Installing some solar panels
This post will have very little to do with woodworking, but my tools and my shop all run on electricity, so I thought it might interesting.
This is my house. It may not look like much, from the front, but I have added a couple thousand square feet to the back. Between the 5 ton heat pump, my shop, and three kids that can’t turn off any lights, we use a lot of electricity. I have been talking to my friend, Don, for a couple of years now about the possibility of putting solar on the roof. Don designs all the solar systems for Banner Home Solutions in Mount Airy, MD. He is a great guy and he is really passionate about solar. My wife and I finally managed to pull together the financial resources to do it, so I gave Don a call.
Don lives pretty close to me, so he offered to do the install for me, himself, if I would help. I jumped at the idea. I have built half of this house myself, I love getting my hands dirty and learning something new.
We started by installing the mounting feet for the rails. The feet consist of a large piece of flashing with a sturdy piece of angle mounted to it, along with a rubber seal. Each one gets attached to the roof by sliding under a layer of shingles, then getting bolted through the roof into a rafter with a 4″ lag bolt.
Once the mounts were installed, we bolted on the rails. The rails are an extremely rigid extrusions with a Tee slot in the top.
My roof may not be dead flat, but the slots in the mounting feet allowed us to make sure the rails were.
All the rail sections were grounded together with a heavy-duty grounding strap.
By the end of day one, we had all of the rails mounted. We left them hanging long to give us plenty of room to square up the panels. They can be cut down later.
Day two, we mounted the 10KW inverter. It is a bit oversized so that I can add a few panels to the back at a later date if I am so inclined. Don mounted the solar deck, and ran the conduit that was needed on the roof.
We decided to upgrade a bit and put optimizers on each panel. The optimizers will allow the panels to generate power even if partially in the shade. They will also allow me to log into a web page on the internet and see what each individual panel is doing at any time. It should be able to generate reports as well as help Don trouble shoot problems, should anything fail.
Once the optimizers were all installed, Don hooked them all together and ran the wires back to the solar deck.
Everything was then routed through conduit, back to the inverter.
Day three we opened up the big box of solar panels. Don got 315W panels from Canadian Solar. Twenty-five of them, 33″ wide and 77″ long.
They weighed a little less than a pack of shingles, but were way more awkward to carry up to the roof.
I will admit, Don carried up more panels than I did. I work at a computer for a living, Don is in better shape…
After getting a half-dozen of them mounted, Don put a meter on the terminals back at the solar deck to make sure everything was hooked up right, before we covered up all the connections. We were getting power, so all was good to proceed.
Since it was only two Tee bolts and clamps mounted on each side of the panel to hold them on, we cruised right along.
We finished the big roof, and placed three more panels onto the smaller roof, then wired them all together.
After everything was in place, we cut off all the excess lengths of rail and capped the ends.
All 25 panels were installed and hooked up in just four hours.
Both strings of panels were working great.
I get some shade in the afternoon so there is going to be some tree pruning in my near future, but the panels look great.
Day 4 the electrician came out and wired everything into the panel and installed all of the required disconnects.
Once the electrician was done, Don came out and turned the inverter on and got it paired up with the optimizers. At that particular time of the morning, I was already generating 4500 Watts of electricity.
The last thing Don did was to install all of the required warning stickers.
If you want to see something really cool, here is a video of my meter after we turned the system on. Since my power is tied to the electrical grid, the meter immediately started running backwards!
That means when the sun is shining, I am not paying for power. Too bad I do all of my woodworking in the shop at night…
I want to give a special “Thank You” to my buddy Don for helping me with this project (doing nearly all the work actually). If anyone out there is interested in solar and you live near Mount Airy, MD, Shoot Don an email or Give him a call.
I’m jealous. The typical thing that I always hear is the cost and payback is not there. Can you elaborate more on this now and in the future? Especially if you can squash those concerns. Also, could you have even done better with putting more of them on the other side of the roof? Thanks.
Well, I could definitely have done better by adding more panels to the return gables on the Southwest facing side of my house. I had Don oversize the inverter so I could do that in the future. I can probably add up to another 4000 KW. I started with what I could afford… Payback for a system this size is probably about 8 years. Four things factor into the payback: Most obvious is the credit back from the electric company for the power you feed into the grid. Second, you also earn Solar Renewable Energy Credits that get sold to companies trying to buy down their carbon footprint. For my 8KW system, that should be around $1200/yr. Third, most states offer a grant when you install. Maryland now offers $1000. They used to offer a lot more, but ran out of money in the budget… And fourth, You get a 30% Federal tax credit until the end of the 2016 tax year, so 30% of what I put into the installation should be coming back in my taxes this year. I won’t tell you exactly what my system cost, because there are a lot of variables. I actually opted for optimizers, a larger inverter, and more efficient panels. I could have saved a few thousand now, but I am in it for the long haul, so I went with better options. Another thing to consider is the resale value the panels add to your home. The estimate value add on my house was $44,000. Not bad if I was looking to sell my house in the next few years. It would definitely pay for itself then (depending on the housing market, of course). One more thing to consider is dealing with a reputable installer. Some companies out there are in it only for the money. Don gave me a detailed estimated breakdown of how much I would save/earn over the life of the panels. Some companies promise you the moon, but won’t give it to you in writing. If you have questions, email Don. Even if he is not in your area, he would love to talk to you about solar. He is a good honest guy. He should be able to tell you if another company is promising you something they can’t do.