Before you begin a solar panel installation on your house or property, there are some vitally important things that need to be considered. For instance, things like the placement of trees in your yard and the direction your roof faces can make a huge difference in the overall efficiency of your solar power system. But...
There is one thing you must decide first, and we'll discuss it in this article.
Above all, it's essential that you first consider whether to tie your photovoltaic (PV) system to the local utility grid or not. Your decision will determine the complexity of your installation, and its final cost. Let's examine your two options.
"Grid tied solar" means that your solar electric installation will be connected to the local power company grid.
The photovoltaic (PV) panels will generate electrical power that can run your lights and appliances during the hours of daylight. At night and during heavily overcast weather when the sun's rays are diminished, you will draw electricity from the utility company to supply your household electrical needs.
Off grid solar power systems run independently and are not connected to a local utility company. Off grid solar is more common in cottage country and remote rural areas where electrical lines are distant and hookups are either too expensive or non existent.
An off grid system uses a bank of storage batteries (similar to car batteries in appearance, but different in their design and function) to store the excess electricity generated by the PV panels and there is often a standby backup generator connected for emergency use.
Lights and appliances are run off electricity generated by the PV panels during the daylight hours, and either the storage batteries or a generator supplies electrical power during the night or in emergencies.
Aside from deciding whether to connect to the local power company's electrical grid or not, there are other important factors you need to consider before installing PV panels. Careful planning ensures a happy result.
Consider the pitch of the building's roof, the direction the roof faces, and nearby objects that might possibly cast shade. The panels need access to direct sunlight as much as possible to work at optimal efficiency. Large trees, nearby hills, or rock outfaces, as well as taller buildings that might block the sun need to be considered.
If it's not practical to place PV panels on a roof, you should consider mounting them on the ground instead. Photovoltaic ground installations are the preferred choice in many respects. A ground location easily permits panel maintenance, and it offers the advantage of not needing to remove the solar roof panels when the roof requires repairs or replacement later.
Installing PV panels yourself is a topic that many homeowners are interested in. It's always good to save money and if you're at all handy with tools, basic electricity and DC wiring, and you understand solar power basics, then by all means, consider a do-it-yourself solar panel installation.
But, be very aware that wiring a grid tied system is lots more complex than doing typical DIY household electrical wiring. It's not like installing an extra light switch, and mistakes with DC current can prove deadly.
Remember: It always pays to start a solar project the right way. Here are three tips on how to install photovoltaic panels that could save you money and maybe considerable grief later.
First, check with your local building department to find out if a permit is required to install PV panels for a home PV system. If a permit is required, find out how much of the work needs to be done by a licensed electrician or an approved solar energy contractor.
You may be able to do some of the work yourself as long as it doesn't involve making direct electrical connections to the grid. It's best to define what you can or cannot do beforehand. For instance, it can get very costly if you are ordered to rip out a solar panel installation later. This is not the time to be cutting corners if solar roof permits are mandatory.
Make absolutely sure that the residential PV system you've chosen is designed for the total amount of electrical power that your household needs.
It might sound like overkill to double check everything, especially after you've spent days and weeks on the phone or online checking with vendors and panel manufacturers, but it's much less costly to catch a mistake now instead of later.
Although you've designed and planned every step of your project yourself, it wouldn't hurt to double check your calculations and materials list, nor would it hurt to have a third party who's knowledgeable about solar electricity installations review your final plan.
Ask your city or county building inspector who's issuing your permit to review your solar power project and its plans. It would be best to discover a mistake at the beginning than to discover later that you had not planned for enough PV panels for the home to supply its electrical needs.
Plus, you'll get to know your inspector. He or she could turn out to be someone who could suggest a helpful contact or offer good advice if you encounter difficulties during your solar panel installation. You never know when a good working relationship with the inspector might come in handy.
As mentioned, installing a residential solar power system can be accomplished by the handyman homeowner, but there are complex issues to consider when connecting photovoltaic panels, and if you don't have the electrical know-how, you should contact an experienced contractor who specializes in this type of electrical install.
Since each house and location is different, each solar panel installation must be evaluated on an individual basis. For example, a professional shading analysis of your location using a Solar Pathfinder instrument will determine the amount of sunlight (energy) that you can expect to receive at your location each day of the year.
Accurate measurements, detailed site surveys, and a thorough site inspection by a professional will supply the needed information for the best solar panel installation.
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