There is much to consider before pulling the trigger on a DIY solar kit and attempting a solar panel installation for your home (even if there is a YouTube video that shows you how easy it is to build your own solar panels).
The Trouble With DIY Solar
Michael Chance | Solar Energy USA
Many solar enthusiasts choose to look into “Do it yourself” solar kits, also known as DIY solar, as a way to save money by obtaining the solar panels and installation materials themselves. While there is nothing wrong with this, there are a few points to consider before making a decision to proceed with a DIY solar project.
First, consider the solar panels that come in the kit. More likely than not, they will be Chinese manufactured panels. As you may have seen in recent solar news headlines, these are widely available because of illegal price dumping that Chinese manufactures have been found guilty of doing by the U.S. trade department. Keep in mind that there is always a price-quality tradeoff, and solar panels are no different. On one hand you will save money by purchasing cheaper solar panels, but is it really worth it if those panels fail to provide you with a quality or standard level of monthly power production?
Comparability is a major part of putting together a solar system with components that that truly work together and optimize the performance of the system. For example, is this system compatible with solar innovations like microinverters? If the systems output isn’t maximized, then the medium and long term returns will not be of financial benefit or gain. There are two ways to learn this and unfortunately the hard way of learning comes from research combined with trial and error. This negates all financial benefits of a DIY project.
If you are going to going to obtain all of your own solar energy system materials for your newest solar project, are you also going to install the solar panels on your own? If not, keep in mind that most solar installation companies will not offer a system performance warranty because they may not feel comfortable with your DIY solar kit.
For those brave enough to attempt the install themselves we say, please think long and hard about it. You wouldn’t handle your own open heart surgery, so why take on the risk of messing with your home’s electrical system? It’s rather risky messing with electricity that provides power to your family, and the last thing you want to do is put your family in a dangerous position. Additionally, it can be dangerous installing on a roof without experience – especially a steep roof!
Big Box Retail Solar DIY Kits
There is one DIY solar kit in particular that can be obtained at Costco or Sam’s Club from a better-known solar panel manufacturer. We have had a number of local solar enthusiasts purchase these kits only to find they did not have all the necessary hardware for a total residential solar panel install (like a junction box, grounding hardware, or an AC disconnect to name a few). Some kits even came unopened with missing pieces, but one of the biggest issues we’ve seen with these kits comes from the fine print located on the back of the box which reads “Panels subject to change without notice.” What this means is that the materials inside the kit may not be what the box states – a major red flag!
Many local utility providers offer solar incentives in the form of rebates. These can be applied for once a system is successfully installed and verified to be in line with standard electrical codes. These rebates can save a solar homeowner a decent amount of money – normally between $300 and $450 dollars per kW. You’ll want to check with your local utility provider regarding DIY solar installation eligibility with regard to these programs. If you plan to grid-tie or push excess solar energy back into the local power grid you will need a licensed electrician to sign off on your solar installation and you will also need the install to be verified by your utility provider. A single-line diagram of the system will most likely be required. The utility interconnection agreement paperwork that needs to be submitted may be a bit challenging to those less familiar with solar energy industry.
There are also tax credits that are offered to cover another portion of solar energy system costs – as much as 65% of the total cost. In order to qualify for these federal and state tax credits the system must be installed by an electrician with an active state electrician’s license.
As you can see there is much to consider before pulling the trigger on a DIY solar kit and attempting a solar panel installation for your home (even if there is a YouTube video that shows you how easy it is to build your own solar panels). Before you decide you are going to save a quick buck, do yourself a favor and call your local solar installer to talk it through.
If money isn’t an issue and you want to learn by diving head first into a ‘learn by trial’ project and you are diligent in all areas, then a DIY solar project will be a great experience. As long as your real expectations are in place then you can make an educated decision on what path you want to take. Remember to be safe and have fun while you learn.
At Solar Energy USA we want everyone to have affordable solar power (and we can appreciate the enthusiasm from do-it-yourselfers) but, we are solar experts that have been designing, installing, and maintaining systems for years. It’s more than just a hobby – It’s our passion and expertise.
Michael Chance is a self proclaimed "solar fanatic" and the Marketing Director with Solar Energy USA - national solar integrator and Georgia's largest residential solar company.
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