Author Topic: Solar resources  (Read 2066 times)

Ciceroís Moustache

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Solar resources
« on: February 05, 2018, 08:35:16 PM »
While this isnít really a DIY project, I figured I could get some good advice here.

In a few years, I plan to move from grey Seattle to sunny Northern California.  At that point, Iíd like to go as completely solar and off grid (for electricity) as possible. Iím looking for any resources Moustachians might recommend to get up to speed on the technical details.  I donít plan to install or design a system myself, but I want to be an educated consumer when the time comes. Has anyone a recommendation for books, websites, etc.? I am not so interested in the tax benefitsóthose could change at any time, so Iíll focus on those as I get closer. My initial thought is a couple of Tesla walls, and then panels to keep them charged, but I really donít know what Iíd need.  Can anyone make recommendations so I can get educated? Thanks in advance!!!

JustNeedsPaint

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2018, 12:01:37 AM »
You can't help but laugh at your perfect timing! Talk about service from THE MAN himself (or mindreading)!  ;-)

https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2018/02/07/diy-solar-power/

HipGnosis

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2018, 12:26:57 PM »
Are you aware that tariffs have just been put on the cheap solar panels?
Prices are going to be higher for a while, and no one knows for how long.
 

Daley

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2018, 01:18:06 PM »
Yes, MMM wrote on solar panels just a couple days ago, but his setup is pure grid-intertie, using the power grid as his "backup battery". This is all well and good, but it's not as "off grid" as Cicero's Moustache is probably wanting.

That said, there's been a great thread on this recently here that @Syonyk gave a lot of useful info on:

https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/off-grid-solar-systems/

There's also the smaller scale, non-grid intertie DC-only guide that our own @Bakari did a few years back recycling used panels:

http://www.instructables.com/id/NON-grid-intertie-independant-solar-photovoltic-/

Syonyk

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2018, 02:17:34 PM »
While this isnít really a DIY project, I figured I could get some good advice here.

Aspects of solar can be DIY.  An off grid system, feel free to build it yourself from start to finish.  Nobody cares.

Grid tied?  That depends on the electrician you find.  Someone needs to sign off that it meets code, and the range of electrician comfort with people doing their own work varies, a lot.  Some refuse to let you do anything, some basically glance at the result, pull a few conduits to make sure it's secure, and if it looks good, will sign off.  You want the second, obviously, but you should also be building to or above code standards in case there's a problem.  Insurance companies don't like DIY builds burning down homes.

Quote
At that point, Iíd like to go as completely solar and off grid (for electricity) as possible.

Why?

Are you going to be within $10k-$20k worth of connection fees to the power grid?

What's your opinion on generator maintenance?

If the answer is the depressingly common, "Well, you know, free energy from the sun, and all that, and it's criminal what the power companies are doing..." nonsense, stop right now.  Off grid power is stunningly expensive, and rather environmentally unfriendly.  See the other thread Daley linked for a much longer set of thoughts on that, but it's not cheap, and it's not clean.  And it's a seriously inefficient use of panels compared to grid tied solar, because when the battery bank is full, the panels just sit there getting hot (not producing anything).

Quote
Iím looking for any resources Moustachians might recommend to get up to speed on the technical details.

I work full time in an off grid office (off grid power systems, I do have internet out there, though I learned that half the internet gets really, really upset because there are two completely different definitions of "off grid" in use), and I know my way around off grid power fairly well.  Start reading, assume most of what you read is crap designed to sell you something (or written by someone in the comfort of their grid tied home), try it, learn, iterate.

Quote
I donít plan to install or design a system myself, but I want to be an educated consumer when the time comes.

Ah.  So.  Please don't build an off grid power system, if that's how you're going into it.  An off grid power system is a way to turn a large pile of cash into a small pile of power.  Having someone else do the design/install/etc, is a great way to turn a really gigantic pile of cash into an even tinier bit of power.

Does the thought of being the engineer and operator of your own power plant excite you, or terrify you?  If it doesn't excite you, off grid power is probably not for you, because that's literally what you're doing.  Sure, there's automation that deals with a lot of it, but I'm operating my office as much as I'm operating the computers in it.  My office is a non-trivially complex machine that serves to keep all the other machines running, but I tend to geek out over power systems, batteries, etc.  It's absolutely not a set up and forget type system, and since I don't have things like automated generator start, I get to do the spitballing on if it's a good day to light the generator or if I can ride through another day with weak solar, should I heat on propane or electric, how many computers can I actually run today, etc.

Quote
Has anyone a recommendation for books, websites, etc.?

I blog about solar stuff halfway often, though I've certainly not written any books on it (yet).

Quote
My initial thought is a couple of Tesla walls, and then panels to keep them charged, but I really donít know what Iíd need.  Can anyone make recommendations so I can get educated? Thanks in advance!!!

Ah, so the PowerWalls are cute toys, and almost entirely useless for any sort of project, because you can't get them on any sort of schedule (Preorder and get lucky), and they're not rated for sustained off grid use.  Or they are.  Or they're not.  And nobody can figure out details.  They're also AC coupled, which is a poor way to build an off grid power system for a variety of reasons, mostly related to microinverters only being cheap because they're designed for grid tie operation.

A lot of it comes down to how big a house you want to power, and how you've designed it.  I suggest buying a subscription to Home Power Magazine with the digital back issue option, and start reading backwards (the stuff from the 80s is historically fascinating but not at all useful in today's environments).  If you design a house from scratch to run off grid, the power system requirements can be quite small.  If you design it like a normal house, the system requirements (and expense) are much higher.

So... figure out what you want to do, and why, and then decide if you're willing to spend a ton of money to build an expensive, environmentally unfriendly way to generate some power.

===========

I plan to eventually build a power system for my house that's grid tied, but with significant grid down capabilities.  Partially because I think this may be useful in my lifetime, partly because I think it's an interesting project.  I expect it to never "pay off" in terms of power production, simply because the moment you say "battery," it doesn't.  But it would let me ride through outages quite nicely.

Grid tie stuff is interesting, but is a unique blend of hostile to the power grid.  I expect the requirements on that to get a lot tighter in the coming years as power companies have to deal with the fact that enough uncontrolled renewables on the grid are a great way to destabilize the grid, and having people using the grid as their free, ideal battery, without paying for it, is not a long term viable option.

Daley

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2018, 03:50:18 PM »
And that's why I sent up the Syonyk signal for this thread.

*respect knuckles*

Syonyk

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2018, 10:38:38 PM »
Yeah... I'm a sucker for solar posts.

I really need to write up a "So you wanna go off grid..." blog post that I can link to for stuff like this.

Ciceroís Moustache

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2018, 12:11:03 PM »
Thanks to everyone for the comments, both pro and con. Lots of good leads here.

Dusty Dog Ranch

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2018, 01:24:53 PM »

Ah.  So.  Please don't build an off grid power system, if that's how you're going into it.  An off grid power system is a way to turn a large pile of cash into a small pile of power.  Having someone else do the design/install/etc, is a great way to turn a really gigantic pile of cash into an even tinier bit of power.


I don't think this is necessarily true- not all of us have the background and/or time to DIY an off-grid solar system. Assuming you actually need one (as we do here at the ranch), you do need to be an informed consumer to hire and work with a designer/installer. DH and I educated ourselves fairly well, with classes and books. We talked to other off-grid folks and used Backwoods Solar in Idaho as a resource as well. You must know your loads really well and ask lots of questions about how the system will match those and how many days of autonomy the system will give you. We had lots of back and forth with the company we worked with (granted, it helped that one of the co-owners was my co-worker; the solar was a side gig). Even then, you will have to do some more studying to learn how your system works best in place once you have it. Since the DH has a better head for numbers than I, he's been the lead on figuring out float/absorb charging, etc. etc.

Aside from that, what Syonyk said.

Bakari

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2018, 11:43:56 PM »
Yes, MMM wrote on solar panels just a couple days ago, but his setup is pure grid-intertie, using the power grid as his "backup battery". This is all well and good, but it's not as "off grid" as Cicero's Moustache is probably wanting.

That said, there's been a great thread on this recently here that @Syonyk gave a lot of useful info on:

https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/off-grid-solar-systems/

There's also the smaller scale, non-grid intertie DC-only guide that our own @Bakari did a few years back recycling used panels:

http://www.instructables.com/id/NON-grid-intertie-independant-solar-photovoltic-/

I actually bought new panels, just very inexpensive ones.  It certainly could be done with used ones, but they aren't easy to track down in good condition.

I own a real house now, and I just installed my own grid-tie system a couple months ago!
Spent just under $2000 for a 1.5kW, 5 panel system with micro-inverters. 
The city clerk, the inspector, the utility company, the solar company I bought the equipment from, nobody was used to a homeowner doing the entire project, start to finish, themselves, but I actually found it surprisingly easy - other than dealing with the city!  It turned out that the fees they were charging were in violation of state law, and it took several letters to different offices and a threat of law suit before they acknowledged that and reduced the fee.  During that time, unbeknownst to me, the state implemented a new standard in inverters, which made my brand new, never installed, several month old inverters obsolete, but I eventually got a waiver on the grounds that I had started the project before the new standard went into effect.

Anyone thinking of doing grid-tie solar, and looking for the best prices on the parts, be sure whatever you buy meets your utility companies requirements! 
As far as I know, this is currently limited to CA, but it may well spread (or may have already)

For more, see https://www.civicsolar.com/support/installer/articles/ul-1741-rule-21-advanced-inverter-tests
and/or
https://enphase.com/en-us/blog/california-installers-are-your-inverters-ready-rule-21-mandate-coming-september
or just look up
UL1741-SA

Bakari

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2018, 11:51:25 PM »

Grid tied?  That depends on the electrician you find.  Someone needs to sign off that it meets code, and the range of electrician comfort with people doing their own work varies, a lot.  Some refuse to let you do anything, some basically glance at the result, pull a few conduits to make sure it's secure, and if it looks good, will sign off.  You want the second, obviously, but you should also be building to or above code standards in case there's a problem.  Insurance companies don't like DIY builds burning down homes.

Maybe its different in different parts of the country, but where I am a home owner can always pull their own permit if they are going to do the actual work themselves.  Then the city inspector is the one who signs off that it meets code (which is actually the case even if a contractor does it, they don't have the authority to sign off, the government does that).

Just like MMM said, they will usually find one or two things, and it will usually be minor (in my case, I had 12/3 romex running through about 4 feet of conduit, for a max 8.5amp load, which is certainly way under the actual safety threshold, but the rules say no romex in conduit over 2ft, regardless of current, so I had to go back and run THWN instead), and once you fix those things, you are good to go.

Bakari

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2018, 11:57:19 PM »
Are you going to be within $10k-$20k worth of connection fees to the power grid?


That amount assumes a person will be using the typical amount of household of an average American.
The trick is to slash your power use FIRST, so you don't need a 10kW system in the first place.
My old independent system was well under $1000, and it powered all my (1W LED) lights, some fans, phone chargers, modem router and laptop,  and a 5" black and white TV. 

That may be a bit too frugal for most people, but there is still a lot of room in between my $500 system and $20,000

Bakari

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2018, 12:03:51 AM »
I donít plan to install or design a system myself, but I want to be an educated consumer when the time comes.

Ah.  So.  Please don't build an off grid power system, if that's how you're going into it.  An off grid power system is a way to turn a large pile of cash into a small pile of power.  Having someone else do the design/install/etc, is a great way to turn a really gigantic pile of cash into an even tinier bit of power.



Agreed.
The plus side is, its really not that hard, depending on how fancy you need it to be, and how much ongoing work your willing to put in.  Actually, even if you got it installed by someone else, you'd still need to monitor battery levels, maintain them, and potentially manually switch to back-up power on occasion

Ah, so the PowerWalls are cute toys, and almost entirely useless for any sort of project,

Agreed again.  Fortunately, the less sexy but more cost effective option of a few old fashioned 8D batteries can still be purchased at any truck stop, and, coupled to an inverter if necessary (its more efficient, if you are building from scratch, to just operate on 12 or 24v), will serve the same purpose.  You can even find used ones in perfectly good condition if you search a little, as some fleets change them out on a schedule, whether they show signs of wear or not.  You'll need to venture off the internet for that though...

Mrs. PoP

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2018, 05:14:02 AM »
Grid tie stuff is interesting, but is a unique blend of hostile to the power grid.  I expect the requirements on that to get a lot tighter in the coming years as power companies have to deal with the fact that enough uncontrolled renewables on the grid are a great way to destabilize the grid, and having people using the grid as their free, ideal battery, without paying for it, is not a long term viable option.

So I have a grid tie system and I'm curious about how "hostile" you think we are being since I have really been under the impression that we aren't really free loaders.  Here's why I always felt that way. 

1 - like all customers, we pay a fixed monthly connection fee, which is about $100/yr.  FPL wants to raise that to $240, but I'm against that idea not for me, but for the fact that it would increase the bills of low power users and decrease them for high power users since they would offset the fixed fee increase with a decrease in variable fees, which feels like a bad incentive. 

2 - we give FPL override power on our major appliances.  So in times of high power needs, they can cycle off our pool pump, water heater, and HVAC for periods of time.  Before we had our solar system, this was worth a $137/yr credit against our variable use charges. We could have disabled the system at any time, since now we give them that same right for "free", but leaving it in to help FPL better manage demand if they need to felt like the better moral decision, so we did. 

3 - (step 3- profit!) FPL makes money off our overage.  In 2016, we ended up with something like 1,000kwh extra banked at the end of the year.  By law, FPL paid us out at wholesale rates and we got like $20 for it.  But throughout the year they had been selling that power to our neighbors at retail rates and earned >$100 on it.  We expect that to happen most years.

So, the way I view it, FPL is getting several hundred dollars of direct income or benefits from our system still being on the grid.   Not bad for providing us with a LOT less power than they used to... 

Or am I wrong?  Are we enemies of the Grid? 

coopdog

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2018, 07:33:22 AM »
Yes, MMM wrote on solar panels just a couple days ago, but his setup is pure grid-intertie, using the power grid as his "backup battery". This is all well and good, but it's not as "off grid" as Cicero's Moustache is probably wanting.

That said, there's been a great thread on this recently here that @Syonyk gave a lot of useful info on:

https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/off-grid-solar-systems/

There's also the smaller scale, non-grid intertie DC-only guide that our own @Bakari did a few years back recycling used panels:

http://www.instructables.com/id/NON-grid-intertie-independant-solar-photovoltic-/

I actually bought new panels, just very inexpensive ones.  It certainly could be done with used ones, but they aren't easy to track down in good condition.

I own a real house now, and I just installed my own grid-tie system a couple months ago!
Spent just under $2000 for a 1.5kW, 5 panel system with micro-inverters. 
The city clerk, the inspector, the utility company, the solar company I bought the equipment from, nobody was used to a homeowner doing the entire project, start to finish, themselves, but I actually found it surprisingly easy - other than dealing with the city!  It turned out that the fees they were charging were in violation of state law, and it took several letters to different offices and a threat of law suit before they acknowledged that and reduced the fee.  During that time, unbeknownst to me, the state implemented a new standard in inverters, which made my brand new, never installed, several month old inverters obsolete, but I eventually got a waiver on the grounds that I had started the project before the new standard went into effect.

Anyone thinking of doing grid-tie solar, and looking for the best prices on the parts, be sure whatever you buy meets your utility companies requirements! 
As far as I know, this is currently limited to CA, but it may well spread (or may have already)

For more, see https://www.civicsolar.com/support/installer/articles/ul-1741-rule-21-advanced-inverter-tests
and/or
https://enphase.com/en-us/blog/california-installers-are-your-inverters-ready-rule-21-mandate-coming-september
or just look up
UL1741-SA


I'm in the planning stages of my own install and was weighing enphase micro-inverters vs solaredge with optimizers. I want to do as much of the work as possible which has me leaning enphase. What did you use and are you happy with the choice? Where did you buy your equipment?



Mrs. Rocker

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #15 on: February 11, 2018, 05:36:46 PM »
We did a DIY install of solar on our motorhome. It was a relatively easy project once you understand the concept of how the system works. A house has a little different application of solar but the core concept is the same. Our panels and inverter came from Renogy. Highly recommend the company as they have stellar customer support. We called several times during our install with questions and they were extremely helpful.

Syonyk

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #16 on: February 11, 2018, 09:50:02 PM »
So I have a grid tie system and I'm curious about how "hostile" you think we are being since I have really been under the impression that we aren't really free loaders.

You're confusing economic terms with actual grid stability, and asserting that the two are the same.  Though your fees paid are probably closer to reasonable than a lot of people have gotten for a long while.

The problem is that rooftop solar is an awful generating source for grid stability purposes.  It tends to be aligned to maximize annual production instead of matching actual use (east/west facing panels or trackers are far better in this way than south facing panels), and the system is operating under a "Produce everything I can at the moment, with violent ramp rates" regime.

A commercial plant will generally bid into the market with certain guarantees about power production, ramp rates, standby capacity, etc.  Rooftop solar has none of that.  It can go from maximum production to very little production nearly instantly, over fairly wide areas (a rapidly moving cloud front, or even just partly cloudy days with intermittent sun).  This means that a grid designed for fairly steady unidirectional power flows is now having to deal with quite different behaviors.  Among other things, there needs to be enough standby capacity (spinning reserves) to cover the expected dropout of residential solar, with very little awareness of this, and certainly nothing to buffer it in most installs.  The inverters used up until quite recently put out "empty VARs" - they simply match the grid (instead of trying to force it back to spec), they have zero inertia, and, worse, they have a very tight tolerance for disconnects.  The last thing you want happening if the grid loses a generating facility and is suddenly undervoltage/underfrequency is to have more generating units disconnect, but this is exactly how most grid tie inverters function.  In general, the frequency remains within the range (typically 59.3Hz to 60.5Hz), but a big event could push the frequency out (especially as areas have more UL1741 inverters that just follow and are not contributing stability), and trip off a ton of solar.  The voltage range is also fairly tight.

The UL1741-SA inverters (also CA Rule 21) are much better in terms of behavior (they have radically expanded frequency and voltage ridethrough ranges, can curtail output in an overfrequency/overvoltage event, and can do power factor forcing).  But they're still fairly new on the market.

A commercial solar facility, on the other hand, is likely to spend a lot of time operating at partial output (curtailment) so they can maintain that output even with some clouds, and can reduce the ramp rate on the grid if they do have to drop out.  Pair some onsite battery storage (lead acid still works well for this case), and you can actually have a significant upside to deal with transients in frequency/voltage, and can guarantee ramp rates for the reduction in power side of things.

Grid stability with high renewable penetration is still very much an open research question, and there are no good answers yet (I keep up with the research in this space fairly regularly, as it's an area of interest).  The few papers that manage to come up with something that looks stable tend to generate solutions that are very, very touchy, and only work within the parameters of the paper's environment.

Normally I point out the lack of paying for the infrastructure, but it seems like your rate schedule actually prices that in fairly well.

I'm all for solar and wind, but I'd rather see utility scale installations that work with our existing power grid, because they actually are likely to improve grid stability and reliability.  Rooftop solar can be ignored at tiny scale (a decade or two ago), is quite the challenge at moderate penetrations (look at the duck curve ramp rates for an idea as to what this does in some areas), and how to deal with significantly more and maintain a stable grid is still quite the open research question.

Bakari

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2018, 08:49:52 AM »
So I have a grid tie system and I'm curious about how "hostile" you think we are being since I have really been under the impression that we aren't really free loaders.

You're confusing economic terms with actual grid stability, and asserting that the two are the same.  Though your fees paid are probably closer to reasonable than a lot of people have gotten for a long while.


I don't think they were intending to assert that, they just didn't understand what you meant!
Quote
The UL1741-SA inverters (also CA Rule 21) are much better in terms of behavior (they have radically expanded frequency and voltage ridethrough ranges, can curtail output in an overfrequency/overvoltage event, and can do power factor forcing).  But they're still fairly new on the market.
Yeah, it kind of sucked here in CA as a DIY solar installer - the span of time between when the first inverters that met the new standard came on the market, and when they were mandatory, was only a few months! 

In any event, UL1741-SA is mandatory now (though systems installed prior get 10 years to upgrade), so all the point installations will have all / most of the same advantages a large scale utility solar install would have, and supposedly will actually help stabilize the grid better than if they weren't there.  I believe I read that the next generation, instead of just shutting off in a power failure, may (depending on the reason for the failure) actually feed the grid, deliberately, until the power company chooses to shut them off for repair person safety.
Chances are, if other states have rooftop solar grow as much as ours has, they will all be implementing the same standard soon.

Bakari

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2018, 09:03:41 AM »
I'm in the planning stages of my own install and was weighing enphase micro-inverters vs solaredge with optimizers. I want to do as much of the work as possible which has me leaning enphase. What did you use and are you happy with the choice? Where did you buy your equipment?

I used enphase, because, especially with such a small system, they were less expensive.  I really wanted to go SMA Sunnyboy because of its ability to keep producing power in an outage, but couldn't justify the extra cost.
Compared with MMMs install, not having to buy optomizers looks like a significant reason my system cost less (per watt)

It is also less work overall, simpler to design and install (the micro-inverters take the place of the optomizers, each one just plugs into a single cable, and where the central inverter would have gone you just skip that step and connect directly to the shut off switch).

My real world costs, with no "connections":
5 Enphase M215-60-2LL-S22: $119 each, (not UL1741-SA approved, so I'll need to replace them in 10 years)
5 Phono 260W panels: $150 each
1 trunk cable: $28 per drop
Snap N Rack racking system: $322

Total of $1969 after tax.

I bought from ML Solar, which had the best prices I could find, and luckily just happened to be 60 miles from my home, so I went and picked them up for less than the shipping would have cost.  Managed to get all the panels in the back of my Jetta wagon, and the racking on the roof.

$35 for a disconnect switch on EBay, and under $100 worth of conduit, wire, junction box, and double circuit breaker from the hardware store.

$500 for the city permit, $145 utility fee, $300 to have professional plans drawn up because the city refused to look at my own home-made drawings and plans.

-$816 in federal tax credit

Net: $1.50 per watt

I should wait until summer to say if I'm happy, I only got it approved in Dec 2017, when the sun was low in the sky and we had lots of rainy days. 
« Last Edit: February 12, 2018, 11:35:33 AM by Bakari »

coopdog

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #19 on: February 14, 2018, 05:19:57 AM »
I just found out my system has to be installed by a NABCEP "certified" solar installer to net meter, not just an electrician. I'm not confident I can find one I can pay to bless my DIY install. Ridiculous.

« Last Edit: February 14, 2018, 05:22:18 AM by coopdog »

Bakari

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Re: Solar resources
« Reply #20 on: February 14, 2018, 09:17:53 AM »
I just found out my system has to be installed by a NABCEP "certified" solar installer to net meter, not just an electrician. I'm not confident I can find one I can pay to bless my DIY install. Ridiculous.

Some places make an exception to contractor requirements if you own the property and do all of the work yourself.  It caused a lot of confusion and complications, but I got mine signed off.

If you can't do that, and can't find anyone, maybe see if they will except an "associate" certificate, and take the course and get that certificate yourself? http://www.nabcep.org/associate

BrokeNoMo

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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  • Posts: 11
Re: Solar resources
« Reply #21 on: February 14, 2018, 10:39:40 AM »
I just found out my system has to be installed by a NABCEP "certified" solar installer to net meter, not just an electrician. I'm not confident I can find one I can pay to bless my DIY install. Ridiculous.

On my DIY install I had the same issue; a local supplier put me in touch with a certified guy that was more than happy to take a few bucks for looking over my plans and meeting with the inspector at the end. Most of these guys are also state licensed electricians.