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Tale of Two Ground Mounts
Nov27

Tale of Two Ground Mounts

It could save you money or it could cost you more. It could be easy or it could be hard. Do it yourself solar is more than just strapping on a tool belt and swinging a hammer. There’s technical paper work that often gets overlooked in the excitement of building your own solar power system, which can be more arduous a task than the physical labor. When roofing contractor Ray Ragsdale decided to take his energy destiny into his own hands and build a 9.3kW solar ground mount at his home, he quickly discovered that the most challenging part of the project was getting the system approved for interconnection with PG&E’s energy grid. Ragsdale was surprised to discover that his neighbor, who purchased a similar system from GoGreenSolar, already had his system fully up and running even though Ray installed his system first. The neighbor informed us of Ray’s challenges and we stepped in to lend a hand with what many consider to be the most complicated part of the job — the paperwork.  “If it wasn’t for GoGreen I’d probably still be battling PG&E to get everything approved” said Ragsdale. An experienced roofing contractor, Ragsdale had installed solar power systems before. Much like his neighbor, his property was in a rural area and more suited for a ground mount install. The appeal of not having to climb around on a roof made the project appear easier. Ragsdale would soon learn that the paperwork for ground mount units would be an unexpected hurdle to surmount. “I’ve pulled plenty of permits as a contractor, but this was more complicated than I initially thought,” Mr. Ragsdale recalled. Purchasing 32 290W Solarworld panels with Enphase Microinverters from a “wholesale” solar company seemed like a good deal to Ragsdale on the surface. A freight truck delivered the items to his door on time, dropping everything off on a pallet rack. For Ragsdale, the plans and install were paint-by-the-numbers. When it came time to connect the system to PG&E’s grid to get his net metering rebate, the real challenge began. “PG&E rejected my application if there were any minor mistakes in the paperwork,” Ragsdale said. “For example, a missing dash in a part number didn’t match what was in their system so I got rejected and had to wait for their delayed response.” The vendor he had purchased the system off was a one and done deal, so he contacted the experts at GoGreenSolar to help interconnect his system to the grid. Details such as the proper signature, annual electrical usage, and a proper list of dated modifications were all squared away properly and submitted...

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These Tools Are Needed for Do-It-Yourself Solar
Nov13

These Tools Are Needed for Do-It-Yourself Solar

You have decided to install your own solar power system. The job will go much smoother if you have all the right tools on hand. First, you will need some things on the roof and having them all up there before you start will make you much happier. Power tools for the roof work will include a drill/driver for drilling the pilot holes, driving in lags screws and tightening racking bolts. Make you use a driver with a torque setting and not an impact driver when tightening down the module clamps. If the clamps are too tight, the module glass can crack. Also make sure you have the right size drill bit and sockets in your tool belt. Be aware that not all the racking pieces will use the same size socket and some may need deep well sockets. Check everything while you are at ground level to avoid extra trips up and down that ladder. The first one is easy, but by ladder climb number ten, you will be cursing your lack of planning. You will also want a power saw for cutting the rails. A portable band saw is great for this, but you can make do with almost any saw. Most installers cut the rails after the modules are installed so choose a saw that will give you enough control to cut the rails without harming the roof. Don’t forget a fully charged battery or an extension cord for your power tools. A less common tool that is extremely helpful is a flat pry bar for breaking the shingle seal so you can slide the flashing under it.  You will also want a caulk gun for roof sealant and a basic set of hand tools up there with you; screwdriver for tightening grounding lugs, something sharp to open the tubes of roof sealant (unless you have the fancy caulk gun with the slicer), screwdriver for tightening grounding lugs, pliers to help manipulate the solid bare copper grounding wire and a hammer which works better than a standard stud finder when it comes to finding the roof rafters. Some rags for wiping up extra glops of roof sealant will also come in handy. You and your neighbors will both appreciate it if your solar panels are installed square and level which means you want a measuring tape, chalk line, string line, level and squaring tool on the roof to make that happen. Now let’s talk about the electrical work. The same drill/driver, measuring tape and level that you used on the roof will get you through mounting all the enclosures on the wall. EMT is the most...

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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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