Installing and Maintaining a Small Solar Electric System
Proper installation and maintenance of your small solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) system is essential for maximizing its energy performance.
When installing a PV system, there are many factors to consider:
Therefore, it's best to have a professional solar contractor install the system.
When choosing a contractor, ask yourself the following questions:
It is always a good idea to get more than one bid for the installation of your PV system. Make sure that all bids are made on the same basis. For example, a bid for a system mounted on the ground is usually very different from another bid for a rooftop system.
Similarly, some PV modules generate more electricity per square foot than others. Bids should clearly state the maximum generating capacity of the system—measured in watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). If possible, have the bids specify the system capacity in "AC watts" (alternating current) under a standard set of test conditions, or specify the output of the system at the inverter. Also request an estimate of the amount of energy that the system will produce on an annual basis (measured in kilowatt-hours).
Because the amount of energy depends on the amount of sunlight—which varies by location, season, and year to year—it's unlikely the contractor will quote a specific figure, but a range of 20% is realistic. Bids also should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty.
Your warranty is also a very important factor for evaluating bids. A solar rebate program may require that systems be covered by a two-year parts-and-labor written installation warranty, for example, in addition to any manufacturers' warranties on specific components (including inverter and module warranties). The installer may offer longer warranties. Also ask yourself, "Will this company stand behind the full-system warranty for the next two years?"
As with any mechanical or electrical appliance, PV systems require routine, periodic maintenance. System components may also need repair or replacement from time to time.
An efficient and long-lasting system will depend on a periodic check of system components and completion of any preventive maintenance as necessary. Talk with your system installer about routine and periodic maintenance. In the event of a system malfunction, effective troubleshooting and repair is necessary.
You may be able to carry out many routine inspections and maintenance tasks yourself. If, however, you are not the do-it-yourself type, or if there is a major problem with your system, you will need to locate a professional to do the work.