How To Install Solar Panels: A Step By Step Guide
1. Research all city permits necessary to conduct the project.
Every county has different rules so make sure to contact the building inspection department to ensure you have all paperwork needed to commence the job. If you live within a Home Owners Association, make sure you check with them as well as they tend to have their own stringent community rules. For a much easier start, visit Solar America Board for all codes, permits, and standards to facilitate the approval of the plans and permits.
2. Conduct an energy audit of your property.
In order to successfully replace electrical energy for solar energy you must start by having an idea of how much energy your house consumes to then adequately know just how much solar power you need. We recommend gathering your electric utility bills from the past year and calculating by month how many kilowatts were charged to your account. Once you have this data, just add up the numbers and you will have a decent estimate of how much solar energy you need to power your property. By identifying what appliances consume more energy you can upgrade these appliances to more efficient versions or attempt to make an effort in reducing energy consumption by utilizing the appliances less often.
3. Complete a site survey.
The purpose of having a survey conducted on your property is to pre-determine the best location to set up the solar panels, also known as a PV array (photovoltaic array), according to the square footage, location of the sun, building and tree shade, roof status and size of the property’s electric panel. To do this you can contact a local company near you which will conduct the survey. Since usually roof’s are a bit more problematic, we recommend an easier installation of solar panels on the ground. If you rather install the PV array on the roof always make sure to check the type of roof you are working on, the conditions/status of the roof, the thickness of covering, the dimensions of the beams/rafters, and the status of the underling roof for any water damage.
4. Choose the appropriate PV array.
Using the energy audit and the daily peak of sun hours at your property, you can begin to select the right size and model for you PV array. The size refers to the correct calculation involved to install the panels such that they produce the right amount of energy to keep the property powered. For a more facilitated approach you can visit TheSolarPlanner.com for sizing worksheets in an easy downloadable pdf format.
5. Choose an inverter.
After crunching all the numbers and selecting the right size PV array it is time to choose the right kind of inverter. Inverters are known for their wattage output and the voltage range. We recommend using a grid-tied structure that uses one main central inverter. The goal is to match your array watts to an inverter watt size, although most people prefer a slightly higher inverter output wattage in case more energy is produced on any given month.
6. Choose the racking/mounts.
Depending on where the module is installed one must take proper precautions and choose the appropriate set of racks and mounts to hold it in place. Prior to installation one must take into account the roof type, size of the solar panel space, row number, thickness of roof, and distance between each beam. Typically residential roof top solar panels are installed in a flush mount manner, so each module uses two rails. If the rows are long many rails are joined and these rails are bolted to the roof along with the mounts.
7. Choose the smaller electrical components.
Amongst the lengthy planning process for the project we recommend to keep these components as a high priority: junction box, DC disconnect, overcorrect protection, ground fault protection, net meter socket, AC Disconnect, and DP Circuit breaker.
8. Fuses and breakers.
After having set up your PV array you will finally be ready to size wire, overcorrect devices, and conduit for circuit. Fo residential units we particularly recommend using copper wiring as aluminum is the affordable choice but is easily corrodes and gets damages quickly.
9. Test and Inspect the PV array.
Before calling the city inspector over, you should test out the module to make sure all connections, wiring, and installations were done correctly and your device is up and running like it is suppose to.
10. Apply for a final inspection.
Contact the building department within your city and obtain a date and time for your final inspection. Patiently wait for the approval of your permit, make sure everything is in order before the city representative arrives, and have all documents handy.
11. Realize your savings.
The last step is to contact your utility company to have them perform their own inspection and have you fill out all necessary paperwork. Don't forget to apply for tax credits, rebates, loan payments, or any other incentives associated with your new solar panel system.