Solar Project – Introduction

Always wanted to build a solar array for the house, but  due to cheap electric in Florida, I could not  economically justify. Being the sunshine state one would think there would be incentives to “Go Solar”… There isn’t.  🙁

One day a friend called and told me that he found a system at a very reasonable price. Long story made short. I picked up a used system consisting of 36-230Watt 60 cell panels, all racking, wiring and a SMA Sunnyboy 7000kw grid tie inverter. The price was in the 25 cent per watt range. The system was only 7 years old and spent the last 5 in a workshop.

Quick check with FPL, the local power company, to see if I would be allowed to install a grid-tie system – GOOD TO GO!  Checked the county regs on installing – GOOD TO GO!  Purchased, then spent the next 6-8 months trying to find someone to create the diagrams needed for permitting.  Gave up and decided to do it myself.  Oh, the fun of learning cad programs.  The person that came up with the user interface was on crack.  Anyway, things were going well until I hit my 1st snag…

I discovered that over the years the location where I live has became a 150MPH wind rated area.  Meaning, just about anything you want to build needs to be able to handle 150MPH winds for some predetermined period of time.  Well hell, the racking I acquired was only rated at 120MPH on a good day.

After a week or so of Googling my fingers off I found racking for my ground mount from Snap-N-Rack.  Main reasons for going with them was (1) They had Florida Engineering certifications (2) Price and (3)  They have a really nice configuration tool that accessible online.

More to come…

Solar project – Design and Permitting

From the beginning that this was going to be a ground mounted system and not be mounted on my home or my barn.  Since my barn is about 200′ from the house and has 240v/70amp service to it from the home’s 200amp service panel, I decided to place the inverter in the barn and back feed from there.

Let me say this, I did not originally plan on this being a 100% DIY project.  I had reached out to numerous Solar contractors within 150 miles for engineering and pricing for ground mount, and design.  I understand they are in the business to sell complete systems, but they were @#(*&#*& useless!  If I had millions to build a system, I would not give one of them a freaking penny.  Hell, I even tried to pay them to install what I had.  So, “Screw’em, I’ll do it myself!” 

And so the adventure began…

I had all the engineering documents from Snap-N-Rack and used their configurator web application to layout the physical mounting for the array.

Now I had to find software to do the electrical design for the permit.  I’m a geek, techie and an major DYI’er, so I’m not totally unaware of electrical requirements, but I do not know the 2015 NEC codes and really didn’t want to learn them either.  So, famously said, “Nobody gots time for that!” 

My google-fu lead me to a site called solardesigntool.  At the time, and may still be, it was free for 30 days.  The site is amazing, I used the 30 days to learn how to design my system.  The owners of the site are VERY helpful and answered all my dumb ass questions.  The system worked perfectly with some minor issues.  (1) It was unable to do a complete 1 line drawing when feeding a sub-panel (the one in the barn) and (2) it did not have SNAP-N-RACK inventory information in the system.  Anyway, that was minor.  The data generated included all wiring gauges needed for compliance to NEC codes (2015? Maybe 2017?) I paid for an extra month just to show my support for the company.

The tool generated PDFs for permitting and also an autocad output of the 1 line drawing.  Using a free autocad like program, I was able to modify the drawing to include the sub-panel in the barn in the drawing.  Used acrobat pro to modify the PDFs to include the SNAP-N-RACK diagrams and engineering.

I must have gone over the permitting package that I was going to submit to the county 100 times.  Finally I said screw it and applied for the permit.  I did so on a Friday afternoon around 2-3pm.   Come Monday morning, I received an email that my permit was issued and I could some pick it up.  Holy shit, this just got real…

 

Solar project – Suppliers

After getting the permit, I needed to get moving.  Found a company in West Palm Beach called  Inverter Supply which would sell me the Snap-N-Rack ground mounting hardware at a reasonable price. Ordered everything from them with the exception of the end panel hold-down mounts.  I found those on Ebay for much cheaper.  Had everything in a week or so.  Was interesting watching the semi driver attempt to make a 999 point U-turn on the dirt road I live on.  I had told the dispatch to have the driver call me when he was at the end of my road and I would meet him with my trailer.  Wish I had a video.

Next was the rebar and 1 1/2″ galvanized pipe. Used a company named  Surplus Steel out of Orlando.  Excellent prices compared to the local steel outfits in my area.  They even deliver for only $10.  That was about 1000 lbs of pipe and rebar. 

Ordered PV cable from Wire and Cable Your Way. 

Used local electrical supply for the remaining wiring.  10AWG for the home run back to the inverter and 6AWG for grounding.  I had the 8AWG and 6AWG wire for the connections to the sub-panel and disconnect.

Ordered A/C disconnect panel from Amazon. Labels from PVLabels.com

More to come…