the inverter and the 15-amp fuses in the disconnect, 230.42(B) requires that the conductors between the service tap and the disconnect be rated not less than the rating of the disconnect; in this case 60 amps.

How we would deal with the minimum 60-amp disconnect requirement and a 15-amp inverter overcurrent requirement using circuit breakers is not straightforward. A circuit breaker rated at 60 amps could serve as a disconnect and it could be connected to a 15-amp circuit breaker to meet the inverter overcurrent device requirements. In this case, the requirements of 690.64(B)(2) should be applied to the ampacities of any conductors involved, because the 15-amp circuit breaker now becomes a load-side connection on the new 60-amp service disconnect.

Interrupt Capability

Section 110.9 requires that the interrupt capability of the equipment be equal to the available fault current. The interrupt rating of the new disconnect/overcurrent device should at least equal the interrupt rating of the existing service equipment. The utility service should be investigated to ensure that the available fault currents have not been increased above the rating of the existing equipment. Fused disconnects with RK-5 fuses are commonly available with interrupt ratings up to 200,000 amps (Photo 1).

Section 230.43 allows a number of different service-entrance wiring systems. However, considering that the tap conductors are unprotected from faults (except by the primary fuse on the utility distribution transformer), it is suggested that the conductors be as short as possible with the new PV service/disconnect mounted adjacent to the tap point. Conductors installed in rigid metal conduit would provide the highest level of fault protection.


Photo 3. Exothermic weld splice in grounding electrode conductor

All equipment must be properly grounded per Article 250 requirements. For example, photo 3, shows an exothermic weld irreversible splice in a grounding electrode conductor.

Additional service-entrance disconnect requirements in Article 230 and requirements in other articles of the NEC will apply to this connection.

Where to Connect?

The actual location of the tap will depend on the configuration and location of the existing service-entrance equipment. The following connection locations have been used on various systems throughout the country.

On the smaller residential and commercial systems, there is sometimes room in the main load center to tap the service conductors just before they are connected to the existing service disconnect. In other installations, the meter socket has lugs that are listed for two conductors per lug. Combined meter/service disconnects/load centers frequently have significant amounts of interior space where the tap can be made between the meter socket and the service disconnect. Of course, adding a new pull box between the meter socket and the service disconnect is always an option.


Figure 1. Supply-side interconnection diagram

In the larger commercial installations, the main service-entrance equipment will frequently have bus bars that have provisions for tap conductors.

In all cases, safe working practices dictate that the utility service be de-energized before any tap connections are made.

Summary

Utility-interactive PV systems can be designed to be safely connected to the supply side of an existing service disconnect. These connections are being made throughout the country on both residential and commercial PV systems.

Back to the Grid, The End of an Era?

There is one long-term downside of installing a PV system on the roof of a building. At some point the roof may have to be repaired.

The conventional wisdom in New Mexico, where the author lives, is that it is a pretty arid state. Average rainfall in the southern end of the state is about 9–10 inches per year, but most of this rain comes in the form of heavy thunderstorms during the July–October rainy season.

This year, the author was unfortunate enough to have downpours of 4.5 inches and 1.5 inches hit his home in two successive weeks. Two significant roof leaks occurred on his 18-year old "flat” roofed home and neither could be located nor fixed, even after significant patching. The house will have to be re-roofed after all of the solar equipment is removed. That solar equipment consists of a large solar hot water collector system and a 4 kW PV system covering most of the roof area. On Tuesday, October 4th, the local utility reinstalled the KWH meter and the house became grid powered after 16 years of off-grid PV operation. The end of an era? No, hopefully, just a temporary, 2–3 month interruption, until the roof is repaired.

For Additional Information

If this article has raised questions, do not hesitate to contact the author by phone or e-mail. E-mail: jwiles@nmsu.edu Phone: 505-646-6105

A PV Systems Inspector/Installer Checklist will be sent via e-mail to those requesting it. A color copy of the 143-page, 2005 edition of the Photovoltaic Power Systems and the National Electrical Code: Suggested Practices, published by Sandia National Laboratories and written by the author, may be downloaded from this web site: (http://www.nmsu.edu/~tdi/roswell-8opt.pdf.) A black and white printed copy will be mailed to those requesting a copy via e-mail if a shipping address is included. The Southwest Technology Development web site (http://www.nmsu.edu/~tdi) maintains all copies of the previous "Perspectives on PV” articles. Copies of "Code Corner” written by the author and published in Home Power Magazine over the last 10 years are also available on this web site.

Draft proposals for the 2008 NEC being developed by the PV Industry Forum may be downloaded from this web site:
http://www.nmsu.edu/~tdi/pdf-resources/2008NECproposals2.pdf

The author makes 6–8 hour presentations on "PV Systems and the NEC” to groups of 40 or more inspectors, electricians, electrical contractors, and PV professionals for a very nominal cost on an as-requested basis. A schedule of future presentations can be found on the SWTDI web site.


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Tags:  Featured  January-February 2006  Perspectives on PV 

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