Are you planning a DIY solar install, but you don't know where to start?
If you thought 'maybe' or ‘yes’, then you are at a good place as I discuss this. With ample information available online, one can easily generate solar power at home. Several DIY solar project videos are available that guide you every step of the way from making DIY solar panels to installing solar panels yourself. You can purchase and install your DIY solar power system. You could buy a portable solar power system as a standalone DIY kit if you live in a rented accommodation.
Another option available is the community or shared solar system, where a community like a strata company pools its financial resources to install and maintain a solar PV system that members of the strata company use. The number of solar installations across the globe is increasing by the day. That solar availability has brought down the cost of buying the solar system.
Do you have access to a roof that can be used to install a solar system? If yes, then it is quite easy to do so by following some basic and simple steps.
Access To A Roof
Determine if your roof will receive ample sunlight for most part of the day throughout the year. The orientation of the roof to collect direct sunlight and the possibility of shadow from trees across the roof during the day are taken into account.
If the answer is ‘No’, then it might not be financially viable to install your solar power system on the roof. There would have been insufficient savings from solar energy in this case, to cover the cost of the solar system you install.
The shape of the roof should accommodate sufficient panels to make a viable array. Also the roof must be structurally sound to permit the energy generation system to be installed. Remember the loadings needs to include for the panels, racking plus other imposed loads like wind, snow and maintenance people.
Accessing The Energy Usage And Efficiency
You need to conduct an energy audit for your house and consider the potential efficiency upgrades. Home energy audits will point out the energy loss areas. It will introduce you to opportunities to conserve energy and add efficiency. It will point to changes such as LED lighting that could be changed beforehand.
You should also consider insulating the house which will help you save money by reducing energy loss. The past electricity bills need to be reviewed and any increase in power use that is planned in future should also be factored in. For example, you may be considering a renovation and extension of the existing house footprint.
Selecting The Right Solar Technology
There are two major solar technologies - photovoltaic and thermal. PV technology uses the action of sunlight on an array of solar cells to generate solar direct current (DC)electricity. Solar thermal technology uses the sun’s radiation to heat water or air in a tube to be used inside the home. Solar thermal is primarily used in homes that use a lot of energy for heating. PV solar technology uses PV cells that generate electricity.
Concentrating solar power or CSP is a solar technology where mirrors are used to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers. The collected solar energy is converted to heat which produces electricity in a thermal rankin cycle for industrial applications.
Access The Solar Potential Of Your House
It is paramount that you can access the amount of solar energy that can be generated by the solar power system that you plan to install. The energy generated should ideally be more than the actual energy your home will use. The amount of power generated by a solar system at a particular site is dependent on the amount of sunlight received by the panels. The size of the system, the efficiency of the panels and the orientation of the array are factors for improving electrical output.
There are several commercial mapping systems available that help you in making your decisions. I have found the following seven commercial systems by looking through the Internet.
Energysage is a commercial arrangement using software that allows you to estimate the energy savings from solar system. Users of this website system are connected with pre-screened installers. These installers can make contact and provide you with a site-specific and requirement specific estimate of your solar PV system. They will want to provide a turnkey service.
Geosteallar measures your solar potential on the basis of the satellite maps of your area. It provides you with an estimate of the financial benefits of installing a solar system on the basis your past electricity bills.
Mapdwell’s Solar system calculates the solar potential of building rooftops using mapping technology and location of the sun to calculate potential electrical output results.
OpenEI provides you with information about energy, market investment, and technological development which helps you in making a decision regarding your solar power plant installation. This portal also has maps and links that connect you with solar installers whom you can contact for consultation about installation prices.
PVWatts helps in projecting estimates of the performance of potential PV installations, based on data that has been supplied by existing users.
San Fransisco Energy Map is useful for DIY solar projects as it helps the prospective users understanding this renewable energy resource. You can also learn how to install your renewable energy system through this. The system provides cost estimates, details of solar installers in the city and neighboring areas, and other such information.
Sun Number uses aerial imagery processed with proprietary algorithms to analyze particular individual rooftops for their solar system feasibility. It uses a combination of factors to do analysis of a rooftop and gives a score between 1 to 100. In the scoring 100 is given to the most ideal rooftop.
Factors used for those calculations include roof shape, distance to surrounding buildings, surrounding vegetation, regional variability, and atmospheric conditions. Those sorts of mapping systems can help you understand your requirement from the solar system and the companies will give you an idea about its installation costs.
Setting Up Your DIY Solar Plant Tied To The Grid
In order to get tax credits for setting up a solar power system at home, you need to connect your solar power system to the grid in your area. This won’t usually be a DIY project because installation needs to be done by approved installers.
Being connected to the grid will help you when it comes to selling any extra electricity generated by your system. This has traditionally been sold to the power company but with new blockchain technology and smart electrical meters selling to neighbors directly will become an option. Although to sell to neighbors both they and you need to have a connection to the grid. You should select the solar panel that is fully compliant with your intended solar PV system and will be in accordance with your state laws to obtain incentive credits.
To interconnect solar panels with the grid you require professionals that have the expertise in solar panel and electrical installation. Once you get the panels on the roof, there should be the minimum air gap between the roof and panels installed. A proper solar panel mounting system will ensure the space is maintained.
Once the panels are set, they need to be connected to an inverter. The inverter converts the DC current generated by the panels into usable AC power. You can use one larger inverter into which all the panels are connected, or you can install panels with a micro-inverter connected to each of the individual panels. As your solar system is being connected to the grid, then you will also be required to have an AC disconnect. The disconnect functions as a breaker box and separates the solar panels from the rest of the system.
The power company in your area will be installing extra meters in your house for this kind of solar power system. These will be smart meters that measure your grid input, output, and off-grid use. The inverter at this stage needs to be joined with the disconnect, which in turn connects to the main meter.
You can also connect solar batteries separately to your solar panels. These batteries will store power for when the solar power stops and for emergencies.
DIY Solar With An Independent Autonomous System
After selecting the solar panel for the system, you need to install them on the roof mounting system to efficiently use the available surface area. The roof may be a flat surface or one with a slope but the panels in each case need to be installed close to each other facing towards the sun. An autonomous system is not connected to the grid.
Next, the panels should be connected to a charge controller. This controller helps in regulating the amount of power that is generated by the system to the batteries. The charge controller controls the voltage and amperage so reducing the risk of overcharging the batteries. The charge controller is connected directly to the DC batteries.
So, the solar panel connects to the charge controller, which in turn connects to the batteries. The battery bank connects to the inverter and it connects to a switchboard for the house. In a grid-tied system the inverter has automatic switching protects the grid mains from getting AC power from the house.
The DIY Solar Panel
Here is a video about making a DIY solar panel. It might help to get some clarity with step by step procedures of how Pippa makes her solar panel from 36 solar cells. It is a project but when you order a panel it comes complete and will be manufactured as a complete unit that has been checked for quality and operates according to its specifications.
The DIY solar concept works well if you want a small off-grid system to power a small cabin, an RV, a small boat, or tiny cottages. There are inexpensive solar panel kits also available in the market, which include all of the components required for a DIY solar installation.
If you are technologically talented, you can build your small-scale PV solar panel from scratch as demonstrated in the video. Most of the solar panels used today are made of square crystalline silicon wafers measuring six inches by six inches. There are electrons movement in these wafers when they are irradiated by sunlight that generates a half volt DC electrical current. If you make your own system there are electrical safety precautions needed from working with what can become higher voltage live DC electricity.
Making A DIY Solar System
Many rooftop solar power systems use full-size solar panels having 60 silicon cells or 72 silicon cells that produce 30 to 36 volts. For small electricity needs, smaller solar panels can be made with less cells. You can buy individual 6 inch x 6 inch solar cells to build your solar panel from scratch. The above video showed the cells being laid onto a sheet of glass and a backing board is laid over the frame.
Many DIY solar panels use a wooden plywood sheet as the base for their solar cells. The solar cells are attached to the plywood backboard. Drill some holes in this board to position the cells and for passing the wires from each cell through. For an efficient working system, use a hot soldering iron to attach silver wire to the back of each of the solar cells. Each solar cell should be fixed separately to the backboard. This will make it easier to replace a single cell in case of cell damage and also makes the cell more secure. Link each silver wire of the Silicon PV cells to the back of the board through the holes and solder together. A transparent glass sheet or plastic cover can sandwich the front face of the PV cells to form a panel.
The ways in which the solar resources can be used are many and diverse. The first most likely use of solar supply would be for running LED lights and fans of the house.
Solar Thermal For Heating Water and Space
You might have seen solar hot water heating panels that are mounted on the roof. They collect and circulate the heat collected in the water to the home. There are larger thermal solar roof collectors that heat water that circulated by a solar pump directly from and to the pool. Solar blankets for pools float on the water surface to heat the pool water that is in contact with the blanket.
Solar thermal energy is used in providing heating to the house. Water is heated by the sun and pumps circulate the warmed water through the house transferring heat into the house.
The important function of your solar power system is to generate enough electricity to fulfil the energy requirements of your house. The DIY solar panel shows the way to make a solar panel but of course you can buy ready made complete panels. Putting a DIY solar system together is a matter of assembling the components as outlined and putting them in the order that works to produce DC power. It is a great way to learn about solar power systems.
An inverter converts DC power to AC for using with household appliances. The DIY system can work in an autonomous solar set-up. In every case recognise that DC or AC electricity is dangerous and it is recommended that you have a licensed electrician confirm the system is safe for use. You won't want children or friends that visit your project being injured from a live contact with leaking voltages.
A benefit that you can share with everyone is in promoting solar power as a sustainable, clean renewable source for energy.
If you undertake a DIY solar project practice being electrically safe and enjoy sharing your learning experiences.