Maybe you've considered solar energy - even if only for a brief moment - only to dismiss it as too complicated and too expensive, or maybe you're seriously considering a project, but don't know where to start. With this Instructable, I hope to demystify the (not-really) intimidating process of installing solar panels in your home. We'll review the parts of a solar panel system, the things you need to consider when you're planning, and how you can save money on (and even get free money for) your project. At the end of the day, you'll know what to look for and what to keep in mind with any solar project.
Why Go Solar?
If you've been thinking about going solar, there's no better time than now to do it. Government financial incentives are still ripe for the picking, the cost of photovoltaic (PV) cells is falling every day, and you'll probably be the first person on your block to make the jump. Adding solar energy to your house is an excellent project for several reasons: You'll save loads on electricity, and may even be able to sell some of yours back to the utility company; you'll reduce your carbon footprint; and if you're installing in a remote location (such as a cabin), you'll have much less to worry about than you would with a gasoline generator. You'll also support a growing industry, and in doing so, help contribute to the worldwide adoption of this wonderful new energy source.
Throughout the guide, I'll be providing links to articles from SolarTown.com's learning center. This guide is meant to be very broad, so that you know what to keep in mind and what to plan for. Once you start researching individual products, though, you'll probably want a little more specific information. Hopefully, these links will address your questions. If anything you need to know isn't covered, feel free to surf over to our community page and ask an expert solar installer.
Step 1: Parts of a Home Solar Energy System
This article is going to assume that you'll be building a grid-tie (or "on the grid") system. Grid-tie means that your house will still be connected to the utility company. The biggest benefit of staying on the grid is net metering: If you're producing excess power, you can actually sell it back to the utility company. Since your system will help produce green power for the grid, and reduce the overall strain on the utility company, they'll buy it from you at a huge premium. Because you're still on the grid, you'll still have power on cloudy days.
What do I need?
These are the parts of a grid-tie system, in order:
1. Solar Modules (aka PV Panels) collect energy from the sun and turn it into direct current.
2. Power Inverter turns the DC from the panels into AC that your appliances can use.
3. PV Disconnect lets you cut off power so that you can work on the system without electrocuting yourself.
4. Your home's breaker box is where the solar energy connects to your house.
5. Net meter connects your house to the grid, measuring how much power you take from - or give to - the power grid at large.
You can buy panels, racking, inverters, and more at SolarTown. As we continue through this article, we'll look at some of the products that are available and what each will cost. If you feel overwhelmed by all of the different options, we sell packages that include panels, racking, and the inverter at discount prices, so give that a look as well! You could have a 5kW system for $35,000. Try not to let the price tag turn you off - we'll look at government programs to help cover the costs in step 7.
Now that you're familiar with the vocabulary, we can get to planning your solar array.