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Plugging the Sun into the Grid

2009 February 16

About the Author: Bill Clugston joined EPA’s Administrative Systems Division in 1991. Later, in 1994 he moved to the Region 10 Seattle office as a Computer Specialist in the Information Resources Unit. He develops software for Region 10 and occasionally develops an EPA national application.

Before joining EPA, I resolved to do my part on climate change by reducing my production of greenhouse gases. My family made all of the obvious changes – changing from incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lights, better weatherproofing, and changing to newer Energy Star appliances, but could we do more? I was familiar with photovoltaic power generation on my backyard observatory and my recreational vehicle, but neither of those systems reduced our household CO2 footprint. At this point, I investigated a grid-tie solar power system.

man on roof working on electrical fixturesmen raising solar panel to roofWhile experienced with electrical circuitry, I am not a certified electrician and I am definitely not qualified to connect power-generating devices into the power grid! Therefore, I went in search of a qualified solar installer. Fortunately, the time of my decision, coincided with the Solar Homes Tour making it convenient to ask other solar power system owners their recommendation for a solar installer. After selecting a solar contractor, he came by to do a site assessment to determine the location for the panels and to discuss my requirements. We decided on a 2-kilowatt power system composed of ten 200-watt panels and ten micro-inverters. The micro-inverters are a recent innovation in the solar power industry. The micro-inverters convert the direct current from the panels to 230-volt alternating current at each panel instead of tying all of the panels together into a single inverter. The one inverter per panel allows enhanced production when parts of the array are shaded and reduces the wire size required to carry power from the array to the power grid. System decisions completed, we paid the installer 80% down to order the system.

image of solar panels on roofBefore ordering the system, I removed one potential obstacle, our homeowners association. Our HOA turned out to be no obstacle at all! In fact, they were supportive of the project. The lesson learned here was send detailed information to your homeowners association. In the meantime, the system finally arrived in Washington State after surviving snowstorms on the way from California. System installation required two days and after a sign-off by the electrical inspector, the system was on the power grid. In case the readers of this post question how practical solar is in rainy Seattle, since system installation in late January 2009 total production is 25kwh of electricity and 42 pounds of carbon offset — not bad power production for a city known more for its mildew than its sunshine!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. Michael Parenti permalink
    February 16, 2009

    I am a graduate student at the University of Miami in an Environmental Health course. I understand that solar panels can function for upwards of 30 years and generate little waste for our planet today. Looking ahead to 2020, 2030, and beyond semiconductor, PV, and other toxic waste products produced by the retiring of older solar panels will increase. What are the EPA solar panel disposal techniques recommended today and is the EPA developing any solar panel disposal initiatives for the future like a recycling program? Thank you.

  2. David Zavaleta permalink
    February 16, 2009

    Bill, your system sounds great, but some price info would be nice. How much for labor and materials on your 2Kw system and what tax and other incentives did you find in your area? What’s your estimated payoff time and how do you calculate it?

  3. Bill Clugston permalink
    February 17, 2009

    Hi Michael,
    The good news about solar panels is most solar panel parts can be recycled. The aluminum frame, the glass in the panel, and the silicon in the solar cells can be re-used with existing technology. There is some lead in the cell traces and connections that would have to be reclaimed properly.

    The other good news is we really don’t know the true lifespan of a solar module. The first modules built by Bell Labs are still operating after more than 50 years!

    Bill Clugston

  4. Bill Clugston permalink
    February 17, 2009

    Hi David,
    The down-side of the blog is we need to keep the articles short, but, to answer your question, a 2kw system in Washington state costs $17,000 after incentives (not counting the Federal tax incentive). Sales tax is waived in Washington state on solar PV systems. Payoff is somewhere around 10 to 15 years depending on electric rates. Truthfully, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the payoff — my goal was to aggressively lower my carbon footprint.

    Bill Clugston

  5. Solar Kits For the Home permalink
    March 22, 2009

    What do you think about DIY kits such as the ones described here http://www.squidoo.com/Home-DIY-Solar-Kits

  6. Michael permalink
    April 7, 2009

    Wow! I didn’t expect that a 2kw system would cost around $17,000. What do you think about Energy2green? It says that I can make my own solar power system for $200 only. Should I give it a try?

  7. misterixas permalink
    April 25, 2009

    Michael, there are not only Energy2green that provide you full instruction and video guide how to make your own electricity for your house. And it’s not only about solar, it’s about wind electricity also. Read a comparison on http://www.kingdomofreviews.com/lps/goinggreen/ and make your decision.

  8. misterixas permalink
    April 25, 2009

    Hi. Yes, oppotunities are good . But let readers to introduce not only with PROS, but with CONS also. NOT every home is appropriate for green conversion. If you live in an condo for example you don’t have the surface area for solar panels. Also if you don’t take the time to choose the right learning tools then you’re just wasting your money. You even run the risk of creating problems for yourself when your real estate value drops due to the non-working solar panels that are covering the roof. Choosing the right tool to learn with is the most important step. Make a decision. Act now.

    misterixas
    http://www.kingdomofreviews.com/lps/goinggreeen

  9. Frank Roberts permalink
    August 2, 2009

    Congratulations on your energy savings, Bill. I have added solar panels to my house as well. I am qualified to build and install them. I had fun and saved a ton of money. I also posted how I did it on my blog which is located here: http://howtobuildyourownsolarpanel.x10hosting.com

  10. clarke permalink
    August 17, 2009

    Yeah!! Great tasks and good article. How much dollars you have spent to build this project? And what is the span time taken to finish your project? Mean while I have owned two solar panels by using the ‘Earth4Energy’ which I am using it for my fridge and lights in my house and I have built it own by using simple strides manual to build the solar panel, where I spent just $100 to construct it.

  11. Tom Reeve permalink
    September 22, 2009

    Going green has never been easier or cheaper ! I created my own solar panel for about $200! Took me a few tries to get to the $200 boundary but I did it. There are a lot of excellent DIY solar energy guides these days.

  12. Brian Walsh permalink
    November 28, 2009

    The government needs to support all forms of alternative energy use so we can all get off the grid as soon as possible.

  13. Mike permalink
    December 8, 2009

    Hi There,

    Great article. Were you always able to keep on budget implementing this system?? It seems what it cost you might be a bit much!

  14. Earle permalink
    December 18, 2009

    There might be those who are impressed with your accomplishment as I am. However they can’t fully convert to solar as yet one easy way to do so however is to start with outdoor solar lights or Solar deck lights. Learn more about the benefits of a low cost and easy way to ease into the use of solar lighting visit http://solardecklights.iblogger.org

  15. John Patterson permalink
    January 18, 2010

    This seems like a wonderful idea, but the expense might price people out. Through the history of solar power”>history of solar power technology has gotten better and I am wondering if using these DIY kits would be the way to go.

  16. Chris permalink
    October 28, 2010

    yeah Ive seen a few info sites, I think if you want to build a solar panel, or a solar panel system yourself, you should get a guide for one. My husband and I built one together, and we got our dvd instructional guy “DIY Power” here

    There are a lot to choose from but they can definitely help. I cant imagine building a solar panel without a guide with an expert. I think if everyone knew how easy it was with one of these guides, a lot more people would build them. gotta get the word out! lets work together and cut down on emissions, its a serious thing and some people still don’t believe in it!

  17. solar power system permalink
    January 18, 2011

    A guide will give you everything you need and in one place making it very easy to find essential information. After finding a guide you will need to find a place around your house that will best suit your new solar power system

  18. rvsolarsupply permalink
    January 31, 2011

    Solar Panels are typically installed on rooftops, building tops, or stand-alone facilities. It is vital to install your solar panel so that it gets the most direct sun exposure – you want to make sure your solar panel is maximally effective year round. To do this, there are several web-based solar resources to help you properly set up and install your solar panels by tracking the position of the sun in the sky over the course of the year.

  19. rvsolarsupply permalink
    January 31, 2011

    In this article we are going to discuss solar panel cost , which is really two different questions.

  20. rvsolarsupply permalink
    January 31, 2011

    Streamlined, interlocking solar roof tiles fit the exact shape of your roof.

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