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What Skills Are Needed for DIY Solar?
Oct22

What Skills Are Needed for DIY Solar?

Solar is a great idea. But is it a great idea to install it yourself? That depends on your skills. The first set of skills that should be discussed are safety skills. There is a reason why solar contractors pay some of the highest workers’ compensation insurance rates in the construction industry. You will be working on the roof. Be sure to wear a fall protection safety harness to protect you from slipping off the roof! You will need to transport all your tools and materials to the roof (including the 3.5’ x 5.5’ solar panels that weigh 45 pounds each), which can be tricky if the roof isn’t flat. Plus there is live DC electricity and power tools involved. If you know and understand all the safety requirements of these things, you are past the first hurdle. Next, some roofing skills would come in handy for a do-it-yourself solar installer. In order to install solar panels on a typical residential roof, you will be drilling a lot of holes in it. Knowing the basic construction of your roof and how to seal those holes is a key factor in a successful solar installation. Electrician skills are needed if you want to do the whole job by yourself. EMT conduit is commonly used for solar in most parts of the country so you will need to bend that conduit as it goes over the roof ridge or routes around the eave. For most residential jobs the conduit will only be ¾”, maybe 1” if the system is fairly large or you want the wire pull to be very easy. If conduit bending is not a skill you currently have, the key to learning it is practice. So, buy a few more sticks of conduit than you think you need and learn as you go. Most stores also carry conduit bends ready-made with the perfect radius. You can use pull boxes or LBs to get around the corners without being a master conduit bender. Wiring is other electrician skill you will need. Having experience pulling wires through conduit is very useful. Knowledge of details like marking the wires before you pull them through the conduit, making sure all the strands of the wire are in the terminal and how to properly torque the terminal so those wires stay put would also be essential. The more important part of the electrician skills is understanding basic electrical safety. You can do things to make it safer like turning off your main service breaker when you are installing the PV breaker, but you also need to know that the wires from the meter...

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Benefits of DIY Solar
Sep10

Benefits of DIY Solar

We all know the benefits of going solar. The solar salespeople knocking on your door and calling you incessantly have made it clear that a solar power system will quickly pay for itself by saving you money on your electric bill. But what about the benefits of doing the install yourself? The most obvious benefit of DIY solar is the cost savings. As much as half the cost of a solar system install is labor charges. It is not the contractor’s fault that these charges are so high.  Solar contractors have some of the highest workers’ compensation insurance rates of all the construction trades, so not only do they have to pay their workers, they also must pay high insurance premiums. Let’s also not forget those solar salespeople at your door. If you buy from them, their commission is coming directly out of your pocket. Another benefit is confidence that the job will be done right. In general, solar contractors know what they are doing, but larger solar installers often have issues with quality control. Solar crews are under the gun to complete an install in a certain amount of time and corner cutting happens. Some smaller companies do solar on the side and their main business is roofing or electrical work. These guys may not be fully up to date on all the changes to solar equipment or the ever changing requirements of local building departments and utility companies. The bottom line is who would you rather have putting a bunch of holes in your roof? Would you choose a guy who is in a big hurry because his boss says he has to finish the job by tomorrow? Would you pick an electrician whose training on installing roof flashings began and ended with the installation manual that came in the box? Or, would you rather do it yourself? You know you will take the time to learn the right and wrong way to install that flashing. You will take your time on the roof to get it done right. You will also carefully choose the right flashing which brings up the next point. Getting to choose the equipment yourself is another reason to DIY on your solar project. Most installation companies offer one or two choices on solar panels and inverters and will never even discuss the smaller details like racking or flashings. Solar contractors typically choose these accessories based on the cheapest price which is a little scary when you think about those flashings being the only thing that is going to prevent all those holes in the roof from turning into leaks a few years...

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How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Charge my EV?
Aug03

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Charge my EV?

We are still miles away from being able to produce a practical, self-contained solar powered car but that does not mean you have to give up your dream of driving on sunshine. If you have an electric vehicle, you are halfway there. All you would need to add is some solar panels to your home charging station. Before we get into system sizing, many people have the idea that the solar electric vehicle charging station must be a stand-alone system, but that is not the best configuration. If the solar panels are only connected to the EV charger and you don’t drive anywhere that day, the solar power is wasted. The way to avoid that is to install a standard grid-tied system or a system with a SolarEdge grid-tied inverter with an integrated EV charger. With either of these options, the solar power produced when you don’t need to charge your car will be used to run other loads in your house or backfeed to the grid so it would never be wasted. So how many solar panels do you need to charge your EV? That depends on how much you drive. The average EV uses about .3 kwh per mile. This means if you average 50 miles per day, you would use about 15 kwh per day to keep it charged. With solar, it always best to talk about annual production because solar panels will always produce more energy in the long summer days than they will during the winter months. So let’s look at the annual usage for the car which is just the daily number multiplied by 365 days. In our example above, 15 kwh multiplied by 365 days is 5,475 kwh. That is the amount your solar would need to generate to off set the electricity used by the car annually. We have discussed system sizing in previous articles, but to give a short summary, you can start with PV Watts at https://pvwatts.nrel.gov/. Follow the prompts which start with entering your zip code so your production numbers will be location specific. It will also ask for a system size in kilowatts (kw). A good starting point is to take that kwh number you want to reach and divide it by 1,500. In our example above where you wanted to generate 5,475 kwh it would be 5,475/1,500 = 3.65 kw. Once you see the output on that system size, you can adjust the size up or down to get to the goal. You will also need to enter the tilt and Azimuth of the system. Tilt is just the angle from horizontal. If the system will...

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How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
Jul25

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?

Once you have chosen to go solar, the very important question arises. How many solar panels do I need? The first part of this is to figure out how many Watts of solar you need. This will depend on how much energy you want to generate. If you are shopping for a grid-tied system, you will find the answer in your electric bills. Every month, the electric company has tallied exactly how much energy (kiloWatt hours or kWh) you used so they could bill you for it. The meaning of that kWh figure and kW is commonly confused. The kWh is merely kW over time. For example: if 10 kW is consumed for 2 hours, that is 20 kWh. An analogy is kW is like a speedometer, indicating how much power is being consumed at one point in time. And kWh is like an odometer, indicating how much power has been consumed over time. All you have to do is look at the history of kWh usage on your paper electric bills or your online account with the power company. We recommend reviewing at least 12 months of electric history. You will definitely notice a difference in usage from winter to summer and basing your needs on just one month’s bill can be a big...

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You Can Add Energy Storage to Grid-Tie Solar
Jul11

You Can Add Energy Storage to Grid-Tie Solar

Energy storage systems for solar are becoming more popular. People want to have back-up power during power outages and changes in net metering and time of use electric rates can give energy storage options a better payback. When going solar, many people feel pressured that they must make the decision about energy storage up front. But the truth is that adding energy storage to an existing grid-tied system is easy. The best part is that you do not have to remove or change any of your existing grid-tie system when you add batteries. This surprises many people who understand traditional solar power systems with batteries, but it is all about DC coupling versus AC coupling. For many years, solar with energy storage was always set up as a DC coupled system. Solar panels were connected to a charge controller which managed the solar power going into the batteries and kept the batteries from being overcharged. The power from the solar panels and the batteries is all DC, hence the term DC coupling. Then a battery-based inverter was used to convert the DC power from the batteries to AC power to feed the loads. This technology is all still used for some systems, but it is no longer the only option. This is great news for anyone who has grid-tied solar already installed and wants to add energy storage. Grid-tied systems have the solar panels connected to an inverter (or microinverters) that change that DC power from the solar to AC power from the loads. These grid-tied inverters do not work with batteries, and until the last decade, installing a battery system meant removing that grid-tied inverter and replacing it with a charge controller and battery-based inverter. But now there is a better way that is rapidly gaining popularity and it is called AC coupling. In an AC coupled system, you connect the AC output of a battery-based inverter to the AC output of a  grid-tied inverter. This will work with any grid-tied inverter or microinverters, but you must be careful in your choice of the battery-based inverter as it needs to have the right functionality. Inverters like the Outback GS Radian are specially designed with AC coupling in mind. Outback even packages it with batteries as a complete kit to make the choice easy. If you have a grid-tied solar system, you probably already know that it does not work during a power outage. The reason for this is that grid-tied inverters will not make AC power unless they have AC power coming to them from the grid. When you install the battery-based inverter, it creates AC power that...

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SolarEdge Vs. Microinverters
Jul05

SolarEdge Vs. Microinverters

With so many options on equipment, it is easy to get lost in the decision making process. One of the most common customer questions is the difference between microinverters and a system like SolarEdge that incorporates DC optimizers with a string inverter. First, let’s look at the ways these two systems would be the same. Both SolarEdge and microinverters will maximize the power from each individual solar module with maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology. Having an MPPT device at each solar module helps mitigate shade and orientation issues that can occur with the standard string inverters. Another common element is that both SolarEdge and microinverter systems will provide module level monitoring so you can see how each solar module is performing individually. Both systems also meet the 2014 NEC Rapid shutdown requirements in that if the system is shutdown with the disconnects that are accessible at ground level, the conductors from the roof will not be energized. So, how are microinverters and SolarEdge different? It’s all about where the power is converted from AC to DC. The solar modules produce DC power and a microinverter converts that DC power to AC power at the solar module. In a SolarEdge system, there are DC optimizers that do the maximum power point tracking at the module but they don’t convert the power to AC. The “conditioned” DC power flows in the conductors that come down from the roof and it is converted to AC power at the central inverter which is typically installed near the main service panel of the building. Now for the fun part…. Which one is best? Everyone in the solar industry has an opinion and the bottom line is you have to decide for yourself. Let’s look at some of the factors that will help you make this decision. Cost The cost of the whole system needs to be considered in this. When buying microinverters, you will pay for the microinverters, the monitoring system and the trunk cable (which is a separate part for some brands and not others). When purchasing the SolarEdge system you will buy the DC optimizers, the string inverter and possibly a monitoring option depending on how you want the monitoring to operate. The individual microinverters will cost more than the DC optimizers (you are paying for all the DC to AC conversion electronics in every microinverter). The monitoring equipment is typically the same cost for either system. Then with SolarEdge, you have to buy the inverter. The result is the total system cost on microinverters less than SolarEdge if you are doing a small system (under 3.8kw) and microinverters cost more...

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