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DIY Home Solar: Planning a Solar Array (Beginner's Guide)

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Hi there!

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.

Further Reading:
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.
 
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lizzy_w3 months ago

Hi,

I'm glad that I found this site! Yes, the price of installing pv system is still gradually falling, our saving are increasing, and that's great. I hope that people will turn to being more environment-friendly. To all reading it: we have to start being more responsible for our environment and use renewable sources of energy. It's really not that hard to design and do all the installations, especially now, that we have better tools to do it, like the apps ( this one for example http://easysolar.co/ ) that practically do everything for you, design, calculate the azimuth, provide you with simulations and financial analysis and save your time! We have to start to make good changes... Oh, and good luck to all beginners!


Elizabeth

nonford1507 months ago

Great instuctable! A few points:

If you live in a HOA, be sure to check your covenants for solar panel restrictions. Mine prohibited them; three of us proposed and got passed new covenants with defining approved installs. Not as good as all balls-out, but sufficient for a good install. BTW, this cost about $5K so try to roll this in with other changes the board has been talking about, plus be ready to go door-to-door to get people to say OK. Took us a year and 2 months - we have a small (600 house) subdivision. YMMV.

BE very sure to check with your local power provider AND your state regulator. Our local company (GA Power) won't buy back power because GA prohibits it - not that they would unless pressured by the state. Next on the list: Petitioning our local state representative to support a bill allowing it (it has failed 4 times in the past 5 years - but like all things political, squeaky wheels).

If you use am installer, make sure they can provide you with workman's comp and liability insurance proof AND call the companies and verify the policies are still in effect. Both of these are expensive and easy to cancel - if you don't check you could end up paying for a hurt worker for life or fixing damage.

Thanks this is the best I have seen I surfed the web and found such bewildering stories that it ends in frustrations
Mase7231 year ago
The Free Energy shop is developed for people who love nature and a sustainable way of living. At this moment we offer wind, solar energy and electronic gadget products. Solar Gadgets
triumphman4 years ago
Here in Orange County, New York, the local Utility provider is Orange & Rockland Utilities. A Doctor here solarized his home and they only gave him pennies for his electicity that he sent back through his meter to the grid. As usual a Large Monopoly sticks it to the consumer when he tries to save energy and avoids their price per Kwh. As we speak, they are asking for another increase in rates! How much greed can there be?
I think there is nothing as sexy as being able to make that call to the power company and say, "I don't want to buy any more power from you, please disconnect your supply from my home, thankyou."

Yes... I have that call to make - it's on my list - after my arrays and wind generator and solar water heater are up and running.

Projects in progress.

Here in Australia, the people who sold off the nationally owned power companies, to private companies, well these companies have just given us price rises of like 30% etc., with MORE on the way.

"Hammer, hammer, hammer,

Screw, screw, screw,

I am putting your power company and your bills

In the poo".



DIY Solar Jon (author)  triumphman2 years ago
your buddy will break even at some and then really stick it to the util... when it comes to feed in, it really depends on location and what homeowners want to achieve. If i'm not mistaken ny has netmetering so your friend will be saving a lot of money from whatever the solar energy covers... the energy he consumes from the utility on the other hand will continue to go up at the discretion of the util overlord :(
All the more reason to go off grid like my Son. He lives in Vermont and he powers his house on 2 large panels, I don't know the output, and on cloudy days he has a generator works off the containment pond with 400 feet of head. If you are an Energy Hog you will need to spend a lot of money for panels.

No Grid Tie Here !
Hmm...much like the banks who pay you a measly interest rate and then stick it to you many times over when they issue you a credit card. Maybe the doctor should start selling his electricity to a neighbor.
DIY Solar Jon (author)  triumphman4 years ago
NY state has a pretty good program but I try to avoid the craziness of business polices and such... More headache than it is really worth. The best way to go is to eliminate the higher cost of energy we pay to utility provider, which is why I love alternative energy. It empowers homeowners and gives them the right to choose what they want to pay.

Thanks for the feedback
big corporations are always evil...(stares at oracle)
shortw2 years ago
If i said cheap, I meant a good deal.
I actually found out as times goes on, that the panels are more cost effective now. In other words, they are cheaper per watt now then they where 1-2 years ago.
I also checked into making ' your own panels ', this is waste of your money and time. These homemade panels will fail in a very short time, since they are not sealed at all or not properly sealed.
A guy, 10 miles away from me went to do solar. After everything was done and approved, the power company changed his meter.
The meter will not go backwards, nor does he have a separate meter. If his household uses less power than the panels produce the meter will stop spinning, but he does not get credit nor does he get paid for the extra energy he is supplying to the net. He made many calls to the power company and government officials without any results. He even made a youtube about it.
Good luck with anything like this around here.
If I would do it around here, I would be doing without a building permit and I would not get it hooked up to the net. This would be the only good incentive for me around here. To much red tape in our state and county.
shortw4 years ago
I have found that the tax incentives cost you a lot of money. First off to qualify you have to get the most expensive panels and have a building permit. Your property tax will increase because of the added value. Tax incentives will be only good 'til 2015. Thinking about selling it to the utility company? You will get only 25% of the money if you sell it, than what you have to pay if you buy it from them. Also you need a 1million dollar bond for selling it. Batteries need maintenance and replacements. Solar panels are expensive per watt.
DIY Solar Jon (author)  shortw4 years ago

shortw, thanks for reading! It is true that the incentives come with some stipulations, but they are not so terrible. Let's take a look at the points you've brought up.
Panel cost: You do not need to splurge on "premium" panels - most panels are eligible, as long as you don't buy them used.
Taxes: In many states and cities (such as Virginia, where I live), tax exemption programs prevent your solar energy system from being counted as part of your taxed property value, and many townships will waive your building permit fee.
Reselling: This has a lot to do with where you live and who you buy your power from. TVA runs one of the largest buyback programs, so let's look at them as an example. TVA, in addition to providing a $1,000 bonus just for signing up, will pay you 12 cents above retail price for your energy - this is about double the price, not a quarter of it. Small, localized systems reduce a lot of strain on the grid and help the utility company build a greener image, so they are more than happy to buy energy from you at a premium.
Batteries: Most on-grid systems don't require them, but they are not annoying to deal with. AGM batteries require no maintenance and last around five years, while VRLA batteries require minimal maintenance and last for 20.
Going solar is expensive at first, but the incentive programs really do help with the cost - especially if you live in a solar-friendly state like California or Colorado. If you want to know more about incentives in your area, check out our article at http://www.solartown.com/learning/solar-panels/going-solar-what-are-the-economic-incentives. If you have any other questions, don't be afraid to ask!
I have been checking into solar panels for a while now, but could not find a place to buy them cheap. Thank you for the info.
Look here, there are a ton of instructables on building cheap solar panels, and they usually produce at least 75% of a ``premium`` one.

And they usually cost less than half.
DIY Solar Jon (author)  shortw4 years ago
I guess the question is how cheap is cheap? A long long time ago, some guy told me "you get what you paid for" it is true but it is always good to find a great deal :)
244 Jake2 years ago
But I stated with hands on just like Solar Jon is showing,
I use a weed-eater motor on my project, where I live wind is only good during hurricane seasons.
Then moved to Solar power. I bought kits off EBay, 200 watts of 0.5 volt, 3.25 watt per cells. Looks easy, works out, after you add the weather proof housing, harden glass; remember rain, hail, and snow. It is not cheaper. I did build the first 100 watt panel, yes it works. I resold the rest of kit back on EBay. Let us face a few facts, Big Company’s buy in Big Lots, like Wal-Mart! Small stores cannot compete.
Real power, that which is to supply a real house, like in Jon's photo, is not cheap, but you can do it. The cost is really cheaper with the Store bought Solar Panel then the do-it-Yourself kits. I know that sounds silly and just plain wrong. You can buy UL listed, made in the USA solar panel with big boy ratings, like 280 watts @ 35 volts for under $1.35/watt shipped to Your house. I know this because I bought 24 of them last year. You can save Big if your install yourself. But you will require a licensed Electrical guy to connect up to the gird. No city government wishes to have just anyone connecting into the grid. That can get you killed, blackout and neighborhood.
Yes, Zero Rebate if you want to use homemade cell, or anything Not UL, but only if your On-grid.
A 5 Kw system retails for $25k installed in the New Orleans area. My 8Kw cost $12k in material; mounting will be about $800. On this UL proper installed system the Fed will credits 30% if installed before 2016. Most cities and states also have Tax credits. These are 20 to 30 year systems. Do the math.
No I do not work with, own stock, have a brother or lover working for or any other interest in www.sunelec.com they are surely not the only folks either. Where there is one, there are many. You can click and see if I’m jerking your chain or not.

This will either get you hooked or not, I hope everyone wishing to live on less oil the very best of luck with what every project you do, have fun, and be safe. You can hook up any thing that makes electrical power with micro convertors, see EBay. From 500 watt DC to house wall plug. Under $100, search “Solar inverter”.

Thanks Solar Jon, for hopefully hooking a few more people to Green Power movement.

Best Regards
Big Jake
kirksky233 years ago
Hi!good day to all,i would like to say its very very good if you have solar power grid,becouse it to helpful in our solar nature for the future of our children and stop air polution,and being like a distroyer..build your own solar energy system..thanks to all.....
mcruz-13 years ago
And what happen when is raining, doesn't affect the panels? or the connections?
DIY Solar Jon (author)  mcruz-13 years ago
when it rains, energy production will be minimized but the panels themselves and connection will be safe because the connection are water tight. solar panels and the wiring are all made to withstand weather conditions to minimize and prevent damage from the elements.

Energy production will always be there but just take caution when selecting the right brand for the solar panels.
ghans_003 years ago
hi there everyone, i have a series of 3 5v solar cell 5w each. and it could produce 15v or higher on a good sunlight. but my concern is my batteries, i know they're small and can easily be charged. so i'am worried about overcharging it and eventually wear itself. Can anybody give me a charge controller circuit that will not allow flow of charge from my solar cell to my batteries when it's full.
Thanks alot guys1
kingstone4 years ago
It looks nice there, and u can benifit from the nature without doing bad to it ! I pro U up, and hope the government can devote more to this project in the near futrue, so all of us may benifit from it!
DIY Solar Jon (author)  kingstone4 years ago
I hear you kingston. I think alternative energy will really help everybody and it can possibly create more jobs to help the economy! Help the planet, help the job market, help people, win win in my opinion

Thanks for your feedback
That is great working !