Solar Electric Systems, Entry-Level

These questions are for PV installers (if there are any here).
I just signed up for HART 1071 Solar Electric Systems, Entry-Level42.0 Hour.
Here's, sort of, a course description: http://www.austincc.edu/ce/renewable/industry.php Required text: (Amazon.com product link shortened)
The course is 42 hour course that takes almost 3 months with a once a week, 4 hour class, and lab. Do you think the typical homeowner (slightly above avg IQ) would be able to install all aspects of a home PV system after completing such a course, or would he still have to hire expert help? I know the course description says: "However, the Certificate by itself does not qualify an individual to install PV systems." But I think they just put that in there to cover their butts. The home PV systems I've seen don't look that complicated and, if this course doesn't teach you all aspects, do you think it's worth the +$600 tuition and texts? My wife wants ME to install the home PV system when I'm done with the class. My construction experience is limited to home improvement projects like installing door, floors, walls and some electrical work like moving switches. Very limited as far as electricity is concerned.
Jim
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*I haven't installed any solar PV systems nor do I advocate that anyone does without carefully weighing the costs versus the gains. I'm an electrical contractor in NJ and have taken a few courses on these installations as part of my continuing ed requirements. The current driving force in NJ to install solar is SREC's (Solar Renewable Energy Certificates) http://www.njcleanenergy.com/renewable-energy/programs/solar-renewable-energy-certificates-srec/new-jersey-solar-renewable-energy Apparently you can buy and trade these certificates. You can assign who will benefit from them such as the installer who can apply them towards your installation cost. As one instructor put it "The current demand for solar power installations in NJ has nothing to do with electricity. It is all about SREC's". He is an engineer who is currently consulting on 33 commercial PV installations in NJ.
A discussion did come up in one class about qualified installers and training. The certificates that are issued by these schools are worth squat in the real world. You will probably learn a lot, but without knowledge of electrical installations in general and the codes involved you won't have all of the knowledge that you need to do it successfully. There is a lot of planning necessary and if you hope to get any rebates or tax breaks which is the only way to make it financially viable, there will be a lot of paperwork involved. All of which must be done beforehand.
I know that some manufacturers require that installers receive their training before they can do installations. I have also heard that Costco is now selling plug-in systems for a homeowner to install. In my most recent class the topic of microinverters came up which was a new one for me. Apparently some solar panels come with their own inverters so that each panel will now put out AC power This makes it a little simpler instead of having to wire both AC and DC power.
If you really want to pursue this I suggest getting a copy of the 2011 National Electrical Code and read the appropriate chapters such as Article 690 and article 250. You should also talk with the power company if you plan on tying into the grid to get a payback. The power company will have final say whether you can tie in or not (At least in NJ they do). You should also talk to your building department about their requirements to pass inspection. You will need permits to do this work and they may not allow homeowners to do it themselves. You may need an engineer to evaluate how much weight your roof can tolerate. You should also be comfortable working with live electricity.
I have heard that fireman are very concerned about solar panels in case they have to go on a roof. Those panels are always producing power when it is light out and they would have to break through them to gain access to the roof below.
You should also have a lot of life left on your roof before mounting the panels. Otherwise you will need to remove the panels in a few years to get a new roof installed.
The solar panels usually have a rated life of 20 years. After that they must be disposed of and replaced. From what I understand, there is currently no process available at this time to successfully recycle solar panels. So they just wind up in a landfill. So much for going green.
BTW $600.00 for a 42 hour specialized course is very cheap. I wish my community college had deal like that.
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On 5/15/2011 8:52 PM, John Grabowski wrote:

http://www.njcleanenergy.com/renewable-energy/programs/solar-renewable-energy-certificates-srec/new-jersey-solar-renewable-energy

Yeah. It's a good deal if you're planning on working in the industry. After reading your post and thinking about it, I dropped the course. I'd probably go through with it if it wasn't a 1 hour round trip to the class.
Jim
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And I say once again, harry doesn't know what he's talking about. Mr. Grabowski's post points out some of the many issues involved. How anyone could think that a poster who has very limited experience with electrical work would be able to acquire the knowledge to successfully install a solar array and tie it into the grid is beyond ridiculous.
I'm experienced with electricity, have pulled permits to do my own work and I would get an experienced installer to do a solar system, including the electrical portion. There is definitely major value in having someone that has done this kind of install many times, knows all the code issues, has experience dealing with the inspections, etc. I wouldn't try to cut corners on a DIY on a $50K system.
Among some of the most obvious traps that have been pointed out are meeting the requirements for the various rebates. To get some of those requires a very detailed application with complete technical details on the install, including the contractor that installed it. There is also the little matter of warranties that I'd look into. It's typical for manufacturers of a wide variety of products that are far simpler than this to require that they be installed by an authorized dealer, or licensed electrician, etc for the warranty to be valid. DIY and you may save some $$ and wind up with no 20 year warranty.

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wrote:

There are some entry level pv products that simply plug into a convenient wall outlet. If you want to start cheap that's probably the way to go. Otherwise you have economies of scale and it doesn't make sense to have all that equipment for a few hundred watts. There is a "no smaller than" point below which it is not worth the effort. As others have mentioned the return is not really there either unless you also can get some tax credits out of it.
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It isn't childs play to wire up a residential PV system. Does a child know the NEC? And 99% of them are connected to and require the grid to work, so that's almost a given. It's re;atively rare to see a true off-grid system and I'll bet Jim's isn't one of them. So much for your knowledge on the subject.
As for paperwork, that's involved without regard to whether it's hooked up to the grid or not. Ever here of a building permit? That's what is required here for any PV system. And there damn well sure is a mountain of paperwork to get the various rebates, tax breaks, etc that make them viable.

It's a lot more than sizing. An example being, what kind of conductors are allowed on a hot roof, or underground to connect panels to the house? Do they have to be in conduit? How deep do they have to be buried? Think a child knows that? Or that a guy with no electrical experience can figure that out in an hour as you claimed? You really are a joke and posts like this should warn everyone that you're a complete moron.

Once again, you;ve demonstrated that you really are the village idiot. Do you just enjoy making an ass out of yourself and getting bitch slapped right and left?
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On 5/16/2011 11:56 AM, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

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Who are you directing that comment towards?
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On 5/16/2011 2:19 PM, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

I guess not.
I always think it's funny when someone calls someone a moron and uses poor English.
Jim
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wrote:

I am English. Anything I say is therefore English. ==================================== I believe he was referring to Green's Law - when someone posts an insult, they're likely to err themselves as in "Your Stupid." I believe the line being referred to was "Ever HERE of a building permit" when the poster clearly meant "HEAR."
Hear, hear!
-- Bobby G.
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On 5/17/2011 10:45 AM, Robert Green wrote:

Bingo. Funny we had to explain it to an Englishman. :-)
FWIW: I stopped calling people moron, stupid.. etc.., etc. for that reason. When I'm pissed, spelling and grammar seem to go right out the window.
Jim
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wrote:

be
child
insult,
line
Harry was just confused. He's got to be old, having won WII single-handedly, so give him a break. (-: It's pretty easy to get lost in the multi-threading, especially when one of the "who struck John" questions arise. Reminds me of the "Are you talking to ME?" scene in "Taxi Driver." In real life you know who said what. On Usenet you have to count nested

sure. And still people get it wrong all the time, myself included. It's why you'll never find me in a thread with >>>>>>>>> because by then it's mostly two squirrels arguing over a peanut.

There are better reasons, like spiritual enlightenment. I stopped because it was too easy for a debate opponent to Google me and come up with laundry lists of insulting things I've said. Now I only do it occasionally. (-: IIRC, Harry got me to cross the line with his "Who *really* won WWII?" challenges to world history, but since then I've come to learn almost ALL Brits believe they won WWII single-handedly because of the enormous Brit propaganda effort meant to shore up national will during the war.

You aren't the only one. I find I leave the "r"'s off of "your" and make other glitches that spell checkers and even light proofreading won't catch.
Here hear, their there, threw, through two, to, too
Who MADE up this crazy language anyway?
-- Bobby G.
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Andy adds:
I also am a retired electronics engineer and have messed with solar energy, as part of a hobby, on my house and barn for almost 20 years. I was able to design and fabricate most of the components myself, so I could do it on the cheap. Most people can't....
I agree with everything Harry (above) says.....
Hooking the pieces together is no more complicated than following directions.... much like plugging accessories into your computer....
However, unless your circumstances are very special, it isn't a sound financial decision here in the US......
If you take the money you will spend and put it in the bank, just the interest on that money will pay the electric bill for all the energy the panels will generate. And you still have your stash in the bank...
Before going "off the grid", determine how much electricity your solar setup will generate, and reduce your "on the grid" consumption to that level for six months. Don't cheat. If at the end of six months you are happy with that lifestyle, you might end up being happy with it..... I've never known anyone who has done this, and never cheated, and still decided to go "off the grid", tho.... ... And then there's the cost of the divorce lawyer to consider... :>))))
Andy in Eureka, Texas
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On 5/16/2011 7:12 PM, Andy wrote:

I think it's viable here (Austin) if you take advantage of the $2.50/kw rebate but you have to use one of the city approved installers. A PV certificate isn't going to do much good in that case so that's why I dropped the course. My wife is calling me a college drop-out.
I'm looking into one of the "plug-in" systems but it seems like they are still in the development stage.
Jim
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Andy comments: I guessing that the requirement for a "licensed installer" is more for the safety angle of the panels blowing off your roof and damaging property or persons than whether a "proper" electrical installation is involved. The city of Austin probably doesn't care whether it works or not, just whether it is safe ---- as most building codes are designed to do...
One further safety issue is whether the installation will feed electricity back into the power line. If a lineman has to "disconnect" power to do repairs a couple streets over, and PV installations are keeping the power line energized and he doesn't know about it, it will be a safety hazard....
But, mostly, I think it is all the wind,hurricanes, and tornadoes making loose shingles, tiles, signs, panels fly about decapitating people..... and ruining their flower beds.
Andy in Eureka, Texas (south of Dallas)
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Andy writes: No, I didn't construct the panels myself. I used 22 watt panels of amorphous silicon that sold for about $125 USD each. In Dallas there is about 5.5 hours of "full sun" per day, which means that each panel could produce 5.5 x 22 121 watt-hours per day, on the average. That,per panel, is about one cents worth of electricity, if taken from the grid.... Hence, it would take 12500 days, (34 years), to recover just the cost of the panels... and that doesn't include shipping, batteries, inverter, wiring, maintenance... etc..... AND that assumes the array is "tracked" instead of in a fixed position......
And 125 UDS in the bank at 5% generates $6.25 USD in yearly interest, or about 2 cents a day, which would buy TWICE the electricity from the grid that the panel would generate.... There are no economies of scale in this, either....
Yet, it was fun to mess with... If I were on a sailboat, or in a remote cabin, it would be reasonable to use this to power a small radio and a light so I could stay up past sundown... But that isn't a lifestyle that appeals to me.....
Forget about refrigeration, heat, or air conditioning......or cooking.....
I guess on a hike thru the wilderness, a small panel could be used to recharge a cell phone so one could call for help after being attacked by a bear.... or an irate wife..... :>)))
Andy in Eureka, Texas
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Last time I checked, plugging an accessory into a computer did not typically require an electrical permit. Nor does it require that the person doing the work do it in accordance with the NEC and that it pass inspection after the local electrical inspector looks at it. Nor does the computer situation involve working with lethal voltages, which, if not done correctly, could kill either the person doing the work or others.
See the difference?

Which is also wrong. There are lots of incentives and they vary from state to state. In places like NJ and CA, with all the incentives from federal, state and local, PV can be a sound financial decision for a homeowner in under 10 years.

Almost all of the solar installs in the US are not "off grid". In fact, they only work in conjunction with the grid. So, no need for the experiment and only a loon that currently has grid power available would dut there ties to the grid.
Which leads me to wonder how much you really know about solar at all.
I've never known anyone who has done this, and never cheated,

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wrote:

**** Last time I checked, anyone could hook a solar panel to a battery and an inverter..... most without reading the directions. Usually the voltages are the same as in a computer --- 120 AC is typically the highest.... What sort of ultra-high voltage PV array are you talking about..??

***** Nope... And, if you do, you are looking in the wrong direction.

RE: Financial advisability

**** So, if you like it, you should do it..... Someone who only looks at the "financial incentives" and doesn't understand the issue enough to do the electrical evaluation and tradeoffs themselves will probably end up going back to the grid...... But, I'm not going to change my lifestyle, which is quite comfortable, for a few dollars of "tax savings" ...... Good luck to those who do.

*** Ok. Since I pay about 10 cents per kwh for "on the grid" I hope those people who are trying to get rich by selling sunlight to the power companies have luck with their investment, which typically runs many tens of thousands of dollars. My electricity useage for the rest of my life won't cost as much as most PV installations.... Perhaps I am in the minority. Presently, for the last 10 years (which I keep records of) I use about $1700 worth of electricity a year, for a 3000 sq ft (approx) house with an irrigation pump to pump lake water to my garden..... That's the TOTAL for about 100 miles south of Dallas , Texas ... Statistically, I'll live another 15 years...... You do the math.

**** I know enough to know that it doesn't make sense for me to convert to it, even if I design and build my own system, which I am fully qualified to do......Actually, I have done it, but only on a small scale to see the feasibility .... It was fun...
I suggest that you have read a bunch of magazine articles put out by people who sell and/or install PV stuff, and you feel that you are somehow expert in the field..... Good luck with that... Tell us about your own personal experience with designing , building, and installing PV systems and we'll compare notes......And by designing, I'm talking about the component level... not plugging cards into connectors..... Been there, done that, got a bunch of patents on it.....
Andy in Eureka, licensed PE, GMDSS, GROL ,BS, MS, etc....
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Who said anything about an array being ultra-high voltage? We were discussing the feasibility of a person who stated he has very little experience working with electricty installing his own residential PV system. I said it has voltages that are potentially lethal to either the installer or others if not done correctly.
So then you make the asinine statement that installing a residential PV array is similar to plugging an accessory into a computer. Now maybe where you come from, that means playing with a 2 watt array and a 9v battery. But the systems that are being deployed in the rest of the country typically are not in that category. And I don't believe that is what Jim was talking about either.
One of the first replies was from John Grabowski, a real licensed electrician, who pointed out some of the many issues that apparently you and the idiot harry can't grasp. The PV system has to be installed to conform with the NEC. It needs a permit. It needs to be inspected. And it deals with 240V which, unlike adding a USB peripheral to a PC, can kill you. I can legally go over to my neighbors house and install a wireless network for his PC. I cannot do that with a PV array unless I'm a licensed electrician. And if I do PC work, the warranty on the $50 router is still valid. If I install a PV system as a DIY, I'll bet there's a good chance the warranty is kaput.
See the differences now?

Sigh. You really don't get it at all do you? Of all the systems I've seen installed around here, NONE are off the grid. Nor was there anything in Jim's post suggesting he was going off grid. These PV systems work in conjunction with the grid. Capiche?
As far as someone needing to be capable of doing the electrical evaluation and tradeoffs in order to understand the economics, that's just more nonsense.

And yet more nonsense. Who said anything about anyone changing their lifestyle for a few dollars of tax savings? You really don't know the first thing about PV at all. I know several people here who have the typical 6KW size systems installed and none have changed their lifestyle one bit. Nor did they need to understand the technical details of electricity to calculate and evaluate the payback.

You make the mistake of assuming what you happen to encounter in your own little world is entirely consistent with the rest of the world. In NJ, as in many other parts of the country with large polulations, the cost of electricity is signifcantly higher. It's around 18c kwh here. So that $1700 bill would be $3000 here. The cost of a residential PV array to support that bill would be about $50K here. There is a 30% federal tax credit, meaning you get $15K cut off your tax bill. NJ also has state incentives that can provide about another $10K rebate. That brings the system down to $25K.
Perhaps you've heard of this little issue with greenhouse gases? To reduce CO2 emissions the feds and various states have instituted measures to encourage utilities to use power from green sources. In NJ, the utilities are required to buy an increasing shard of their power from green sources and residential PV arrays meet that goal. For every 1000KWh of power your PV array produces, you get a certificate that the electric companies will then buy from you to meet that goal. That's right. Even though you may use all the power from the PV array over a year for your own usage, you still get the certificates, because it's reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Those certificates from the 6KW PV system are currently being bought by the electic companies here for several thousand dollars a year. So, you have a system that costs a net $25K, your $2000 electric bill is reduced to near zero, and you get $3000 in cash each year.
That's the math.
Oh, and you don't have to change your lifestyle one bit either.

You may be licensed, but I wouldn't let you anywhere near my house. You think you know a lot, but clearly don't
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The inverter can sense grid failure and will shut down or disconnect. The bad thing is that power companies for the most part buy back electricity at the wholesale rate which is about 1/3 or 1/4 of what we buy it from them.
Jimmie
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