Choosing The Right Solar Panels For The Job
If youre limited on space for your DIY solar project, monocrystalline panels are the best option due to their greatest efficiency and similar cost to their polycrystalline cousins.
Polycrystalline panels may be suitable if space is not an issue and youre trying to reduce costs even in small ways.
Thin films arent suitable for small-scale solar installation projects, nor are they worth it.
Assess Your Solar Potential
Before deciding on the best way to use solar electricity at home, assess the potential solar energy that can be produced at your address. Because PV technologies use both direct and scattered sunlight to create electricity, the solar resource across the United States is ample for home solar electric systems.
However, the amount of power generated by a solar energy system at a particular site depends on how much of the sun’s energy reaches it, and the size of the system itself.
Several mapping services and tools are available to help you determine your homes solar energy potential. Some of the services also offer information on the estimated system size, potential costs and savings, and local contractors.
These tools are an excellent starting point and can help you determine whether your home is suitable for solar, and if not, the best path forward for still benefiting from solar. While these tools are helpful, they don’t account for all of the variables that need to be considered for your particular system. For that, you will need to work directly with a solar installer who can provide an accurate assessment of your solar potential as well as detailed recommendations, estimates, and equipment expertise.
Consider the following:
Planning Of A Standalone Pv System
Site assessment, surveying & solar energy resource assessment:
Since the output generated by the PV system varies significantly depending on the time and geographical location it becomes of utmost importance to have an appropriate selection of the site for the standalone PV installation. Thus, the following points must be considered for the assessment and selection of locations for installation.
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Victron Color Control Gx Settings
Depending on your setup, you will need to make some adjustments to the settings for the Color Control GX.
- Settings > System Setup > DVCC
If youve connected everything properly you should see your batterys percentage, voltage, amperage, and wattage all on the battery portion of the screen.
Keep in mind that most systems will treat the battery pack as 50% full by default until its been charged to 100%. So if it is showing a lower percentage than what you think it should be, just be patient.
Now you can test the Inverter. Turn on your 200A Pole Toggle , and then flip the power button on the Quattro. The green light should turn on, and the Inverter icon on the Color Control GX screen should change add a green light, and change the status to Inverting.
A Basic Solar Power System
Without going into great detail, I thought that I would illustrate a very simple and basic solar power system diagram. This one represents the high level building blocks of a stand-alone system. I sketched a diagram:
It all starts with a solar panel or panels.
The solar panel connect to a charge controller.
The charge controller connects with the panel and the battery . It manages the power coming in from the panels as it uses that energy to charge the battery .
The battery also connects to an inverter . The inverter converts the batteries DC to AC for use with typical consumer appliances and devices.
Note: You dont need the inverter if youre only running 12-volt DC appliances.
Heres another solar power system diagram. This one from Renogy.
Renogy solar power kit connection diagram:
Its not terribly difficult to assemble a basic solar power system. Though it does really help to have an understanding of basic electronics and electricity! But even if you dont have that knowledge, todays ready-made kits can make it fairly easy. Or, maybe you know someone with some understanding of electricity who might help you. And then theres always YouTube which surely has plenty of how to videos about this topic.
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Avoid Solar Panel Shading At All Costs
Secondarily, solar panel suffer greatly when they are even partially shaded by trees, building, and any obstructions that might be present. You might think that having your panels only 10% shaded we just reduce the power output by 10%. Yet in most cases it will reduce the total power output by at least 1/3. And depending on how your panels are wired, it could reduce the total array output by 1/3, not just the one panel. So, unless your home is completely free from shading, especially in the winter, it is frequently cheaper overall to put your panels a little distance away from the house where they will receive full sun all your long.
Victron Color Control Gx & Vrm Portal
The Color Control GX is the communication center of you entire off-grid power system. It controls all products connected to it, gives live info at a glance, and even creates a Remote Management Portal so you can access you system from anywhere in the world.
Before you fire up your system for the first time, youll want to make sure everything is connected to this display.
To connect the Quattro Inverter, use a VE.Bus or Ethernet cable. And for the MPPT Solar Charge Controllers, use VE.Direct cables. The display also needs power, so connect its positive and negative wires to the positive and negative of the system.
You may need to put a Terminator Plug into your second VE.Can slot , and if you want to run the VRM portal full time, a USB WiFi adapter will allow you to connect the display to your network. Hardwiring ethernet is also an option. You can even get a USB GPS adapter if your system is on the move. Pretty cool!
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Solar Installation Planning & Safety
The key to any successful solar panel installation project is having a clearly constructed plan with measures in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
In fact, there are a few things you can do before you even unpack your system to make sure the solar installation process goes smoothly from beginning to end. These include:
- Purchasing materials that are not included in your shipment
- Staying organized while unboxing your system
- Inspecting your shipment to ensure nothing is missing or damaged
- Reviewing safety guidelines for installing your system
Solar Power System Diagram
Solar power systems vary widely in their power producing capabilities and complexity. But I wanted to sketch a simple basic solar power system diagram that shows the building blocks.
Regardless of a given systems capacities and specifications, theres a common thread among most of them: The basic building blocks of its major components.
1. Solar panels3. Battery bank 4. DC to AC inverter for AC power
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Beginners Guide To Solar
This is a simple introduction to help you decide what you need and how to do it.
Firstly there are two different types of set-ups Off Grid and On Grid. If you live remotely and want your own independent power source then you want an Off Grid set-up. If you have a house and are connected to the mains electricity grid then you probably want to use an On Grid set-up, unless you want to use solar to become independent from the grid and have your own power.
As the majority of our customers are off grid we will start with that.
Test Your Solar Panel Setup
Take your solar panel outside and place it in direct sunlight.
Now look at your charge controller for an indication that the battery is charging. The PV light on mine started flashing green to let me know that the solar panel was charging the battery.
Heres a video walkthrough of my complete solar panel setup:
Like I said, the green blinking light means my solar panel is charging my battery. Nice!
And heres one final look at all the connections:
And thats it you now know how to set up your first solar panel system!
This system is a great beginner solar power project because its cheap, you learn a lot, and it can be used as is or expanded in countless ways.
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Choosing The Right Size Off Grid Solar System
You will need to size your solar system so that it can produce enough power to cover your winter and summer needs, which often means most of the year you will be producing more power than you can use.
Additionally, we need to account for the fact that solar systems are not 100% efficient. The process of transferring power from the panels to the charge controller, the charge controller converting it and storing in the batteries, and then the power coming out of the batteries and being potentially transformed into AC, all have some power loss associated with them.
While it is possible to go through each of your components and determine how efficient they are and thus calculate the perfect number of solar panels for your particular system, I generally just go with a 70% efficiency figure for typical after power systems.
To calculate how many kW of solar panels you need, including any inefficiencies in the system, just divide your energy needs by 0.7, or whatever figure you come up with for total system efficiency.
Getting Panels On Your Roof
Remember: safety first! As you prepare to move your panels onto the roof, keep in mind the safety procedures outlined in the Planning & Safety section of this guide. Be sure to wear protective equipment, use fall protection, and never stand on panels or lift them by the electrical wires.
If you want, you can wrap your panels in a blanket to protect them from hard surfaces as you move them.
Chances are, youll want to rent some equipment to help lift the panels on your roof. There are a few options to choose from:
Ladder Lift. A ladder with a conveyor belt mechanism on it to help move heavy objects up and down the ladder.
Ladder lifts make it easier to move objects up and down the ladder.
Scissor Lift. A lift which extends up and down, as well as side-to-side. The horizontal movement means you can take fewer trips from the ground to the roof and then back again.
Scissor lifts move up and down, as well as side to side.
Boom Lift. A lift with a full range of movement, giving you access to tight spaces. Useful to get over and around obstacles that prevent you from parking a lift directly under the spot where you plan to install your panels.
Boom lifts have full range of motion to help navigate tight spaces.
Scaffolding. Scaffolding works great if there are no obstacles and you dont need lift assistance. Theres no mechanism to make lifting easier, but it does offer a sturdy platform to work on and some extra fall protection.
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Purchase The Components That Make Up A Solar Panel
You will need:
Image source: Energy.gov
Solar cells are what converts the suns energy into electricity, each solar panel consists of about 36 solar cells.
Buying pre-soldered tabbing wire will cut some steps out of the process, but you will still need a soldering iron to solder the wiring to the back of the solar cells and string the wire correctly to connect the solar cells.
Non-conductive material to attach the cells to, like wood, glass or plastic
For DIY solar panels, wood usually works best as backing because it is easy to drill holes for the wiring. Once you have your solar cells wired together, you can glue these to the wood backing and then attach all of the wires and solder each solar cell together.
After wiring, you then connect these wires to a charge controller, which regulates the volts of energy. Wood can also be used to build a box to protect the solar cells and then to lay the plexiglass on top for moisture protection.
Seal the solar panel with plexiglass
Once your solar cells are wired and glued to the wood backing, you need to seal them with plexiglass for protection from heat, debris, and moisture.
Safety Guidelines For All Batteries
- Be careful to never short-circuit a battery! A short circuit occurs when the positive and negative terminals of a battery are connected together, either from improper wiring or when a metal object falls onto the battery terminals. Use insulated tools and be cautious to avoid short circuits.
- Remove all metallic jewelry, including watches and rings. Secure any long hair and avoid loose-fitting clothing that could get caught on wires or terminals.
- Always wear protective gloves and safety goggles when working with your batteries.
- Keep a multimeter with fresh batteries on hand. Use it to check conductors to verify voltage and polarity.
- Ensure that all wires are stripped and/or terminated properly using a torque wrench/driver when necessary.
- Route all wires away from sharp edges and pinch points that could penetrate and damage the wire.
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Determine Solar Panel Size Required
If we follow the example above
10343 W total solar panel output is needed!
Here is the important part to factor in:
Most grid tie systems arent 100% solar, we just want to cut our electric bill.
So we are going to cut the 10343 W number in half in this example.
10343 W / 2 = 5171 W
You can check out our best solar panel guide to select
Now lets use this number to size the rest of our system, we go after inverter first.
Is Finding A Professional Installer
As you can see, there are many different components in a functional solar panel setup With most solar projects, youll want to get a professional installation company to do the work. While you may be able to save on labor costs with do-it-yourself solar projects, hiring a professional installer will be the easiest and safest way to go. Outside of performing the labor for the install, solar contractors will also file for permits and interconnection applications that you need to get the system up and running. This will save you a lot of time and energy.
You can get multiple solar quotes by using EnergySage Solar Marketplace all for free, and completely online. Installers that provide quotes on EnergySage have been pre-screened and vetted to ensure that theyre experienced and reputable. If youd like to learn more about the optimal solar panel setup for your property, you can ask installers to provide a system design image with their quote, or chat with them about their recommendations for positioning and equipment.
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Installing Your Own Small Remote Off
|Issue #116 March/April, 2008
A typical residential-size solar system installation will involve properly sized and installed AC and DC electrical wiring to reduce the risk of electrical fire, a proper grounding system to prevent shock and lightning damage, proper battery installation and venting to prevent gas explosions, and a properly installed solar array to maximize performance while avoiding roof damage.
In almost all of my past articles I have described many different types of solar power systems, but did not go into detail on how to install them yourself, since most systems should be sized and wired by licensed solar professionals. However, the Backwoods Home website continues to receive many e-mail questions related to smaller do-it-yourself solar projects for remote weekend or vacation cabins in areas not served by power lines. If this is your situation, and you are willing to stick to the basics, I will show you how to install a very simple battery-based off-grid solar system just to power a few lights, and possibly a DC well pump or freezer.
Otherwisedont try this at home.
I am staying with all 12-volt DC equipment which has a limited shock hazard and allows using many of the electrical components you can find locally. However, a word of warning. Just because everything will be the same low voltage wiring as used in your car or boat, this still does not mean there are no safety concerns.