Let’s face it. Going solar power has huge benefits for you and your family. For starters, your monthly energy costs will reduce since you will no longer be depending on the national grid. Secondly, it will increase the value of your home especially if you are planning on selling it in the near future. How? Since the new owner will also be saving on monthly energy costs, they will be willing to pay more unlike living in a home that solely depends on electricity from the national grid. However, having Solar Energy can be expensive. Therefore in this post, we are going to look at ways to install a DIY Solar Energy system for your home.
Thirdly, there are governments offering incentives such as tax credit for solar energy systems. As a result, your net cost will go lower by more than 30%. Lastly, solar energy is free and as such, no greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore you will get to contribute towards reducing carbon footprint and eliminate dependency on fossil fuels.
Despite the benefits of solar power, it is still a huge investment that a vast majority of homeowners are not able to meet even when you factor in the discounts provided by contractors, sellers and the government. To save money, homeowners have opted for DIY solar energy systems. Not only are homeowners creating the clean energy we are also reducing the impact of global warming and climate change.
DIY Solar Energy Guide
In this informative guide, we will delve into DIY Solar Energy Guide, how to go about it, the solar advantages and disadvantages of undertaking such a venture. Solar Heating and Energy is rather expensive to set up.
However, with the demand for alternative energy sources, the cost of Solar Energy is decreasing at an alarming rate. As a result, DIY Solar Energy is becoming very popular.
Homeowners can save up to 50% of the cost by tackling this project themselves. Therefore DIY Solar Energy is popular in order to save substantially on the cost of installation.
The added benefits of the DIY Solar Energy process is that you are involved from start to finish. A great achievement on many years of energy saving. Also, you know what you have achieved and when there are problems down the line you can still get a contractor or Do iT Yourself.
Calculating Your Load
How much solar energy is needed to power your home? Knowing how many electronic appliances running will depend on your DIY solar power? How long will they be running? What is their individual power rating?
Before you even start creating a layout or select the best solar DIY kit for your home, it is important to calculate your payload.
Work Our Your Energy Payload?
It will give you an estimate in regards to power requirements in your home. Remember, when you were connected to the national grid, this was not an issue but with solar power, calculating your payload beforehand will save you a lot.
How to go about Gathering Info for DIY Solar Energy
- Start by creating a list of electronics that will run on solar power and how many hours they will do so.
- Check the power rating of every electronic appliance, light fixture and others.
- Begin by calculating the watt hour for each of your electronic appliance plus run time in hours.
- For instance, if you are planning on illuminating your home with an 11 W LED bulb for 4 hours every night while drawing power from your solar panel, then to calculate the watt-hour, here is how to go about it:
Watt Hour = (Power rating of light fixture) X (Number of hours the light fixture will be on)
= (11W) X (4 hours) = 44 Watt Hour
Let’s assume you have a three bedroom home with a living room, kitchen, study room and dining room. In your home, three to four rooms will be running LED lights for an average of 4 hours that is your kitchen, living room and study room(if you have school going kids). Other electrical appliances in your home may include:
- Smart TV – 150 W
- Home theatre – 150 W
- Ceiling Fan – 50 W (Let’s assume all the electrical appliances above will run an average of 5 hours each day)
To find out the total Watt Hour here is how to go about it.
Smart TV – (150 W * 5 hours) + Home theater (150 W *5 hours) + Ceiling fan – (50 W * 5 hours) + LED Lighting – 44 Watt-hour = 1794 Total Watt Hour.
Now that you are done with calculating the payload, let’s move to the next section – Selecting the best solar power components for your DIY project.
Selecting the Best Solar Power Components
As a homeowner, selecting the wrong components for your DIY solar kit will result in you losing your money. To help you find the right components, below is a list to help you get started:
- Solar Panel(PV)
- Charge Controller
- MC4 connector
The good news is that a vast majority of stores are selling DIY solar energy kits that come with all the required components. To help you select the right kit for your home, stores have categorized them according to the total amount of watts they are able to produce, the cost of the system and even dollar per watt if you need it.
When it comes to solar panels (PV panels), the best option for you is monocrystalline. Unlike polycrystalline, the former is efficient in terms of power generation and space which means it will generate more power for your home. Although it’s costly than the polycrystalline, it has a higher ROI which means it will pay itself in less than 5 years.
Learn more about which solar panel type is best.
Selecting the Best Battery For Diy Solar Energy
As you already know, solar panels (PV panels) are only able to output DC (direct current). Since this power is generated during daytime only when the sun is shining, it is important to have a storage system.
DC power cannot run your electronics as they run on AC (alternating current) power. The simple reason is this – your AC powered appliances require a constant rated voltage in order to run efficiently which solar power cannot provide. This is because there are times when the sun will shine all day and there are times cloud cover will interfere.
Using a battery ensures that all the power collected and converted by your solar panels is available for use during the night. As a result, you will get to enjoy stable and reliable power.
Learn more about Alternating Current (AC) vs. Direct Current (DC).
Solar batteries are different from car batteries because the former is a deep cycle lead-acid battery. As a result, it is able to provide partial discharge and deep slow discharge, unlike car batteries which supply short bursts of high current.
For your home, choose a 12V or 24V solar battery. Choosing a higher voltage rated battery than 24V means current will be minimal which also means reduced conductor size.
Other factors to consider when selecting your solar battery include:
- Round trip efficiency
- Battery Life
- Brand Reputation
Learn more about How to Choose the Best Battery for a Solar Energy System.
Selecting Your Inverter
As earlier said, solar panels are only able to convert solar energy into DC which is stored in your solar battery. To ensure your home electrical appliances are powered by solar, conversion of DC power to AC is a must.
For this to be possible, an inverted must be present.
There are three types of inverters for a modern residential solar power system:
- Centralized inverters – also known as string inverters, they were the most efficient and cost-effective until the introduction of microinverters. Centralized inverters are able to generate as much electricity as its least productive PV panel.
- Microinverters – as the latest kid on the block, it has gained popularity thanks to it being efficient than centralized inverters and power optimizers. The problem is they are quite expensive because each microinverter connects to a single PV panel only. As a result, they are able to cancel out the negative impact of partial or complete shading.
- Power optimizers – just like micro inverters, they are designed to offer similar benefits to homeowners. As a compromise for the expensive micro inverters, they are connected to each PV panel. Unlike micro inverters which convert DC to AC at the panel site, power optimizers condition the DC power to a centralized inverter. These results in higher system efficiency than when using a centralized inverter by itself.
Learn more about String inverters vs. Micro inverters vs. Power optimizers.
Selecting Your Solar Charge Controller
Solar charge controllers regulate current and voltage originating from your PV panels. As a result, they are normally installed between the battery and solar panels to maintain proper charging voltage to the batteries. This helps to prevent overcharging.
When you convert excess voltage into amps, not only will the charge voltage remain at an optimal level but also the time needed to fully charge the solar batteries will reduce.
There are three types of solar charge controllers:
- Simple 1 or 2 stage controls – designed with shunt transistors, it is able to control the voltage in one or two steps. Simply put, it works by shorting the solar panel when the required voltage is attained.
- Pulse Width Modulated or PWM – as the traditional type solar charge controller, it protects the battery from overcharging, lowers system maintenance and improves battery life.
- Maximum Power Point Tracking or MPPT – commonly found on modern solar power systems, this controller is able to match the best working amperage and voltage of your solar panel system and match it with the battery/cell bank. As a result, the outcome is usually 10 to 30% more power from your solar system than using a Pulse Width Modulated solar charge controller. This is the best choice for you.
Learn more about Solar Charge Controller Types, Functionality and Applications.
Designing your layout, installing rails and brackets
To ensure your PV panels are efficient, your roof should be facing South. If the roof is tilted up to 30 degrees, then it’s perfect for your DIY solar system. To support your PV panels, you need rails and L shaped brackets. If you have a flat roof or unused land, you can use a standalone mounted rack.
When creating your layout, the first step should be measuring the distance between rails. The best distance between two rails is 2 feet. Between two sets of rails, you should have 4 feet of space. This is according to a roof with the following dimensions – 7 mtrs length and 4 mtrs wide. In your layout, the L brackets should be 6 to 9 feet apart. Don’t forget to include your inverter – microinverter or power optimizer with centralized inverter).
To install your rail and brackets, you have to be very careful. Hire help in form of a friend or family member. They need to be strong to help you complete the installation. Don’t forget to use safety gadgets – safety harness, protective eyewear, coveralls, gloves and work boots.
Start by pre-drilling the holes according to your layout. Inject some roof sealant using a caulk gun before driving in the bolts. Once the brackets are in, it’s time to attach the rails. Use the appropriate bolts to lock them down. To be efficient, use a cordless impact driver.
Install Solar (PV) Panels and Inverter
Assuming you have chosen the power optimizer and centralized inverter system over micro inverter, you have to install the power optimizers before the solar panels. Installation should be 6 inches from the edge of every solar panel. Once the optimizers are in place, connect them to each other and to the centralized inverter.
Before installing the solar panels, connect each one to its corresponding power optimizer. Once you are done, set the PV panels on the rails and use the click-in clamps and cordless driver to lock them down. Mount your inverter and make the necessary connections as provided for in the accompanying manual.
Afterwards, make the necessary inspections to make sure that all connections are ok. If everything checks out, power it up.
Now that you are done with installation and inspection, your system should generate electricity for you every day. Modern DIY solar energy kits may come with apps and browser applications to enable you to monitor the system. You should use them to make sure everything is working.
DIY Solar Energy Advantages and Disadvantages
- Cost savings – installation and monthly energy bills
- DIY solar power kits for homes are readily available
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
- Free power for your home
- A lot of research and effort is needed on your part
A vast majority of people have reported satisfaction when using their solar power systems at home. Now that you have finished installing your DIY solar energy system, it’s time to enjoy harvesting free energy from the Sun.
Remember, you can connect your solar energy systems to the national grid and share any unused power. In turn, you will receive incentives in form of reduced units. This concept is called net metering and you can learn more about it from here. Thereafter complete the home with energy saving insulation in the roof as well as double glazed windows. Thereafter ensure that greywater harvesting, as well as rainwater harvesting, are all put into place. As a result, the end goal should be to totally live off the grid.
How to Build Your Own Solar Pannels
In 1977, the average cost of solar cells was $76.67 (R 996) per watt. The reasons why the cost of solar cells was too high back then was due to the high cost associated with manufacturing the solar cells. In addition, materials such as rare earth minerals were expensive.
In 2008 when economies around the world nearly ground to a halt, the cost of solar cells per watt had dropped significantly- from $76.67 (R 996.00)per watt in 1977 to $8.82 ( R114.00 ) per watt in 2008. Even though the world was experiencing an economic recession, solar panels were still gaining popularity.
8 years later, the average cost of solar cells had dropped to $0.26 ( R3.38) per watt compared to $8.82 ( R114.00) per watt in 2008. As a result, homeowners and even large corporations such as Google, Costco, Staples, Facebook and even Apple started adopting solar power to run their massive stores and data centres.
Despite the lower cost of solar cells per watt, a commercial solar panel kit is still very expensive -$10,000 to $25,000 – for the average home owner today. The good news is you can build your own solar panel system at an affordable cost allowing you to harvest the sun’s energy and enjoy free power in your home for years to come.
How to Build low-cost solar panels?
Step One – Purchase cheap solar cells
Building your own solar panel allows you to design a system that suits your needs. In the market, you will find cells made in US, Japan, Germany and even China. Those made in China are usually the cheapest and you are bound to find a few good ones if you know where to look.
When it comes to shopping for cheap solar cells, you have two options. One is eBay and the other is Amazon. While eBay is a great option, you may end up being conned so the best bet for you is Amazon. Check out these Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells I found on Amazon.
Before purchasing your solar cells, there are two factors you have to consider. They include:
Cell voltage – A single solar cell has a rating of 0.5V. When arranged in a series, you can get your desired voltage output. Let’s assume you want to charge a 12 V deep cycle battery. It means you need an 18V solar panel. Using our earlier voltage rating of 0.5V per solar cell, it means your solar panel will consist of 36 solar cells.
Learn more about How to split a solar cell into two to increase panel voltage.
Cell power output – what is the power output required? To find out, divide the total amount of power needed by the rating of each cell. For instance, your home needs a 360 W panel. If you are using 4 W cells, then you will need 90 cells (360/4).
Step Two – Purchasing the tools
Let’s assume in our informative guide on how to build low-cost solar panels, we will be building a 360 W solar panel. To ensure the final solar panel is able to work and power your home, the right tools are needed from the word go.
So, here is a simple list of tools and materials you will require:
- Soldering iron
- Flux or Solder Paste
- Wooden board
- Silicon sealant
- Shatterproof Glass (You can also use Plexiglass)
- Charge controller
- Deep cycle batteries
A vast majority of these tools and materials can be bought from your local store. If you have a friend who is an electrician, you can hire the tools from him at a cheaper rate. Just make sure you return the tools in their working condition.
Step Three – Plan your solar panel layout
At this stage, we are also assuming that you have bought the solar cells and they have been shipped to your home. You have also acquired the tools and materials described in the list above. In this step, you will get to learn how to plan your solar panel layout.
If you were to prepare a layout where 9 solar cells are placed on a board, they will be arranged in three rows and three columns. For the 9 solar cells, you can measure and cut the board plus the Plexiglass according to the following measurements: 0.5 m by 6 m Remember to leave an inch or two at the edge for easier handling and don’t glue the cells to the board yet.
Step Four – Measure your tab wire and flux the area
Tabbing your solar cells is a time-consuming process but a necessary one. When shopping, you might find pre-tabbed solar cells. Purchase the pre-tabbed cells if you are not familiar with the soldering process. The good news is that tabbing is not a complicated process especially once you learn the right technique.
A look at the polycrystalline cells will reveal several small lines and two larger lines. Take your tabbing wire, measure 1 cm and cut. Run the tabbing wire down the two large lines. Connect them to the back of the next cell. Measure the tabbing wire again (should be double the length) and cut two pieces for each cell.
Take your flux pen; draw 2 to 3 lines down the length of every cell. Do this at the back of the cell as it helps to keep the heat from the soldering iron from initiating oxidation.
If you purchased pre-tabbed cells, you don’t have to perform this process.
The final thing you have to do is heat the first half of the tabbing wire using your soldering iron. Bond the wire’s end to a solar cell. Repeat the process for every solar cell.
Step Five – Connect your solar cells
Measure and cut your board according to the size of your panel. Take a solar cell, apply a small amount of glue at the back-centre and press it on the board. Make sure that the tabbing wire is running in a straight line through the rows and the ends are protruding between the cells.
After laying out the cells, it’s time to solder them together. Use your flux pen to apply flux on the contact pads of every cell. Take the free ends of the tabbing wire and solder them. Connect the tabbing wire for each row to a bus wire located at each end.
Remember, the basic rule of connecting solar cells is to solder the positive lead to the negative lead of the next cell. This must be done until you attain a voltage of 12 V or 24 V. Don’t exceed the voltage and make sure the cells are in a series.
Step Six – Build your panel box
The cells deserve a good home – panel box – if they are to provide you with long service. To build your panel box, start by measuring the cell panel. Use the measurements of your panel to build your frame box. Remember to leave room for your bus wires at the end.
Measure and cut four 1 inch by 2-inch planks that will form your frame. Secure the planks using deck screws. Paint your frame with reflective colours for instance white. This will help to keep the box cool and improve the performance of your solar panel. If you use paint formulated for the outdoors, your solar panel will last long as the paint will protect the planks from weather elements.
Step Seven – Make the final connections
Start by connecting the bus wire to a diode. When purchasing diodes, make sure you buy those with a higher rating than the amperage on your panel. To make the connection, allow the light coloured end of your diode to face the negative end of your deep cycle battery. This helps to prevent energy from travelling back to the panel when the battery is not charging.
Connect your panel to a charge controller. Use colour-coded wires in order to keep track of the changes. After purchasing the deep cycle batteries, connect them to the charge controller and your inverter. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Now that you are done making the necessary connections, it’s time to seal the box. Measure and cut your Plexiglass. Place block stops on all four corners of the panel box. Apply glue on each block stop and place your Plexiglass. Use the appropriate screws to secure your Plexiglass to the panel box.
Seal your panel box using a silicone sealant. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when doing so.
Learn more about inverter basics and how to select the right battery for your solar project.
Step Eight – Mount the panel and test it
To ensure your solar panel harvests enough solar energy to power your home, choose a part of your roof that is facing South. If the solar panel will be mounted on the roof, secure it using the right bolts.
You can also mount your solar panel on a satellite stand programmed to follow the movement of the sun across the sky.
Test your solar panel system to determine if it’s working. Use a light bulb during the test.
There you have it, your own solar panel system built by you. Now that it’s working, you can start monitoring the performance of the system. Like any other system, frequent maintenance is needed to extend the lifespan of your solar panel system.
From now on, not only will you be enjoying free energy from the Sun but also you will reduce your dependency to the national grid and get to play your part in saving the environment.
Benefits of DIY Solar Energy and DIY Solar Panels
Firstly building your own DIY Solar Energy set up for your home means you get to know ever section of the application.
As a result you know where to look for faults in the system when there are problems.
Cost of the Solar Power unit is far more affordable with the DIY Solar Energy option especially if the DIY Solar Panels are also produced by yourself.
Solar Energy is the cheapest clean form of power on the market currently.