Best Practices for Solar

We often tell people that “solar is simple.”

And from the outside it is.  Solar panels go on your roof, there’s one or more inverters connected to your house, and voila you’re solar powered!

So why not go out and pay for a do-it-yourself kit off the internet, spend a week doing your own solar installation, and away you go?

The problem is that doing solar right is much more complicated than that. You have to understand and plan for shading, orientations, tilts, soiling, degradation, efficiency, voltage drops, voltage windows, power shaving, racking, building code, electrical code, permitting, wind loading, roof loading, material compatibility, and on and on and on…  And most of these factors will change depending on where you are performing your installation.

Below I’ve listed a few best practices that every installer or installation should adhere to. Of course if you know all of the rules you know when it’s appropriate to bend or break them, but I’ll have to cover that in another post.

Best Practices

  • Aesthetically pleasing array for the customer and the installer
  • Array edges are parallel to roof edges
  • Array is a “single plane” concealing fact that roofs are rarely flat and often have dips, droops, and peaks that can leave an array looking sloppy
  • Conceal conduit on the exterior of the building when possible
  • Travel in the attic and stay parallel to eaves, gutters, and trim
  • Keep balance of system components (inverters, disconnects, etc) tidy
  • Sometimes a customer is willing to do really horrendous things to their home to maximize production.  Remember you’re not just installing for your customer but for all of their neighbors and their friends that haven’t seen the technology in use yet
  • Design for the long-term
  • Check the manufacturer warranties of all your materials to make sure you are installing the right material for the right job.
  • Understand the lifetime of the materials you choose and their failure points
  • Use appropriate materials treated lumber is not a good rooftop racking solution
  • Actually read the installation instructions and know local building code to make sure that structurally your array will last for decades
  • Understand how homes are constructed so you know the implications of one installation method over another
  • Understand panel degradation and how it will affect system operation overtime; not just production but compatibility with inverters and incentives
  • Prepare for maintenance
  • While unlikely, there may come a time when you need to remove a panel or two to maintain or replace components underneath the array.  Leave yourself working room on the roof to work safely if you can.
  • Electrical code dictates how much wire can go into a conduit.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by maxing out the conduit during your installation. Up-sizing your conduit should only cost about another $0.10/ft and will save heart ache when you need to pull wire, add another string, add different wire to appease an inspector, or change technologies in the future
  • Don’t over reach when talking about the benefits of solar
  • We are still in the process of building an industry here not just individual companies.  By over-blowing the benefits we’re going to have customers that are angry about how solar over-promised and under-delivered.  Don’t do that.

This is by far an exhaustive list, and I’ll add more as they come to mind.  Anyone know of other great practices?