The solar power installation process

Once you decide that you want to install solar power at your home—and there are many compelling reasons to do so—you then need to take certain steps, including doing a feasibility assessment and making decisions about the size and type of system you need, as well as who will handle the installation for you. 

Is solar right for you?

Is solar energy feasible for you? First, you need to look at your property and ensure that you receive enough sun. In other words, if you live in a place where there is very little sun or your home is heavily shaded, you are unlikely to harvest enough solar energy to meet your needs.

Also, be sure to check with your local zoning board or council, because in some areas, solar panels are either not permitted or require special permits. The last thing you need is to install a system only to be instructed to remove it.

First steps 

Before you buy the components or a kit, or engage a contractor, there are a few things you need to do:

  • Perform an energy audit: how much energy you need dictates the size of the system you have to install. There are websites that help with this important task.
  • Determine where you can locate the panels. Can you install them on the roof of your home, or would you need a stand-alone bank of panels? The condition of some roofs means that they are not strong enough to take the weight of panels.
  • Do you want a system that is connected to the grid or an off-grid system?
  • Are you capable of installing the system yourself and calling in an electrician at the end, or do you need to use a solar energy installer or contractor?
  • A number of websites state that doing the installation yourself is always an option; however, it is complicated, and many people prefer to use the services of a professional.

Using a contractor

The website of the U.S. Department of Energy offers consumers useful tips about selecting a contractor:  

  • Is the installer licensed and/or certified? (You can check with the local controlling body.) If the installer is not, your installation may not comply with code or requirements.
  • How long has the company been installing solar energy systems?
  • Does the installer have experience installing the type of system you want (off-grid or grid-tied)? Off-grid systems are far more complex.
  • Check their reputation and whether or not they are in good standing.
  • Do they offer a warranty? This often affects the awarding of a rebate. 

The installation process

So, your property has passed the basic checks and you have appointed an installer. Together, you looked at your energy requirements and decided where the panels would be mounted. Based on this, the installer he has given you a quote that should include hardware, installation, connections, making sure your system is working as it should, sales tax and the necessary permit. 

As Solar Nation states, the installation of the solar panels themselves is not complex: frames are fixed to the roof, or a free-standing frame is built, and then the panels are attached to the frame. A roof installation takes a little longer on a flat roof, because the panels must be angled so as to optimally catch the sunlight; this angle is known as the “tilt.” 

The more complex—and the critical—aspect is the electrical work and wiring. For example, installing the inverter that collects the direct current (DC) electricity generated by the panels and converts it to alternating current (AC) for use in your home or the grid is no easy matter. Solar Panel Info recommends the use of a true sine wave inverter if you are incorporating a motor and, say, a water pump.

Finally, make sure you are given a full demonstration on how your system works and what maintenance activities you will need to carry out. 

There is a lot of information out there to guide you, including from groups such as Solar Action Alliance. Advocacy and governmental bodies will help you make good, informed decisions.