Getting Started with Solar Electricity
With grid-tied PV systems becoming more and more popular, it is important for RE professionals and system owners alike to have realistic expectations of their systems’ performance. Solar-electric power production can be affected by several factors. Orientation, array tilt, seasonal adjustments, and array siting can all affect the bottom line. Proper planning and smart design will help you get the most out of your PV system and improve your rate of return. Installing modules in a sunny, shade-free spot and pointing them toward the sun could be considered common sense to many, but properly orienting and tilting your array for optimal performance is not as intuitive. A PV array’s output is proportional to the direct sunlight it receives. Even though PV modules produce some energy in a shady location or without ideal orientation, system costs are high enough that most will want to maximize energy yield. Regardless of how well a system is designed, improper installation can result in poor performance. PV systems should operate for decades, and the materials and methods to install them should be selected accordingly.
Should you install your system or hire a licensed professional to do the work? What skills and tools do you need to tackle a home-scale PV project? How much will you save if you install the system yourself? We frequently get questions like these from Home Power readers. Rather than defaulting to the obvious answer, “it depends,” we explore a long list of variables you should thoughtfully consider before tackling the design and installation of your PV system. Owner installation is definitely not for everyone. Like any home improvement project, it’s important to realistically assess your skills, and weigh the benefits and potential pitfalls. Installing a PV system certainly isn’t rocket science, but doing it well and safely requires experience working with electrical systems, some serious research, and plenty of sound advice. The installation of most residential PV systems is usually better left to the pros, but if you have the right set of skills and expectations, installing your own system can be a realistic goal.
Often, folks who want to install their own system are the same people who are pondering a career shift into the PV industry. Despite the challenging economic climate, there are jobs to be had in this growing market, and with government funds and decreasing component costs fueling new projects and green job training, the time is right to make your move. With a little know-how, the right training, and a sunny disposition, you can be on a new, green career path. Depending on your background and existing skill set, attending a workshop or two may get your foot in the door with a solar company, but you’ll likely need to pursue some level of certification or additional credentials if you’re serious about making a career in the industry. While you can obtain a lot of system design knowledge from online and classroom presentations, when it comes to installation specifics, nothing beats hands-on training. These courses are not short—nor inexpensive—and are usually geared toward individuals wanting to become professional installers. Training followed by a home installation can be a great progression if you’re considering entering the PV industry. The value of living with a PV system, for both homeowners and up-and-coming professionals, is priceless.