Energy Blueprint - The Off-Grid

Energy Blueprint - The Off-Grid
The Off-Grid
    Energy Blueprint




    How to Harness The Power of
      100% Free Solar Energy
                           By Sam McCoy
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Energy Blueprint - The Off-Grid
CONTENTS
Introduction		       What are the Benefits of DIY Solar Power?                                 3

Chapter 1:		         Solar Electricity Basics                                                  5
                 •   What Type of Solar System is best for my Home?                             5
                 •   The Three Types of Solar PV Systems                                        6
                 •   How Much Power will my Solar Panels Produce?                               8

Chapter 2:		         Choosing the Right Solar Power System                                     10
                 • Is my Roof Up to the Challenge?                                             10
                 • 5 Ways to Mess up your Solar Panel Layout                                   11
                 • 4 Important Solar Panel Buying Tips                                         13

Chapter 3:		         DIY vs. Professional Installation                                         15
                 •   Are you up to The DIY Solar Power Challenge?                              15
                 •   7 Things to Know for a Safe DIY Installation                              16
                 •   10 Important Questions to Ask a Professional Solar Power Installer        17

Chapter 4:		         Solar Power Buying Guide                                                  19
                 •   How much is it going to Cost?                                             19
                 •   Reduce your Energy Needs Now - -                                          20
                 •   Using Federal, State and Local Incentives to Help Lower Overall Costs		   22
                 •   How can I Finance my Solar Power System?                                  23

Chapter 5:		         Grid Connected PV System Installation                                     25
                 •   The Pros and Cons of Owning a Grid Connected PV System                    25
                 •   5 Steps to a Grid Connected PV System                                     26
                 •   What the Heck are Safety Disconnects and why they are so Important?       27
                 •   AC/DC—Not the Band; the Power Supply                                      28
                 •   Do I Need a Battery Backup?                                               29

Chapter 6:		         Off Grid PV System Installation                                           31
                 •   The Pros and Cons of Owning an Off Grid PV System                         31
                 •   7 Steps to an Off Grid PV System                                          32
                 •   Should I Buy a Backup Generator?                                          34
                 •   Tips and Techniques for Maximizing Battery Life                           35

Chapter 7:		         Non PV Solar System Installations                                         37
                 •   DIY Solar Water Heater                                                    37
                 •   Tips for Building your Own Solar Heat Collector                           38
                 •   Five Steps to Installing a Solar Tube Skylight                            40




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INTRODUCTION
                WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF DIY SOLAR POWER?


The amount of solar energy that strikes the earth in any given minute is equal to the same
amount of power the entire planet consumes each year! Maybe that’s why solar power is one
of the most promising sources of renewable clean energy. And with energy prices on the rise
and growing concerns over the state of our environment, alternative energies like solar power
are becoming more and more attractive to homeowners.

With advantages like clean power and a significant reduction in power bills, it’s no wonder
why so many homeowners are choosing to install their own DIY solar power plant to power
their homes—and change their lives for good.

Installing your own solar power has many benefits such as:

    •   Super savings on your electric bill. And in some cases, it may eliminate the need for a
        power bill all together. In best case scenarios, you may produce more power than you
        need, where you’ll end up selling it back to the power company for a profit.

    •   Solar power doesn’t hurt the planet. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection
        Agency (EPA), the average four-person family home generates between 83,000-100,000
        pounds of greenhouse gases each year when using conventional power sources like
        coil, natural gas and oil. That’s as much greenhouse gas that’s released by driving
        your car 100,000 miles! Solar power significantly reduces our homes greenhouse gas
        production and does it for decades at a time.

    •   Blackouts/brownouts no more. When you haven’t got a need for power from the grid,
        problems like power outages from storms, downed power lines or heavy use are a
        thing of the past

    •   Solar power helps your country. By purchasing your solar power goods from local
        companies, you can bet that manufacturing prices go down while GDP goes up. And
        by reducing our need on foreign oil and other overseas energies, we make our country


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more secure.

    •   Solar power systems last. Generally, a solar power system will last 25-30 years without
        major upgrades or power failures.

    •   DIY solar power has a great ROI. If you’re looking for a good return on your investment,
        it’s hard to beat a solar power installation. With the right rebates and tax incentives, DIY
        solar power costs can be recouped in 4-5 years. That translates into decades of guilt-
        free and cost-free power for your home.

    •   Solar power can help to increase your home’s value. With increased energy efficiency,
        little to no utility bills and power access 24/7—even through stormy weather—the value
        of your home is significantly increased.

    •   Little maintenance is required to keep up a home solar power supply. And if your home
        is connected to the grid, you don’t have to worry about the power going on and off
        when rotten weather doesn’t let your solar panels do their job.

    •   Easy to install. Many systems are “plug and play” meaning that once you install the
        panels and components of the system, you just need to plug in all the wires for the
        system to be up and running. Simple installation processes mean that overall costs go
        down too.




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CHAPTER 1
                             SOLAR ELECTRICITY BASICS


What Type of Solar System is best for my Home?
With so many different solar power systems on the market, it’s no wonder it’s such a tough
job to pick and choose the right solar design for you and your home. There are many different
factors that can help decide whether or not your solar power system is a success. And without
the right plan of action, you can bet that your DIY solar power system is going to be more like
a DIY solar power flop. Learn the basics of solar power first and help better understand what
type of solar system is best for you and your home.


What is the PV Effect?

The word “solar electricity” is really a misnomer. Solar power comes through the atmosphere
every day and doesn’t “electrify” us. For electricity to be produced from solar radiation, it must
be changed into electricity from its radiation form through a medium. This amazing effect can
only take place when solar radiation strikes the medium of a photovoltaic cell.

For a PV cell to work, a bit of polycrystalline silicon is applied in varying thicknesses to a
substrate where conductive wires are added to each end of the now formed photovoltaic
or PV cell. Once sunlight hits the cell, solar radiation is converted into electricity and travels
through the two wires where it can then be used instantly—or stored away for later use. This
is known as the PV effect and its finer details make for a pretty boring dinner conversation.

Solar panel companies make solar panels by connecting a series of PV solar cells together.
When several solar panels are wired together, it is called a solar array. When several solar
arrays are hooked together and are connected to other components, it can then be called a
solar energy system.

Yet without the PV effect, our society as we know it would come to a screeching halt. It would
mean the end of solar powered calculators, remote highway signs and most importantly every
single satellite in space! The PV effect accounts for quite a bit of the world’s power needs and
as science continues to research this phenomenal effect, thinner, better and cheaper solar
panels will soon be on their way.


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The Two Types of Solar Panels

There are two basic types of solar panels that are used for a home-based solar power system:

    • Crystalline Silicon- A crystalline silicon panel is typically the most common form of
       PV solar panel power. It is often square or rectangular in shape and tends to be about
       2-4 inches thick. Covered with a protective glass covering, these panels are the most
       efficient on the market—but also the most costly. Polycrystalline silicon solar panels
       are a bit cheaper than the single crystal version, but polycrystalline cells make up for
       it by being a little less efficient at gathering solar energy than their single crystal cell
       counterpart. Solar conversion ranges from 25-30%.

    • Thin Film- This newer solar panel technology is becoming more prevalent as it gets
       more efficient. With conversion rates at around 10-20%, they won’t produce as much
       energy as a crystalline cell but they certainly are much cheaper—and more flexible too.
       Some thin film comes in long rolls that can be adhered directly to a metal roof for instant
       solar power production.



The Three Types of Solar PV Systems

Now that you know a little bit about the two types of PV panels that are most commonly used
to power home based solar systems, we can talk about what type of solar power system is
best for you and your home. A solar PV system is comprised of more than just a few solar
panels. The typical PV solar power system uses a combination of equipment to use and store
the power generated from the PV panels—but we’ll talk about that later on. For now, we’ll
focus on the following three solar PV systems and what they do.


Grid Connected

This is probably one of the most common PV systems used in suburban systems. A grid
connected system is just as its name implies—it’s hooked up to the main electrical grid. This
allows the solar power system to more or less compliment your existing power supply. The
typical grid connected solar power system consists of the following materials:


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• PV Solar Array- A series of wired PV solar panels

    • AC/DC Power Invertor- Converts the DC power generated from the PV array into AC
      power

    • Service Panel- A service panel or breaker box is located between the main junction
      box and the invertor

    • Power Meter- Used to display how much power the system produces and how much
      power the home is using at any given time

    • Safety Disconnect Switch- This safety feature prevents solar power from energizing
      the grid during a power outage


Battery Backup Grid Connected

The only real difference between a grid connected system and a battery backup grid
connected system are the batteries and a charge controller. These are used to store excess
energy produced by the solar array. The power stored in these batteries is often used during
the evening when solar panels produce no power. Battery backup also works great for when
the main grid has a power outage. This type of system is a little more complicated than a grid
connected solar system without battery backup and consists of the following materials:

    • PV Solar Array- A series of wired solar panels that produce electricity

    • AC/DC Power Invertor- Converts solar DC energy into an AC power supply

    • Battery Bank- Used to store excess energy from the solar array

    • Charge Controller- Prevents the batteries from overcharging

    • Service Panel- Houses the wiring connections and breakers between main breaker
      box and the invertor

    • Power Meter- Tells you how much power is being used, generated and stored in the
      batteries

    • Safety Disconnect Switch- Stops power from traveling to the grid when the main grid
      power is out


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Off Grid

These solar systems are not connected to the main power grid and are most common in
areas where the utility grid is nonexistent or connection costs exceed the price of an off
grid system. An off grid solar system supplies the entire structure with power while a battery
backup is used to supply the structure with power during the night when the solar panels
aren’t generating power. Diesel or other fuel powered generators are often used as a backup
power source for the off grid solar system. An off grid solar system consists of the following
materials:

    • Solar Panels-Used to generate power from the sun

    • AC/DC Power Invertor- Converts DC power from the solar panels to AC power for
      the home

    • Rectifier- This is sometimes used to convert AC power back to DC power (or back
      again) to help the off grid system store and use energy more efficiently

    • Charge Controller- Prevents the battery bank from overcharging

    • Service Panels- Two junction boxes may be needed when using an alternate backup
      source of power like a generator

    • Power Meter- Displays the power generated, stored and consumed



How Much Power will my Solar Panels Produce?

The big question when deciding on what type of solar PV system you are going to use is how
much power will it produce. While there is no definite answer, you can use this information
to help you get a good idea about how many solar panels you’ll need to power all or part of
your home.

Since solar panels are assigned a rating based on maximum wattage they produce under
ideal conditions, it can be misleading how many solar panels you’ll really need. The exact
power produced by the panels won’t be truly known until they are installed and metered.
That’s because a solar panels efficiency can be affected by many different factors such as
roof tilt, panel orientation, shading, dust and even the wiring that is used to bring power into


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the home.

In ideal locales where sunlight conditions are at their best, you can expect a 1-kilowatt system
to produce around 1,500 kilowatt hours each year—give or take a few hundred depending
upon how many cloudy days affect solar output. That’s really only enough power to offset
the average homes electricity needs by about 15% or less. Typical grid connected systems—
since their power supply is offset by the utility company—use a 2-3 kilowatt system. This
allows the solar system to help cut your utility power consumption in half.

Off grid systems that power an entire home use a combination of higher kilowatt systems
(3 or more) and energy saving devices like gas powered refrigerators or LED lighting to help
keep the homes power needs as low as possible (we’ll discuss energy saving techniques in
a later chapter).

Many solar power suppliers now provide customers with power estimates for their solar
panels. Information like roof pitch, location and panel orientation can severely affect power
output, so these factors must be taken into account by the supplier when estimating solar
panel power output.

One of the best ways to ensure your solar PV system is going to do its job correctly is by
determining how much power (in kilowatt hours) you and your home consume on a regular
basis. This information can easily be found right on your existing utility company’s bill or
website. You can also record your power meter reading from the beginning of one week until
the next. Multiply those readings by 52 weeks to find your annual energy consumption rate to
find out how much power your solar power system is going to need.




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CHAPTER 2
                CHOOSING THE RIGHT SOLAR POWER SYSTEM


Is my Roof Up to the Challenge?

The majority of solar PV arrays are placed on the roof of the structure. This allows for the
proper tilt and orientation as well as ensures that the solar panels are up and out of the way
where they are less likely to be damaged. While not all solar arrays are installed on the roof,
if you plan on installing them on your roof, there are a number of roofing requirements that
should be met prior to installation.

Roof Pitch

Typical roofing pitches have a 6 inch fall for every 12 inches of roof. This roof pitch may be
too steep for some locations. In areas closer to the equator, the angle of sun tends to be at a
more pronounced angle, requiring the panels to be tilted. Too steep of a roof pitch can also
cause solar panels to not perform up to their highest levels.

Roofing Panel Tip #1: Always be sure you solar panel dealer lets you know the optimal pitch
for your solar panels.

Asphalt Shingles

The main problem with a solar array being placed on the roof is that it requires a lot of mounting
hardware. That usually means that you’re going to cover up a large section of asphalt shingles.
So what happens when your roofing shingles need to be repaired or replaced? You’ll have to
remove the solar panels to fix your shingles.

Roofing Panel Tip #2: It’s a wise idea to replace aging asphalt shingles before you install a
PV array on your roof. In most cases, an asphalt shingle roof will last around 25 years—the
same length of time PV panels typically last.

Support

Depending upon what type of solar system you’re going to install will depend upon whether
or not your roofing support structure is up to the challenge. Typical solar PV panels can weigh


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as much as 3-5 pounds per square foot—or about 20-50 pounds per panel. Many older
roofing systems just won’t be able to take all of that additional weight. And throw in the fact
that rain and snow loads can double or triple that weight and your roof could be in for some
serious troubles.

Roofing Panel Tip #3: You may need to beef up older framing members to support the extra
weight of a roof-based solar power system. When in doubt, install your solar panels safely on
the ground.

Homeowners Associations

While your roof might be ready for solar panels, your neighbors might not be. While most
homeowners associations don’t consider solar panels to be under their regulation, more
conservative areas just might have something to say about the matter. When solar panels
are visible from the road, a neighbor’s house or they’re installed on a historical structure, you
could be in violation of your HOA terms of agreement. If you don’t have permission, you may
be forced to take them down.

Roofing Panel Tip #4: Always contact your homeowners association if your home is in a
deed restricted community. A quick call to your local building department can also help you
to find out the bigger picture about roof-based PV arrays and if they’re right for your home or
business.

5 Ways to Mess up your Solar Panel Layout

Now that we know your solar panel electrical productivity can be altered by their pitch and
placement, you’ll want to ensure that the layout works in their favor. Whether you’re placing
them on your home, garage or on the ground, you can bet that if you do one (or all) of the
five following things when you layout your solar panel array, it’s not going to work as well as
predicted.

Not the Right Orientation

One of the most important parts about a solar array layout is the orientation it has relative to
the suns position in the sky. In other words, if they aren’t facing the right direction, then they
won’t work as well (or not at all). The best direction to place a solar array is so that the panels


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face a southerly direction. North, east and west facing solar panels are not recommended. If
your roof doesn’t face a southerly direction, you may want to place them on a garage, on the
ground or on the south side of your home as a window awning.

Not Enough Space

Besides facing the right direction, you’ll need a lot of space for your solar panel array to
function correctly. You’ll need a minimum of 100 square feet of space for every kilowatt of
energy produced. If you’re using the less efficient thin film solar panels, then you’ll need to
double the amount of space you’ll need to around 180-200 square feet per kilowatt. Some
homeowners maximize their space by placing the panels in various locations around their
property. But be careful as to how far apart you space your solar panel array. Additional
wiring will sap away electricity, making your well positioned array not as efficient as a cluster
of panels would be.

Too Much Shade

When a solar panel is in the shade, it doesn’t work as well as it should. And if your solar array
is shaded for just a few hours a day, it can cut energy production down significantly. Trees,
roofing ventilation stacks and even skylights can all cause shade to fall onto your solar panels.
Keep your solar panels out of the shade and increase your power supply.

Too Much Tilt

Roofing systems can affect the tilt of your solar array, but with the right mounting system,
the proper tilt can be created for nearly any solar panel. But more often than not, as the sun
passes through the sky, the solar panel will not be at the appropriate tilt for some part of the
day. To combat this effect, a solar tracker can be installed so that the panel remains in the
optimal solar collecting position throughout the day.

Too Old

Your roofing materials are aging as we speak. Some asphalt shingles are designed to last
for decades, but they can cost a pretty penny and are often substituted for cheaper asphalt
shingles. And if you’ve got inferior shingles on your roof, you might find out that you need to


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replace them right after your solar panels have been installed. You may want to replace your
entire roof (or just the area under the solar array) with 25 year shingles to ensure they last as
long as your solar array.

4 Important Solar Panel Buying Tips

Whether you’re buying a solar power system from a dealer or you’re putting together your own
solar power system from scratch, there are a number of important issues that homeowners
should be aware of before purchasing their solar panels and equipment. Use the following
four solar panel buying tips and get the most out of your solar panel purchase.

Permits

One of the most overlooked, yet most important aspects of installing your own solar power
system is getting permission to do so from your local building department. In most cases,
a permit will be required to install and connect a solar power system to your home or the
grid. Once a permit has been secured, you can begin the installation. After the installation
(or certain aspects of the installation) have been performed, a building inspector will need to
verify that all of the work performed is up to federal, state and local electrical and building
code standards. Always call your building department before you purchase any solar panels
to find out exactly what permits you might need to begin your DIY solar installation.

Warranties

Because most solar panels are designed to last around 25 years, their warranties will at
least cover this 25 year life span. However, that typically only accounts for the solar panels
themselves. Materials such as the invertor are destined to have a lifespan of about a decade,
so be sure that you’re aware of the fact that somewhere along the way, you’re going to have
to replace parts of the system, long before you’ll need to replace other sections of your solar
power system.

Maintenance

Solar panels might come with a good 25 year (or more) warranty, but without the right
maintenance, they’ll never last half of that time. In some cases, without the proper care


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and maintenance, you may even void the warranty of the equipment. It’s always a good
idea to perform annual maintenance tasks even if the warranty doesn’t specify what those
maintenance tasks are. One of the most important parts of solar panel maintenance is
keeping the panels clean and clear of debris. In extreme locales where heavy rains, dust or
snow loads are in effect, panels may need to be cleaned bimonthly to ensure their in perfect
working condition for many years to come.

Insurance

Your homeowners insurance is used to protect your home from damages. But what happens
when your solar panels do the damage from a poor installation or the solar panels are damaged
themselves? You could be out of luck if you don’t have the system professionally installed. It’s
always a wise idea to give your homeowners insurance representative a call before you install
your own solar power system. In most cases, your solar power system will be covered from
damages by your homeowners insurance—but only if you verify it with them first.




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CHAPTER 3
                       DIY VS. PROFESSIONAL INSTALLATION


Are you up to The DIY Solar Power Challenge?

Installing a solar power system isn’t for everyone. It requires a basic knowledge of electrical
wiring, mechanical skill and in some cases—no fear of heights. There are a number of
problems that could go wrong with the installation and if it’s not done according to federal,
state and local electrical and building codes, you’re not going to pass inspection. Even worse,
you could cause electrical damages to the equipment, your home and the power grid. So are
you up to the DIY solar power challenge?

     • Electrical Basics- For smaller off the grid systems, a simple solar panel and the
       hardware that keeps it running connects to a non-lethal DC voltage. This is easily
       handled without having to worry about severe electrical shocks. But for systems hooked
       directly to the power grid, you might be in for a shocking experience—literally. If you
       don’t have a general knowledge of home electrical wiring, then you may want to hire a
       professional installer to do the wiring part of the project for you.

     • Mechanical Skill- Can you tighten a nut and bolt? Then you probably have what it
       takes to install your own solar power equipment. But it’s not just about nuts and bolts.
       Wiring connections, hardware installations and panel placement all require the use of
       basic mechanical skills to get the project done without running into trouble.

     • Balance- While the majority of DIY solar power installation is safely located on the
       ground; solar panels often are placed high in the sky. Whether they are up on the
       roof or they are located on the end of a pole, getting up their safely with a bunch of
       awkwardly heavy equipment can be a challenge—even for those who have the balance
       of a tightrope circus performer. If you have any fear or apprehension about climbing up
       on your roof or standing up on a ladder, you may want to think twice about doing this
       part of your solar power project yourself.

     • Tools- It’s going to take a lot more than just a screwdriver to install a solar power
       system on your home or business. Tools like wire strippers, wrenches, socket sets, fish
       tape and yes—screwdrivers are all needed for even the most basic of DIY solar power


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installations. If you’re not willing to spend a few extra bucks on the tools you need for
        this project, then you may want to consider hiring a professional installer to do the
        project for you.

     • Patience- This part of DIY solar power is a must-have. Patience is important when it
       comes to dealing with everything involved with a DIY solar project. Building inspectors
       may fail your work several times, power connections need to be checked twice (and
       then again) and waiting for the utility company to make progress can all take some
       serious amounts of time (and patience) to ensure the system is at its best before the
       power begins to flow.

If you’re not up to all of the following tasks, you may find help online. Hiring a day laborer for
as low as $10 an hour can help you to get the tougher parts of the job done that you might
not have experience to safely and efficiently deal with on your own. Electricians, carpenters
and other skilled labor can also be contracted for daily jobs on websites like Craigslist to help
you get you DIY solar power project complete without having to spend a fortune on hiring a
professional solar power installer.

7 Things to Know for a Safe DIY Installation

Installing your own solar power system doesn’t have to be dangerous. But without the right
safety precautions in place, you could end up damaging equipment, your home or yourself.
Use the following seven safety tips for DIY solar power installation and get your solar power
installed without worrying about going to the hospital in the process.

     1. Electricity is Dangerous- This one is a no brainer, but it needs to be included into the
        precautions all the same. Not only can electricity be dangerous; it can be downright
        deadly. That’s why it’s VERY important to make sure that all of the power is off to the
        structure when connecting any wiring from the solar power system to the homes live
        wiring system. Always double check with a power meter just to be sure you don’t
        accidentally make a “shocking” discovery after it’s too late.

     2. Heights are Dangerous- This is another safety tip that’s fairly obvious but needs to be
        reiterated over and over again. When you’re installing solar panels on a roof, you’ll need
        to make sure that you’re safely secured on the roof to prevent falls. Remember, even a
        short fall is enough to kill you.



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3. Sharp Metal can cut you- In some circumstances, you may need to cut metal flashing
        for the roof or trim panel brackets for a custom fit. Once sheared with a pair of tin snips,
        the metal edge can be really sharp. Even if you bump up against it softly, it can still
        be sharp enough to cut down to the bone. Always wear gloves when handling sharp
        metal!

     4. Glass can cut you- Some solar panels have a glass covering to protect the delicate
        PV cells from damages. While these types of glass are almost always made from safety
        glass, it can still cut you even if it’s not broken. Sharp glass edges need to be handled
        gingerly and with a thick pair of leather gloves.

     5. Heat Exhaustion- Since you’re putting your solar panels in direct sunlight—probably on
        the hottest part of your roof—you can easily develop heat exhaustion or sun poisoning
        when you’re exposed to the sun without adequate protection. Sunscreen, a hat and
        plenty of water can help this dangerous problem from happening to you during the
        installation.

     6. Back Troubles- It’s no secret: solar panels and the equipment that holds them in place
        can be awkwardly heavy. Have a friend (or several) help you lift the heavy stuff and
        always be sure to lift with your legs and not with your back.

     7. Eye Protection- This safety tip is the one that’s most ignored, but is probably the one
        that can be the most dangerous. Flying metal scraps, exposed wiring and sharp metal
        are prevalent even on the simplest of DIY solar power installs. Cover your eyes with
        certified safety glasses and protect your vision from damages.

10 Important Questions to Ask a Professional Solar Power Installer

While DIY solar power installation is easy enough—it’s not for everyone. In fact, getting a
professional installer to help with one or multiple parts of the project can really help you to
save time and money on the project. In some cases, they can even help you with rebates
and tax credits for your solar system. But even when solar power installers say they are up to
the task—how do you really know they can do the job better than you? By asking these ten
questions, you’ll ensure that you get the right person for the job.

  1. What’s your Experience? Being certified as a professional solar panel installer is one
     of the most important parts to hiring a pro. Also be sure to ask what experience they


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have and if they can provide any references.

 2. How long have you been in Business? The longer they’ve been in business, the
    more experience they have doing jobs similar to yours.

 3. Will you pull the Permit? The best thing about hiring a professional solar installer is
    that they can cut through the red tape of government permitting with ease. Having
    them pull the permits can help get the ball rolling that much faster.

 4. Are you NABCEP Certified? The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners
    certifies installers who pass a series of tests to prove they have the knowledge and
    skills it takes to get the job done right.

 5. Are you a Member of any Solar Trade Organization? Organizations like the Solar
    Energy Industries Association can help you make sure that your solar power installer
    knows well about the latest solar power standards and practices.

 6. Will you handle the Incentive Paperwork? Federal, state and local tax breaks, rebates
    and other monetary incentives can be accessed to help you offset the cost of a new
    PV solar system. The right professional solar power installer can help you get the most
    savings out of your new solar system.

 7. Do you Offer Payment Plans? Some solar power installations can cost you a pretty
    penny. Ask your solar power installer if they provide a payment plan or other cost
    effective options to help ease the burden of a hefty one-time payment.

 8. Will you do some, or all of the Work? Some professional solar installers will work with
    the homeowner to help lower installation costs by allowing them to do some of the work
    themselves. Be sure to have any agreements like these in writing before you commit.

 9. What Warranties do you Offer? Some solar power installers will offer a warranty on
    the goods and services they provide. This can help add a little more piece of mind, just
    in case something goes wrong later on down the road.

 10. What Maintenance Services do you Offer? Maintaining solar power equipment,
     batteries and PV panels is important to ensuring their longest life possible. A good
     maintenance schedule from your installer can really help to prolong the lifespan of your
     PV system, without the need for you to lift a finger.



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CHAPTER 4
                             SOLAR POWER BUYING GUIDE


How much is it going to Cost?

Determining how much your PV solar power system is going to cost can depend on several
different factors as well as how you view savings, rebates and other monetary incentives.
An average solar system can cost anywhere from $2 to over $10 per watt depending upon
what type of system you have installed and who is going to do all of the work. Because new
technologies, government subsidies and more buyers are constantly fueling solar power
technology, that price gets lower and lower every day.

There are numerous federal, state and local incentives that can also help to bring the average
cost of your solar system down even further. Some solar power installers and vendors will
sell you a solar power system at after-rebate prices to help entice customers. They do all of
the rebate paperwork and keep the rebate themselves. Some states may have phenomenal
incentives for installing solar panels, helping to recoup your initial investment even sooner.

Add in the fact that your power bills will remain consistent for the next 20-25 years and
you’ll come to the conclusion that the entire system will pay for itself in five years or less.
So generally speaking, the system will eventually end up costing you nothing if you factor
in rebates, energy savings and other government subsidies and tax credits. Larger grid-tied
systems will even generate power that you can sell back to the utility company, making your
DIY solar system a profitable venture that actually makes you money in the long run.

But with savings aside, the average straight upfront cost for a DIY PV solar system really
depends on how many watts you’re willing to install. Average 2 kilowatt systems range from
$1,500 to over $5,000 depending on the materials used and are enough to cut your existing
utility bill in half. Larger systems that are over 8 kilowatts actually turn a profit. To have a system
like this installed by a professional, you may end up doubling or even tripling the overall cost,
so doing most or all of the work yourself can really help you to save some big bucks once it’s
all said and done.

All in all, the average price for an 8-kilowatt DIY solar system kit with everything taken into


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account will cost you around $16,000 before rebates or tax credits. Add in the average federal
rebate price of around $6,000 and you’ve got an upfront cost of $10,000 or less. Factor in
state and local incentives and you could save an extra $1,000-$500 or more bringing the
total cost $9,500-$9,000.

If your average electric bill is around $150 a month, with DIY work, incentives and all costs
factored in, it would take 63 months or roughly five and a half years for you to break even. That
leaves you with almost 19-20 years of free energy. And if you’re producing more electricity
than you can use and you’re selling it back to the power company, that’s 20 years of profit!

Any system over 8 kilowatts turns a profit and at peak production, an 8 kilowatt solar power
system produces around 32 kilowatts of power per day. Per month that’s 960 kilowatt hours.
The average U.S. home uses around 900-950 kilowatt hours per month. With some additional
energy saving features (as described in one of the following chapters) added to your home
during the DIY solar panel install, and your home could be making you 100 kilowatt hours or
roughly around $300 a year. At the end of your solar power systems 25 year lifespan, you’ll
end up with an extra $6,000 in your pocket. Throw in the extra $3,750 from the 25 years’
worth of free electricity your DIY PV system creates and you’ve just made about $10,000—
double the money than you invested to begin with.

Reduce your Energy Needs Now - -
Lower your Solar Power Installation Costs Later

Now that you’ve got a general idea of how much it can cost to install your own solar power
supply, you can see that it’s an investment that not all of us can afford. So how can you
make the price of a DIY solar system go down even further? Simple! By reducing the kilowatt
output and the overall size of the system itself. But as you remove kilowatt power from the PV
system, you lessen the amount of power your home is going to receive, making a DIY solar
system a means to offset high utility bills at best.

By reducing your homes energy needs before you install your PV panels, you’ll not only
reduce the price of your current energy costs, but once you get ready to install your PV solar
system, you’ll be able to reduce the initial cost of the system as well—and all without lowering
your living standards in the least.


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Home Energy Audit

To determine exactly what “energy troubles” your home may have can be addressed by
having a professional energy auditor come to your home and perform a few tests. These
professionals typically perform a variety of tasks to help you find out where your biggest
losses in energy consumption come from—and what you can do to help conserve more
energy in the future. This way, you can lower the overall cost of your PV system and your
future energy needs. Certified home energy auditors should do the following ten things while
performing an in-home energy audit:
  1. Analyze your Annual Fuel Bill to Find Out Mean Energy Consumption
  2. Interview you to Learn about you and your Homes Energy Needs
  3. Review the Basics of their Home Energy Audit Process
  4. Exterior Inspection of Roofing, Siding and Foundation
  5. Health and Safety Inspection of Electrical Equipment
  6. Interior Inspection Including the Attic and Crawlspaces
  7. Complete Electrical Inspection
  8. Appliance Energy Efficiency Inspection
  9. Blower Door Test to Determine Air Loss
  10. Provide you with a Comprehensive Report of the Energy Audit

An in-home energy audit will consist of many tests and requires very specific tools to perform
said tests, so it’s not something homeowners typically do themselves. For example, the
blower door test requires the use of a large fan that depressurizes the home. It simulates a 20
mph wind to help find air leaks in windows, doors and exterior ceiling/walls. Minor air leaks
often add up to a sizeable problem. The average home air leak problem is like having a hole
the size of two foot window that’s open 24 hours a day.

Energy Efficiency is the Key to Cheap DIY Solar Installs

Up to 30 percent of energy loss can be recouped through the average energy audit. You
can increase your homes energy efficiency even more and reduce the need for a higher
kilowatt solar system with the right energy efficient equipment. LED lighting, EnergyStar rated


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equipment and alternative fuel powered appliances (like a natural gas stove) can all relieve
your homes high electrical energy needs and lower the overall price of your DIY solar system.

Using Federal, State and Local Incentives to Help Lower Overall Costs

There are numerous incentives that can help to significantly lower the costs of your solar
power system. From enormous tax credits to local property tax breaks, the government and
utility companies are helping citizens in all parts of the country transfer their power supply
reliability from nonrenewable resources to renewable energy. While not all of the monetary
incentives are available in all areas and for all homes, no matter where you live, there is going
to be some incentive program that will help you to offset the initial cost of installing a DIY solar
power system.

Federal Tax Credit

The federal tax break over the years has increased for solar power production. In the year
2008, tax breaks for installing a solar system were renewed for another eight years until the
year 2016 when they are set to expire. For all existing and new construction homes—as well
as second homes (rentals aren’t included) 30 percent of the purchasing and installation costs
will be returned to you when you get your tax refund at the end of the year. This also covers
solar water heaters for potable water use too.

Solar systems just need a certification from SRCC or other comparable government endorsed
entities to help alleviate the cost of their solar power system. Find out more about the federal
solar tax credit here. There are also other numerous tax credits and monetary incentives
for solar and renewable energy resources that can be found here at the Database of State
Incentives of Renewable and Efficiency (DSIRE).

State Incentives

Each state has a wide variety of cash incentives for installing solar power and other renewable
energy resources on your home or business. While these vary wildly from state to state,
each area has at least some program to help home and business owners cope with the
monetary difficulties that can be associated with installing their own solar power supply. The


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good folks over at DSIRE can help you to find the perfect incentive in your state for installing
your own solar power system. Since 1995, DSIRE has been the most comprehensive source
for energy efficiency incentives and is owned by NC State University and funded by the US
Department of Energy. The DSIRE website can be found here.

Local Incentives

County and city incentives are a little harder to come by, but depending upon where you live;
these programs can help to lower the costs of your solar power system. Property tax breaks
are one of the most common ways local solar incentives are used by county and city officials.

Your local utility company may also provide relief to help lower your energy consumption
needs as well as installing your solar power system. By connecting your solar power system
to their energy grid, their net metering programs can also help you to make money off of
your excess solar power by allowing it to flow back into the grid. The power company that
owns the meter offers different prices for different times a year for your excess solar power,
so be sure to give them a call first to find out your best options for net metering prices and
incentives.

How can I Finance my Solar Power System?

Even with all of those tax breaks and monetary incentives, coming up with the hard cash for
an upfront payment for a brand new solar system out of your pocket can be tough to say the
least. So what do you do when you can’t come up with the cash to buy your solar system
outright? Financing options are always available to help lower the initial costs of buying a PV
solar system. Use this guide to financing resources for solar power and get the help you need
to go solar.

     • Home Refinance- Refinancing your home can help you to consolidate money for
       your new solar system. Combine solar power systems with other home improvement
       projects to help increase your options.

     • First Mortgages- Take a mortgage out on your home to help alleviate costs of a solar
       system. With this option, it’s a good idea to get a larger PV system since monthly



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payments won’t increase much.

     • Home Equity Loans- Tax deductible interest, lower interest rates and longer terms
       make this financing option an attractive one to some homeowners.

     • Bank Loans- Many bank loans will help cover the cost of a solar purchase or
       installation. Some banks will even give the loan at a less-than prime rate. Not all banks
       like homeowners doing the work themselves, so be aware that you may need outside
       professional help when choosing this financing option.

     • Construction Loans- Remodeling, renovation or additions onto your home will require
       a construction loan from your bank. Many times, you can include solar power as part
       of the project as well.

     • Solar Suppliers- A common trend is to have the solar power vendor supply the
       homeowner with financing. Be careful of the fine print: some vendors ask that their
       solar power supplies be installed by their team of professional installers to be able to
       get the financing you desire.

     • Government Options- Fannie Mae, US Department of Energy and US Veterans
       Affairs are but just a few of the many programs the federal government has available to
       homeowners around the country to help pay for a solar power system for their home or
       business. There are numerous programs available for a wide variety of people, places
       and solar power systems—in fact, too many to fit into this eBook. Take a look at The
       Borrower’s Guide to Financing Solar Energy Systems for more details on all of the
       programs available to help finance your DIY solar system.




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CHAPTER 5
                 GRID CONNECTED PV SYSTEM INSTALLATION


The Pros and Cons of Owning a Grid Connected PV System

A battery-free grid connected system is one of the best DIY solar power systems because of
their size and simplicity. They’re also great for DIY work and are much more budget-friendly
than other PV solar systems. And because grid connected systems don’t need batteries
(the grid is in essence the battery), a grid connected system requires the least amount of
maintenance. While they are the most popular PV solar system in North America, there are a
few pros and cons you should be aware of before you buy.

Cons

Because of the fact that they don’t have batteries may make them easy to maintain, but this
also makes them vulnerable to blackouts. When power outages affect the grid, the solar
power system has no backup and is on its own. That means when the sun goes down—so
does the power. And like most simple grid connected PV systems, they don’t have enough
kilowatt energy available to power the entire structure. So even if the sun is shining brightly,
you won’t be able to power the entire home and the system will shut down from the overload.

In areas where grid failure is common, homeowners may want to consider adding a battery
backup system or generator to the system. Smaller uninterrupted power supplies can help
offset power grid failures for medical equipment, computers, LED lighting or other essential
low wattage equipment.

Pros

Simpler than other systems, a battery-free grid connected system is the best option for
the first time DIY solar installation. They are less expensive as well, making them especially
desirable for the homeowner on a budget. Unless the grid is down, you’ve got a constant
power supply that’s cheap and easy to maintain. To top it all off, if your system does produce
more energy than you’re using, you’ll end up selling power back to the power company for a



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profit. Throw in the fact that it’s also greener than other battery backup systems and you can
easily see why this home-based solar power system is so popular.

All in all, a battery free grid connect system is the simplest to work with throughout the
installation process as well as throughout its entire life. Most homeowners who choose this
system do so because of its size. If you just want a small system to help offset utility costs,
then a battery-free grid connected solar power system is the best choice for you.

5 Steps to a Grid Connected PV System

A grid connected system consists of five basic parts and are as follows:
     1. PV Panel Array
     2. Inverter
     3. Power Meters
     4. Safety Disconnects
     5. Service Panel

These five simple parts are all you need to get solar energy from the sun. All solar power
kits must come with these five basic items for the system to be fully functional. Additional
accessories like solar trackers or rail mounts may be included in a kit, but that isn’t always the
case. Wiring may or may not be included. Be sure to get a copy of the shipping manifesto
before you buy a kit to be sure you’ve got these essential five parts of a grid tied solar power
system. It’s also a good idea to get a wiring diagram for each component that you buy. This
will tell you exactly what gauge wiring you need to buy as each separate component has
its own unique wiring schedule and can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. See the
drawing for complete assembly of a bare bones grid tied solar power system that you can
put together yourself.

To understand how all five of these components are tied together, let’s refresh ourselves on
how a battery-less grid connect PV system works:

The PV panels are first wired into an array and placed in a sunny location. Sunlight energy
is converted to electricity and is sent through the wiring to a power meter, then onto the first



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main connection—the inverter. This converts the 12-V DC power to 120-V (or 220-V) AC
power. This unit is essential because it turns the DC power supply into 60-cycle grid-useable
energy. These inverters are sometimes referred to as synchronous because they synch up
solar power supply with the grids power supply.

Micro-inverters are sometimes used for each panel in an expandable solar power system.
They can allow a system to be built one panel at a time whereas with a conventional system,
you’ll have to buy a larger—and more costly—inverter up front. Some micro-inverters can
have a 25-year warranty, making this type of inverter system desirable.

From here, the power flows into another meter and then the main service panel—aka the
breaker box. Here power flows into your home from the grid as well as the solar system.
When excess power is generated, it flows back to the grid through the service panel. The
power company will connect a special meter (or multiple meters) that reads the power coming
and going, so if excess power is sent back to the grid, it will be deducted to your utility bill.

This is also where the AC safety disconnect breaker will also be installed. This will prevent
your solar array from sending power to the grid when the power to the utility grid is offline.
This prevents power surges that could potentially be fatal to someone working further down
the power grid. In most cases, this additional safety feature is not necessary if you’re using a
synchronous invertor. Because a synchronous invertor needs the grids power supply to keep
working, it automatically shuts down when utility grid power is disconnected.

Besides a safety disconnect on the utility meter, you’ll also need a DC safety disconnect
between the solar array and the invertor. This allows you to disconnect the power to service
the invertor or other parts of your solar system without danger of shock from the DC current.

What the Heck are Safety Disconnects and why they are so Important?

Disconnects are basically a fancy way of saying a circuit breaker. The difference between the
two is that the safety disconnect essentially prevents power from surging through the system
and destroying your equipment, whereas a circuit breaker breaks the electrical circuit by
disconnecting only one of the wires. A safety disconnect prevents all power surges through
all circuits and prevents power flow in either direction across the entire system.


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A safety disconnect works by isolating power generating equipment from dangerous loads.
This is necessary because power generators like solar arrays can be seriously damaged from
even the smallest of power surges. If a heavier load—such as the one that comes in from the
main grid—surges into the array, it will put them out of commission permanently.

A DC disconnect is needed between the solar array and the invertor. This will allow you
to isolate the invertor when it needs to be replaced. Because the lifespan of an inverter is
inherently shorter than a PV panel, you’ll end up changing out the inverter long before you
change out the PV panels.

An AC disconnect is used to protect the solar power from going into the utility grid if it shuts
down. It’s also used so that if the utility company needs to work on your meter, they can shut
off the power. Sometimes a locked box is placed by the power company, in some areas it
has to be provided by the homeowner. In some areas, they won’t hook your power up to
the grid without an AC disconnect. Be sure to ask your power company about any safety
disconnects when installing your solar power equipment.

AC/DC—Not the Band; the Power Supply

When you’re hooking up your components, it’s critical that you know whether you’re wiring
for AC power or DC power. You’ll definitely need a variety of different gauge wiring for each
component. Always be sure that you contact your manufacturer for the correct wiring gauges,
lengths and other important information about the wiring you’ll need to get the job done right.
Knowing the difference between the AC and DC can mean the difference between having
a working solar system and a broken one. The best way to get the hang of the difference
between the two power sources is by learning a few of the basics of AC and DC power.

Direct Current (DC)

All atoms have electrons, a nucleus and a proton. When a copper wire becomes charged
with positive energy and connected to another copper wire charged with a negative energy,
electrons start to flow through the wires and it creates an electrical circuit. Direct current—aka
DC—has electrons that only flow in one direction through a circuit. It’s often found in batteries,



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