What it takes to go solar


ExtremeTech has posted an article detailing the process of adding solar power to a house. The author included some interesting detail about his personal power consumption, and details about the process of selecting his contractor too. The total cost of the installation came to about $36,000 after state and federal rebates for going solar.

It’s not a homebrew setup, but it’s good to see an article detailing all that is involved. We’ll take you through the tech side of it after the break.

The first thing to discuss is the overall architecture of a home solar power source. Power is collected by the panels as DC power, which is converted to AC by an inverter. The inverter feeds the AC power to the main circuit box, which distributes it to the house.

The panels themselves are not installed until a few steps later; first, the mounting racks, the inverter, and a safety cutoff switch are installed. Once that has been completed, the wiring that would connect to the panels was installed into the racks. After installing grounding wires, the wiring is connected to the conduit that links it to the inverter. Then it is possible to install the panels themselves. The safety switch can then be flipped on, allowing the juice to flow into the main circuit box. Bear in mind that although the process is well-detailed in the article, you still need municipal permits to have an alternative energy source (even if it’s something other than solar panels, like this wind turbine we featured earlier), so self-installation should be considered carefully.

Even if you can’t afford such an extreme home mod, it’s interesting to note that the company that did the installation, ReGrid Power, claimed that the solar setup would cover 75% of the user’s energy needs, cutting down about 90% of the monthly cost. The author also mentions that the cost can be recouped in nine years. Not bad numbers, and it’ll make your life greener. Still, if you’re eager to start now, try these instructions on how to build a solar panel using common household items.

27 thoughts on “What it takes to go solar

  1. I’ve lived off the grid for about 4 years now with my power coming from a combination of PV and wind turbine. For a tech publication there was certainly very little tech discussed in the article. Either because the author didn’t want to say he didn’t really know what he was buying or didn’t want to show how much he overpaid.

    His advice on how to find a solar contractor is flawed. The only advice you need is to stay the hell away from them. Anyone reading this site certainly has the aptitude to design and build their own system.

  2. ide like to know how many of those panels are still in working condition in 9 years. Or 5 years even. Its still not cost effective to go solar, not by a long shot.

  3. The lifetime of mono- and polycrystalline silicon wafers is quite long. Amorphous silicon tends to decline in efficiency during the years, to a certain point. With rising energy costs, an increase in rebates, and improving PV technology, going solar is starting to move into the realm of the practical. Definite buy in ten years time.

  4. DIY solar is eminently doable. The system I put on our house (about 5 years ago) averages about 10KWH/day. With the on/off peak price differences we are left with a nominal $5/month for grid connectivity. The toughest part of the install was locating the rafter centers from the top of the roof. The electrical engineering work is at the tinker-toy level, just wire it up.

  5. The panels, in most cases, have a 20 year warranty. There are no moving parts. Worst case you have to spray the dust off once a year with a hose. If the sun shines, they make electricity. It really is that simple. Now… The other end of that is how many people actually live in the house until that magical break even date? I didn’t. And the jack___ that bought my house made us take the panels off as a contingency of sale. I have NO idea why. And he never gave a straight answer. The system is virtually maintenance free once installed. Unfortunately my new home is not a good candidate for solar. It is a 2-story with cement tiles. And the roof line faces the wrong direction to get maximum sun. Oh well. I really liked having solar power. I installed mine back in 1999, btw.

  6. It cost $36,000, he’ll save 90%, and he’ll recoup his costs in 9 years? That means his monthly electric bill is $370. It would take 41 years of savings for that system to pay for itself on MY house.

  7. The math looks incorrect. He says he has Time of use metering but an electro-mechanical meter is not capable of this. His new solid state meter will but I doubt he is always paying .25 cents a KWH. I would also figure in what the investment of that kind of cash would do even in a bank with a half decent rate over a nine year period.

  8. something tells me mike gross works for that company… maybe it’s the two posts recommending the same place

  9. Steve Ciarcia recently documented his entire PV installation over three or four issues of Circuit Cellar Ink. Very interesting. Very expensive, but very interesting.

  10. but to be fair AlpacaLips, if your costs are that much lower than his, you’d need a proportionately smaller setup right? if i did my math right your setup (assuming everything is equally cheaper, but i’m sure the regulators and such are static costs) your setup would be somewhere near $7900.

    you also have to consider, if you did get a setup that big, a lot of states/cities/counties have rebates for putting power into the grid. whatever you don’t use would go back into the grid, and in california at least, you’ll get a check in the mail for it. it’s a lot like being a tiny powerplant, and i’m pretty sure you’re paid for what you put into the grid at the same rate others pay to take it out.

    so you could go either way, you could get the same size setup as this guy did, and not only cover your energy costs, but get rebates for covering others energy costs; or you could get a smaller setup that covers your power usage the same percent amount as the guy in the article, for a grand total that is less than he spent

    does that make sense? i feel like i didn’t communicate it clearly

  11. Are the solar panels so green to manufacture?

    What is the point in installing them, if they are polluting the environment much more than using the grid? (Think about the huge amount of energy required to obtain defect free crystalline silicon, and the chemicals involved in the cleaning process of sand). Not more than one or two years ago, people were trying hard to get %40-50 in energy gained/energy lost in production ratio, even with best case scenarios (i.e. crystalline Si used in CPU manufacture etc.)

    I think in order to go really green, biogas generators (for farms with lots of animals) or solar heat transfer mechanisms (like solar water heaters on rooftops that are highly popular around here, or water circulation based generators feeding from panel heaters if you have a huge field) should be considered. Especially the panels are quite easy to manufacture yourself, some black paint two layers of glass, an aluminum box for the whole setup, some PVC piping and you are ready to go, just calculate the optimal incline/heading depending on your location and add a hot water container. It is too early for the domestic use of Si Solar Panels. But with the increased funding to nanotechnology something will come up soon, I am quite optimistic about graphene defect based trap devices.

    P.S. You do not need to clean dust off the standard two glass heat capture solar panels used in water heating, the difference is not worth the effort.

  12. I’m much more interested in Solar Heat. I live in NH and despite the amount of electricity I waste my total costs are only about $1200 a year for electric. $30 a month is a straight up service fee for the privlage of using electricity off the grid and another $20 in taxes, really I only use $40 worth of electricity month after month.

    Oil for home heat and hot water runs me close to $6K a year, and that’s going up by the day. Show me a solar heating system that can reduce my oil usage (particularly in the winter) and give me a good ROI…

  13. twistedsymphony – here’s your answer: http://www.solarhouse.com/

    The guy gets most of his heating from solar thermal panels and radiant floor heat loops, and he lives in Maine. He also gets most of his electricity from solar PV. I plan on doing exactly what he did soon.

    Anyone interested in adding solar thermal/PV should check out http://www.homepower.com I’ve been a subscriber for a few years now.

  14. I life off-grid with solar power. I have set up four separate photovoltaic systems. The way this was done was absurd, and obviously in the best interests of the contractor rather than the person paying for it.

    The FIRST thing to do in setting up any solar home is to determine its actual energy needs based upon the best allocation of resources. For example, this guy could probably have saved 10-15 THOUSAND dollars by purchasing a high efficiency refrigerator, like a SunFrost… even “Energy Star” refrigerators are horribly ineffecient.

    Depending upon the amount of sun one’s home receives it should be possible to power a home which has no electric heating appliances for $10-$20 thousand total. I know many people, including myself, who get by with much, much less…. my entire off-grid system will come out under $6k with the fridge (I am currently on a propane fridge).

  15. Oh, btw, I know people who have been using the same solar panels for over 20 years. So long as they do not succumb to hail or wind damage, they seem to last forever. Over time there is a slight reduction in output.

  16. it’s not cost effective to go solar, but it is cost effective to build solar. it’s not possible to convert all of the electricity in your house to solar power. but if you build a house with solar panels you can since all of the wiring can be routed to the panels. my dad wants to build a completely self-sufficient house with filtered, reclaimed water and solar power

  17. Are you sick of wasting money on electric every month? Well I’m here to tell you there are products out there that can make it so you don’t have to. Michael Harvey would you like you to try his product, for under $200 you can build your own windmill and put solar panels right on your roof, to save you money and help the ecosystem! Also you don’t need to know how to build a birdhouse to get this thing up and running, with the quick and easy installation guide you can have it going in no time. If you click this link and buy the product right now they are even offering $150.00 off the final sale price, making it a cheap $49.97, what do you have to lose with prices that low, go green today! http://e4e085q8c-d08n43ecygir9o5e.hop.clickbank.net/

  18. I will be installing a 5Kw system in my house but I’m still debating on what type of SolarPanels I should use any advice. I will be documenting all the installation, cost, production of system and comparable saveing though out the months

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