An Introduction to PV Systems
The number of licensed or at least experienced PV system installers is rapidly growing. While PV systems were in the '70s and '80s a fairly involved home-owner project, modern systems are easy and quick to install. It is common to move from an empty roof-top to 40+ panels installed, wired, and selling back to the grid in less than 5 days with a crew of just a few people. An experienced contractor will also know all the right channels to navigate with the local power authority, making smooth the process of inspection and approval.
If you desire to have your system up and running hassle-free and guaranteed, it is best to work with a local installer.
What can you do yourself?
Physically, anyone with experience in home wiring and remodel can do just about everything. However, "experience" in electrical wiring is key as this we are dealing with fairly high-power circuits (20-60A at 110/220V).
Technically, all power utilities will require a permit and multi-stage inspections for a grid-tied system. This is due to concern for "islanding", the ability for a home PV system to push electricity back to the grid when the grid is down. This can potentially kill an electrician or lineman who is working on that house or even a near-by line during a power outage.
All modern Inverters have UL approved "anti-islanding" devices which instantly cut power out to the grid if power-in is lost. However, some power utilities require a separate, manual, external disconnect (breaker box) in addition to the Inverter's anti-islanding function. Check with your local power authority for details.
If you elect to do this yourself, be prepared for a semi-technical presentation to the power utility, including a "single-wire" diagram, a basic flow-chart which shows where and how you will introduce your PV system to the current system.
If a home owner is not experienced in remodel and electrical systems, hiring a local installer is a good way to go. Also, some rebate programs are only offered if installed by a licensed contractor.
Do-it-Yourself, One-stop Shop Reseller
Over the Sun highly recommends the family owned and operated The Solar Biz for those of you who prefer to design and install your own system. Patty, Tom, Boe, and Zach eat, live, and breathe solar PV systems, running both their family homes and office completely off-grid in Southern New Mexico. As a reseller for all the top name brands, they offer a good selection, intelligent design assistance, and great support.