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Can Solar Panels Really Be Do-it-Yourself?

| Tuesday December 15th, 2009 | 11 Comments
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from USA Today

Following in the footsteps of Home Depot, Sam’s Club, and Costco, Lowes is bringing renewable energy to the masses. As of last Thursday, twenty-one California stores now offer ready-to-install 175 watt solar panels, provided by Akeena Solar of Silicon Valley.

The announcement, which drove Akeena stock up nearly 54 percent, adds to a growing trend to give consumers the ability to install their own PV (and even wind turbines), slicing off the cost of installation.

But whether solar power is really something that can be set-up by a weekend warrior wielding a hammer and a ladder is still up for debate. Sub-par installations by “experienced” solar contractors already weigh on the reputation of the industry. The possibility of thousands of flubbed home DIY systems could worsen that problem. 

Just Add Sun

Unlike other panels now sold retail, the Andalay AC panels have built in power inverters. Photovoltaics produce DC current, but homes run on AC, requiring an inverter, which can be a tricky piece of hardware for your typical do-it-yourselfer. The Andalay AC panels also have integrated racking, wiring and grounding — reducing the overall parts count by 80 percent, according to an Akeena press release.

From the release:

“The PC revolution in the computer industry occurred when new technology made PCs easy to use and affordable,” said Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Akeena Solar. “Likewise, with panels becoming plug-and-play appliances, the solar revolution has started. The availability of solar panels in Lowe’s stores makes it easy for homeowners to go solar and is a big step toward getting solar on every sunny rooftop.”

Still Not Cheap or Easy

A typical home requires about 5,000 watts of solar power to break-even on power usage, or about 29 Andalay AC panels. At $893 a pop, that’s $25,514 worth of PV. Of course, that’s before government rebates and other incentives, which can shave more than 50 percent off the cost. Akeena claims a household that pays 44 cents per kilowatt hour can save $132 a year per panel, according to the WSJ. For homes using less electricity, however, returns on this investment are much longer.

But mounting the panels is not the only hurdle to the ambitious eco-friendly DIYer: net electrical output from panels can vary greatly depending on the angle of the roof, shading, and other factors. Attaching the array to a household grid could require an electrician. Oh, and the panels are about 40 pounds each, which is a lot of extra weight on a roof.

It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not like adding a new coat of paint, either. Which may be why Akeena itself describes prospective installers as “electricians, HVAC contractors and experienced do-it-yourselfers.”


▼▼▼      11 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.empire-solar.com/ Richard

    I'm sure they could do something about the pricing.

  • kfkity

    tyrututyutiuiy Yeah … Sure XD gfghfghofjgiosjgioasgiojriohjaiorhjairhjafhfjerh

  • thstytysty

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  • Todd

    Nowhere have I seen mention of rebate an interconnection paperwork, let alone permitting, which is required for interconnection. The Utilities won't interconnect a solar installation, until they get a copy of a final approved building permit. Also, some homes already have a time of use 'digital' meter and any excess production being fed to the grid will count as additional consumption (e.g BIGGER BILL) without a new bidirectional digital meter installed by the utility. Orientation, shading, over-spanned rafters and a host of other issues also make a good DIY installation difficult to achieve.

    • Gary

      Idiot ! It'll turn the meter backwards with both types… the utility company just can't count how much you are generating with the old meter. Also they can't add to your service charge because they won't even know it's there, unless you actually turn it backwards for the month's tally. Common sense and a little reading about the subject will overcome this naysayer.

  • a1servpro

    Can Solar Panels Really Be Do-it-Yourself? Yes, I know alot of people doing it. It works fine, just get a ebook or training guide on installing solar panels. learn more.. http://myhighqualityproducts.blogspot.com

  • solar panels for sale

    This is a great push for solar panels and green energy and prices will continue to fall due to competition. For those who don't want to spend this much money, you an always build your own.

  • Pingback: Can Solar Panels Really Be Do-it-Yourself? |Triple Pundit | Future of Solar Panels()

  • Kelly Fuller

    Renewable energy can be perceived as an expensive option. However with advancing technologies and demand, prices are lowering rapidly and the long term savings are not to be ignored. Many local governments are also offering incentives for those who choose to go with solar or wind energy. This can alter the estimated cost and is a huge advantage. Build your own solar and wind energy system, understanding and Installing your own solar and wind energy system. Learn more…

  • a1servpro

    The United States House of Representatives has passed an Energy Bill requiring utility companies to produce 15 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar power by 2020. The Bill passed in the House on a 241-172 vote, despite strong opposition from electric utility companies and the White House, which has threatened to veto the measure. Twenty six Republicans voted in favor and nine Democrats opposed the bill. A senior analyst for Lazard Capital Markets described the bill as “a significant positive step towards creating a cohesive energy policy.” The renewable electricity standard applies only to investor-owned utilities and exempts rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the state of Hawaii from the mandate. The bill also calls for stronger energy efficiency standards for appliances and lighting and incentives for building more energy-efficient buildings. The bill bans the sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs by 2012 and requires that all bulbs be 300% more efficient than today’s ordinary bulbs by 2020. The bill also includes a range of loan guarantees, federal grants and tax breaks for alternative energy programs. Read more…. http://myhighqualityproducts.blogspot.com

  • http://www.solarpower4home.net/ solar power for home

    Interesting stuff. Too bad she passed, great to hear those old stories!

  • http://www.solarpower4home.net/ solar power for home

    Interesting stuff. Too bad she passed, great to hear those old stories!