A build-it-yourself, adjustable ground-mounted rack and DIY installation provided deep savings on a PV system for this Wisconsin family.
In 2006, I refurbished a classic Jacobs Wind Electric wind turbine and installed it on our family’s property in Merton, Wisconsin. The “Jake” produces an average of 110 kWh per month, offsetting about one-third of our household’s total electricity use on a yearly basis. However, in the summer months, when winds average 8 mph, the Jake was only generating about 40 kWh per month. That’s when I started thinking about installing a PV system to boost our renewable energy production.
In 2011, the prices of PV modules were continuing to drop. I began researching system components, incentives, and permitting requirements. I set an aggressive goal of designing and self-installing an adjustable, ground-mounted PV system for $1 per watt (after incentives), and began my PV project in earnest.
A rooftop array was ruled out for several reasons. First, there was the shade caused by a 70-foot-tall tree near the west side of the house, which severely limited the available solar window. But we were loath to cut it down—the summer shade it provides helps reduce our air-conditioning loads. The largest roof sections face east and west, and while not a deal-breaker, orienting the array to meet Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy (FoE) program rebate requirements, which states that modules must be installed within 45° of due south, would have meant mounting them in an aesthetically unpleasing way.