I just dropped the price of
the permaculture playing cards
for a wee bit.

 

 

uses include:
- infecting brains with permaculture
- convincing folks that you are not crazy
- gift giving obligations
- stocking stuffer
- gambling distraction
- an hour or two of reading
- find the needle
- find the 26 hidden names

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DIY Solar Installation, Permitting - Experiences? Feedback?  RSS feed

 
Zane Bridgers
Posts: 7
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Hello Folks -

We recently acquired 100 free 150w solar panels and accompanying inverters/shut-offs for a grid-tie system. We want to ground mount them on our 8 acre property. We don't have the money to hire a contractor at $22k and even quotes for just electrical were $14k.

I would like to do the work myself. I have the time, and am willing to do my homework, but I would be curious what other's experiences have been.

The structural stuff doesn't seem too daunting. I have a spec sheet for California ground-mount requirements for 105mph winds using 1.5" SCHED 40 steel pipe and have already drawn up those plans (who can have more stringent regulations than CA, right?) We need our plans approved by an architect to get a permit from the township, but again, this is doable.

The electrical is where it gets daunting. The panels are rated for 34.5Vmp 43.5Voc 4.35A. I've already planned out the panel arrangements - we plan to use 88 of the panels (two rows of 4x11 panels wired two series of 11 in parallel for 473Voc 9A per 22 panels. These four 473VDC lines would run to a j-box, solar breaker box in the nearby shed, then 100ft to the DC disconnect, inverters (Sunnyboy 550VDC 13A continuous), combiner, AC disconnect, meter and finally the main OCPD (breaker box). I won't get into grounds here. I feel I could figure out all the wiring until the meter, since everything can and will be dead up to that stage. At this point, before powering everything on, I could have an electrician/solar expert inspect my work and do the final hook-up.

This would involve me drawing up my own electrical plans, and even more challenging, finding an electrician willing to just do that final step. They all seem to want bigger contracts or nothing to do with solar.

For those of you who have been through this process, was it manageable? Worth it? Things to consider/avoid/re-consider? Even if you've only worked on DC off-grid systems, your experience is welcomed!
 
Nicola Marchi
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I can't say I've personally worked on a similar project, but I work at an architecture firm in the Bay Area (though I am not currently an architect) so I'm somewhat familiar with the legally required process.

And if you do grid tied, it better be legal.

Since you mentioned California I'm going to assume you live there. The California state laws that are applicable are in the 2013 California Electrical Code, found here: https://archive.org/details/gov.ca.bsc.2013.03

The code relevant to solar panels is only about 15 pages, and is Section 690.

If you don't live in California, your local jurisdiction will tell you the applicable electrical code, generally it's on the county or city building department website.

The process you generally go through to legally get something like this done is get a permit for the work at the local city or county building department, wait for them to review it, and issue you the permit. After which the work can be legally completed, and a final inspection takes place where everything is checked out to make sure it's up to code.

A contractor would generally be the one going through that process, and knowing all the local requirements and codes will make their job much quicker. If you're going to do it, expect it to take 2-4 times as long, assuming you have no previous building department experience.

You've got a fantastic opportunity, but here are a few hurdles you need to be aware of.

First off you need to find out exactly what your permit process will entail. You have enough acreage you're probably far enough out to not need approval through planning, but I don't know. The permit will probably cost you a few hundred dollars, not counting the couple hours you lose dealing with the local government. Inform yourself of everything before going through with it! A phone call can probably get most of your questions answered, but a visit to the local building department will probably serve you better. Most of the people in building departments are fairly nice if you're sociable. Make sure to note if they tell you that you need something signed/stamped. If you need an architect's stamp, getting the documents together will probably be a 1-5k , assuming you don't have building/site plans ready for them to print up and stamp.

Secondly, I'm not an electrician, but my understanding is that for DIY projects, the best, least risky option, would be to talk to the electrician who's going to do the work for you, and run the wiring for him/her. That will save you quite a few billed hours, depending on the scope of the project. But to satisfy legal requirements you want a licensed electrician to actually hook everything up. My understanding is that to connect anything to the electrical grid directly, you need a licensed electrician. Your jurisdiction might let you completely DIY the project under an owner builder type arrangement, but I have no experience with those codes. It is more likely they will allow you to DIY everything but the final hookup to the house and electrical grid. No matter who completes it, it will have to be built up to the California Electrical Code standards, or better depending on local codes, An inspector will come by to check. (Unless you're in one of the few areas of the state where codes aren't followed.)
 
Mike Kuhn
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Hi Zane: Newbie Here, but just wanted to say " 100 FREE SOLAR panels WOW" I just recently Installed 10- 120 watt solar panels on my work shop,, with a 880 amp batterie bank storage. Before I started I knew only the basics of electricity,but through the internet I got a great education. I can now run all my lights and tools ( except the large 220v tools) on the new solar system. And did all the work myself. I would recommend an mppt charge controller, or several in your case, as this would make your life much easier. I f you want to save some money, make your own combiner boxes, and crimp your own ends on the large gauge wires and even make your own lugs.
 
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