Okay, so you’ve got some equipment, you’ve got some know-how and you are ready to get out there and become a solar installer. Sounds easy enough, I mean everyone is talking about it, right? Well yes, but before you start going onto people’s roofs and drawing high-voltage DC electricity from the sun, you should know the common mistakes that others (many others) have made before you. This is by no means a list of all the questions you will have, or problems you will run into, but it should help dispel some misconceptions you may have about solar energy.
I learned that solar PV panels lose their efficiency as they get hotter, but I also know that solar thermal collectors use water heated by the sun for use in the home. I could just use the water to simultaneously cool the PV panels and then get heated for hot water use, I’m a genius!
I don’t blame anyone for thinking this, I know I did at first, as I’m sure 90% of people first learning about solar energy have. The truth is that the math doesn’t work out. In order for your hot water to be a sufficient for uses such a showering and washing dishes, it should be in the tank at 120° Fahrenheit, which means it would have to be 130°F on the roof and the solar panels would have to be 140°-150°F. This is a far cry from the optimal temperature of most solar PV brands at 77°F. So either you’ll be showering in cold water, or you’ll be waiting an awfully long time to get a return on those inefficient solar panels (which you’ll need to combat the 140° temperature outside)
I’m just going to install a small standalone system to power one or two things, like the air conditioning and refrigerator.
AC and refrigeration are the two biggest energy users in a home. A small system not tied to the grid would have a lot of trouble running the AC and refrigerator consistently. If you’re going to install a small standalone system, connect it to smaller end-uses, such as the computer, TV, or lighting fixtures. There is nothing wrong with a small system, but having it grid-tied can help tackle those big energy users while keeping the consistency you want.
It seems like the competition is over-charging for installations, I just checked the prices of solar panels and they’re dropping like stones.
The truth is that, while the costs of panels themselves have dropped tremendously in recent years, the installation costs have only dropped slightly. There are plenty of other materials that go into a solar installation that you will need (and be expected to supply). The racking, DC disconnects, heavy gauge wiring and other BOS (balance of system) hardware can add up to more than the panels themselves – making the real installation costs close to where you notice the competition (and don’t forget about your labor). These are simply expenses that you cannot overlook, solar PV systems are dangerous and the safety of yourself and the home owners could be compromised if you buy cheap or faulty auxiliary components.
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