DIY Solar

I’ve been thinking about installing a solar system on our home but the costs, even with tax incentives, are pretty significant when you take into account the rate at which you will pay back the original investment. While we have no intention of selling our home in the near future, it could happen and I’m not entirely convinced that you get a significant payback on your investment in solar when you sell your home.

My equation changed when I learned about Andalay’s homeowner DIY solar system, which features a unique self-contained 175w photovoltaic panel (manufactured by Suntech, I believe) that has integrated wiring, racking, grounding, and interconnects. What this means is that the panels plug together like Lego blocks and eliminate the need for an installer, as long as you are comfortable with getting your hands dirty.

The key question for me was not the panel connections but the manner by which the panel array connects to the homes electrical system. This can get complicated quickly, as would be expected as it involves the main service connection on a 240v service with enough amps to cook you to a crisp in mere seconds. I’m comfortable with mucking around in my houses electrical system but if installing the Andalay system requires having an electrician and/or PG&E come out, then it’s really not such a great deal and I might as well go with a competitive solution that I don’t have to do any of the work for.

I learned that the household connection is remarkably simply and logical, the Andalay array connects to the household service via a simple double pole (240v) breaker installed on the main bus, in other words the Andalay solar panel array looks just like another circuit breaker but instead of drawing power it is supplying power. Basically it appears as simple as mounting the array, running conduit and appropriately sized wire for the service, and installing the breaker.

One unanswered question is how the meter responds to power going out instead of in, but I am assuming it just runs down, in reverse, and PG&E reconciles the usage per the new law that requires them to buy excess solar power at the wholesale rate.

I still have to work up what my array size should be and then calculate my initial cost to install but from what I am seeing so far it looks like this could be a pretty good deal.