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How to get started with solar if there are no local companies?

Posted by keepitlow (My Page) on
Sat, Oct 17, 09 at 12:36

I was interested in adding some solar to my house and still keep the electric utility as a backup. But there are no solar companies around here to do the work. (BTW, I'm in the NE)

What do you recommend? But mail-order? Is it a do it yourself type of job?

I was told it cost $8 a watt to go solar. I could probably swing about a 2000 watt setup. Do you think 2000w is enough for 2 people in a 2000 SF house? I figure if I run the toaster a couple times a week I can use the power grid.

Also if the panels go on the roof, should a new roof be put on first if the shingles are about 17 years old?

And as far as future budgeting, when will the solar panels, hardware and batteries need to be replaced?


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies

If you have the knowledge, you can do it yourself, if not, you would be best hiring an electrician.

I personally would replace the roof first, but that depends on how you mount your panels...laying flat on the roof vs stand mounted.

2000w won't go very far, but it's a start.

Most solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years, but the sellers I spoke with say they can last 80 years, although they will gradually lose some of their power producing qualitites over the years.

Anything that uses a lot of watts such as a toaster, heaters, clothes dryers, etc would need to be on power supplied by the electric company.

BPS makes some very small start-up units(plug & play) with everything ready go. Only installation is mounting the solar panels, and running wire from panels to unit, and from unit to breaker box...very simple. They run from $4000 and up.


RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies


RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies

Where are you in the NE? Have you checked the NABCEP site for installers?

RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies

Just as a back of the napkin calculation, with a 2,000 watt setup, you will probably only average about 15% of full capacity once you take night, clouds, rain, winter etc into account. That brings you to 0.3kw *365days*24hours = ballpark 2,600 kw hours per year. If you are in a warm, sunny area, you'll do better than that. If you are in a cold, cloudy area, you might do worse.

The average house uses about 9,000 KW hours in the US. If you are average, that system would take care of 30% of your energy needs. Of course, if you are conserving energy better than the average american, you'll be in much better shape than that.

Before you try a DIY installation, make sure to read up on your local building codes. It will likely require permits and an inspection.

RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies

Also don't the tax credits require a certified installer? Remember 2 things - with tax credits, you may be able to get more and in general, solar panels would be better utilized in the South and particularly Southwest US (ie a better use of limited resources)

RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies

Some options to think about:
- It can be a DIY job if you are comfortable with wiring, which has gotten pretty simple on the new grid-tie systems. There are safety hazards that you need to read up on. Most places will let you do your own system with a permit, and hook it up to the grid.
DIY systems DO qualify for the federal tax rebate.
This is the system I am just finsishing up -- I did all the work, and its certainly not rocket science, but it takes a while with just one person in spare time.
Cost is going to come in around $5 per watt before rebates.

- You could talk to a local electrician, and show him the details of whats involved in putting the PV system in. I think that most electricians would be willing to tackle something like the Enphase system I did -- its very very straight forward wiring, and most of it is just run of the mill 240VAC wiring that any electrician could do. Again, there are some safety issues unique to PV that need to be understood. With this kind of deal, you could do as much of the physical installation work as you want, and let the electrician do the wiring.

On estimating power output of the system, you don't have to guess (as in the calculation in one of the posts above), just go to the NREL PVWatts calculator, and plug in your location and numbers -- it will give you a very good estimate.

One thing that cannot be overemphasized is to do a solar site survey to make sure that your array won't be blocked from the sun by obstacles -- PV arrays are very subject low output with even partical shading. Here is a DIY site survey you can do in an hour:
Alternatively, you can use Google SketchUp to do a site survey.

More on DIY PV systems at the attached link.


Here is a link that might be useful: Various PV systems people have done as DIY projects

RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies

Solar rentals are looking good to me. I've not read, however, any forum posts about them.

They handle everything and you pay only monthly rental.

I believe the reason they make sense and cents is that
some companies locked in a rate or incentive in 2005.

It bears spending a few minutes on it at the least.

If I were ready to install solar (I'm not in myhouse yet) I would be reading up on the rental to find out why they're
worth is (if they are).

FYI - solar can heat you and IMHO solar heating is the
best use of the Sun. Plastic pipes under a tedlar cover
in a box will heat up and be useful for air heating.

Home Depot sells a corrugated plastic 4" pipe, 100' for
about $35 ! It would be simple to run air through it.
I seem to have ideas that few others have. *

Reflective fixtures can guide sunlight into the house
through windows thus using the glass for more than keeping
out the air.

I'm a materials scientist and have 30 years experience in
analytical lab work for mostly metals and water samples.
For 10 years I've studied our energy situation and solutions. It's growing very fast.

RE: How to get started with solar if there are no local companies

If you are average, that system would take care of 30% of your energy needs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Los Angeles Appliance Repair

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