Astronergy, Customer Installations, DIY Solar, Install of the Month, IronRidge, SolarEdge

Install of the Month – April 2017

“You Don’t Have to Be An Electrical Engineer to DIY… But It Doesn’t Hurt” with Ned S.

Our April Install of the Month goes to Ned S.!

He installed his own grid-tied system in sunny Nevada, and did a beautiful job.

“Working with Ned was a joy,” shared Solar Tech Ian S. who helped him design his system, “He came to us with his electrical loads already calculated and a solid plan for where to mount his panels and inverter.” But this came as no surprise to Ian, since Ned is an electrical engineer.

Ned’s experience and problem-solving abilities became apparent very quickly, as Ned showed some impressive DIY ingenuity in his installation. Ned’s roof is flat tile, one of the more tricky kinds of roofs to install a solar array on. After some experimenting with the free trial Quick Mount tile hooks we sent him and finding they wouldn’t suit his roof, he found tile hooks that would work perfectly with the IronRidge racking system and hardware, and even came up with a plan to install them worthy of an electrical engineer. We’re grateful to Ned for teaching US a little something! After all, learning and growing is a big part of becoming the DIY solar experts: getting to hear great solutions for every solar project means we can help more people DIY.

His number one reason for installing his system was to zero out his power bill. And after assessing the current solar landscape, this analytical thinker was convinced this was the perfect time to get this safe investment with a quick ROI under way.

[Making sure Ned’s system was expandable] was no problem. It’s one of the huge draws of using the SolarEdge system’s power optimizer model: it’s cost effective and extremely adaptable, all the while increasing efficiency and output.
– Wholesale Solar Design Tech Ian S.

The second thing Ned was concerned about was being able to expand his system. He lives in Nevada after all, so he’s looking ahead to his electrical needs upping due to running AC in the summer months. He was also interested in keeping his system open to one day adding a backup power element in case of a long-term grid outage.  “This was no problem. It’s one of the huge draws of using the SolarEdge system’s power optimizer model: it’s cost effective and extremely adaptable, all the while increasing efficiency and output,” Ian pointed out, adding “And you’re able to monitor panels individually and pinpoint energy needs. And once you have your exact numbers, it’s easy to add to the system if your needs change down the line.” You can learn more about how SolarEdge works and how adaptable this kind of system is here on our website.

Check out Ned’s gallery above for some of his engineer-worthy tricks (including a simple way to get panels on your roof without the added expense of renting a boom lift!) and read his interview below for one of the best in-depth descriptions of installing a DIY grid-tied solar systems we’ve read.

Interview with Ned

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

I started working on installing my flat concrete tile solar roof mounts on March 8, 2017. I had to do a little experimenting on how to best remove the tiles to access my roof trusses below the plywood sheathing. It was rather slow going at first until I settled on a method that sped things up considerably. I found that, instead of attempting to slide the roof tiles up beneath the tiles above, it was easier to simply remove the tile where I needed to access the truss below. Sometimes I needed to remove two tiles in order to get full access to the truss below. I made myself a number of small wooden wedges that I could use to lift the surrounding tiles enough in order to allow me to slide the required tile(s) out. I also had to use my grinder to grind a slot in the tile so that the tile could lie back down flat on the roof surface where the SolarRoofHook extended out from beneath the tile. My trusses were located at two feet on center, and so it was fairly easy to measure from the first one, once I had its precise location. I mounted the attachments six feet apart, and staggered the second row up so as to avoid mounting all of the rails to the same trusses, so as not to load up the individual trusses more than was necessary. I attached the tile hooks using two 5/16” x 3 inch long heavy screws. I installed 40 attachment hooks – 5 hooks per row, 8 rows total. I mounted the first hook at one end of the rail row, and a second one at the far end of the row. I then stretched a string between the two end hooks and simply mounted the intervening three hooks in line with the string, making sure that the rows were parallel with the eave line. It took me about two days total to mount the 40 attachments. However, now that I know how to do it, it would probably only take me one day to do it. Also, I have a 3:12 pitch roof, which was pretty easy to work on, much steeper and it would be more difficult.

Once my roof attachments were in place, the IronRidge XR100 Rails were a piece of cake to install. It took me only about three hours to install all eight 28 ft. long rails. I made sure that they were all perfectly in line and square with each other. But again that was pretty easy considering the fact that it was simply a matter of sliding the individual rails along the mounts to square them up before tightening them into place.

My city recently raised our electric rates significantly, and I figured that it was time that I look at installing my own system to help offset some of the rate increase, and to help to lock in my savings into the future.
– Ned S.

I next attached the DC optimizers. That only took about five hours to mount them on the rack, plug them together, and secure the wiring, including the #6 Bare Copper ground wire.

I next ran the EMT thin wall conduit between the east and west facing arrays and down through the roof to the inverter down below. I mounted the inverter on the side of the garage. The AC disconnect was mounted next to the inverter and then I had to drill through the cinderblock wall of my garage and stub a piece of 3/4” EMT conduit from the disconnect into my 100 amp sub panel located inside the garage. I then had to run the #10 high voltage DC wiring from the panel arrays down to the inverter, and then the #8 copper wire from the inverter, through the AC disconnect, and then into the garage sub panel. This all took about eight hours.

At this point, I was pretty much ready to lift the panels up on my roof and secure them to the racking system. I had to wait until the upcoming Saturday until my son and three sons-in-law could give me a hand. I built a ramp by splicing some two-by-fours together to reach my eave, which was about 13 feet above my driveway below. I built the ramp out of some scrap two-by-fours and installed some light weight guide pieces on the sides of the ramp in order to keep the panels from sliding off of the ramp. We then had one person below who stood a panel up against the ramp and attached a couple of hooks into the panel side rails and then two guys pulled the panel up onto the roof with a rope. They made sure the panel was oriented in the right direction and then carried it over to me and my son where we then attached the panel to the IronRidge rails and plugged the module into the DC Optimizer. This operation took less than two hours to install all 32 panels.

I energized my system on the afternoon of March 23rd. All told, it took me a total of 15 days total from start to finish, working pretty much part time, and some days doing nothing at all. I needed to wait for some #6 Bare Copper wire, and a couple of circuit breakers to arrive from e-bay and a couple of MC4 connectors so I could finish up my DC run down to the inverter. I pretty much did everything myself, with the exception of lifting the panels up onto the roof, installing them and wiring them into the system. I had help from those four other family members to do this. I spent quite a bit of time watching YouTube videos about how to do all of the stuff.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I am actually an electrical engineer, but I have built a couple of houses and some other things in my spare time for myself, but that is not my day job.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

Figuring out the best way to install the roof attachments. However, as I explained, once I had come up with a system, things went pretty smoothly. The IronRidge racking system is great and the MC4 connectors on the DC Optimizers and on the modules make the wiring fairly fool-proof and pretty much “plug and play”.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I had to come up with my own roof attachments, because I have a concrete tile roof and that is a little different from most installations. Also, I needed to drill up through my soffit and through the garage roof, in order to run my 3/4” EMT conduit to bring the DC wires from the roof down to the inverter. This was a distance of about two feet. I needed a long drill bit with an extension, and a bit of luck to get the drill bit all of the way through to the top. But things went pretty well and turned out not to be much of an issue.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I enjoy do-it-yourself projects. As I indicated above I am an electrical engineer and this whole deal really fascinated me. I have never been a huge fan of solar, primarily because of its high cost, the fact that it didn’t really pencil out, and the problems with the older DC system where any shading on any of the panels could degrade the output of the entire array. But the price has come down considerably, and the reliability is much better than it was before, especially using these new DC Optimizers, linked with the SolarEdge inverter.

I had never been a huge fan of solar… But the price has come down considerably, and the reliability is much better than it was before, especially using these new DC Optimizers, linked with the SolarEdge inverter.
– Ned S.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

My city recently raised our electric rates rather significantly, and I figured that it was time that I look at installing my own system to help offset some of the rate increase, and to help to lock in my savings into the future. Also, I would eventually like to be able to expand my system to provide for the possibility that I may someday be confronted with a long term extended grid outage.

Components in Ned’s 9.6 kW Grid-Tied System

Questions about Ned’s install? Ask us in the comments below.