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Future Solar Install (DIY Possible?)

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by wcfinvader, Apr 27, 2016.

  1. wcfinvader

    wcfinvader Member

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    Is it possible to do a Solar Install yourself? Netmetering here in Nebraska is basically nonexistant (0.01cents/kwh for excess produced while we pay about 0.11cents/kwh). We are wanting to eventually install solar but we are currently wondering if it would actually work for us. We have a Model S 85 kwh and we want to be able to charge 100% on solar but we would need batteries at home for that to happen I'm thinking. We have a HPWC. Asking that much power that quickly we think it would be more than panels could produce. Is this a realistic option? Is there a battery pack available for backup use? Is going off-grid realistic?
     
  2. Sharkbait

    Sharkbait Member

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    Ya, it really sucks doesn't it. The utility companies have the state regulators by the short hairs. Everything extra your solar produces they get to sell to your nearest neighbor at the going rate and they throw us peanuts. Here in California, I do better than you. They give me about 0.03 cents/kWh for my excess power and sell it for anywhere from .15 - .32 cents/kWh. Go figure.

    I have a fairly new house with central heat and air but I use electric space heaters to burn off the 'extra' power I produce in the winter. In the summer, I keep my house especially cool, much cooler than Edison recommends. Why not, it's my power off my investment. My M3 will also be powered off my solar. Plenty of space in my electrical box for a NEMA 14-50 or whatever will be required for the car.

    DIY looks pretty straight forward, but I wouldn't do it without an certified, state licensed electrician that is familiar with the technology acting at least as a consultant for each step of the way. In the end, where I live, the city and the utility have to signoff as well. You probably don't want to undue expensive mistakes. I placed my system on the ground in my big back yard. All DC power cables are buried 42" below ground to the electrical box. Couldn't be happier.
     
  3. Rockster

    Rockster Active Member

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    My net metering policy is very simple: I can overproduce all I want and the power company is happy to take it and sell it at $0.105/kWh or so, but they don't pay me anything for it.

    I went back and forth, DIY versus contracted, and decided to let Solar City handle it. My best calculations were about $2/Watt DIY and Solar City quoted $2.88/Watt. The difference was worth it to me for the peace of mind, better warranty, and effort saved.
     
    • Informative x 1
  4. wcfinvader

    wcfinvader Member

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    SolarCity does not operate in my area yet. They are a leasing company anyhow so not sure how that would be better off when we could pay for it all up front.
     
  5. Sharkbait

    Sharkbait Member

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    Solar system leases are popular because they require little if any up front money from the homeowner. I bought my system outright for the following reasons:

    1. Companies that sell leases keep all the incentives and rebates.
    2. Your electric rates will generally rise as the utility companies raise their rates to the solar lease company.
    3. Didn't want people walking around on my roof punching holes in it only to have a leaking roof later on.
    4. With a lease, you generally cannot sell your home unless the new buyer agrees to takeover the lease. I can sell my house without being encumbered with involving the lease company.
    5. I can modify my system as I please without the bother of modifying or signing a new lease.
    6. I chose my own system components, the best and most efficient.

    There's no free lunch. I'm not saying a lease is necessarily bad; it just wasn't for me.
     
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  6. Rockster

    Rockster Active Member

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    In my area, Solar City is willing to sell me the system outright. In fact, because my electrical company is a non-profit cooperative, there's no power purchase plan in place that would make leasing possible, so purchasing is my only option. (Which is fine with me. Outright purchase is my preference for many of the same reasons that Sharkbait details.)
     
  7. Sharkbait

    Sharkbait Member

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    Early on, Solar City gave me a quote for a purchased system. It was outrageously expensive.
     
  8. Sharkbait

    Sharkbait Member

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    I went through seven proposals by different companies before buying. I was ready to give up. Most of the companies I interviewed were less informed about the technology than me. They knew nothing about solar panel efficiencies, the difference between STC and PTC, thermal efficiencies, monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline, on and on and on. One day the sales guy was working at a fast food joint and the next he's selling solar. Scary.

    It's still the wild, wild west for sellers and buyers. Caveat emptor; do your research. If you're informed and can ask the right questions, you'll likely make a good decision. I guess you can say that for any purchase, including a new Tesla......
     
  9. Topher

    Topher Energy Curmudgeon

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    Yes, it is possible to install solar PV yourself. I helped a friend put up 35 panels on his workshop. Some caveats: Go with micro-inverters. Staging is a huge help. Rope in, if you are up high. Don't do anything stupid on a ladder. Panels are heavy and awkward. Never put anything above your head that you would mind falling on it. Organization is critical. Know what you are doing with electricity, or hire qualified help. Know whether you can get a tax credit if you do it yourself.

    Thank you kindly.
     
    • Informative x 1
  10. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    Well; There's been some healthy debate on this forum in regards to that... but if you have a simple unshaded roof a string inverter will give you about the same results for about half the cost....

     
  11. miimura

    miimura Active Member

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    However, as a DIY project you will need additional knowledge for how to properly wire and route HVDC in conduit when going through a building envelope. My two strings of microinverters are just wired with Romex through the attic and walls in my house.
     
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  12. SageBrush

    SageBrush Active Member

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    "net metering" as the term is usually bandied about has two aspects:

    1. Using in the future what you produce today at ~ 0 net charge from the utility
    2. Getting paid for net excess

    (1) is by far the most important benefit of the two for people whose main intent is two supply their cars/homes with net zero clean energy at attractive PV costs.
     
  13. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    It's definitely possible to install yourself. But Topher and nwdiver offer good advice.
    I don't know the rules in Iowa. In Calif. homeowners can be their own contractor as long as they follow code, get permits etc.
    I installed in 2008. I have an old house with an old tile roof and was concerned that a good roofer wouldn't know the electrical and a good solar installer wouldn't know the roof. Plus I had cheap (free) teenage labor.
    I did some roofing, summers in college and am an EE by trade so I was pretty comfortable with the process.
    You should be comfortable with home wiring, sizing your panel load etc. You can opt to install everything but leave the panel hookup to an electrician if you prefer. There's lots of online guidance to a self-install. Here's a good one IMO: sitechsolar
    If it's single story house with a gentle pitch then the mechanics are pretty simple. Harness in, and always have an extra pair of hands to help lift.
    No leaks! Woot!
    I put down extra rails in anticipation of expanding my system and got permitted for a larger system than I installed . I figured solar prices would drop in a few years. I used a single inverter for the initial system and microinverters for the follow-up 4 years later since I went with different panels the second time around.
    The last update I did (2013) cost about $1.60 / W. Probably $1 / W now.
    Hope you figure it out. It's a great feeling, driving around on sunlight you captured off your roof.
     
  14. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    True... but you'll save ~$3k on a 8kW project so it's probably worth spending a little extra time to acquire that knowledge... IF you have a roof that doesn't have shading issues... if you have some panels that will see shade then micros make perfect sense...
     
  15. Topher

    Topher Energy Curmudgeon

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    That price difference is NOT universal. For some projects, it is the other way around. The safety issues with high voltage DC are much more dire, don't mess with it unless you are fully knowledgeable.

    Thank you kindly.
     
  16. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    Correct... if you're installing <8kW it will be <$3k... more and it'll be >$3k... String inverters typically run ~$0.30/w and micros >$0.60/w... that IS pretty universal...

    The largest hurdle to PV adoption is cost... $0.30/w is A LOT. For a DIY project that's a cost premium of >20%.

    There's not much of a safety difference between ~240vac and <600v dc. They're in the same voltage class. But if that is a concern then DC optimizers typically run ~$0.40/w. More than a string inverter but a decent discount from micros and the system isn't energized until it gets commissioned at the end.
     
  17. SageBrush

    SageBrush Active Member

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    Please correct me if I am wrong, that the DC optimizers still require an inverter do that route would be ~ 40 + 30 = 70 cents per watt
     
  18. TheTalkingMule

    TheTalkingMule Active Member

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    I want to take this thread further off topic with an inverter question, but first I will say that unless you are already predisposed(and trained) to take on projects such as a rooftop install I wouldn't try it. Might as well support a quality installer so that it gets done right, your project has positive economic impact and the market is scaled one step further in your region. My first reaction when I got prices 3 years ago was to buy the hardware, install myself and get an electrician to connect. There are a lot of negatives and potential negatives to DIY, I would do some research, decide what a fair markup looks like and pay it to an ethical quality installer.

    On inverters.....Aren't there going to be reasons you would specifically not want microinverters? Wouldn't you want the future flexibility of having a DC supply from your solar array? How do we know what battery or car tech will look like in 10 years? I would want to keep the DC/AC step separate in case it at some point makes sense to charge something using DC. Does that make rational sense?
     
  19. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    #19 nwdiver, May 2, 2016
    Last edited: May 2, 2016
    Since the MPPT function occurs at the optimizer the inverters are much simpler... you can't use optimizers with any string inverter... the only company I'm aware of that offers DC optimizers is Solaredge. Their inverters typically run ~$0.20/w and the optimizers are ~$0.20/w. You're basically splitting out the functionality. The MPPT occurs at the module level and the DC=>AC occurs at the inverter.

    To the DIY part... IMO if you're predisposed to DIY projects like building a deck or installing a ceiling fan... installing solar isn't too bad... falling off the roof is a far greater hazard than getting shocked. But you're correct that some people simply aren't cut out for DIY...

    On inverters that is a slight advantage but AC coupling is likely to be cheaper and more cost effective. Converting the ~350v DC to a usable voltage isn't easy. String inverters are cost effective in large part to economies of scale. If you have multiple array angels, shading issues or you don't know where you would mount a string inverter then I wouldn't cite that as a major concern to not use micros.
     
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  20. SageBrush

    SageBrush Active Member

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    You provide great information -- Thanks!

    So other than the downsides of using parts from one company, the DC optimizers have the advantages of micro, and can still be used for a direct DC path in the future if that turns out to be useful. Right ?
     

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