Solar energy is a wonderful alternative to traditional energy sources due to its ready availability, cost-effectiveness, and environmental friendliness. It is available every day in all corners of the globe, can meet your energy needs fully reducing your electricity bills and help decrease our collective dependence on fossil fuels. As a homeowner, you can benefit greatly from solar powering your home.
Solar capturing technology is evolving rapidly and has long reached the point where it is completely feasible for you to install and build your own solar system at home. This article will focus on discussing DIY solar panel kits and helping you choose the right one for your household.
There has never been a better time to do this. In combination with all the other benefits that solar energy brings to the table, there are also generous government financial incentives to help you go solar. For instance, the solar tax credit lets you deduct up to 26% of your solar system installation cost from your federal taxes.Once you have a solar system in place, you start saving on electricity bills immediately. In addition to low maintenance costs, having solar panels can greatly improve the resale value of your home.
Read this guide to discover more about DIY solar panel kits in particular, how to choose one and how to go about its installation. When installing it yourself, consulting a licensed electrician or your local energy system installer will still be in order.
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1.0 What is a Solar Panel Kit?
Before we dive into the specifics of solar kit panels, it is important to make the distinction between on-grid and off-grid powering. Off-grid (or standalone) systems exist completely independently of the utility grid. Grid-tie systems, on the other hand, are still connected to the utility company’s grid.
The grid-tie option comes with the benefit of net metering. Net Metering guarantees you will receive energy even with limited sunlight.Additionally, if you find yourself producing more power than you use, it gives you the option of selling that power back to the utility company.
A DIY solar panel kit normally comes with the necessary solar panels, inverters, batteries, racking, mounting hardware and other parts you need to set up a solar panel system for your household.
1.1 What are included in Solar Panel Kit
Here are the contents every solar panel kit should have:
A photovoltaic (PV) solar panel module is a structure specifically designed to absorb the photons from sunlight rays and use their energy to generate heat or electricity. When hit by photons, the atoms on solar cells get knocked loose. Conductors attached to their positive and negative ends then form an electrical circuit.
Solar panels can differ based on their wattage and the materials they are built of. The three main types of panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film, each coming with their respective advantages and disadvantages.
Choosing the wattage of your solar panels depends on the energy needs of your household.
A good solar panel kit would come with a choice of a solar battery. There are different types available to suit your needs. A solar battery provides you with energy even in the event of a power outage. For off-gridders, they are absolutely necessary.
When there isn’t a local utility grid to connect, or ‘tie’ to, a good solar battery might be best for your system. Mostly, solar batteries provide your system with greater energy independence. A battery bank is also a great option to use during peak time and serves to protect your solar PV panel investment.
Solar Charge Controllers
Charge controllers, also known as charge regulators, are voltage regulators that prevent batteries from overcharging. They regulate the voltage solar panels sent to the battery and prevent them from getting damaged in the process. Most solar batteries require between 14 and 14.5 volts to become fully charged.
Some people wonder if they really need a charge controller. With low power panels, such as one to five-watt ones, you may not need to worry about a charge controller.
Charge controllers are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, price ranges and features to fit your individual needs. They range from 4.5 amp to as high as 60-80 amp and come in three general types, which will be discussed in detail in a later chapter.
A solar inverter is a critical component of any solar panel system as it converts the variable DC (direct current) output of a PV panel into AC (alternating current) that can be fed into the electrical network. Essentially, it is the central nervous system of a solar power installation.
Inverters also enable the monitoring of system performance and provide diagnostic information that helps identify issues. The result is enhanced grid efficiency and stability.
The various types of solar inverters will also be discussed in greater detail in a later chapter.
Racks & Mounting Hardware
Each good DIY solar panel kit should contain the necessary racks and mounting structures for the successful mounting, securing and tightening of the solar units. This will maximize your investment, protecting the structure from snow, hail, rain, and wind.
Mounting racks range from roof to ground. You may choose to install them using top-of-pole, side-of-pole pole tracking systems, or a combination of those.
All DIY solar panel kits need to contain the appropriate wiring required to connect the individual components to each other as well as link your system to the utility grid.
1.2 Solar Panel Kit Installation
Solar panel kits are designed so you can complete the installation yourself. For instance, a 6kW solar system can be put in place in as much as two weekends. However, if you don’t feel comfortable performing the entire installation yourself, it is a good idea to contact a licensed electrician or consult with your supplier. It is highly recommended that homeowners get a professional to do the wiring and metering into their house.
A solar panel can be installed on your roof, on your shed or on the ground. Before purchasing one, make sure you have enough space on your property and know where you want it to be.
The first step is to install the racking and mounting system. This is normally the most
laborious step of the installation process. After racking and mounting is in place, next comes the installation of the inverters and solar panels. Following that, the inverters are linked to the grid system through a breaker in the service panel.
Keep in mind that an inspector might need to sign off. Finally, you will need to fill in any required paperwork to settle your net metering agreement with your chosen utility company. Professionals are always available should you require assistance with any of the above steps.
1.3 Price Range
Solar panel kits can vary greatly in price depending on their build and power generation qualities, size, components, and additional features. Therefore, it is not surprising that a solar bundle can cost anything from a few hundred up to thousands of dollars. Consult with a professional to discover the perfect solution within your budget.
The good news is that as solar technology advances, DIY solar bundles become increasingly affordable. The cost savings and tax rebates additionally justify the investment in such a renewable energy system.
2.0 What to Look for in a Solar Panel Kit Supplier
Before purchasing a DIY solar panel kit from a reliable supplier, it is important to be able to trust them. This chapter explains what to look for when choosing a good solar system supplier.
2.1 Customer Support
Before choosing a supplier, make sure that they provide adequate support. Ensure that they offer clear communication channels and plenty of opportunities to consult with professionals before making a purchase. In addition, it is important that you have a shoulder to lean on should you encounter any issues when installing your solar panel system or further down the line using it.
Also, you want to be able to make an educated purchasing decision. Good solar panel kit suppliers will go out of their way to help you choose the perfect product for your household.
2.2 Supplier Reputation
Nowadays, the consumer has more power than ever. This is largely due to the fact you can quickly and easily find out businesses’ reputation through reading testimonials and online reviews. There is no reason to rely on marketing tactics when deciding where to bring your business.
Choose a supplier that has a good reputation, was recommended to you personally or has gained your trust by what is written about them online. Go to their website and look for contact details and helpful information about solar panels. Make sure you are dealing with professionals who will not let you down halfway through the process.
Because they are large purchases, we do recommend a warranty. Typically, these systems function very well, but understanding the differences between warranties is valuable in preventing future headaches and issues. It is typical of the industry to provide good warranty guarantees, so not fall prey to low prices of products that do not offer a satisfactory quality guarantee.
2.4 Return Policy
In addition to the above, you also want to ensure that the supplier you are purchasing your DIY solar bundle from offers a return policy. If for any reason you are not satisfied with the components or your needs change, you should be able to return the system for a full refund.
It is crucial to protect your investment from any potential unpleasant scenarios.
2.5 Training Videos
When browsing the market for solar panel kit suppliers, spend some time on their websites and examine the information they provide about the products they offer. Look for helpful articles and whitepapers, useful advice, and training videos on choosing and installing a solar panel bundle. Reliable suppliers want to bring as much value as possible to their customers. This will be evident from the information they provide online.
When looking for a solar panel kit supplier, make sure that they can provide you with testimonials from previous happy customers. Any reliable business will proudly display them on their website and brochures, or provide some upon request. It is even better if you get a personal recommendation from somebody you know who used their service.
2.7 Local Technical Support
Choose a supplier local to you who can provide technical support quickly when you need it. This is important for both before and after the purchasing process. You want to get any help you need with the installation and maintenance of your solar power system.
3.0 Choosing the Right Solar Panel Kit
3.1 Calculating Your Household Power Needs
As solar panels are classified by how much sunlight energy they can absorb, so knowing your power needs is crucial to determining how many solar panels to get. There are a few steps to do this:
3.2 Determine Current Monthly Electricity Usage
Dig up your electricity bills and take a look at how much energy your household consumes! Typical household power consumption falls at about 900 kWh per month, varying from one household to the next. If you cannot find it for some reason, use this quick Household Electricity Usage from ____.
3.3 Find Peak Sunlight Hours
After determining figures, check out the peak sun hours in your geographical location. For instance, on the East Coast, peak sun hours are between four and five; meanwhile, on the West Coast, the number goes up to between six and seven.
Go to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s website to see the US Solar Resource Map under the Photovoltaics section.
3.4 Calculate Required Panels
Once you have all the necessary information, it is time to do the math. Let’s say you use 900 kWh per month.
Next divide the amount of energy you need (30 kWh per day) by the peak sun hours number in your local area. In Atlanta, Georgia, there are about 5 peak hours of sunlight per day. So,
So, 6kWh worth of solar panels will fulfill your energy needs.
4.0 Solar Panel Selection
To take the most advantage out of your solar panel investment, it is important to know the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of panels available.
Monocrystalline panels are considered to be the most efficient type of solar panel. The solar cells are cut cylindrically with each cell resembling a wafer. Tens of those wafers form a monocrystalline solar panel.
Those panels are normally made of high-grade silicon materials and are classified as the most efficient of solar panels, showing off with the highest performance rates in the industry (up to 21%). Additionally, they are space-saving, yielding higher power per square unit. They perform better in low light and offer warranties of up to 25 years.
The main disadvantage of monocrystalline panels is their upfront cost. Additionally, the breakdown of a circuit is a common issue when the solar panel is shaded or otherwise obstructed. They perform better in warmer climates with performance taking a hit at lower temperatures.
Polycrystalline Silicon solar panels are a more modern and process-conscious solar panel.
While monocrystalline panels are cut out in wafer forms, polycrystalline ones are made by pouring silicone into molds. This makes them more cost-effective than their monocrystalline counterparts and less wasteful while producing them.
However, their efficiency is slightly lower compared to monocrystalline panels and they require more installation space to produce the same amount of energy.
Thin-film solar panels are produced by laying layer upon layer of a PV element, which can be organic photovoltaic cells or amorphous silicon.
The main advantages of such panels are that they are very lightweight and handle obstructions and shading relatively well. That means that low-light conditions do not impact their performance as much. In addition, they are easy to mass produce, which in turn ensures lower cost of purchase.
Thin-film solar panels, however, come with a few disadvantages. To begin with, they score lower on the efficiency front with an unenviable average operating efficiency of 9% compared to crystalline silicon panels. Furthermore, they require quite a bit of extra space and have a shorter lifespan due to weatherization.
To choose the perfect type of solar panels for your needs, discuss your options with your chosen supplier.
5.0 Solar Charge Controller Selection
Here are the three main types of charge controllers available for you to choose from.
Simple One- or Two- stage controls
Those controllers rely on shunt transistors or relays to impose control over voltage in one or two steps. Basically, they disconnect the solar panel once a certain voltage is present. Simple one- or two-stage controls are generally used on older systems and available cheaply on the internet. Their reliability and their simple structure ensures there aren’t many components that can break.
Three-stage and/or PWM
Three-stage and PWM controllers are considered the industry standard presently.
MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking)
These controllers are the most expensive but come with high efficiency of up to 94-98%.
Therefore, despite the higher initial investment required, their cost-effectiveness lies in the fact that they’d be able to provide up to 30% more power to the solar battery.
6.0 Battery Selection
When it comes to battery selection, there are many options available with three types dominating the market: lead-acid, lithium-ion, and flow batteries.
Deep-cycle lead-acid batteries have been successfully deployed and used in the renewable energy sector worldwide for decades. They are often cheaper than their lithium-ion alternative.
In lead-acid batteries, electrodes are formed of metallic lead oxides with a changing composition during discharging and charging. They use sulfuric acid as the electrolyte dilute.. They are readily available and long-lasting.
Lithium-ion batteries are gaining more and more popularity. This is due to the fact that they come with a deeper discharge resulting in a longer lifetime. Currently, their main disadvantage is their cost, which comes at up to 50% more than that of the lead-acid batteries. That may change in the near future with mass production.
Flow batteries is a term used to describe a number of technologies with a similar function. They are mostly made of zinc bromide (water-based liquid) which flows in between two separate tanks. Upon charging the battery, zinc is extracted and stored separately from the liquid. Upon discharging, it is put back.
The main advantage of flow batteries is their 100% depth-of-discharge, which means the battery can be fully discharged with no negative effect on its lifespan. In comparison, lead-acid batteries have 60%, and lithium-ion batteries have 80-90% depth-of-discharge. Flow batteries are also the most expensive option for solar batteries.
7.0 Solar Power Inverter Selection
Power inverters are often referred to as the brains of a solar system. Without them, the power derived from the solar array would not be usable since their role is to convert DC power coming from the panels into usable AC power.
To help you choose a solar inverter for your installation, the most common types are discussed below.
With solar panels installed in rows, each one of them is wired on a “string.” For example, ten solar panels on ten rows result in multiple strings running into the same inverter and carrying DC power to be converted to AC power.
String inverters have been used for many years and are perfect for solar installations that do not deal with shading problems. However, if one part of a solar installation using a string inverter is placed in the shade, the output of every other panel on the string will decrease to the shaded panel’s output.
Despite not dealing well with shading issues, string inverter technology is considered
trustworthy and reliable. They are less expensive than other options on the market and used widely in commercial and residential applications.
Central solar inverters resemble string inverters with the difference that they are bigger in size and can support more strings. In string inverters, strings run straight into the inverter. In a central inverter they are bundled together in a combiner box which in turn runs the DC power into the inverter body.
On the upside, central inverters need fewer component connections than a string inverter. On the downside, they do require an extra combiner box and a pad. They are preferred for use in larger solar installations.
As opposed to central or string inverters where outputs from multiple panels are run on the string to the inverter, microinverters are installed on each solar panel. Therefore, they are able to convert DC into AC power right at the panel without requiring a string inverter down the line.
Since they are converting power individually for each solar panel, if one gets shaded output, the other panel does not get jeopardized. Microinverters are preferred for use in installations prone to shading issues or when panels are installed facing different directions. Microinverter solar systems are more efficient but cost more to install.
Investing in a way to harness solar power for your home is a fantastic decision that will allow you to enjoy reduced electricity bills, the independence gained from a constant source of power, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing you are employing an environmentally friendly practice.
The decision to go solar is a daunting one, and choosing the right system can be difficult. DIY solar panel bundle kits are a fantastic way to get yourself started down the greener home route, with a variety of products available to choose from and meet your needs.
You have already made the difficult first step in educating yourself on the different components of a solar panel kit, the available types, installation and considerations to keep in mind when choosing a reliable supplier.
As Captain Planet famously said in a popular cartoon series, the power to change the planet is in our hands.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter has been installing PV systems since 2016 as a volunteer participating in over 30 installations events in the Bay Area, California. He has a mechanical engineering background and he has been involved in the solar industry since 2015. In his spare time, he likes to explore cool solar gears that make his camping trip more enjoyable and fun.