Many folks are turning to solar as a way to increase their household monthly cash flow often times by purchasing home solar kits. By lowering their utility bills and controlling costs families have more money to spend. Good for them, good for the local economy. Like all products and programs that become popular, there are those who would take advantage of people’s trusting nature.
Researching the internet last week I came upon a popular solar newsletter that I have sourced on occasion. There was a new paid advertisement banner on the page that caught my eye. When I opened the ad, I was surprised to find a national discount internet company had an ad for a solar PV kit that headlined “Power your home when the grid goes down”. Ok what’s the big deal? The solar kit they were offering for sale had no battery backup.
This solar kit has no batteries so it will not work off-grid. This solar kit will not monitor your utility 24/7, unless you count when it goes down when your grid goes down. 24 months solar panel warranty? Mainstream solar companies warranty their products for 20 – 25 years, not 24 months. Made in the USA? Well the solar kit may be assembled in the USA, but the solar cells came from overseas.
A grid-tied solar kit (system), unless it is hooked up illegally or improperly, will go down when the utility power goes down. There is a very good reason for that, it is called islanding. Islanding is a condition of a local solar power distributed generator (IE: solar panels) continuing to power a home even though the power from the local utility company is no longer hot. What happens is the electricity the solar system produces, pushes electricity back out on the grid in your neighborhood. Imagine a utility company lineman rolling up to the corner expecting the power to be down. Whap!
Solar kit grid-tied inverters are engineered to cut off the power from the solar panels when the utility goes down. If you buy a solar kit that is grid-tied, imagine your surprise when you have no power when you were told you would. It’s possible to have a solar system kit wired separately from the grid through an inverter and batteries. They do not need to be tied to the grid to function. These are call off-grid solar kits. The solar panels may be wired in separately from the grid power through an inverter or charge controller, storing the electricity in a battery bank and thus be autonomous. It’s also possible to have a stand-alone system to certain outlets only through an inverter, then the power can go off at will, and you will still retain your solar electricity. But neither of these scenarios is what the company was advertising in regards to its solar kits.
So why don’t more consumers opt for an off-grid solar kit? Incentives are offered as a win-win for the power company to level out their peak demand so they have to buy less power outside their grid which costs the utility companies millions in negative cash flow.
If you are thinking about purchasing a solar kit and install most of it yourself, then here are a few tips. Don’t buy your solar kit from the local big box store but rather from a licensed experienced solar company. Who is going to give you advice on installing your solar kit, the 19-year-old working at the local big box hardware store? If you can fix your roof or install a window in your home, you probably have the skills needed to install a solar kit. Do yourself a solid and only buy from experienced solar companies that specialize in solar kits.
Follow the rules, get a permit. Without a permit, your solar kit would be illegally installed: your warranties on your solar kit are no good, your homeowners’ insurance is voided if anything leaks, it is unlikely you will never receive the solar rebate and you will have to take the solar system kit down if you ever re-sell your house.
Also, for safety reasons, have a LICENSED electrician do your grid connection and check all your wiring. Micro inverters make solar kits easier these days, but you still need be careful as you are working with electricity and will either have to attach you’re solar kit to your roof, or buy and install a ground mount solar kit.