Over the last 20 years, PV installations have shifted from primarily owner-installed systems to professionally installed ones (see From the Crew in this issue). Should you install your own solar-electric system? To recap, the answer depends on the scale and type of system that will meet your needs; your understanding of system sizing and component selection; your skill level; and the range of construction and safety tools and equipment you have. A primary driver in the decision is also the potential impact that self-installation may have on any available financial incentives. If you decide to design and install your own system, be sure that you properly assess your abilities and have realistic expectations of the benefits and potential pitfalls of doing so.
PV systems typically require a significant financial investment and you’ll want your system to function not only reliably, but also optimally over its more than 20-year service life. In many cases, the amount of savings you’ll reap by installing your own system will be minor. If you consider the value of time you’ll spend on the project, including up-front research and system design, as well as time spent wrenching, you may very well end up spending more time than you can afford.
So why would someone install their own system? What’s the bottom line? The answer is probably similar to reasons for tackling any major home improvement project—for the fun of doing it and the sense of accomplishment. And those are two powerful reasons in and of themselves.
Justine Sanchez is technical editor at Home Power, a Solar Energy International instructor, a NABCEP-certified PV installer, and is certified by ISPQ as a PV Affiliated Master Trainer.
Joe Schwartz is the editor of Home Power and SolarPro magazines. He began his career in RE as a PV, wind, and microhydro system installer in 1997.
Ian Woofenden bought his first solar-electric module in 1984. Early projects were DIY, with more recent ones implemented by professionals—all effectively turning solar energy into electricity.