Starting with an anonymous donation and some bright ideas from a design consultant, combined with the ambition and organization of parish staff, and the helping hands of 17 women and an environmental business; this system is truly a symbol of what collaborative team effort can do for sustainable development.

Parishioner Donation Sparks Solar Electric System Installation At St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Churc

Akeena Solar | Akeena Solar

Parishioner Donation Sparks Sola

On March 19th, 2004 a group of 17 women celebrated the completion of a 2.5kW solar electric system they installed at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in San Jose, CA.  For the women, the installation marked the end of a six-day Solar Energy International (SEI) Photovoltaic (PV) Design and Installation course. For St. Frances Cabrini, the system helps the parish moves towards its environmental goals at a low cost and, at the same time, educate others about the design and installation of photovoltaic energy systems.  A win-win situation for all!


Back in the winter of 2003, an anonymous parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini donated $10,000 specifically for a solar upgrade at the parish.  Vincent Cusella (owner of General Lighting Services) was the parishioner who consulted with Design Consultant Kathleen Mandis of Akeena Solar to see how far the donated money would go towards a solar electric system.  Already a graduate of an SEI course, Kathleen used her expertise and resourcefulness to design a system that utilized the $10,000 donation and still provided St. Frances with a large enough system to have a positive impact on their electrical bills.  The final result was a collaborative effort between Akeena Solar, SEI, and St. Frances Cabrini Church.  Akeena Solar donated the engineering and on-site expertise, SEI provided the installation labor and required insurance, and St. Frances Cabrini provided the site and paid for the equipment installed and building permit. When combined with California rebates and the federal tax incentive, St. Frances Cabrini was able to install the 2.5 kW system for under half of the total system price.


The photovoltaic (PV) system was the final piece of a six-day Photovoltaic Design and Installation class offered by SEI that is exclusively for women. SEI, based in Colorado, is one of the nation's foremost educators for renewable energy installers and green builders.  Six years ago, SEI began to offer some courses for women only, to encourage more women to enter this traditionally male-dominated field and talk about this very technical subject in language they are more comfortable with.  As a result, more questions are asked and an inspiring amount of networking goes on. This specific course began with four days of classroom instruction in Santa Cruz, California and culminated with the installation in San Jose, which provides students with the hands-on training needed to truly understand PV system operation and installation.


The battery-less grid-tied system consists of one SMA 2500U-SBD 240 volt Sunny Boy inverter with display (which the women re-named "Sunny Girl"), and 18 Kyocera 167 watt solar modules. It was mounted on a flat roof with an orientation of 180 degrees magnetic south. The 2.5kW system provides St. Frances Cabrini the opportunity to eliminate the release of over 116 tons of CO2, 75 tons of NOx and a total energy savings of $54,421 over the 30-year life of the equipment.  

Many of the women who participated in the course had fascinating reasons for learning about PV.  One woman had lived in Africa for a while and was planning to return to one of the villages to install solar.  Another woman took the course because her husband installs solar and she wanted to understand and speak the "solar language" with ease. One woman lived off grid and wanted to understand her system better and may even start her own off-grid installation company.

Ultimately, St. Frances Cabrini would like to expand the present system with an additional 28 kW system, once they can raise enough funds. Until then, the 18 panels installed are converting sunlight to electricity and benefiting St. Frances Cabrini and our environment. Starting with an anonymous donation and some bright ideas from a design consultant, combined with the ambition and organization of parish staff, and the helping hands of 17 women and an environmental business; this system is truly a symbol of what collaborative team effort can do for sustainable development.


Suzanne Barnes, Akeena Solar 605 University Avenue, Los Gatos, CA 95032 • 888-Akeena-8 or 408-395-7774 • Fax: 408-395-7979 •


Barry Cinnamon, Akeena Solar •


Russell Paige, Saint Frances Cabrini Catholic Parish, 15333 Woodard Road, San Jose, CA  95124 • 408-879-1128  • Fax: 408-377-3587 •


Carol Weis, Solar Energy International, PO Box 715, Carbondale, CO 81623 • 970-963-8855 • Fax: 970-963-8866 •


SMA America, Inc., 12438 Loma Rica Drive., Unit C, Grass Valley, CA  95945 • 530-273-4895 • Fax: 530-274-7271 •


Kyocera Solar, Inc., 7812 East Acoma Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85260 • 480-948-8003 • Fax: 480-483-6431 •

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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