Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

3 Posts
Apr 28, 2012 09:59 pm
Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

I've got a 1500 sqft cabin that sits way off the main road.  The power company wants almost $15,000 to run their cable to the site so I'm think about just taking the plunge and going off-grid solar.   The cost of the compenents seems reasonable but the install is a killer.   Is it naive to think I could install a 3kw PV solar system by myself? 

I have an electrical engineering background but am not a licensed electrician or anything like that...


462 Posts
Apr 30, 2012 09:42 am
Re: Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

Tom, as an electrical engineer, it should be a no brainer. Just do a little research on systems and you should be able to figure things out. Most systems are plug and play and require very little electrical experience other than setting up a sufficient breaker box. The only thing that may be tough is sizing the system in order to get a properly sized inverter and enough battery backup and sufficient amount of panels to provide the daily power needed for use and battery charging.
 There are calculators here at AltE to help you do this.
  Keeping voltages at 24 Volts  will allow you to purchase off the shelf electrical components. Ground mounted panels will save you time and money on other necessary components for safe installation.
 Using DC lighting and other appliances will lower power demands.
  Installing multiple, independent systems (AC and DC) will provide redundancy and will allow you to grow your system as money allows or as power needs grow. It also allows you to purchase different brand components should original, compatible components not be available when needed or should portions of one system fail.
 Don't forget about solar hot water which can be used for domestic hot water and space heating. Also think passive gain and storage for heating and lighting.
  I am sure there are others who will help you here at the forums, or at AltE, to get you up and running. Good Luck.
3 Posts
Apr 30, 2012 12:35 pm
Re: Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

Thanks very much, Tom.  I was hoping for this answer.  Most of what I've read makes it seem fairly simple but the devil is in the details!

99 Posts
May 3, 2012 02:43 pm
Re: Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

Definitely go for it.  There's really not much to it.  As an electrical engineer, things like proper safety, sizing cables, etc., really should be a no-brainer.  I second the advice to use DC circuits where appropriate, as it will save lots of energy and eliminate the inverter as a point of failure for those applications.  E.g. well pump, refrigeration, lighting, battery-powered device charging, etc.  Use AC only for those applications where DC is not viable, such as certain appliances, electronics, and automation-controlled lighting.  I have a power point presentation up at illustrating many different off-grid methods I've used in my home.
99 Posts
May 3, 2012 03:20 pm
Re: Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

This wiring diagram illustrates the basic configuration of any off-grid energy system.  You would merely scale it up to residential-sized components.  E.g. 1000Ah in several parallel 24V deep-cycle battery banks,  2x 80A MPPT charge controllers, a hefty multi-way battery switch, breaker panel, lightning protection, 3600W inverter (2 if you want 240VAC), etc....

BTW, the QO line of breakers and panels from Square-D are rated for both AC and DC.  I would recommend installing either 2 or 3 in your cabin -- one for AC from your inverter, one for 12VDC, and optionally one for 24VDC (e.g. for larger loads such as a well-pump, refrigeration compressor, etc.).
3 Posts
May 3, 2012 10:17 pm
Re: Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

This is great information and very helpful...  Thanks,

12 Posts
Jun 25, 2012 07:57 pm
Re: Should I Even try to DIY a PV Solar install?

Hello, Tom. I'm not an expert, but I've been running a homegrown off-grid solar system to power SOME of my electric loads for about 10 years. The most difficult thing, if you're going to be completely off grid is sizing the components to suit your needs. It's relatively easy to add solar panels, but adding or replacing a charge controller or inverter can be expensive.

I have some friends who live entirely off of about 1kW of solar, but they run a pretty tight energy budget. Tom Mayrand was dead on about solar thermal for your heating needs; that knocks out a huge portion of your energy budget, and it's a lot cheaper to heat water directly than it is to generate the kW's you'd need to operate an electric water heater. You can even build your own solar collector(s), if you're up for it.

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