Solar Panel and Inverter Installation Step-by-Step Guide Explained
The steps for installation of a solar panel are;
1). Fix Mounts for Panel Installation
2). Install Solar Panels
3). Connect Wires
4). Connect Panel to Inverter
5). Connect Inverter to Battery
6). Connect System to Grid
7). Start Inverter
The following article provides a guide on how to install a solar panel (and other components of the solar energy system) at home, or in any building or facility.
-Equipment and Accessories Needed
–Steps to take Before you Install Solar Panel and Inverter
–Steps to Install your Solar Panels and other Components
–About Maintenance of Solar Panels
-Some Important Tips
Before installing a solar panel, there are a number of issues to consider;
1). Where to purchase Solar Panels
Solar panels can be purchased from online stores and solar technology companies worldwide.
Things to consider when doing your research for your solar panel purchase;
-Your criteria for choosing which solar system to buy (cost, power needs, size)
-Warranties for the product(s)
-Discounts for installation of the solar panel and other components
2). To prevent voltage spikes, it is important to balance the AC and DC current produced by the solar system
The DC is produced directly from sunlight by the solar panels . It can be channeled to the battery using a converter .
The AC load, on the other hand, is produced by the inverter, which converts DC from the panel to AC for consumption.
3). You must determine the bearing strength of your roof
Provided you intend to mount the solar panels on a roof, it is necessary to assess the roof, in order to know if it is damaged. or weak.
When assessing the roof, you must consider the size and weight of the mountings, and the solar panel, because these are the two main components which are often mounted on the roof.
4). Consider the orientation of the roof
You must determine whether the roof to be used is flat or inclined in its orientation. If the roof is inclined, you must determine which direction it is facing, as this is the same direction which the solar panels are likely to face.
This is important because the orientation of the roof will affect the orientation of the solar panels, and the orientation of the solar panels determine how much sunlight will be captured, and how much energy will be produced.
The roof’s orientation also determines how firmly you can fix the mountings and panels on the roof. A more even or level roof surface generally provides a more secure platform to mount the solar panels.
5). Repair or Modify the roof if necessary
Based on your convenience, and the available options, it is possible to improve on the condition of a roof, to suit the need of your solar panels.
If the roof is unstable or faulty, a repair can be carried out by changing the affected parts. For an uneven surface, the underlying framework and surface covering can be modified.
6). Consider the weather conditions
The weather conditions of your area will affect how long the solar panels will last, and how well they will perform.
Although sunlight is available everywhere in the world, it may vary in intensity and duration. This may be either due to geographical location, season of the year, and so forth.
Considering the weather conditions of your area will help you include the necessary facilities and measures to help you get the best out of your solar panels.
For example, in areas that are prone to harsher conditions in general (like storms, hails and hurricanes) the solar panel and other components will need a firm and secure mounting, and must be inclined to face the direction with the highest sunlight intensity.
7). Choose between Grid or Off-Grid connection
Again, this often depends on the location.
If the building or facility is in a remote or under-developed location, the only option might be off-grid. This means that the solar panels will be the only source of electricity, as there will be no link to an electricity grid.
In a more developed or inhabited area, we may consider connecting to the grid, as this will provide support to the solar panel.
8). Determine the kind of grid connection to be used
Net-metering is the most common form of grid connection used in most solar-powered buildings when also connected to the grid.
In net-metering, the solar system is connected in such a way that excess electricity is sent back to the grid.
This excess electricity is usually compensated for in terms of the cost, as its value is then subtracted from the bill for power from the grid. Such connections are achieved using a bi-directional meter
In other cases, the solar system is connected so as to supplement the electricity from the grid, without any direct interaction between the two (i.e. the solar system and the grid). This arrangement is less economical.
9). Identify the required fees and permissions
Depending on the location, the scale and connection (gird or off-grid) of the solar system, fees may be charged. It is necessary to carry out a bit of research to identify these fees, in order to include them in your overall budget.
Also, it is important to estimate the likely cost of electricity, especially if you are using the net-metering connection.
For net-metering, the cost of electricity is equal to the cost of all electricity provided by the grid, minus the cost of all electricity sent to the grid by the solar system.
(Electricity cost of net-metering solar power connection = Cost of total power provided by the grid – Cost of power sent to the grid from the building/solar system)
Asides these costs, you must identify the needed permissions in your area, if any. Usually, such permissions concern the installation of your solar panels, and the connection to the grid.
10). Decide how to install the solar panel and other components
For your installation, it is best to seek the services of professionals.
However, you may wish to install the panels and the entire system yourself. In this case, you would need to gather as much helpful information as possible. It will also be good to contact any professional in a solar-related field to ask questions.
It is necessary to mention that there is a high risk of error if you decide to install your solar system on your own. Such errors may be hazardous, and may incur costs as well.
11). Assess the drainage efficiency of your roof
A poorly drained roof is harmful to solar panels. This is because it may lead to their early damage, and causes short-circuiting of the entire solar system.
If the roof does not drain water efficiently, it should be either repaired or modified as the case may be, before installing the solar panels and other components of the system.
12). Ensure to use protective equipment during installation
In solar installation, the main protection required include protection from external injury when handling the components; protection from fall when at height; protection from heat while mounting the solar panels; and protection from contact with electric current during the wiring and connection stage.
Protective equipment should ideally include gloves, boots, long-sleeved clothing, and eye protection. Also, metallic accessories and jewelry should be removed from the body while carrying out the installation.
13). Roof anchor
In the case of roof-mount solar installation, roof anchors are needed to prevent a fall. Safety harnesses can be attached to such anchors.
14). Consider the impact of weather conditions on safety
Especially when it involves roof-mount, we must ensure that precautions are taken to avoid any hazards that could be caused by the weather during solar installation.
In addition to roof anchors, a boom-lift, or scaffolding can be rented in order to increase the ease of climbing. Flat-sole boots will be helpful to grip tiles, metal or roof shingles .
15). Take precaution when mounting panels on the ground
For ground-mount installation, it is important to contact the relevant authorities before you commence any digging for your installation. This will ensure that you do not trespass or violate any regulations.
While working on the ground, care must be taken to avoid low-hanging, overhead power lines. Underground pipes must also be avoided at all costs.
For concrete mixing, protective equipment like gloves and respirator masks are important to avoid contact with the wet concrete and other harmful chemical substances.
16). Safety with heavy equipment
Solar panel installation often involves the use of heavy equipment.
When using such equipment, it is important to acquire the relevant training for their operation.
When lifting heavy components or equipment, you must ensure that you have stable footing. Also, plan the destination where the component/equipment will be dropped, before lifting.
In heavy winds, at least two people should carry any heavy and long component/equipment. This will help prevent accidents. If necessary, a crane or hoist should be used for lifting purposes.
17). Safety with electrical equipment and components
Removing all metallic accessories or jewelry in contact with the body is an essential step to ensure that you are safe while installing solar panels.
When handling wires without gloves, it is important to ensure that they are either disconnected insulated properly. A multi-meter is needed as well, to check terminators and conductors, so as to confirm that they have zero voltage, before they can be handled.
18). Carry out a well-organized unboxing
‘Unboxing’ or unpacking the components of the solar system is a step which you must take before installation can begin.
In order to ensure that the overall process of installation is conducted smoothly, it is important to be well-organized during the unboxing stage. Inspection at the point of purchase is also essential to ensure that there are no damaged or missing components . It will also help you to note any needed materials or components that are not part of the package and should be bought separately.
Unboxing should be carried out in an open and tidy space where the components can be inspected. It is recommendable to compare the delivered products with the shipment statement or list when verifying if everything paid for is complete.
Loose and smaller components can be placed in plastic sealable bags to avoid misplacing them. If any damaged components are found, they must be returned to the vendor at once. You may take photographs of the damaged equipment to provide proof when laying a complaint.
19). Grounding should be done effectively
It is important to ensure that the electrical components of your solar system are well grounded.
By grounding the electrical components, current flow will be controlled so as to reduce the risk of power surges, electric shock, and charge build-up. Grounding provides a pathway for charges to be conducted safely to the earth.
For grounding to be carried out, the metal parts of the solar system components must be connected to the ground. To ensure that the flow and resistance of current, relative to the earth, is uniform, grounding of all the met parts of the solar system must be bonded into a singular pathway.
The Equipment Grounding Conductor (EGC) is used to connect the metal grounding framework, and metallic parts of the solar system, to the earth.
The Grounding Electrode Conductor (GEC) is used to connect the EGC to the point of electricity distribution.
-Equipment and Accessories Needed
The basic equipment which you will need to purchase for installing a solar energy system include;
2). Solar Panel,
6). Electric Meter,
7). Mounting Frame,
8). Junction Boxes,
Types of Inverters you may Consider
The inverter is an important component of solar energy systems.
Inverters help to convert the current initially produced by the solar panels. into a more usable form of current that can supply power to a building or facility.
Electrical appliances generally need alternating current (AC) to function, while the initial form of electricity produced by solar panels is Direct Current (DC). The conversion from DC to AC is therefore carried out by inverters.
Types of inverters include;
The micro-inverter is designed to convert electric current (DC/AC) produced by the individual panels in a solar energy system.
Compared to other kinds of inverter, micro-inverters are not highly efficient and mat require a significant amount of maintenance. However, they are less complex, and easy as well as safe to install. In some cases, micro-inverters are installed to the solar panel at the point of manufacture.
Central inverters have the disadvantage of their relatively large size and noisy operation. However, they function in a similar manner to the string inverters, and mat simplify the DC/AC conversion process.
String inverters may be used in various settings. They have the advantage of being relatively efficient.
In contrast to micro-inverters, a string inverter converts DC to AC for all the solar panels in the system at once. In other words, it converts current for the entire panel assembly, as a single unit, rather than a group of individual panels.
String inverters are relatively cheap and quite common. The disadvantage of this operation is that one faulty panel is capable of affecting the entire system.
Steps to take Before you Install Solar Panel and Inverter
-Estimate the Cost of the System
The first important step is to estimate the cost involved.
While doing so, take note of the available subsidy program(s) in your area, if any. Subsidies in this case include price reductions offered by government to support the transition to renewable energy (such as the installation of solar panels).
To calculate cost, you must consider your energy needs, and the size of solar panels and other components which will be required in order to meet these needs.
-Calculate the Energy Need of the Building or Facility
The easiest way to calculate your energy needs or average rate of energy consumption, is by evaluating your electricity consumption history. This can be done through your electric bills per month.
You can also calculate your electricity consumption manually. To do this, simply;
a). Take note of the energy load of each of the appliances that your regularly use or plan to use in the building/facility. Note the average amount of time (per day, per month) during which you expect to use each of these appliances.
b). Multiply the average power load (watts or kilowatts) for each appliance, by the time (in hours) for which they might be used
c). Multiply the result by 30 to get the monthly power consumption for each appliance
d). Add the monthly power consumption values for all appliances, to get your total monthly energy need, for your building or facility
An example of energy calculation is given in the following table;
|Appliance||Unit(s)||Power (KW)||Operational duration (hours)||Total power demand (KWh)|
|Electric oven/hot plate||1||0.18||6||1.080|
It is needful to account for the potential increase in your energy requirements in the near future. To do this, add 30% of the current energy requirement to get the new value.
In our example, this will give us; (4.344 + 1.303) KWh = 5.647KWh
-Determine the Size of the Solar Panels and the Area required for Installation
After calculating the average energy consumption of your building or facility, you can determine the size of solar panel assembly that will be needed.
Two important quantities to help you with this estimation, are the average size of a typical solar panel, and the average power capacity of a typical solar panel.
The size of a solar panel used in residential buildings, is typically around 65 inches by 39 inches (5.4 feet by 3.25 feet) .
The power output or energy capacity of a typical solar panel lies between 250 and 400 Watts. This output value is affected by hours of sunlight exposure, intensity of sunlight, orientation and shading, among other factors .
To determine the size of the solar panel assembly, or the area to be occupied by the solar panels, start by using the following formula;
Size of solar panel assembly= Total energy consumption/Energy capacity of each solar PV panel
Using our available value for total energy consumption, and assuming 290W (290 Watts) to be the average capacity of each panel, we have; size of solar panel assembly= 5.647(KWh)/290×10^-3= 19.472
This calculation gives the number of solar panels that will be required. We can then multiply this value by the size of each solar panel, using this second formula;
Size of area occupied by solar panels= Size of one solar panel × Total number of solar panels
To know the total area that will be occupied by your solar energy system (including solar inverter and battery), you must determine the size of all components that are likely to be installed.
Having determined the size of the solar panel assembly, you can get an idea of the battery and inverter sizes based on the energy load of the system. Factors that determine the size of the inverter and battery include the energy capacity and efficiency.
-Determine the Energy Capacity (Size) of the Solar Inverter and Battery
The size (in terms of energy capacity) of the inverter must be at least 25-30% higher than the total energy consumption of the building or facility .
Battery size (in terms of energy capacity) is determined by considering the number of days or hour for which the battery power will be used.
-Decide Where to Install Solar Panels
If you have not yet decided where to install your solar panels, it is necessary to consider this choice carefully before you decide.
In general, solar panels may be installed on rooftops or as stand-alone units . The issues to consider for installing your solar panels are;
a). The size of the solar panels
b). The size of inverter and battery; how and where you wish to install them
c). The average weather condition of your area
d). Where are you likely to get the most sunlight?
The location where you install your solar panels, must be free of any present or potential future obstructions that may block out access to sunlight. It must also be protected from excessive moisture or any other unfavorable conditions.
-Decide Where to Install Solar Inverter and Battery
The most important installation which you should consider, is that of your solar panels.
However, your battery and inverter will ultimately affect where your panels will be installed, so they must be considered as well.
Because micro-inverters are attached to the panels, they do not have much need for installation. Other kinds of inverters must be installed where there is no excessive moisture, sunlight, or heat. They must also be installed where there will be access to proper ventilation and air circulation.
Steps to Install your Solar Panels and other Components
-Step 1: Fix the Mounts for Panel Installation
The mount is the basic foundational structure on which you must install your solar panels, and it provides sturdiness and firm support.
There are three (3) main types of solar mounts, which are the Pole, Flush/Roof, and Ground mounts. It is necessary to tilt the mount slightly so that the panel can face the direction of maximum solar intensity . Usually, this tilt lies between 18 and 36 degrees.
Factors to consider when installing solar panels include the size, suitability and inclination of the roof; location of the building or facility; and angle of incidence of sunlight. Other factors include the presence of obstructive features, among others.
For ground mounts, the installation process begins from digging the ground, pouring concrete and setting piers . The depth and width of the anchor holes which will be dug, depend on the size of the overall structure. You must also decide on the amount of concrete and pipe to be used to achieve good structural integrity for your solar panel mount.
Here are some tips to follow for the best outcomes when setting up a ground mount;
i). Make use of the necessary protective equipment such as gloves, when handling concrete. This will protect the skin from burns that may occur as a result of contact with wet concrete.
A respirator will be helpful as well, to protect the lungs from harmful gaseous and particulate matter which may be produced by the cement.
ii). Ensure that the location for the ground mount is level. An uneven ground will ultimately affect the stability and effectiveness of the solar energy system
iii). Clearly define the points for digging. This will depend on the size of your solar panel structure and the spacing of your piers
iv). Carry out an engineering survey to determine the nature of the underground soil before constructing your mount
The engineering survey will also assess the bearing capacity of the underground soil layers and will help to determine if there are any underground artifacts like pipelines or septic systems that you must avoid
As earlier stated, it is important to also inform the local authorities before embarking on solar panel mounting and installation. This will help you acquire the necessary permission for your project
v). Make sure everything you need (pipes, piers) for your mount construction, is available before mixing concrete
vi). When you have poured the concrete and set up the piers (which will be suspended in the concrete), ensure that you give enough time for the concrete to fully cure, before proceeding with the rest of the setup
It is usually important to make use of a temporary support structure like a lumber, to hold your piers in place while the concrete is curing (hardening)
vii). After setting up the mount for the basic foundation of your solar panel, racking rails must be incorporated into the mount framework. The racking rails serve as an underlying support on which the solar panels will rest directly
The racking rails must be spaced according to the design of the solar panel (size, slots for mounting). This will enable them to fit perfectly and provide firm support.
-Step 2: Install the Solar Panels
After setting up the mounting structure, the next step is to install the solar panels. To do this, simply place the solar modules on the mounting framework, and tighten the bolts and nuts in order to fasten the two components securely .
You must carefully consider the orientation (direction of inclination) of your solar panels. This orientation generally depends on your geographic location. In the Northern Hemisphere, solar panels should be oriented to face South. In the Southern Hemisphere, solar panels should face the North. In the equatorial regions, solar panels should be horizontal. These orientations represent the directions in which solar radiation (sunlight) has the highest intensity.
A way to achieve a high level of efficiency is by the use of a moveable mounting framework. This kind of mount is designed such that the inclination of the solar panels can be adjusted slightly at different times of the year (i.e.; summer, winter) to collect maximum amount of sunlight.
-Step 3: Connect Electrical Wires
Electrical connection or wiring of the solar energy system must be carried out in such a manner as to avoid rusting or sparking. This can be achieved by carefully selecting the wires to be used, as well as by deciding on the kind of connection that will be best for the system.
The two kinds of connection that can be used are series and parallel connections.
Series connection is usually applied when there is need for high voltage output. Typically, the current output of series connection is not affected, while the voltage output is increased.
In series connection, the positive terminals of the solar panels are connected to the negative terminals.
Parallel connection is applied when there is need for a high current output. Typically, a parallel solar panel connection produces high current while the voltage is unaffected.
In a parallel connection, the positive terminals of one solar panel are connected to the positive terminals of another solar panel. The same is done for negative terminals.
There are a number of factors to consider when planning and executing the wiring stage of your solar energy system installation project. They include;
i). The main activities involved in the electrical wiring are planning the wiring run, grounding the system, and installing a back-feed breaker in case of the need to connect to the utility grid
ii). It is important to plan your wiring run in an effective manner, before carrying out the wiring. This helps to ensure that errors are minimized
iii). The wire leads can be secured using wire clips. This will limit their movement, and ensure that the connection is done securely
-Step 4: Connect Panel to Solar Inverter
Of course, before you can connect your solar panel to the inverter, you must begin by mounting the inverter.
The mounting of solar inverter depends on the type and configuration of the solar system as a whole. Inverters can be mounted outdoors, indoors, on walls, or as a sub-structural part of a ground mount.
Regardless of the solar panel array connection (series or parallel), the same method is used to connect the solar panels to the inverter. In general, this method involves the use of a ‘string,’ which comprises of a negative and positive wire respectively (in electrical wiring, strings refer to an elaborate connection of electric terminals).
The negative terminal of the string (which represents the solar panel) is connected to the negative terminal of the inverter; and the positive terminal of the string is connected to the positive terminal of the inverter.
-Step 5: Connect Solar Inverter to Battery
We must begin by noting that the battery is not one of the essential components of the solar energy system. Rather, it functions as a supportive component, which provides backup to ensure that solar energy is provided even when there is no sunlight available.
Because sunlight is not available during the night hours, a battery is used to store solar energy during the day, to be used subsequently. Batteries are most needed for off-grid solar setups, that have no power support from the utility grid .
When connecting the battery to the solar inverter, it may be simply achieved by connecting the negative terminal of the battery to the negative terminal of the inverter, and the positive terminal of the battery to the positive terminal of the inverter.
As we have shown through this explanation, the battery is not usually connected to the solar panel directly, but rather to the inverter which has already been connected to the solar panel.
The reason for this is because the inverter ensures that the DC produced by the solar panel is converted to its more usable form (AC) before it is stored in the battery.
Inverters also help to ensure that the voltage fluctuations produced by the different solar modules which have been connected together, are stabilized and averaged, before being transmitted.
-Step 6: Connect System to the Electricity Grid
After the solar inverter and battery have been duly connected, it is necessary to connect the inverter to the utility grid.
Firstly, the inverter must be connected to the main power switch board or panel of the building. This panel may be connected to the grid using an output wire. A bi-electric meter is needed in such connections, as it helps to return excess power to the grid, thereby saving cost.
-Step 7: Start the Inverter
Staring the inverter signifies the last stage of the entire process of solar panel and energy system installation. As we have already mentioned, solar inverters help to convert the DC produced by the solar panels, to AC required by electrical appliances. Solar inverters are also often equipped with a digital display unit to show the rate of solar energy usage and conversion.
About Maintenance of Solar Panels
You must ensure that the installation of your solar energy system components is done in a proper manner. This is possible by using the information in this article, while seeking additional professional assistance (perhaps through consultation) for other more technical and case-specific details.
After the system has been installed, maintenance involves keeping the components clean and protected from moisture, heat, congestion and other harsh environmental conditions.
Another important measure is to ensure that you do not overload the system by using too many or too heavy appliances during operation. This means that you must bear in mind the maximum energy consumption of the system at all times.
In case of occasional faults and malfunctions, it may be necessary to seek the assistance of professionals. However, such faults will be minimized greatly if the system is installed and operated with caution.
This article has shown that the installation of solar energy systems (including solar panels, inverter, converter and battery) is a very important process that must be carried out with caution.
The main steps in solar panel/ energy system installation, are;
1). Step 1: Fix the Mounts for Panel Installation
2). Step 2: Install the Solar Panels
3). Step 3: Connect Electrical Wires
4). Step 4: Connect Panel to Solar Inverter
5). Step 5: Connect Solar Inverter to Battery
6). Step 6: Connect System to the Electricity Grid
7). Step 7: Start the Inverter
After installation, proper maintenance is required to keep the system in efficient and optimum working condition. This includes protection from moisture and heat, avoidance of overloading, monitoring and occasional servicing or technical checks, among others.
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