Building a Greener Future: Crystal's Solar Story

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

Crystal Allsop originally went to Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning to study Interior Design with the belief that it was the perfect mix of art and the science as applied to building. She learned much from the program, but soon discovered that not all aspects of the program aligned with her values: "It was great, but I quickly realized how big an impact that industry can have on our earth so I continued my education afterwards by taking a post-grad in Sustainable Building Design and Construction. I had a few jobs along the way before I found the ones that made me feel satisfied".

Although she moved in a different direction from Interior Design, she still found the lessons learned to be useful, and credits the Sustainable Building Design and Construction program at Sheridan with giving her the confidence and know-how to take on a job: "My Building Code and Architectural Drafting courses from the Interior Design program are very useful to me. Every day, I read building plans for homes and/or solar systems in order to be able to make the plan a reality; I am very happy that I have an in-depth knowledge of how to create and read plans. From the Sustainable Building Design program I am grateful for the hands-on education that made me familiar with tools; this allowed me to feel comfortable on a job-site before I even got there. This knowledge also allowed me to be prepared and quickly climb to a position of leadership.

 Crystal installs solar panels on the roofs of homes and buildings within communities.  A day on the job is always different for Crystal and she is proud of the work she does.  "A sample day on the job could include a drive to a client's home/farm/or commercial building. Unpacking tools, setting up safety gear on the roof. Analyzing the site roof access points to bring solar panels and materials; assessing whether we can use a ladder or whether we will require a machine to lift  material. A quick peek in the attic to see if the structure is sufficient to hold the solar array (if it does not we visit the attic again later in the project to add sufficient supporting members to the roof structure). I analyze the construction plans and layout the roof with chalk; I have my workers begin to drill and add the required fasteners for the racking system which I will prepare based on the construction drawings. Once the racking is in place we begin to prepare the electrical components (which is either strings of PV wire or Micro-Inverters) then we are ready to install the panels. We install one panel at a time paying close attention to keep the array 'square' and complying with ESA electrical standards when plugging placing wires from the solar panels. A Junction box is created on the roof and the panels are plugged into this. From here tech cable is run from the junction box to the inverter and/or the meter base of the home/building then our job is complete! An electrician comes to finish all wiring connections and connect the system to the grid! We pack up our tools, clean up the site, and thank the client before we leave."

 Crystal did not always know this was the path for her. She took opportunities as they came, and hopes to eventually expand her skills in carpentry, design, and the solar industry, to build small off-the-grid homes, for average and not-so-average home owners.

 She admits that it can sometimes be difficult working in severe weather conditions of  -50° weather, or dangling from a harness on the roof, but it's the difference she makes that keeps her going: "Sometimes I work in remote Northern communities that cannot  be accessed by roads. The people here do not live on electricity generated by hydro lines but rather diesel generators; this is extremely expensive and harmful to the environment. It also limits the communities to a  certain energy consumption. Last winter we flew to a First Nations community and spent 1 month installing a solar array on the roof of their school. This took the school off the grid which had several positive effects in the community! They were able to use that extra power to connect 5 new homes, out of 25, that were abandoned and boarded up in the community. They were able to keep the school open longer for the kids to participate in extra-curricular activities (and the kids were so excited about that!). It saved them $30,000 a month in diesel and shipping costs, and it helped them to reduce their environmental impact. The "Thank you's" I get and just the sheer thought of how many people I am able to positively impact makes me feel so happy about what I do."

 Crystal had this to say for those interested in the field of solar work: "My advice for working the field is to consider job stability. Government incentives and a good sales team can generate demand for solar work; Government incentives vary in different provinces and countries. The work is contract based so it's not for those who need a regular, steady schedule and are made uncomfortable by unpredictability in job stability. I have been lucky to work so steadily in this field of work but just moved out of province to continue working as I had no contracts this winter. However for anyone who is passionate about solar power there are many positions which can be help on-site and off the site. The electrical engineers and sales teams all work full-time, all year round."