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September 21, 2014
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Do-it-yourself solar

The steep roof on this small studio building and the decision to orient the panels with their long sides horizontal made the installation a bit more complicated than many others.
Contributed photos

By Jack Barnett

Do-it-yourself (DIY) solar systems are starting to pop up across northeast Pennsylvania, after a series of free public forums hosted by the non-profit group Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS). SEEDS held a series of three workshops in April 2013, plus another session over two evenings in June this year. More than 40 people attended each session to learn how to self-install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on their homes. For decades, solar PV has been easiest way to generate your own electricity, supplementing the utility-supplied electricity and greatly reducing your home’s electric bills. But over the past six years the prices for PV panels have dropped nearly 80%, so solar is now affordable for many more people. And for those who are comfortable using wire-strippers and driving lag-bolts, while also climbing on a roof, it’s even more affordable by doing the installation yourself.

This year’s workshop was taught by Blair Buselli of Shekinah Solar and Buselli Plumbing Heating & Electric of Beach Lake, PA, a nationally certified solar installer and electrician licensed in both NY and PA. Blair actually got into the solar business after attending a professional solar installer training class hosted by SEEDS back in 2008. Since then he and the family business have installed over 30 systems, both solar hot water and PV, across our region. This year’s DIY workshop covered all the basics of a residential PV installation, using the newer micro-inverter technology that simplifies compliance with electrical safety and building codes and therefore is much easier for the DIYer. The workshops covered topics such as safety issues, design and permitting, applying for interconnection with the utility, attachment methods for various roof types, installing the inverters, bonding and grounding, installing the panels, making the connections at the circuit-breaker box, commissioning the system, and then ongoing monitoring and maintenance. Buselli showed several videos recorded during an actual PV installation, as well as a training segment of an asphalt roof to demonstrate many of these concepts to the audience.