Beginning new Array Construction

Beginning work on a DIY 32 panel Solar PV CANOPY installation

This 45 foot hay barn will gain a solar CANOPY extending from the South face just above the rain gutter.

This simple 45 foot hay barn on the East Side of Cincinnati is the location for a 32 panel PV SOLAR CANOPY.

With my help, the owner of this 32 horse boarding stable will erect a massive solar canopy that will cover about 80% of his electricity usage. It will include two Sunny Island battery powered inverters for off-grid backup capability.

This stable is located at the end of a long country road, and it seems he is always first to lose power and last to have it restored. Watering the horses is important to their health, and the backup system will keep trough heaters and well pumps operating when the weather is at its worst in terms of outdoor temperatures.

24 inch Auger on Bobcat makes DIY SOLAR hole digging easy!

This 24 inch auger accessory makes drilling the foundation holes an easy task

We were very lucky on this installation, since the property owner had a small bobcat and an augerattachment with a 24 inch bit. The array will measure 13 feet tall by 42 feet wide, which is more surface area than the wing of a regional jet!

This makes it doubly important to anchor the panel mounting structure to mother earth! The property owner is a bit of a scrounger, and he had a nice supply of 1/4 inch thick X 4 inch angle iron for the front row support legs. This will be capped by an S shaped steel beam across the front and rear row. Standard UNIRAC solarmount 160 inch rails will then carry the panels. Brackets attached to the barn vertical wall beams will carry the rear steel rail. Prevailing winds are directly from the south/southwest so the majority of wind loading will be in a downward direction. The steel angle iron and 24 inch concrete columns exceed the requirements needed to achieve the 90 MPH wind rating for the array. AND, the owner saved a bundle since he had the parts on hand!DIY SOLAR Hole

Why bother to take a picture of a hole in the ground? Depending on the jurisdiction and how it works in your area, you may need an inspection BEFORE your pour, so that hole depths can be validated, to assure safe anchoring of the ground mount array. In this case, the property is zoned AGRICULTURE, and inspections are not needed. But just to be safe we documented the depth of every hole. Paperwork can be a pain, but documenting your actions can be worth it’s weight in gold if problems crop up down the line somewhere. And, above all, if you are unsure of where you’re digging, CALL BEFORE YOU DIG. If you need them, GET PERMITS as well. They might be a bit of a hassle, but they are there for a reason – mostly to protect YOU from getting in trouble. Your solar array will be productive and last for MORE than 25 years, so take your time and do things RIGHT the first time!IMG_1826 So here is where we left the project yesterday.

Those blue forms for the concrete area 50 gallon polyethylene barrels that can be had for about 5 bucks apiece. Cut the ends out and they make forms that will last forever. metal posts and cross beams provide some stability for the steel angle beams that will form the front supports for the array. I’ll add more posts as the project moves along.

It IS January, and weather can always be an issue, but this DIY SOLAR enthusiast plans on seizing every opportunity to get this array completed an online as soon as possible to start reaping the benefits that PV solar can provide!!

Lightning Arrestors. Use them!

I’ve never discussed this, but these devices are cheap insurance (not really, but you get the idea…) against all kinds of problems that can come about as a result of electrical storms. I’ve used the powered type in the past, and have one installed currently, but I came across a totally passive version that uses no power, is self resetting, and if it does fail, it fails OPEN, so it won’t cause problems. Best of all, you can get them for 30 bucks on ebay, brand new, including shipping. Just search for “LA302R”.  It has 3 wires, and you simply install it in your electric box to a breaker connected to L1, L2 and Neutral. If you’re not an electrician, hire one to do this. It takes about 2 minutes. It takes longer to get the cover off your breaker box than it does to install one!!

Backup System finished at Little House

Magna Sine inverter and Rolls batteries. Whole house transfer switch also.

Off-grid installation complete at the Bunker!

Wow, it’s taken a while to get this posted, but I’ve got the grid-backup system completed at our little house (we fondly refer to it as THE BUNKER…). I was recently out there during a freak snow storm that dumped 5 inches of wet snow in about 2 hours, and when the power went out, there was just a slight flicker of the lighting as I was sitting at the computer checking my email. The UPS on the computer didn’t even get a chance to kick in! I excitedly went downstairs to the basement to check out the inverter, and sure enough, it was on line, quietly humming away, providing full power to the main electric breaker box for everything that was presently on in the house. The Magnum MS-PAE 4024 inverter can provide about 4,000 watts of continuous power until the batteries discharge 80% of their capacity. Since the house normally consumes only about 500 watts (average) power, this represents about 20 hours of run time. Fortunately, when the backup system is in operation, the solar PV system can “back feed” through the breaker box and provide the power the house needs as well as re-charge the batteries, so this setup can run pretty much indefinitely, as long as there is a few hours of sun each day. Even on a cloudy day, the 2.4KW (Twelve 220 watt panels) solar array provides about 500 watts, so that extends the capacity of the system pretty well.


Home Brewed Genset simulator for transfer switch activation

In order to make the TRANSFER SWITCH operate, I had to build my own little GENSET SIMULATOR. It connects to the output of the backup inverter and provides the necessary voltage and control signal to the transfer switch to make it kick over when the power goes out. These TRANFER SWITCHES are designed to normally work with a gas or diesel GENERATOR SET, as they are called.

It took a little studying and research, but I figured out how to SIMULATE the voltage and signals that normally come from a GENERATOR SET that would connect to a WHOLE HOUSE TRANSFER SWTICH on the V+, GROUND, and PIN 23. These are the 3 wires that are standard on any gas or diesel generator. Since I’m using an electronic inverter (Magnum MS-PAE 4024), such signals were not available, so I came up with a little box that has 2 relays in it. One is standard and the other is a 5 second delay unit so the system won’t “chatter” if power drops in/out rapidly. If you’d like the details on how to build one, I’ll be glad to send you a schematic. Just drop me a line at:

back up system Battery Bank

ROLLS 520 AH 6 volt batteries.








These are the batteries I chose. Since I’m on a tight budget, I chose the best bang-for-the-buck, and it ended up being the Rolls 6 volt 520AH model. I splurged on the funky looking RECOMBINATION CAPS, rather than the normal vented caps that come with the batteries. By installing the RECOMBINATION CAPS, the hydrogen gas generated during charging is sealed inside the battery 99%, and the battery loses MUCH LESS liquid over time than a VENTED battery would. A box and vent fan are still required for safety though, and I will add this to complete the project very soon. Without these special caps, in just 30 seconds of charging at 90 amps, the hydrogen gas coming from the batteries would reach 4% concentration and become highly explosive, so this is nothing to fool around with! VENT YOUR BATTERY BANK TO THE OUTDOORS!

This is a good time to be shopping for solar panels

Check out this 1 page report regarding current market interest in solar panels. Solar Panel Market Survey It shows the interest falling off slightly for this time of year, but it mentions that China is working to provide buyers with incentives (read that to be even better pricing!!). Just thought I’d share this with my followers. Now is a great time to buy panels. 235 to 245 watt mono and poly panels are selling between .80 and .90/watt in pallet quantities. Pallets usually hold between 24 and 29 panels, depending on supplier and brand of panel. Sellers don’t like to “break” pallets, since they don’t have a good way to store or keep track of loose panels in their warehouses. You can always sell extra panels (at a markup!!) on Craigs list, or partner with a neighbor and split the shipping costs. Shipping (truck freight) can run anywhere from $200 to $450, so don’t be afraid to ask for a BETTER DEAL on freight when you are making a purchase!

EERE Residential PV Inspector training

Just finished (and passed) the new EERE Residential PV Solar inspector training program. It’s FREE, for now, at and it’s very educational. It covers every aspect of a residential solar install and not only instructs on the backing materials, but offers a chapter by chapter self assessment (test) to see if you learned what they were trying to teach! All but ONE chapter was a breeze for me, and the tough chapter was on equipment. I think the questions/answers could be a little more clear in this chapter, but HEY, this is a BRAND NEW TRAINING AID, and I recommend that ALL installers take it and PASS it, just for the sheer value of knowledge!!

Mother Earth News Fair 2012 Solar Presentation

These are the slides that backed up my solar presentation at this year’s MEN Fair in 7 Springs, PA last weekend. There’s some text in the basic solar section, but they’re mostly slides. Primarily examples of things you’ll need to do/file/apply for if you are contemplating a DIY solar project. All the things I help out with if you sign up as a DIY solar client!! Also includes some great pictures of a variety of ground mount systems that I researched 2 weeks ago while attending the Solar Power International trade show in Orlando Florida. Please feel free to download and pass this around. No problems with that at all…
Mother Earth News Fair 2012 presentation

Working on a 10/12 pitch asphalt shingle roof

steep 10/12 pitch roof

Time and Patience needed when working a steep roof like this!

Rich's climbing skills were priceless during the initial stages of the installation

Rich Kappel helping with his solar installation

Oh my goodness!!! The pictures looked like a nice easy 6/12. When I got up on the roof I IMMEDIATELY realized it was more like 10/12. That’s JUST SHY OF 45 DEGREE SLOPE! Almost perfect for our 39 degree latitude in the Cincinnati area, but NOT MUCH FUN to get started.

We set 90 feet each with two 3 1/2 inch lag bolts and a 3 inch spacer (Unirac-I product) and that took from 8AM till 1:30 PM. The feet made navigating the roof much easier, since there were at least some footholds to stop from sliding. Of course, I had my OHSA approved harness and rope line on. It was like cliff climbing!! We managed to get two panels in two rows on a small shade room addition mounted as an instruction area before having all the helpers tackle the 10/12 pitch roof!!

I wasn’t about to go up/down any more than I needed to, so I didn’t get any pictures today, but I’ll be back to finish the job tomorrow, and I’ll come home with some spectacular pics to add to this section!!

17 panels on the 10/12 pitch; one row of five, one row of seven, and the bottom row is five in landscape style to fit the trapezoidal roof section. One row of five panels on each side of a 3/12 pitch shade room roof facing north south, but still exposed to LOTS of sun.

NOT A TREE BLOCKING THE SUN FROM ANY DIRECTION!! This guy will make MULTI-MEGAWATTS of solar power! See ya’ll tomorrow when I get back!

FInished installation 17 panels on main and 10 panels on sub roof. 6345 watts!

27 Renogy 235 watt panels provide 6345 watts of solar power

screen room roof panel installation

North/South roof??

Here’s a real time performance link to this site. Pictures to come tomorrow!

2012 Ohio SREC Pricing Average

Average Weighted Price for 2012 Solar SRECs in Ohio

Average Weighted Price for Ohio SRECs

If you’ve got your solar system up and running and are getting close to your first 1,000 KwHour mark – otherwise known as an SREC, here’s the latest average pricing from the GATS website. This is where you TRACK and RECORD your energy production on a month by month basis, and when you hit 1MW HOURs, you generate an SREC which you can then transfer to the BULLETIN BOARD where the folks who BUY SRECs look. You can set the price low or high – it’s up to you. Lower sells faster. Higher may never sell… kind of like playing poker…

Bottom line is that there is more SOLAR in Ohio now than ever before and the availability of SRECs is greater than the need, so you’ll have to think hard about how your price them – but thanks to tools on the EIS-GATS website, you can pull up the average for any period and make an INTELLIGENT decision about where to set your selling price!!

Finally, a ZERO Electric Bill!!

Zero Electric Bill by using DIY Solar

My first ZERO ELECTRIC BILL thanks to a DIY Solar installation!

I knew last month was pretty good for solar, but when I got my bill, it CONFIRMED it!! This is a real milestone for me. If you take a look at the attached copy of my bill, you’ll notice that it goes back and includes the amount from last April, before I had installed the 20 panel 4,320 watt system. Duke does not “pay” for the excess electricity I produce – but it DOES make my “NET METER” go backwards, for all practical purposes “banking” the extra energy I produce. Eventually, I’ll spin the digits the other way, either when I run my AC in July and August, or later in the fall when the sun-hours are much lower and the lights are on a much greater part of the day. My home is 1600 square feet, average insulation and construction with double pane windows. I’ve replaced all but a few of the light bulbs with CFL or LED types. We keep the thermostat around 68 in the winter and even lower at night when we’re sleeping, and we open the windows when the weather is nice. Just all PRACTICAL things to do to help conserve energy. I can show you how to do this on YOUR home for about $2.75/watt, including my consulting fee!! Drop me an email and lets get started on YOUR system tonight! There’s lots of summer sun coming our way and the temps are perfect for working on the roof right now!

DIY Solar Install getting great results

DIY Solar - March electric bill

March 2012 Electric Comparison from Duke Energy

I’ve been getting great results with the system I installed on our home in Newtown, Ohio. Lately it’s been pretty cool and the days are getting longer. My 20 panel system generates a maximum of 4.3 kilowatts of power and the days are now long enough to pass 30KW Hours in a single day! Sometimes when LENTICULAR clouds go over and CONCENTRATE the sun’s energy, the panels have gone as high as 4,500 watts! No matter how you slice it though, the solar is doing it’s job nicely, as you can see from the info sheet that the power comnpany sent out… it’s funny, the paragraph below the one shown says “you can STILL lower your bill farther!” I don’t think that’s possible!!