Open Mon-Fri 8 to 5 PST
1-800-472-1142
Click to call now

Tag: Grid-tie Solar

How to Size a Solar System: A Step-By-Step Walkthrough

How to Size a Solar System: A Step-By-Step Walkthrough

Once you have determined that a grid-tie solar system is the best option for your home, we want to help you size the system correctly. This article will teach you how to size a solar system that covers your energy use patterns, without over-sizing your PV array.

The process for sizing off-grid solar systems is different, due to the need to account for battery bank sizing. Click here for advice on how to size your off-grid solar system.

As a system designer, I follow a step-by-step process to size grid-tied systems that work with my client’s project constraints.

The first step is to figure out the main constraints on the project and using those restrictions as the starting point for the design. We can approach the project from one of three angles:

  • Budget constraints: Build a system within your target budget.
  • Space constraints: Build a system that is as space-efficient as possible.
  • Energy offset: Build a system that offsets a certain percentage of your energy usage.

I want to make sure I deliver a system that satisfies my client’s specs, but I also need to account for sizing factors that might not be immediately obvious to them.

Some common stumbling blocks that come up over and over again:

  • Local levels of sun exposure
  • Orientation of the array (facing and tilt angle)
  • Plans for future expansion
  • Product efficiency ratings
  • Natural degradation of performance over the life of the warranty

This article is intended to provide a step-by-step overview of the sizing process for grid-tied solar systems, taking the above restrictions into account.

Getting Started With Solar guide

Free Guide: Getting Started With Solar

Learn More »

Sizing Grid-Tied PV Systems: Getting a Quick Estimate

First, gather the Kilowatt Hours (kWh) usage from your electric bill. We want to have all 12 months available so we can look at peaks and valleys in usage. Energy consumption spikes in the summer and winter with heavy use of your A/C and heating units. A full year of energy consumption data gives us the big-picture overview we need.

We also want to average the data from 12 months of bills to know your average monthly kWh usage. Grid-tied systems tend to overproduce in the summer with peak sun exposure.

If your utility provides a favorable net metering policy, the energy your system generates can be banked with the utility as credit to be used later. Not all utility companies do this; check with your local provider.

Next, we want to look up your sunlight hours per day, through a sun hours chart or the PV Watts Calculator (I will get to this in the next steps).

For a general estimate we can use this simple formula, then fine-tune as we get further into the design:

(Yearly kWh Usage ÷ 365 days ÷ average sun hours) x 1.15 efficiency factor = DC solar array size required.

If the solar array cannot face south, on the preferred angle, we need to adjust the system by adding more solar.

Here is an example. I live in New Mexico where the PV Watts Calculator says I have an average of 6.10 sunlight hours per day. That is a LOT, I know, but that is why I live here. I use 1000 kWh per month, or 12,000 kWh in a year. According to the formula:

(12,000 kWh ÷ 365 days ÷ 6.1 sun hours) x 1.15 = 6.2 kW DC solar system required

Fine-Tuning the Estimated System Design

When I am ready to make a solar system estimate as accurate as possible, I pull up the address on Google Maps. I check to see if I have any viable south facing options for a roof mount.

(Your solar system should point toward the equator, so if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, look for north-facing options instead.)

A roof mount is the simplest and most cost-effective solution. It costs less than other racks. Many times the slope of the roof is already set up for solar gain, and it keeps the solar panels close to the inverter and service panel. This is great for the efficiency and costs less in conduit and wire.

To learn more about the pros and cons of each mount type, read this article: Ground Mount vs. Roof-Mount Racking: What’s the Best Way To Mount My Solar Panels?

Customer Tom M. with his roof mounted system in Albuquerque, NM.

If a roof mount is not an option, I will look into the possibility of a ground mount or pole-mounted solution.

Once we know how much area we have for solar panels, and what angles and directions we will be working with, I get out the PV Watts Calculator and follow these steps.

How to Use the PVWatts Calculator

  1. Enter the address and hit the orange arrow to the right.
  2. Once you are on the System Info page, enter the DC system size from the previous section.
  3. Choose standard module.
  4. For array type, select “fixed” for roof mounts, or “open” for ground mounts.
  5. Leave the system losses at around 15%.
  6. Enter the slope of your roof in degrees, and the azimuth. Azimuth is the degrees relating to north and south, with north being zero and south being 180. (Click here to learn how to fine-tune your angle and azimuth values.)

Once all the info has been entered, click the arrow to the right and it will tell you how much power your system will put out on a monthly basis.

This is our step-by-step process for honing in on an accurately sized system. We provide this info because our audience is heavily inclined to DIY, and most people prefer to research at their own pace.

Once you’re ready, we do encourage you to schedule a free design consultation with us so that we can double check your sizing, find compatible products, and ensure the system works within your constraints (budget, build space and energy offset). You can also give us a call at 1-800-472-1142 for an immediate consultation.

Choosing Grid-Tie Solar Equipment

Once we know how big the solar system needs to be, we will cross-reference that with the amount of space available. If you are doing a ground mount, that is usually not a problem.

From my example above, I know I need a 6.2 kW DC system. I can multiply this number by 1,000 to confirm that I need 6,200 watts of solar panels.

My fastest resource is to go to our grid-tied solar packages and scroll down until I see something in this range. If the client expresses a desire to buy American-made panels, or needs certain features like individual panel monitoring, I take those choices into account.

Here are a few viable options I’d consider. Note that the imported panels are more cost-effective, so you get roughly 10% more production for the same price.

Grid-tie systems with American-made panels:

  • 6.2 kW system with 310W Mission Solar panels and SolarEdge Inverter / optimizers
  • 6.2 kW system with 310W Mission Solar panels and Enphase IQ7+ micro-inverters
  • 6.2 kW system with 310W Mission Solar panels and SMA central inverter

Grid-tie systems with imported panels:

  • 6.7 kW system with 335W Astronergy solar panels and SolarEdge inverter / optimizers
  • 6.7 kW system with 335W Astronergy solar panels and Enphase IQ7+ micro-inverters
  • 6.7 kW system with 335W Astronergy solar panels and SMA central inverter

If you’re having trouble deciding which products to buy, we’ve written articles covering that ground as well:

Of course, sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone with experience and have them walk you through the design process. The fastest way to get a thorough evaluation of your solar needs is to call us at 1-800-472-1142 and connect with one of our designers. We’d love to help you design the perfect grid-tied system for your needs.

New call-to-action
Install of the Month – March 2018

Install of the Month – March 2018

“I prefer to do it myself.” with Garland C.

Our Install of the Month for March is Arizona customer Garland C’s well-researched and fully planned out grid-tied solar system. Garland installed his system himself, with help from one friend, during the construction of his new home.

Garland was after a sound return on investment and an eco-conscious home. He wanted DIY convenience and the ability to monitor his system, so he chose Enphase microinverters. Getting American-made panels was also important to Garland and he opted for high-end, high-efficiency Suniva panels.

Garland came into this with a lot of information. He had been studying different types of inverters like Solaredge, but eventually decided on Enphase microinverters.  – Solar Tech Wil Burlin

Garland reports that the most difficult part of his project was actually getting the panels up on his roof. Normally this task isn’t so tough, but with a 8/12 pitch roof, safety while installing on such a steep roof became a number one priority. Knowing he’d still be paying far less than hiring an installer, he sprang for some roof racks to make it easier to walk on his roof, and he also made sure to always wear a safety harness.

In the end, Garland had a beautiful self-installed system on his brand new home. The moment his new home was hooked up to the grid, he saw that meter start moving backward!

Interview with Garland

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

To save money.

Did you have any previous DIY experience?

Generally speaking, I do everything I can myself. I have basic knowledge of house wiring and roof construction. This was my first solar system.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

Everything was pretty simple. Physically, the most challenging part was placing the panels on my 8/12 pitch roof.

How many helpers did you have?

One.

Did you hire a contractor?

No.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Purchased some roof racks to make it easier to walk on my roof.

As soon as they hooked my house up to the grid, my meter started moving backward, which was pretty cool! – Garland C.

How long was the full installation process?

With my house being a new construction project, I did the solar system installation in phases. Because of this approach, I don’t have a good idea of the total length of time needed to do the installation.

How did it feel to get your solar project finished?

It was several months after I completed the installation that my power company hooked my house to the grid. As soon as they did, my meter started moving backward, which was pretty cool!

Who else did you consider before choosing Wholesale Solar?

I looked at two other contractors to install my system. But I never really considered paying someone else to do it. I prefer to do things myself.

What’s your ballpark estimate of your total solar install costs?

$22,000.00

How much did you save on your taxes?

$6,600

Garland’s System:

Garland's Solar Breakdown:

  • Cost of Contractor: None
  • Cost of Electrician: None
  • Design Output of kWh per year: 12,220 kWh
  • Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for $6,600 U.S. Federal Tax Credit
  • Utility rates per kWh: Fluctuates based on local utility as Garland lives in a TOU area.
  • Feed-in Tariff/Net Metering Issues: None reported
Install of the Month – February 2018

Install of the Month – February 2018

Carbon Negative with Chuck W.

We LOVE this install from New Mexico customer Chuck W! It’s not only a beautiful install, but Chuck was also able to maximize his roof space perfectly allowing him to reach carbon negative. We’re also excited that this is our first ever Install of the Month featuring SolarEdge’s HD Wave inverter. Its compact size fits just right on Chuck’s small structure.

His personal solar technician Wil B. reported that working with Chuck was a joy:

Chuck already knew he wanted high end panels and the Solaredge inverter. I just had to broker the deal to find him the best Solarworld options. We went with a combination of black panels on one building and silver on the other, mostly for aesthetics. He knew he wanted the new HD Wave inverter so he ended up having to wait a few months for it to be released.  – Solar Tech Wil Burlin

Chuck received his shipment from the freight delivery service, recruited a few friends, family, and solar veterans, and got his racking and panels up himself, no installer required.

His story is pretty inspiring and he tells it better than we could, so we highly recommend reading our interview with Chuck below!

Interview with Chuck

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

I feel it’s important that I support combating climate change as much as I can. The low cost of a DIY PV system made it possible for me to “max out” in terms of the system size allowed under our rules for simple approval. This system will produce a substantial surplus, even after converting all of my propane usage to electricity. I expect to be “carbon negative”, including travel, from here on out.

Did you have any previous DIY experience?

I’ve been doing it myself for as long as I can remember. – Chuck W.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

The hardest part was dealing with the electric code. Our local authority requires taking a test for DIY solar, my installation had a couple of minor irregularities related to putting the PV juice back into my existing AC system, and in general, it was quite a lot of study to make sure it was completely by the book. Even though I’ve had a career as a design engineer, the electric code is a whole different world!

How many helpers did you have?

My friend Art from NY, a former solar installer, offered some good, practical advice (especially on dealing with inspectors) and helped put the rails up on the first structure. My friend Gene helped raise the first set of panels, and my partner Miya helped install the rails and raise the panels on the second structure.

Did you hire a contractor?

No, I didn’t hire anyone.

I feel it’s important that I support combating climate change as much as I can. The low cost of a DIY PV system made it possible for me to “max out” in terms of the system size allowed under our rules for simple approval. – Chuck W.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

The kit from Wholesale Solar was complete and accurate for everything up through the inverter. Getting everything from there to the AC connection was full of missteps in getting the myriad little pieces and fittings. I made quite a few extra trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot.

How long was the full installation process?

Overall, it’s been going on for about 4 months, with lots of off time in the middle. Doing it again, if I focused, I could probably do it in a week.

How did it feel to get your solar project finished?

FANTASTIC!

Who else did you consider before choosing Wholesale Solar?

I looked at various other companies on the web, liked what I saw with Wholesale Solar (especially the employee ownership part), exchanged a few emails with Wil Burlin, liked how that worked, decided to buy from WS.

What was your total solar install costs? (Ball Park)

For the 10 kW system (essentially two 5 kW SolarEdge systems on separate structures), about $19,500.

How much did you save on your taxes

Here in NM, there’s only the Federal 30% credit remaining, which should be worth a bit under $6,000.

Chuck has a 10kW Grid-Tied System including:

Chuck's Solar Breakdown:

  • Cost of Contractor: None
  • Cost of Electrician: None
  • Total Hours to install: 40 hours
  • Design Output of kWh per year: 17,668 kWh
  • Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for ~$6,000 U.S. Federal Tax Credit
  • Utility rates per kWh: 14.5 cents/kWh
  • Average Monthly Utility cost before solar: ~$200
  • Feed-in Tariff/Net Metering Issues: Local AHJ Requires Test for DIY
Install of the Month – September 2017

Install of the Month – September 2017

A Long Install With a Big Payoff, with Larry E.

This month we get a look at an install that took a little while, but paid off in a big way for Larry E. Working for three months on-and-off (weather permitting), he was able to build a stellar ground-mounted solar power system on his property, with 24 solar modules providing plenty of power to his home.

Larry was great to work with. Easy going, confident and comfortable with DIY with good previous knowledge of grid tied solar.
– Solar tech Salesperson Zach S.

Larry had a little help for a day or so, but after that he was on his own, installing his system one panel at a time over the course of the project – although he also hired an electrician to help out towards the end. Larry has been a general contractor for 45 years, so installing on his own was no problem and he was no stranger to DIY projects!

Interview with Larry

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

The project took me 3 months, but it was only “part time” – working on my solar installation when I had the free time to do so. It took a bit of time to finish since I wasn’t able to commit full days of work to the project.

How many people did it take?

I had two people helping with the installation for one day, but after that, I was on my own. Towards the end, I hired an electrician to help me with the wiring and final testing before we flipped the system on.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I’ve worked as a general contractor for 45 years, so a DIY project such as this was right up my alley.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

Permitting my solar system and dealing with the utility company was the hardest part of the process. Getting my paperwork in order and checking everything off with my local AHJ was a difficult step that took a lot longer than I expected it to.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

There were a couple of tools I didn’t have in my toolbox: a 10-150 in/lb torque wrench, a DC disconnect, and a Kwh meter. The torque wrench I could pick up at my hardware store, but the other two items were a bit more difficult to find. 

How/Why did you choose to self-install and add solar to your home?

Primarily to save money on my monthly utility bills, the choice to install solar was an easy one once I realized how much I could save each month, and with the size of the array I installed, I expect my decision to pay off very quickly.

Larry’s primary objective was to save money and make a solid investment. We collaborated on components for the system, with the Suniva sale, and it being a ground mount I recommended the 340’s as it is all ground work so easier to handle bigger panels, and there were no space constraints
– Solar tech Salesperson Zach S.

Components in Larry’s System:

Install of the Month – August 2017

Install of the Month – August 2017

A Real Contender of an Installation with Rocky H.

This month’s install is a real contender, with a difficult project that took three hard, 12-hour-long days of work to complete, proving that with a little patience, anyone can be a champion.

Rocky H., the champion in question, rose to the challenge and ended up with an exceptional solar array for his home!

An “extreme DIY’er,” Rocky H. had no professional construction background but built his own house, garage, and workshop by himself.

“There was a large learning curve as I didn’t know anything about solar or DC wiring/properties, but it wasn’t anything that can’t be learned.  You don’t have to be a licensed electrician to complete a solar system.  Willingness to learn and research what you don’t know will get you there.”
– Rocky H.

Rocky had the help of a little manpower from friends and family, as well as a 60ft. man-lift to help reach the rooftop a bit easier – with an 8/12 pitched roof, a ladder wouldn’t be quite as simple!

Interview with Rocky

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

I ordered my equipment in May, but didn’t start installing until June. I had some things to install on my existing electrical systems before starting on the solar system. The actual installation took 3 twelve hour days. I installed the disconnect and inverter before starting on the roof. It took about 4 hours. The electrical inspection was two days later, and the system test with my utility company was two days after the electrical inspection. I will admit I had all my i’s dotted and my t’s crossed!

How many people did it take?

The first two days, it was just my father in law and I. We installed all the anchor points for the racking and then the racking itself. The second day we installed all the optimizers, optimizer cabling, grounded the racking system and starting running wiring to the inverter. The third day I had two more friends help. Finished up wiring to the inverter first thing in the morning and then installed all the panels. The 36 panels took us about 6 hours.  It probably would have taken twice as long if we didn’t use a man-lift. I used a 60 ft. man-lift as I have an 8/12 pitched roof and the peak is about 40 ft high. I would recommend one if you can get one. It’s much easier than hauling everything on a ladder. Unless you have a big crew.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I have never worked in construction, but I built my house, garage, and workshop.  I’ve also helped my friends with their projects, etc. I’m 37 years old. I’m an extreme DIYer. I would say my working knowledge is probably better than most. There was a large learning curve as I didn’t know anything about solar or DC wiring/properties, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be learned. You don’t have to be a licensed electrician to complete a solar system. Willingness to learn and research what you don’t know will get you there. Will Burlin at Wholesale Solar was a big help. I probably came in thinking I knew more than I did, but he helped me bridge the gap on things I didn’t have experience with — like derating a panel to land a large enough breaker for my system. Trying to wrap my head around that one was interesting.

“Will Burlin at wholesale solar was a big help. I probably came in thinking I knew more than I did, but he helped me bridge the gap on things I didn’t have experience with like derating a panel to land a large enough breaker for my system. Trying to wrap my head around that one was interesting.”
– Rocky H.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

This may sound lame, but I stressed a ton about locating the center of my trusses. You can try to measure from the end of your roof, but that isn’t always accurate. I couldn’t find them using a stud finder, so I ended up doing it the old fashioned way and used a hammer and my ear just like finding a stud in the wall. It was pretty dang accurate. Within 3/8’’. Pounded a nail where the sound was more solid. If it was off, the flashing from the anchor would cover it easily. Overthought that part 100 times over. Also stressed about handling the DC wires coming from the optimizers. Was afraid of getting shocked, etc. After a little research, I found out that each panel in the string would carry approximately 1V until activated by the inverter. The system comes in many parts and seeing it sitting in my garage for a month before I attempted the install was intimidating. I just hoped it would all fall together once I began… and it did! The way they piece the system together makes it easier. I didn’t have to cut any of the rails. They come in lengths that seem to go together for any number of panel rows. All the paperwork they gave me had all the answers I would need. There were several attachments emailed to me that I had to read a couple of time before they were clear.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

There really weren’t any tools. Like I said before, I over-researched the process. I have most tools a general contractor would have, so I was ready. The one tool I’d recommend if you have a shingled roof is a Dasco shingle ripper pry bar. $20 on Amazon. It worked way better than a regular pry bar, saving me a ton of time. I found a guy using it for his panels via YouTube. You’ll have to supply the AC wiring and the breaker from the inverter to the disconnect and then to wherever you connect to the utility (meter socket, sub-panel). Any conduit needed. Metal conduit for DC/strings to inverter and metal or PVC conduit for AC wiring. I think labels now come with Wholesale Solar packages, I didn’t get any with mine (Our solar packages now come with a 55 piece pack of labels designed to meet 2017 NEC – Ed.) . I also had to supply some engraved plastic labels required from the electrical inspector and a couple from the local utility. pvlabels.com got them to me in 3 days and cheap!

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

My neighbor had a system installed by a contractor. I started asking him questions and we both thought we could install it ourselves and save a bunch of money. We were right! I have a 4,000 sq ft home and also a 2,000 sq ft home and was tired of high utility bills! Plus there are great rebates and tax savings. I’ll get 30-45% of my money back in tax credits and rebates.

“Rocky was on top of all the technical aspects of his project, he had clearly done his research and was asking all the right questions. Besides a little advice here and there, and a quick revision of the diagram, everything was smooth sailing”
– Wil Burlin, Solar Technician

What was your primary reason for adding a DIY Solar Kit to your home?

To save money.  After all my expenses it only came to $15,000. Another neighbor had a similar size system installed for over $26,000.(my system is a little larger too). I will be saving hundreds per month!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I will say I was a little skeptical to work with any solar company. I was afraid that after giving them money that I would be left in the wind if I ran into problems. Wholesale Solar really helped with everything. Everything from ordering to shipping was pretty easy. They provided all the engineering required for permitting and required by my local utility. I had a couple questions about grounding and some other minor things that were answered within a day if not the same day. At the end I needed my line diagram changed for my final inspection. My rep was on vacation, but another rep stepped in an handled it the same day. My rep came back the next day and made sure I had what I needed. There was a point were I got really frustrated with my rep because I couldn’t understand some of the technical aspect (derating I mentioned earlier) and my rep was very patient with me. I will be honest, I’m not the easiest person to deal with. My patience is really short when dealing with salespeople. But these guys aren’t pushy. They are really laid back. They don’t seem like they are pushing for a sale. They must really love solar! (We do! – Ed.) I’m now thinking about installing a system on my business office!

Components in Rocky’s 11.16 kW Grid-Tied System

Questions about Rocky’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

New Call-to-action

Install of the Month – July 2017

Install of the Month – July 2017

A Group Effort With Great Results – Install of the Month with Matt M.

“Do It Yourself” doesn’t mean you have to go it alone: this month’s install proves that a lot of friends and a little foreknowledge can go a long way. Matt M. knew what he wanted – to offset his power bill, and he knew exactly what he needed to install to get the job done. Six friends and 20 or so hours later and Matt has a fully functional grid-tied system that looks fantastic.

“The moment I got on the phone with Matt I could tell that not only was he knowledgeable, but he also had the confidence of a do it yourself installer. He came to me with the usage he was looking to offset, and we were able to easily design a system to fit his needs. He knew he was planning to build a structure to mount the panels on which gave us nice flexibility for panel layout, and allowed for ideal panel orientation. Matt’s knowledge of construction and familiarity with solar made him an ideal customer for this DIY project. “
– Solar tech Ian S.

Matt’s install was done on his 6/12 pitch metal roof, which proved a bit fiddly, but worked extremely well for racking the system. S-5! brand racking clamps allowed him to secure his IronRidge roof racks and mount his solar panels with ease.

A union sheet metal worker for over 20 years, Matt is no stranger to hard work and hands-on projects like this. His neighbor, a professional electrician, installed a solar array 5 years ago, which inspired him to install his own solar power system now. Matt knew he had to act fast, however, as Indiana just passed a law that drastically alters their solar incentives!

Indiana’s new incentives pay back solar customers for over-wattage power (the power produced that exceeds what they use, and is then sold back to the utility companies) at wholesale rates rather than the past retail rate, drastically lowering ROI for solar-powered homeowners. For new customers, this goes into effect in 2022. For customers looking to replace or expand their systems, this goes into effect at the end of 2017. By installing his entirely new system now, Matt manages to slip in under the deadline and gets a solid 5 years of ROI before the payoff rate drops. Now, the rate lowers to an amount that’s on par with most of the rest of the country, but what Matt M. found frustrating is that Indiana already has relatively cheap electricity – so the incentive to go solar needs to be as high as it has been in the past to make renewable energy worthwhile.

Interview with Matt

How long was the full installation process receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

It took 10 hours to install the racking and panels with 6 friends helping me, then it took another 10 hrs to pull the main feed and wire everything together with 3 friends helping me.

How many people did it take?

7 people installing the racking and panels and 3-4 people to wire up the inverter.

 Did you have any previous construction experience?

I am a union sheet metal worker with 20 years in, and my neighbor is a union electrician with 20 +years.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

The most difficult part was installing the racking and panels on the 6/12 pitch metal roof.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Working with Ian was great, he was very helpful and answered every question I had. Thanks Ian! The only thing I was missing were two grounding lugs for the racking which was not a big deal: I made two out of 1/4-20 s.s. bolts w/ a button head that slid in the top of the racking perfectly.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I installed myself because I had great friends that took the time to help me out, I couldn’t have done it without their help.

“Matt knew what he was doing, he never once called in for technical support, he already had himself an install crew and was ready to go! “
– Solar tech Ian S.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

I installed solar because our neighbors had done it 5 years ago and Indiana just passed a law to start shutting down net metering, which doesn’t make any sense to me.

Components in Matt’s 11.16 kW Grid-Tied System

New call-to-action
Install of the Month – June 2017

Install of the Month – June 2017

“Making it Look Easy” with Bryan W.

Sometimes installation is a breeze! With Bryan W., the recipient of our Install of the Month, it was just so. Our customer was familiar with DIY projects and decided to install a  grid-tied solar power system to save some money. After a few conversations with our techs he got set up with the right equipment and was able to install an amazing solar array in a short time frame, a high quality one that would help him get a return on investment.

“Bryan was great to work with. He came to the table with a good understanding of what he wanted, and after a few conversations we had his system designed and quoted. It took about a month from start to finish.
– Solar tech Wil B.

Bryan W. built his own home and did all of the wiring himself, so a solar installation project was no problem. His past expertise came in handy with installing his grid-tied solar system, with few problems to get in the way. This kind of experience isn’t necessary for a DIY solar installation, but comes in very handy all the same. With his experience, Bryan knew how to wire his system, determine wattage requirements, and was familiar with the ins and outs of the permitting process before he got started.

“I enjoy the satisfaction of completing my own projects and, of course, there was a significant cost savings vs. having a contractor perform the installation. I did receive an estimate for having someone else perform the installation before making the decision to do it myself” – Bryan W.

The layout was among the first steps in installing Bryan’s grid-tied system. Bryan found this part slightly difficult, remarking that “a stud finder didn’t work for locating the roof rafters,” so he was forced to use different means in finding them, so he could figure out the space between rails to mount his racking on. With projects of this scale, especially on an 8/12 pitched roof, it can often be handy to have a second pair of hands in the form of a friend or neighbor to help you out.

Although we strive to provide a complete DIY kit with all of the components necessary, planned out and customized to fit each customer’s needs, Bryan W. found himself needing one additional piece – a pass-thru enclosure for bringing the wiring into his attic space. After a little research, he found a SolaDeck enclosure made by RSTC Enterprises, which flashed under the roof shingles and met all UL approvals. It made for a very clean pass-thru and Bryan was able to locate it beneath the panels.

As you can see, this installation project looks fantastic now that it’s complete, and Bryan W. is the proud owner of a working grid-tied solar power system.

Interview with Bryan W.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

The installation took two weeks, including inspection and final approval. I installed all of the racking and wiring myself and had a friend help with setting the panels.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I built my house and installed all of the wiring myself.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

Laying out and snapping the chalk lines for the racking was challenging. A stud finder didn’t work for locating the roof rafters, so I used a hammer to tap along each one to make sure I was on it and figuring out the spacing between rails was a difficult task to perform by myself. I would definitely recommend having a second person. Everything is challenging when working on an 8/12 pitch!

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

The only additional component that I had to research and purchase separately was the pass-thru enclosure for bringing the wiring into my attic space. I used a SolaDeck enclosure made by RSTC Enterprises, which flashed under my shingles and met all UL approvals. It made for a very clean pass-thru and I was able to locate it beneath the panels. I would definitely recommend their product.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I enjoy the satisfaction of completing my own projects and, of course, there was a significant cost savings vs. having a contractor perform the installation. I did receive an estimate for having someone else perform the installation before making the decision to do it myself.

“This was one of the smoothest sales and installations I have been involved with. I did not have to provide any technical support for Bryan, I am very proud of his “get r’ done” mentality.”
– Wil B.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

The primary reason was for saving money on our electric costs, but I also take pride in knowing that we are producing our own clean power and reducing our carbon footprint.

Components in Bryan’s 8.97kW Grid-Tied System

If you want to save money on your electric costs with a grid-tied system like Bryan’s, now is a great time to start because through June 21st 2017 we’re offering free shipping on grid-tied systems! Learn more here.

New Call-to-action

Install of the Month – May 2017

Install of the Month – May 2017

“Racking Up The Challenges” with Eddy K.

A Tough DIY Solar Project in LA County

We love Eddy K’s install because, even though it wasn’t a walk in the park, he did it all for mom. And with Mother’s Day coming up, everyone knows that mom is the most important person in the world! What everyone may not know however, is just how difficult it is to install a solar power system in LA county. With some of the strictest permitting and fire codes in the country, it’s a real challenge to install new systems that meet regulation standards. These codes are very good for safety, but can be exacting for someone who is new to solar, wants to DIY, and wants everything to be 100% perfect for the system they’re planning to install on their mom’s roof! But Eddy stuck with it because he wanted to make sure his mom never had to worry about a steep power bill again.

And guess what? With a lot of hard work and some guidance from the DIY solar experts, he ended up with a flawless system and aced those LA safety inspections.

Racking like Eddy’s is free this month during our IronRidge racking sale! Click to learn more.

For overcoming these seemingly overwhelming obstacles, Eddy more than earns our May Install of the Month!

“I passed the DWP and Building and Safety Inspections with flying colors. And they were highly impressed that I had never done a PV system installation before!” Eddy shared.

Eddy had more than just the LA fire codes to overcome, however: the house in question had a hipped roof, making placement of solar panels and the IronRidge racking a real challenge.

But not to worry, Alden S., one of our resident design techs here at Wholesale Solar, was up to the task. Alden helped him get the perfect code-compliant system that would work on his mom’s hipped roof, all the way from the initial planning phase up to his system passing inspection.

“Eddy really did an amazing job with his install. It’s really impressive that he accomplished this by himself and with such accuracy,” Alden shared. “Working with him, it was very apparent he wanted to cover every little detail before drilling a hole.”

“This was Eddy’s first solar installation, so naturally he had a lot of questions,” Alden continued. “The way I see it, that’s one of the big values in working with us; our customers know they can ask us a question, and, even if it’s an unknown at the time, we’ll find the answer. But it was Eddy’s persistence that lead him to this success story. If he hadn’t called me to check in and get each of his questions answered, this process would have taken much longer and would not have looked this great!”

It was Eddy’s persistence that lead him to this success story. If he hadn’t called me to check in and get his questions answered, this process would have taken much long and would not have looked this great!
– Design Tech Alden S.

The first challenge was helping Eddy design a system that would be as efficient as possible on this style of roof. As you can see in the gallery above, there aren’t a lot of large flat spaces on his mom’s roof, so this involved making four code-compliant subarrays, each with their own measurements and specifications. And to add to that, one of the codes required the conduit connecting the four subarrays be on the outside of the roof, a certain number of inches above it. Usually you don’t see this conduit at all; it’s generally installed under the roof in the attic. For our purposes, it’s actually a really great visual example of how subarrays connect in one string, but for Eddy and Alden, it added to the difficulty of getting this system right.

It took some intense calculations and careful measuring to get the most out of the space available, and Alden even remarked “You know your job is great when you use the Pythagorean Theorem during a day of work!”

Working together, they decided on an IronRidge XR100 racking system. This racking system allowed for easy installation with durable mounting that was flexible enough to adjust to the limited space available.

After all this planning and learning, Eddy was finally ready to start the install itself! He worked 7 hours a day, Monday through Friday, for four weeks to get this system up and running. The very first step was drilling holes for the QuickMount flashings that would attach to the roof and support the IronRidge rails the solar panels were mounted on. Eddy cites this as hands down the most difficult part of the installation, since he had to find the center on every rafter for each QuickMount penetration, and every single rafter had different measurements by an inch or more. The next challenge was making sure the setback on his panels was between 18” and 36” from the edges of the roof, which wasn’t as difficult as finding the center of the rafters, but took some time and close attention to detail.

Eddy also chose not to hire an electrician, opting to go the full DIY route. You can learn a lot about electrical by wiring your own solar system, an opportunity he wasn’t going to give up. But figuring out how his particular system had to be grounded wasn’t easy, and was what the building inspectors were going to be looking at the closest.

But in the end, after every piece of hardware was attached, every rail cut to size, every nut torqued, all components properly wired, every conduit in place, and every panel mounted, it was worth it. The challenge was real, but seeing the price difference between DIY and working with a large solar company made it a no-brainer. Not to mention knowing his system was perfectly installed according to the strictest codes out there, and knowing that his mom no longer had to worry about a steep power bill.

The racking he used in his system that was able to accommodate the demands of this project was an IronRidge roof mounted racking system. We recommend IronRidge for most installations, and now through May 26th, IronRidge roof mounted racking like Eddy used is free as part of our biggest deal of the year. Click here to learn more about IronRidge, racking in general, and talk to a solar expert like Alden now. And if you have the space in your yard, you might consider our IronRidge ground mounting options, which are half off right now.

Read on to learn about this project from Eddy’s point of view.

Interview with Eddy

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

When I received the equipment I was still in the permitting process and schooling myself on a few things, so it took a little extra time to get started with the actual physical install. Once I did start, it took four weeks from the first hole drilled for the very first QuickMount flashing to flipping the switch. That was working 7 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and I did the work 100% on my own.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Yes, but nothing even close to this! I’ve done a lot of carpentry and structural-type builds, and I built a race engine for my ’69 Mustang years ago. The extent of my electrical knowledge was basic in-home stuff, the most complex of which was having custom-built and wired a wooden chandelier.

What was the most difficult or confusing part of the installation?

The most confusing part by far was learning how my specific system had to be grounded. From the technical aspects like how it had to be routed and grounded through conduit, to making sure it was code compliant with all the strict Los Angeles building codes. All I can say is… wow! The most difficult part was hands down finding center on every rafter for the QuickMount penetrations. Every single rafter had its own measurement, and all of them were different by an inch or more. Very Fun.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Nope, everyone was awesome about knowing my project and everything it was going to take to complete.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

To save heaps of money! Because of the four separate subarrays and needing to de-rate the main panel, this system would have cost $22,000.00 to $24,000 if I went with Solar City. I did it for just under $11,000.00 with you guys.

Because of the four separate subarrays and needing to de-rate the main panel, this system would have cost $22,000.00 to $24,000 if I went with Solar City. I did it for just under $11,000.00 with you guys.
– Eddy K.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

To offset my mom’s power bill by as close to 100% as possible.

Components in Eddy’s 4.56 kW Grid-Tied System

New call-to-action
Install of the Month – March 2017

Install of the Month – March 2017

“Beginning to See the Light” with Tom D.

Welcome solar friends! It’s that time of year again: as winter begins to melt away into spring and the sun pokes its head out from behind the clouds, we welcome in the prime months for solar. The extra spark of energy in the air makes us feel like anything’s possible!

To celebrate, we’re sharing our March Install of the Month. It goes to Tom D., who installed his own grid-tied system. This is a great one, since Tom is an example of someone who didn’t even know DIY solar was an option. But after he talked to us, he saw the light.

In his own words…

After I talked to Brent on the phone, I felt confident that I could readily do the installation myself while getting a better system with an optimized ground mount, and save a bunch of money too.
– Tom D.

A better, optimized system that saves you a bunch of money? That’s what DIY solar with Wholesale Solar is all about! Right on, Tom!

Like Tom’s installation? Right now we’re having a sale on systems just like it! Systems with Suniva solar panels and SolarEdge inverters ship free in the month of March. Check out systems with Suniva and SolarEdge, or see all systems that qualify for free shipping here. Free shipping can mean you save 10% off the total cost of your system, so make sure you at least call us and get your free quote to see how much you’d save on your system. We want to help you see the light too!

Interview with Tom

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

When I received my system I actually didn’t get started right away. Instead I took my time to plan things out (find the perfect location, etc.), get my documentation and plot plan together for permit, and purchase the additional materials I would need.

After receiving my equipment, it was six weeks before I finally visited my county building department to apply for my permit. I walked out with my permit, which only took 35 minutes, and three days later I had the foundation holes dug for my ground mount piers.

I was working on the installation in my spare time, so it took roughly four weeks from getting my permit to turning the system on. I was surprised how easy the permit and inspection process was here in California, in my county anyway, and how easy it is to complete the PG&E online interconnection application.

How many people did it take?

Four people including myself. My neighbor who owns a small excavator dug my pier foundation holes and the 200 foot trench. Another friend who owns a small tractor with a front-end loader backfilled the trench and also helped me place the horizontal 3” pipe rails onto the vertical piers. My wife helped with feeding the wire into the conduit as I pulled it through from the other end. Everything else I was able to easily do myself.

Brent and his associates at Wholesale Solar were fantastic in providing any assistance I needed via telephone and email, as well as providing informative online videos.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

No, not really. I have had very little construction experience and absolutely no electrical experience.

[A solar install company] did a very nice presentation, but when I was shown the price breakdown in the quote, I was quite surprised. The cost of the installation represented 2/3 of the overall cost of the complete system. That was when I got online and found Wholesale Solar.
– Tom D.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

There were a few unknowns up front, especially the mystery of the permit and inspection process. If only I would have known it would go so smoothly!

Another mystery for me, as a non-electrical person, was understanding how the electrical connections would be made at the inverter site and getting another breaker in my heavily populated electrical panel as I was already maxed out. But once I had a clear perspective on these things, it all came together nicely.

Another challenge was trying to come up with a suitable support structure for holding the 3” diameter steel pipe posts in place prior to filling the foundation with concrete. Once I came up with a viable solution for my particular setup, it was a piece of cake. (See the wooden braces in Tom’s install gallery above! – Ed.)

Also, the soil where I live is both rocky and hardpan, making for poor soil conditions to dig into. When I got my first IronRidge project report that specified a 60” hole depth for my foundation and piers, I called Brent and shared my concerns regarding what I expected with my horrible soil. In minutes, Brent produced a revised plan to allow me to dig only 36 inches deep, and the holes would have a wider diameter.

As expected, it was very hard work digging down to 36 inches, so I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had to go to 60 inches! This quick revision on the specification was one of the big advantages of working with Wholesale Solar.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

It was the communication component of the system that I forgot to address up front. This is the feature that allows me to monitor the output of each individual PV Module via phone app or computer. I probably should have ran CAT 5 cable in my trench out to the inverter from my house but now I am ordering the SolarEdge Wi-Fi kit instead and that should do the trick nicely anyway.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I had solicited a quote from a company that had a kiosk setup in Costco. They did a very nice presentation, but when I was shown the price breakdown in the quote, I was quite surprised. The cost of the installation represented 2/3 of the overall cost of the complete system. That was when I got online and found Wholesale Solar.

When I talked to Brent on the phone, I felt confident that I could readily do the installation myself while getting a better system with an optimized ground mount, and save a bunch of money too. It turns out that there is quite a bit of satisfaction in doing a D.I.Y. project like this; my friends and family are all impressed … but I know that it really wasn’t all that hard to do.

It turns out that there is quite a bit of satisfaction in doing a D.I.Y. project like this: my friends and family are all impressed… but I know that it really wasn’t all that hard to do.
– Tom D.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

It’s really easily justified when you do the math. Based on my average monthly electric bills for the last twelve months and adding up all equipment and installation costs (then subtract the tax credit), the payback should be only about 48 months. Purchasing solar is also a sure hedge against the future hikes in utility company electric rates.

Components in Tom’s System

Questions about Tom’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

New call-to-action

Install of the Month: February 2017

Install of the Month: February 2017

“Days of Wine and Solar” with Jorgen O.

For Jorgen, the decision to convert his home in California wine country to solar power was an easy one. Inspired by the lowest panel prices ever and wanting to be 100% certain he got the 30% federal tax credit, Jorgen decided to use his ample days of sun for more than ripening the grapes in his vineyard. He decided it was time to harvest another of the sun’s many fruits: photovoltaic power.And so, Jorgen began his research. Like many, he sought quotes from large solar installers before finding Wholesale Solar. Not being afraid of planning, research, and getting his hands dirty, once Jorgen saw the price difference between installing himself and hiring the big guys to do it for him, he called us up, got his quote, and never looked back.
“The system I purchased from Wholesale Solar cost about $20,000. I’d received bids from $86,000 to $46,000 for the exact same system. That got my attention! – Jorgen O.
When he called, Solar tech Todd E. was there to help design his system. The first step for Todd was designing a system based on Jorgen’s monthly energy needs so he could tie into the local electrical grid and reach net zero. Next, the two worked together to figure out the best placement for Jorgen’s system.Todd advised that Jorgen’s system should be ground mounted and split into three arrays: “The system was fairly large, so it would have taken up too much space and been too much work to install on his curved tile roof,” Todd shared, and added that “Jorgen didn’t have the room going left to right for one big south facing array, so we split his panels up to fit the space and still get the optimal south-facing sun.” The result was a gorgeous system tucked in behind the trellises; a crop of solar panels soaking up sun long after the last grape has been harvested and only dried leaves and cane are left.Jorgen’s installation was “A perfect example of how the DIY process of designing and installation should go,” Todd noted, adding, “It was a seamless path from purchase to installation.” And luckily for those of us who love to see the step-by-step process of DIY solar installations, especially seamless ones, Jorgen documented the entire procedure from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and read his solar installation log below for a detailed account of what it’s like to install a system like this yourself:

Jorgen’s Installation Log

Day 1 Received the building permit. Days 2-5 It rained, and I had to wait a week for the ground to dry. Days 3-5 Installed wiring for internet, inverters, sub panel, and disconnect switch up to the main power panel. Day 7 My electrician replaced 200 amp CB with 150 amp CB, rearranged existing circuit breakers, and installed the 80 amp solar panel CB at the bottom of the power bus. The labor cost was $200. Day 13 Rented Ditch Witch with auger and trencher attachments. It was very handy and easy to operate. Day 14 Passed trench and pier inspection. Days 15-16 Poured concrete and set 20 steel posts. I had one helper for two days. Mixing concrete using a $182 Harbor Freight cement mixer. Day 18 System freight delivery from Wholesale Solar arrived. Days 19-21 Installed steel pipes and rails. Day 22 Pulled wires. Days 23-24 Installed solar panels, optimizers and connected wiring. It took two days with some help from my wife. Days 25-26 Installed the two inverters, finished the wiring, and tested the system with SolarEdge support via the internet connection. Day 27 Passed final inspection and applied online for permission to connect to the power company. Day 28 2pm received email permit to connect the solar system. Turned on the switch – everything worked as advertised!

Interview with Jorgen

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

It was a total of 28 days, and I had help from an electrician, one helper, and my wife. I used two weeks of vacation, and several days were wasted due to rain and muddy soil.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Some remodeling to my home and backyard projects.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

It took two months to research pricing, evaluate the system, find parts not included in the kit, deal with power company connections and local and electrical regulations. That was the most time-consuming part. The most difficult part was drilling the holes accurately due to rocks, but I managed to get the posts lined up with bigger holes and extra concrete.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Planned for and purchased most parts at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and a few online. The only thing I missed were the warning labels and decals for all the electrical panels and boxes.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I’d received bids from $86,000 to $46,000 for the exact same system. That got my attention! Found a similar system package at Wholesale Solar for about $20,000 not including all of the additional costs like wiring, permits, conduits, CBs, rental equipment, miscellaneous parts, tools, steel pipes and concrete. All of those combined came to about $5,000 for a total cost of about $25,000.

Components in Jorgen’s System

Questions about Jorgen’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

New Call-to-action
New call-to-action