Setting up a Solar System – The Complete Guide

By setting up a solar system, you can harvest, store and use the energy of the sun continuously.

Is there a more poetic way of living than using the Sun as your only source of energy?  

Using a natural source of energy helps us to reconnect with nature and limits our impact on the ecosystem – Green technology for the win!

Thanks to technical advancement, this idealistic dream is now accessible to all with a solar system.

If you want to know everything about setting up a solar system, have a look below. I will answer your main questions and guide you step by step in the design of your solar system.

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Solar panels on a roof, the production source of your solar system

What is a solar system?

The primary function of a solar system is to produce electricity from the sun and convert it into usable electricity for our daily needs.

There are two types of solar system:

  • On-Grid: your system is connected to the local electricity grid
  • Off-Grid: you are totally autonomous, and don’t need connection from the electricity grid
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What do you need to set-up a solar system?

Have a look below at the equipments needed to produce, store and convert the energy of the sun in a solar system.

Solar Panels

Produce electricity from solar energy with your solar panels. They are one of the most robust energy production equipment with rated lifetime of 30 years. They are available in different power from 100 W to 500 W per unit.

320 W Monocrystaline solar panel

Solar Charge Controller

Track your solar production with a solar charger. Solar energy is natural, therefore variable during the day. We recommend a MPPT solar charger. This charger will work best at all time.

MPPT solar charger

Batteries

Store your energy in batteries. They are your key to autonomy. We recommend lithium batteries. Perfect for intermittent charging and durable with up to 10 years of life service.

Batteries will provide power during night and during cloudy days.

Lithium Iron Phosphate battery for solar system

Inverter

Convert the solar energy to power your home appliances. Solar panels and batteries work in DC (Direct Current) mode. The inverter will convert your DC into AC (Alternative Current), usable by all your appliances.

Choose a pure sine wave inverter, they are the most efficient.

48V DC to 220V AC Inverter – This model even combines solar charger and inverter

Electrical safety equipment

Like in every electrical system, you will need fuse box, breaker, switch, sensors and electrical wires. Get advice from your local electrician for the best wiring size.

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Can you install a solar system yourself? 

With only 4 main components you might think that you could DIY your solar system: you are right!

Schematic representation of an off-grid solar sytem

You will first start by designing your system and then move to the installation.

I have summarized below the 7 steps to set up your solar system:

Step 1: Evaluate your production potential

Your production source is the sun, its output strongly varies depending on your position on the planet.

You can now easily evaluate your production potential by entering your location on the global solar atlas.

This will help you to determine an optimal number of solar panels and batteries to cover your daily needs.

The sun at its zenith

Step 2: Evaluate your daily needs

We all have different consumption habits, have a look at your monthly consumption in kWh. You will find this information on the bills of your electricity provider.

Step 3: Design a system to your budget

One thing that we love about solar systems: they are extremely scalable!

If your budget is limited, start with a system that could cover 30% of your needs. Later on you will be able to easily upgrade by adding solar panels or batteries.

Don’t be shy to spend on the solar panels. They are cheaper than ever and will pay back in a short time. On the other side, limit your expenses on the batteries.

You can start with no batteries and you will be able to enjoy solar production only during the day.

Step 4: Install your solar panels

Solar panels are the production source of your system. They work best when exposed to full sun. Therefore, be sure that there is no local shade from trees or buildings.

Place them at the optimum tilting angle. Allow a 15 cm space between your panels and the roof for perfect cooling.

Installation of solar panel on a house

Step 5: Set-up your inverter, solar charger and battery

Connect your solar panels to the solar charger (MPPT). Link your batteries with the inverter. Make sue that your solar charger is directly connected to your battery and inverter.

Installation of a DC/AC solar inverter

The electricity generated by your solar panels will be transferred to the batteries and to the inverter. Your inverter will then get power directly from the solar panels or from the battery if the sun power is not enough.

Step 6: Connect your system

Most of the inverters are plug-and-play. After connecting your solar panels and battery to the inverter, all you have to do is to link the inverter to your domestic electric system.

Step 7: Regulate your electricity consumption to optimize your system

Optimization is the key to solar energy autonomy.

Even if your system is scaled for 2 to 3 days of autonomy, unpredictable natural events could happen and you might end up with no electricity to cover your needs after 3 or 4 dark days.

Don’t worry your panels still produce under bad weather.

An easy answer would be to increase the number of panels and batteries to cope with extreme climatic events. However, this is clearly not the best solution. Those climatic events might only happen 2 or 3 times per year, and the rest of the time you production will excess your needs.

Prefer to regulate your energy consumption during bad weather days. List your essential appliances:

  • Lights
  • USB charging
  • Refrigerator
  • Water pump…

and your non-essential:

  • Aircon
  • Electric Oven
  • Hair dryer
  • Vacuum cleaner…

Then evaluate the energy consumption of the essential ones. This will be the minimum requirements for your system. During low production days, turn off the non-essential equipment.

In the end, you might reduce your comfort for a few days per year, but your wallet will be happy as your investment in solar panels and batteries will be reduced!

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How much is a solar system for a house?

An off-grid solar system with full autonomy for a house will cost upon purchase 11’538 USD (excluding tax credit), taking into account the amortization time of the components, the cost is 969 USD/year.

We have summarized below the cost for a domestic solar system installed in California, based on the average consumption of a US household (10.7 kWh per day). You will be able to leave off the grid with this system, offering two days of autonomy.

Most of the larger scale inverters now offer built-in MPPT solar charger.

Equipment for solar systemBuying PriceYear of useReal yearly amortized cost
8*320W solar panels2’592 USD3067 USD
3*4.8kWh lithium battery7’797 USD10780 USD
3.5kW off-grid inverter all-in-one899 USD1090 USD
Electrical wire and safety equipment250 USD2013 USD
TOTAL11’538 USD 969 USD/year
With 22% Tax credit on panel10’968 USD 950 USD/year

Don’t forget that you are eligible to tax credit for your solar panels. This will further lower the cost of your system, curently there is a 22% credit in the US.

Let’s compare the annual cost of your system to grid electricity.

The average daily consumption of a US household is 10.7 kWh.

In California 1 kWh costs 0.2 USD. Therefore, over one year the electricity bill is 781 USD.

In the end your autonomous solar system will cost you 180 USD more per year compared to grid electricity.

However, our calculation does not take into account the ever increasing price of grid electricity (+60% in 10 years in California), and the decreasing price of the batteries (divided by 5 in 10 years!).

In the end, we could expect that within 5 years autonomous Off-grid solar systems will be cost competitive compared to grid electricity.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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