Why Do-It-Yourself Solar?
Although ideally everyone would live in a state with strong solar policies and a robust market, this is unfortunately not the case for many Americans. Implementing a DIY system can be a way for you to not only benefit from solar, but to also help jumpstart a movement for better solar policies in your community.
A DIY solar project can help you:
Save money on going solar.
- By purchasing components online or wholesale, as well as installing the system yourself, you may be able to save significantly on the cost of a project. This can make up for the lack of state incentives, SRECs, or other rebates, and may make a going solar a financially viable option. DIY approaches where you install a number of systems at once as a group can also help bring down costs. Even if you don’t work with solar professionals—you may already have plumbers, roofers, electricians and carpenters in your community with skills to exchange and barter.
Build interest in solar within your community.
- Many people often dismiss solar or renewable energy technologies as “out there” or something that only wealthy environmentalists would have. By developing and sharing a project in your community, you are demonstrating that solar is possible anywhere. You’re helping to shift people’s perceptions of solar energy from something that is “out there” to a tangible technology that is “here and now,” and that anyone can benefit from.
Demonstrate that solar is technically and economically feasible.
- In some areas, permitting and inspection officials are unfamiliar with solar systems. Building a system is a way to help your city or county become more familiar with the technology (and if you run into problems we can help you advocate to change the rules, too!).
Hands on projects are a great way to educate people about solar.
- Installign a system helps to people understand of the simple elegance of solar technology. It also builds excitement and helps provide a sense of what is possible. And, it is fun and empowering to produce your own electricity!
Using DIY solar projects to catalyze support for solar in your community
So, how do you help build interest in solar in your community? There are a number of ways or approaches you can take:
- Build a system and then invite others to come see it. This is probably the simplest approach, but it can have a huge impact. Just taking the time to show people your system, answer their questions, and demonstrate that solar is feasible can go a long way in helping people to see that solar can work for them. You could host an open house, or invite the press to see your system. Reporters are always looking for interesting stories in their community and a DIY solar project is a great photo op!
- Build a system and then help others do the same. Once you’ve gone through the process of installing your own solar, you can use your newfound knowledge to help other people build their own systems. You can advertise an open house or workshop, or hold a series of meetings where the group can walk through the process of going solar together.
Start a group or Meetup of people interested in building their own systems.As a group you can learn about the technology, review plans, order supplies, and construct the systems. It is easier to take on a project when you have the support of others throughout the process, and others may have skills or experience that will make the process easier. Members of your community, particularly plumbers, roofers, electricians and carpenters in your community may also have specialized skills to help with the project.
- Find others in your community that have already gone solar and start a state network. There’s a good chance that there already folks in your area that have gone solar and want to get to know other solar enthusiasts. Community Power Network can help you set up a state-wide listserve, connect with others, and build a solar movement in your state.
- Find a group that is organizing group DIY solar projects. There are also groups of solar enthusiasts all over the country that are building their own solar systems.
- CPN Partner Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative uses a barn-raising model where members help each other with the installation process. ew Hampshire neighbors and solar professionals work together to install panels as part of a neighborhood solar barn raising. Neighbors learn about the installation process and professionals meet future clients.
- CPN Partner Lakota Solar Enterprises offers kits that allow you to build your own solar air heater. Designed to produce hot air to supplement a home’s existing air heating system in the winter, the kits are a relatively inexpensive way to take advantage of solar energy without the higher upfront cost of a PV or solar water heating system.
How to DIY a solar system
DIYing a solar system can be a chance to learn more about how the technology works, experiment with a new design, or go solar for a fraction of the cost. There are hundreds of DIY solar project options, ranging from putting together a simple DIY solar charger to installing a compete system, or even building a solar panel from scratch!
Check out these resources on building a system. You can also view our DIY Solar Gallery on the American Solar Energy Society’s Facebook page.
An awesome website with hundreds of free project plans, tools and information to help you build renewable energy and conservation projects. The site includes background information on each technology, tools to calculate anticipated production, and resources for building a system.
Simply Solar is both an online forum and email listserve of people interested in building their own solar air, water, and electric systems. The listserve is a great place to go and ask questions as you’re getting started.
Not ready to build a system entirely from scratch? This article outlines some options for buying a completed system and then installing it yourself.
Looking for a slightly smaller project? This article provides an easy-to-follow guide for building a $4 charger for a set of reusable batteries or your cell phone.
This site gives an introduction to four different solar air heater models that you can build for your home.
Project Examples: Send us photos of your projects
We’re collecting photos of DIY projects from all over the country. Have you installed a system or invented a new use for a solar panel? Send us a photo with some information about your project and we’ll post it in our ASES Facebook page.
Frank Kelly of the Arkansas Renewable Energy Association put together a homemade trailer with a 1.08kW solar array to provide emergency mobile power disaster relief. Contact him if you are interested in learning more or purchasing the system.
Members of New Vision Renewable Energy build panels using old shower doors and small solar cells.
Greg Seaman installs a basic solar system to power a refrigerator and some electronics on his off-grid house.