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A book for someone who's actually going to install a solar PV system
on January 6, 2012
I'm coming at this as a homeowner and generally handy person who's up for a bit of a challenge, wanting to install my own PV system on the roof of my Southern California home. There seem to be a lot of books on solar power that are just kind of informational and theoretical and don't really to tell you how to actually plan & install a system in a hands-on practical way. This is one of the few that actually aims to do that.
Looking at a finished PV system sitting on someone's roof, it is kind of deceptively simple. And the nuts and bolts of installation are not that hard, if you can do electrical work, it's not that different from any other kind of electrical equipment installation. BUT. The planning and understanding the components is really quite a challenge. The equipment has very unique properties. You have to analyze your electrical needs, survey the site and it's solar potential, understand the impact of the daily and seasonal workings of the sun and weather, figure out if you want batteries and how much battery power you need, and understand the main components, the solar panels themselves, the charge controller, the inverter, and the circuits and safety provisions. Sizing all the components. Permitting and nuts and bolts hardware installation. The book covers all of this, for the most part, in an organized, disciplined, and reasonably thorough manner.
In fact, the book seems to have even higher goals than mine, which is just to plan, install, and manage my own home system. This book is also overtly aimed at those interested in becoming a professional PV installer. You'd be pretty well grounded in that goal having thoroughly absorbed this book, along with some experience actually installing some systems, I think.
Is it perfect? No. For one thing, it's a "For Dummies" book so the introduction and organization are, frankly, kind of ridiculously repetitive. He tells us what he's going to tell us about 7 times - not exaggerating - before he actually starts the telling. And then at the start of each chapter, he tells you what he's gonna tell you another two or three times for good measure. Tiresome. This book is not really for dummies wanting to get a little basic information. True dummies, I think, are not going to be installing their own PV systems. It's for people with some ability who want to become experts.
There are a few things that could simplify things for a lot of people. Yes, it's good and necessary to be able to analyze someone's electrical needs by going around to each appliance and light and electrical load and checking it's wattage and the owner's usage patterns. But there's an easier and even more accurate way that most solar pros make use of, which is to simply check the past electrical bills for average daily, monthly and seasonal energy consumption. That's not an estimation, that's hard data. And you're gonna want to do this even after you do a load analysis just to double check your work. Sure, newly constructed buildings won't have past electric bills. But a lot of cases certainly will. But absolutely no mention of this tactic is made in the section on load analysis. Really odd.
Next, I would have liked to see some representative, carefully chosen, very specific examples of actual completed solar installations to illustrate in concrete terms the main types of installations (grid direct, stand-alone battery, and grid-connected with battery back-up.) How they were sized. The specific components used. Photos of the installations. That would have been immensely helpful in seeing how all the separate steps are brought together to a completed whole. There's nothing like that. This leaves all the separate chapters on various stages of the planning and execution seeming still theoretical and somewhat abstract.
There's not a single actual photo in this book. The diagrams and charts are fairly good. But not enough.
On balance, this is still a very good book with most of the critical theory and information in one place that you are absolutely going to need to do a proper PV installation. Are you really going to be ready to immediately plan and build a PV system? Probably not quite. But you'll have a very thorough grasp of what all the considerations are.