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Understanding Rapid Shutdown Requirements for Your DIY Solar Project
Aug26

Understanding Rapid Shutdown Requirements for Your DIY Solar Project

If you are installing your own solar, you will have to make sure your system meets the “Rapid Shutdown” requirements.  These requirements first appeared in NEC 2014 and were modified in NEC 2017. The purpose of these requirements is to make things safer for emergency responders. The basic premise is that the DC conductors of a PV system are typically live any time the sun is out. Without a rapid shutdown system, firefighters that need to shut off all electrical sources may have no safe way to turn off the DC wiring on the roof, in the attic and running down the side of your house. Generally, if firefighters are at your house, there is a big enough problem happening that there isn’t time to mess around with trying to figure out what to do about these live solar conductors so the wonderful people who write the electrical code came up with this solution. Rapid shutdown systems improve fire fighter safety Rapid shutdown requirements apply to any PV circuits installed in or on a building. In NEC 2017, they added an exception for ground mounted systems when the sole purpose of the building is to house the PV equipment.  Exactly where and how the conductors need to be controlled changed between NEC 2014 and NEC 2017 so it depends on which code version your city or county is following. NEC 2014 says that you have to control any PV conductors that are more than 10’ from the array or more than 5’ in length inside the building and the rapid shutdown system has to bring these conductors down to 30 volts or less within 10 seconds of rapid shutdown initiation. NEC 2017 gets a little more difficult. They want any conductor more than 1’ from the array or more than 3’ in length inside a building brought down to 30 volts and conductors within the array brought down to 80 volts within 30 seconds.  NEC 2014 made no mention of the location of the device that starts this rapid shutdown process but NEC 2017 makes it clear that it needs to be in a readily accessible location outside the building. Finally, it is required that your system be very specifically labeled that it is equipped with rapid shutdown so those firefighters know for sure what they are dealing with. So how do you accomplish this? Well, the simplest method is to install a system that is inherently equipped with rapid shutdown like the SolarEdge system that incorporates DC optimizers at every solar panel or Enphase microinverters that are installed at every solar panel. These devices easily shut off the...

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Understanding Permit Plans for DIY Solar Projects
Aug22

Understanding Permit Plans for DIY Solar Projects

It is very common for a Do-It-Yourself solar installer to get the permit plans drawn up by the distributor or by a third party company. Doing this definitely makes things go smoother when pulling the permit at the city or county building department and these plans also serve as instructions on how to install your system so it is worthwhile to talk about how to interpret them. Sample page from a solar permit plan First, we have to say that looking at the planset does not substitute for reading installation manuals. It is important that you read the installation manuals for your solar panels, solar panel racking system and inverter (or microinverters). There will be a lot of details in those documents that won’t be covered in the plans so don’t treat the plans like the cliff notes you used to get through English class in high school. Next, you should look over the plans before you submit them to the city or county. Make sure they show all the correct equipment and correct equipment locations. When the inspector comes out to look at your installation, part of their job is to check that everything matches the plans. Look at what the plans say about your main service panel (especially the busbar rating, main service breaker rating, and main service breaker location). If any of that is incorrect, you want to get the plans changed before submitting. Also make sure that there is room on the wall to install the inverter, AC combiner and AC disconnect where they are shown on the plans. Measure your roof area to ensure the layout on the plans will work and the fire code setbacks shown on the plans are really there. If the inspector calls you out on incorrect setbacks after you have installed the system, you will have to move the panels on the roof which will not be fun. When installing, make sure you follow the plans. Things like the fuse or breaker size must be installed as shown on the plans. You have to get the wire type exact, THWN-2 has different ratings than THWN so it is important to pay attention. You should also use the conduit type that is on the plans, the NEC code and individual building departments have lots of rules about this so it says RMC, don’t try to substitute EMT.   You do have a little bit of flexibility to use larger wire or larger conduit than what the plans show but never use smaller. If the plans say 10 AWG and there is a sale on 8 AWG, the inspector typically won’t have...

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Tips for Do-It-Yourself Solar Installation
Aug05

Tips for Do-It-Yourself Solar Installation

Installing your own solar power system on your home will save you money. Reading this article before you do that install will save you time and headaches. Read The Manual! First, read all the installation manuals before you start. It probably the most important and most often skipped step. If it hurts your “I know what I’m doing” pride, read them at night when no one is looking. It only takes a few minutes and can save you a ton of trouble. There’s nothing worse than finishing the job and then having to re-do it because you didn’t do something right.  Another important thing is to make sure you have permit approval before you do any work. It is common for installers to get itchy and do something like install stand-offs while they are waiting for the city approval then end up having to move some of the stand-offs to accommodate local fire codes. Just don’t do it. If you are eager to do something before you have approval, re-read your install manuals. Typically, the solar panels are going to be mounted on the roof which means getting all your tools and equipment up there. We know you are strong enough to carry all that stuff up ladder, but it’s not safe and there is no reason to wear yourself out like that. Get a bucket and a rope and when you are finished you won’t feel like it was leg day at the gym. When it is time to hoist up those awkwardly heavy solar panels, get helpers. It is much easier with at least two people and a broken solar panel will cost more than paying someone for a couple of hours of labor so it is worth it. When it is time to hoist up those awkwardly heavy solar panels, get helpers. It is much easier with at least two people and a broken solar panel will cost more than paying someone for a couple of hours of labor so it is worth it. Once you have things on the roof, keep the equipment in boxes and your tools in a bag. Having things strewn all over the roof is a safety hazard, plus you won’t be able to find what you need when you need it. Also, if it is a warm day, anything that is metal is going to heat up quickly in the sun and will burn your hands when you touch it. This includes tools, mounting hardware and solar panel frames so make sure you have a good pair of gloves on the roof with you. The roof attachments for your solar...

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Optimize Your Solar Production
Jul24

Optimize Your Solar Production

The price of solar panels has come down significantly but that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t try to get the most energy possible from them. The key to optimizing solar panel production is in the installation. We all know to install the solar panels with blue side facing up, but there is a little more to it than that. It is all about the direction the solar panels are facing (often called Azimuth by people in the solar industry) and the tilt angle which would be the angle from horizontal. If a solar panel is oriented so that the sun hits it directly at a 90 degree angle, it will produce the most possible power but the sun is a moving target. Not only does it move across the sky throughout the day, but it is higher in the sky in the summer and lower in the sky in the winter. Many people don’t realize in North America in summer, the sun rises in the Northeast and sets in the Northwest. In the winter that becomes is Southeast and Southwest. It only rises due East and sets due West on the Equinoxes in March and September.  In order to keep up with the sun, many people think they should make the solar panels move. Solar panel tracking systems have been around for a long time, but they aren’t necessarily practical. For one thing, it would look pretty silly to have one on your roof, not to mention the structural and wind load issues you would be dealing with. Ground-mounted solar tracking systems are a possibility, but you are adding moving parts that typically have 5 year warranties and lots of maintenance to an otherwise passive system with a 25 year warranty. The bottom line is that even if you have room to install one in your yard, a solar tracker will be expensive and a pain in the neck. You might gain 20% production, but it would be cheaper and easier to just install 20% more solar panels. So now we are back to talking about what fixed orientation gets you the best bang for your buck. The short answer is to face you solar panels due South at tilt angle slightly less than your latitude. That means if you are as far South as San Diego it would be a tilt angle of 32 degrees and if you are up North in Seattle it would be a tilt angle of 47 degrees. If you want to be very particular about it, a lower tilt angle will give you more power in the summer when the sun is higher...

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Installing Solar? Your State Might Require This Certification If You Want Incentives
Mar04

Installing Solar? Your State Might Require This Certification If You Want Incentives

When it comes to home solar installations, the number of certifications, acronyms, and obscure bills bombarding your research can be enough to cause the sort of migraine you might get from staring too long at the sun. But after slogging through all that work of shopping for the just the right panels, inverters, and a battery storage solution, it would be a shame to miss out on state rebates and incentives because you didn’t have someone involved on your project with this one, crucial, certification: North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Founded in 2002 as a non-profit, this accreditation was established as an industry stamp of approval to let homeowners know which installers have the specialized knowledge and expertise to install a solar system correctly. The requirements to attain a NABCEP are so rigorous that it quickly became the industry gold standard. It wasn’t long before some states made it a preferred or mandatory for a contractor with this certification to be involved in solar systems installations to be eligible for incentive programs. “What most of these states are looking for is that person with a NABCEP-cert is engaged somewhere along the process to look at the equipment and say whether it’s legit or not,” explained Go Green Solar’s NABCEP Certified Senior Design Engineer Dave Donaldson. “If a state is going to pay you for the solar energy you’re generating they want to make sure it’s been installed or reviewed by someone that knows what they’re doing.” Go Green Solar’s NABCEP-certified Senior Engineer Dave Donaldson (purple shirt) directing city of Los Angeles workers how to mount the solar panel In Utah the NABCEP-certification is a prerequisite to qualify for a state solar contractor license and Austin, Texas won’t allow electricians to build a grid-tied system without it. Minnesota, Maine, and Wisconsin are among the states that require a NABCEP-certified professional to install PV solar systems to make it eligible for rebates. And still, other states including California, Massachusetts, and Delaware, take a less stringent approach “recommending” PV solar systems are installed by a professional with NABCEP certifications making permits and rebates much easier to attain. For its part, NABCEP does not encourage or discourage state regulatory efforts. The credentials, which much be renewed every three years, are voluntary and are intended to act a professional differentiator in the same way a realtor that sells houses is able to become a broker after passing his/her license exam. An opinion blog post published by NABCEP argues why the organization feels its certifications should not become mandatory as there might not be enough certified professionals in America to keep up...

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Is it safe to DIY solar?
Feb04

Is it safe to DIY solar?

Solar saves you money. Installing it yourself is a great way to save even more money. But that only works if you don’t end up with an emergency room bill because you weren’t careful. There is a reason that solar contractors pay higher workers’ compensation rates than any other construction trade. So let’s talk about the dangers and how to avoid them. First, let’s tackle the most obvious hazard which is falling. If you are installing your solar panels on a ground mount, you can skip this part but most solar installations are on a roof and therein lies the danger. The angle of the ladder is important, too steep of an angle and you can go over backwards when you are at the top of the ladder, too shallow of an angle and the ladder can slide out from under you. Before you get onto the roof, you should be aware of ladder safety.  The angle of the ladder is important, too steep of an angle and you can go over backwards when you are at the top of the ladder, too shallow of an angle and the ladder can slide out from under you. The way to get the right angle it to make sure the distance between the wall and the bottom of your ladder is 1/4 the height of the surface you are climbing to. For example, if the edge of your roof is 12 feet high, the bottom of your ladder should be 3 feet out from the wall. If the edge of your roof is 20 feet high, the ladder should be 5 feet from the wall. Once you have the ladder in the right place, you should tie it off. Once you have the ladder in the right place, the first time you climb it you should tie it off. If there isn’t already something to anchor it to, a big eye hook screwed firmly into a rafter in the eave will do it. Generally gutters aren’t sturdy enough so using them to hold the ladder will only give you a false sense of security which could be more dangerous than no tie off at all. Okay, now that we have you safely on the roof the best way to mitigate the risk of falling is a harness, rope and anchor set up. These can be a bit pricey, but your life is worth it. There are also safety concerns to address for getting things besides yourself on the roof. Climbing the ladder while carrying things is not the best idea, so let’s look at other options. Tools and smaller racking parts...

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