Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems

Photovoltaic (PV) solar electricity systems have captured a lot of interest as the system components have grown more mature, capable, and reliable. 


The references and articles below provide PV system basics, examples of the four common types of PV systems used to generate electric power, reviews of PV system components, lots on how-to build your own PV system, and a few interesting "other" PV systems.


Contrary to popular belief, in most areas it is perfectly legal and relatively straight forward to do your own PV -- we did...


Directory for the PV section:

Be sure to do the Solar Site Survey to make sure that your PV panels will have  an unobstructed sun for the critical part of the day.  The survey should be done from the location where the PV panels will be mounted.

While costs are dropping, PV is still a relatively expensive way to get energy from the sun, so make sure you review other possibilities as well, such as, solar space heating, solar water heating, passive design, and, for the best payoff, efficiency...


PV powered water pumping systems are covered under Solar Water Pumping
PV power vehicles are here.


NEW -- Our new micro-inverter, off-grid PV system...


Report Broken Links ...

PV Basics
Step One -- Avoid the scams There are some very heavily advertised guides for sale on the Internet in the $50 range that promise that you can make PV panels that will provide "80%" of your homes power for a couple hundred dollars. 

You can be sure that anyone making these kinds of claims is a scammer -- don't waste your money.  You will find plenty of free and honest information below for reputable sources.
Solar Site Survey ...



The Site Survey is particularly critical for PV projects.

Before you embark on any of the solar projects listed below, you MUST do a solar site survey.
This will ensure that you actually get enough sun on your collector to make it worthwhile.
It only takes an hour, its fun, its easy and you will learn something about how the sun moves.      Solar Site Survey...
A Consumers Guide to Buying A Solar Electric System

EERE PV Guide (pdf)


A consumer guide for selecting a PV system.  Quite a bit of useful information whether you intend to have the system installed, or install it yourself.

A couple basics articles from Home Power:

Solar Electricity Basics:

Solar-Electric Systems Simplified,
How to get articles from Home Power ...
Scott Russell, issue 104

A couple of introductory articles from Home Power magazine

A very basic description of each of the different styles of PV systems (grid intertied, off-grid, …).
Solar Power 101,
Jeffrey Yago, Backwoods Home Magazine, 3 parts starting in May 2004 issue.

Solar Power 101, part 1...

There are two more parts in the following 2 issues.
solar basics -- battery pictureThis is a set of articles by Jeff Yago that goes through the basics of designing and installing a solar electric system.

Renewable Energy Design Guide and Catalog

aee solar design guide and catalog...

Fill in the form to download the 270 page design guide and catalog.



This is a very helpful reference and catalog for renewable energy systems.  It covers PV, wind and small hydro with emphasis on PV.

Right up to date and with lots of information on PV system components and lots of good reference material.

Home Power Magazine

How to get articles from Home Power ...


Home Power magazine has published many articles on PV basics, PV systems, and PV components.

Home Power is a very good source for hands-on PV information.

PVWatts  -- A Performance Calculator for Grid-Connected PV Systems

PVWatts Version 1...

This is a really useful tool
I find Version 1 to be the most useful, but if you want to try the other versions, just Google PVWatts.

An easy calculator you can use to find out how much power you will get from a PV installation in your area.  Also very helpful for panel aiming studies.

It calculates PV system performance based on hour by hour records for sun in your area.

Version 1 is very easy to use, and works worldwide.
Version 2 allows more detailed inputs, but seems rather complex and puzzling at times to me.

BP PV System Economics Calculator


This appears to be a good tool for estimating the economic return for installing a PV system for your area.
Allows you to change location, size & cost of array, and financing.
Shows details on power output, cost savings, and return on your investment.
While it is offered by a company selling PV equipment, it does not appear (to me) to be overly optimistic on power generated or savings.
PVGIS  -- PV sizing tool for Europe and Africa

PVGIS sizing tool:

PVGIS home page:

Very nice PV array sizing tool and solar radiation tool for Europe and Africa.

Includes effects of local weather, obstructions, ...
Taking the Plunge!  An Off-the-Grid Home Tour to Learn the Basics of a Renewable Energy System,  William Kemp  (pdf)



A good primer on what's involved in planning for an living in an off-grid home with solar electricity generation.
A lot of emphasis on the conservation steps needed to get demand down.  Not a lot of hands-on, but a very good introduction.
Backwoods Solar Catalog



The printed version of the Backwoods Solar Catalog has a lot of good educational and reference material.  Available on request from their website.

Simpler Solar Power – Grid-Tied Solar Systems Make Choosing Clean, Renewable Electricity Easier and More Affordable Than Ever

Mother Earth News

Doug Liningston and Scott Hollis

Finding Mother Earth News articles...

Mother Earth News Article

Good article explaining the basics of grid-tied PV systems.  Not a lot of “how-to”, but good explanation of the basics.

Plug into the Sun

Rusty Haunes and Lindsey Hodel

Finding Mother Earth News articles...

Mother Earth News Article, Issue 199

This article provides an overview of the financial aspects of building a solar PV system.  Concentrates primarily on obtaining government grants to reduce the cost of the system.

List of good discussion forums...


This is a list of discussion forums I like.  You can post questions on these forums and get answers.  As always on the Internet, the level of expertise varies from very high to very very low, so be careful to confirm the advice you get in some way.
What is the actual output from a "1 KW" PV rig?

Home Energy Magazine article (pdf)


So, how much output will a (say) 1 KW rated PV setup produce?  This Home Energy Magazine article reports actual measurements for 19 real PV systems.
Wind Sun

Solar electric library and buyers guide.  Quite a few downloadable PV equipment specs, brochures, manuals.
PhotoVoltaics: Design and Installation Manual A very good and detailed reference on designing and installing PV systems -- the best that I know of.


About $60.

A Guide To Photovoltaic (PV) System Design and Installation,
California Energy Commission, 2001 (pdf)


A lot of helpful and fairly detailed information on planning, designing, and installing a PV system that is safe and meets codes.

Provides information on sizing, wiring, component selection, ...  Also, provides a detailed check list.
Some of the information is specific to California installations, but most id broadly applicable.

1BOG   -- one block off the the grid -- group discount program



The 1BOG organization puts together a group of people in a city who want to install PV systems, and negotiates a group discount.

It seems like a potentially good concept that is worth looking into.  If you have had a good (or bad) experience with the program, please let me know...
(Thanks to Michelle for suggesting this)

Leasing PV Systems


There are companies that will lease you a PV system to mount on your house.  They make the deal sound very attractive.  I have zero expertise on this, but this article says there are some large potential gotcha's in the fine print...  So, be very very careful.

On the other hand, this NREL analysis finds at least some of the lease programs to be more attractive than other forms of ownership...

My alternative thought would be to look at the Half Plan, and do the energy saving projects that will cost you little and save you a lot -- then, buy your PV system from the savings on other projects.  Our experience with PV economics compared to other energy project economics...

Emissions from Photovoltaic Life Cycles,
Vasilis Fthenakis, Huung Chul Kim, and Erik Alsema,
ASAP Environ. Sci. Technol, Feb 200


The Energy Blog article this came from ...

Every once in a while you still find people saying that the energy and pollution involved in making PV cells exceeds the energy use or pollution they prevent during their life.  This is completely and totally false -- here is the latest paper verifying this.

Conclusion of the study:
"Using data compiled from the original records of twelve PV manufacturers, we quantified the emissions from the life cycle of four major commercial photovoltaic technologies and showed that they are insignificant in comparison to the emissions that they replace when introduced in average European and U.S. grids."

Small Standalone PV Systems (cabins, mobile, emergency backup, and startup systems)

A small, easy to build solar PV emergency power generator...


portable solar power generatorThis is a simple and easy to build solar PV system that will provide some emergency power during power outages, and can also be used for camping or for supplying power to a few things around the house on a routine basis.

It is very easy to build and a good introduction to solar projects.

Installing Your Own Small, Remote Off-Grid Solar System,
Jeffrey Yago, Backwoods Home Magazine, Mar 2009
Small PV systemJeff describes how to go about designing and installing a small, 12 VDC solar electric system for a cabin.
Solar Power Trailer, Jeffery Yago
Backwoods Home Magazine, Nov/Dec 2007



Interesting article by Jeff Yago on putting together self sufficient trailer mounted PV rig.  It can be used for camping or emergencies.

Part 1 of 2 in the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine  -- all issues can be viewed online.

A 320 Watt Truck Mounted PV System

Full construction details...

This is a really nice system that fits into a pickup truck.  The 320 watts of PV fit on the existing roof rack, and the 400 amp-hours of batteries in the side compartments.  A pair of Morningstar charge controllers complete the system. 
Great system for camping, tradesmen, RVs, power outage emergencies, ...
Full details on the construction and wiring...
Walden Pond -- The Solar Version,
Jeffrey Yago
Backwoods Home Magazine

Part i:
Part II:
Issue 102 article on solar fridges:

Good basic article on setting up a small cabin so it can be powered by a small PV system.
Mostly about minimizing electric loads so that the PV system does not end up costing more than the cabin.

Backwoods Home Magazine issues 99 and 100.
The issue 102 article is a rundown on efficient solar fridges that run off simple PV systems.

Ron's Small, Inexpensive Standalone PV System


This is another example of putting together a small, standalone PV system on a shoestring. 

Ron's system makes use of inexpensive used PV panels, a kit charge controller, and low priced sine wave inverter to build a 300 watt system that he uses to power some loads that are independent of the grid, and also to provide some backup when the grid power goes out.    Its also a great way to learn about solar electricity without spending a lot of money. 

Small and Simple in the North Woods
Joan R. Surber and Roberta L. Corrigan

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 75

Design and implementation of a DC only PV system for a small cabin.  The system has 150W of PV panel, 660AH of battery capacity, and cost $2500.

My Solar Casita – solar pumping, Heating, Cooking, and More!

Samuel Gray

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 100

Description of a small off grid PV system with solar pumping.

700 WH per day demand.  110 Watts of PV panel total.  Good construction detail.  A solar passive design adobe Casita – 120 ft^2.

Portable Solar-Powered Workshop

Jon Haeme

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 47

Article on a complete, PV powered, workshop in a trailer.

Backyard Solar Electricity, Made Simple

Mickey Mestel

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 93

Good article on a very small PV system that can be easily removed and taken along to a new house.  32 W PV panel, 64 AH of battery capacity in a box, and a 1700 W inverter make up the system.  The total cost is $1350.

A Small, Portable PV System for Camping, Emergencies, ...


Details on the portable PV system...

Portable PV for campingKevin built a small, portable PV system to provide some power for lights, radio, cell phone charging,... on camping trips.

The system is small, simple, inexpensive, and easy to build -- a great learning system.

Office-Sized Solar-Electric System for Renters

Eric Grisen

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 96

Interesting article on a “moveable” 300 W PV system with batteries.  Most of this system fits in and on a wood box.  Covers load analysis, component selection, and building and installing the system.  Cost $4K.

90 Solar Powered Portable Workshop

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 90

Interesting article on a portable, PV powered workshop in a trailer.  Uses one 120W PV panel, 2 Trojan T105 batteries, and an 1800 watt inverter to power a wide variety of tools.  System cost $2600.

PV Systems On RVs


A good write-up on  designing, installing, and maintaining a PV system for an RV.  Lots of emphasis on choosing and maintaining the batteries.
While its RV oriented, most of the information is applicable to and small PV system.
Note that the PV material is in Part 2 of the article.
thanks to Mark for suggesting this)
Using Your Golf Cart or Electric Tractor as Emergency Backup Power -- With your Grid-Tied PV Array for Charging

Details on the ElecTrak Project...

Details on Using the ElecTrack (or Golf Cart) with Your Grid-Tied PV Array for Power Outage Backup...
ElecTrak and PVThis is our scheme for providing power during outages.  A few of the panels on our grid-tie PV array are rewired (much easier than it sounds) to charge the batteries on our ElecTrak tractor (which could be a golf cart or similar).
A inverter/charger is used to power key house loads via extension cords from the ElecTrak.
The nice thing about this scheme is that it cheap to do and it does not require maintaining a set of batteries that only get used for power outages.
Off Grid PV Systems -- Homes powered by these systems are not connected to the utility grid at all.  The systems have PV panels for generation of power, and batteries to store power for when the sun is not shining.  In some cases fossil fuel powered generators are used to supplement the solar power.  As you can see from the examples below, these systems can range greatly in size, complexity and price.

Off the Grid Starting Small

Daniel Bisbee

How to get articles from Home Power ...


Home Power Magazine article, issue 92

Good article about an off grid house PV system that started very small and grew to a modest 240 W of PV panels, 660AH or battery capacity, and a 1500 W inverter that meets all their needs.  The system cost $3K and avoided a $37K charge from the utility company to extend the power grid.  Maybe you really don't need to use 30KWH per day?

RE Earthship Design: on-the-job-training

Linda Brotman-Evans & Jeff Evans

HP article on Earthship PV (230K pdf)


A good Home Power magazine article on sizing and living with an off grid PV and wind system for an Earthship. 
Good material for planning how to live on a relatively small PV system -- 1997.

A Simple Solar Solution,
 Laurie Guevara-Stone 

Mother Earth News

Finding Mother Earth News articles...


Mother Earth News Article, Issue 199

Good article on planning, building and living with a solar PV system in an off grid house in Colorado. 

HP99 Solar Comfort in the Idaho Wilderness

Ed Marue

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 99

Good article on an off grid system for a mountain cabin.  The system has 960 W of PV panel, 530AH of battery storage, and a 7KW backup generator, all at a cost of $15K.  The owner of the system covers planning, designing, and installing the system in good detail. 

Taking the Off-Grid Plunge

Dane Wigington

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 98

Article describes a large, off-grid system capable of supporting large electrical loads.  5.1KW of PV panels and 2400 AH of battery capacity.  Supplemented with two wind generators. 

Off Shore and Off Grid – Island Life Unplugged

John McNicholas

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 106

Good detailed description of a large, off grid PV system for a Florida island house with large loads.   3600 W PV panels, 2500 AH battery system, 20KW generator.  $61K worth of components.

The Care and Feeding of Solar Batteries,
Jeffrey Yago, Backwoods Home Magazine, Sep 2005
solar battery An article by Jeff Yago on batteries for off-grid solar electric systems. 
The article covers battery types, and goes into caring for and maintaining batteries for a long life.

Batteries are a high ongoing cost for off-grid solar and its very easy to kill an expensive battery set before its time, so this is good stuff to know.
Grid Tie PV Systems Without Battery Backup -- Homes on these "grid-tied" systems are connected to the utility grid.  When the PV panels are producing more electricity than is being used in the house, the meter runs "backwards", and the excess power goes into the utility grid.  These systems do not have batteries for storage of electricity.  When the utility power fails, the lights go out in these houses, even if the sun is shining.  But, the significant cost and maintenance issues owning batteries are avoided.
Designing and Installing Your Own Grid-Tied PV System

Much detail on our system...


Major Update of system 2019...

Upgrade System To Add an EV...




The two year report...



This is a very detailed account of planning, designing and installing our own new 2150 watt grid-tied PV system.

A lot of detail is provided on the full process, including deciding on type of system, how big to make it, where to put the panels, solar site survey, what kind of mounts to use, building the mounts, installing the components, doing the wiring, and the performance and economics of the system.

The system uses the same Enphase micro-inverter scheme as Guy's system (just below), so between these two entries there should be enough detail to keep you busy for quite a while!

We did a major upgrade of the system in 2019 that more than doubles the size of the system and upgrades to the latest Enphase technolgogy...

Our Elec-Trak Tractor Project

-- Using an Elec-Trak to Power Your House in Power Outages

-- Charging the Elec-Trak from a Grid-Tie PV System just above
(this is one way to get around grid-tie systems going down in power outages -- and have a good way to mow your lawn to boot :)


All the details...

Elec-This is a very detailed account of our project to recondition an Elec-Trak electric tractor.  All the fascinating details on scraping and painting, ...

It also covers using the Elec-Trak battery pack to power the house in emergencies AND a way to charge the pack from our grid-tied PV array.

All the details...

Doug's New 4.6 KW DIY Grid Tied PV Array
Doug's grid tie PVThis is a really well done grid-tied PV project by Doug Kalmer.  It is a 4.6 KW array using Enphase micro inverters.
PV Mounts

Doug has worked out a very nice, long life, low cost mounting system that he shows in detail.
All the details on Doug's system...
Installing a grid-tie solar electric power system,
Guy Marsden


Full, step by step description of the system:

Real time output data:


Guy Marsden describes the whole process of selecting, designing and installing his new grid-tie PV system.  Since Guy and friends did the whole installation, there is a lot of detail.

Guy's system uses the new Enphase micro inverter system in which each PV panel gets its own inverter.  The Enphase system reduces installation labor, and allows easier future expansion.  Guy also provides real time system output stats.

Guy has done several fine renewable energy and solar projects, and has detailed tutorials on each one  -- a look through his whole website is very worthwhile.
6.3 KW DIY grid tied PV system from Instructables...

Very good Instructables writeup on a 6.3 KW grid tied PV array.

Lots of good detail.

Solar Energy in WV, do it yourself


DIY grid tied pv systeA very nicely done grid tied PV system using micro inverters in West Virginia.




The tinkeringcaveman Solar Project
microinverter pv systemThis is a very nice and detailed five part blog from Kevin on planning, permitting, and installing a micro inverter based 3.84KW grid-tie system.
PV system
Kevin worked in partnership with a local electrician -- I think this is a good approach and likely makes for less to learn and a smoother install.   Lots of good detail on the whole process.
Mick and Janet's Photovoltaic Solar System


Nice personal website describing a grid tied PV installation.  Provides over a year of performance data.  Pictures of installation with good detail on panel mounting.

Grid-Tied Soar In Small Town, USA

Article from



How to get articles from Home Power ...

Good Home Power Article on authors attempt to be "Carbon neutral" through conservation, less fossil fuel, solar active and passive strategies, and a grid tied PV system.  Most of the article details his experiences with installing a grid tied PV system in Ashland, OR -- a pretty positive experience all-around.

Getting Off the Lifetime Utility Payment Plan

Daren Webster

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 95

Good article on a large, suburban California, grid tied, batteryless system.  Covers load estimation, system design, and installation (by owner).   The $28K system has 4KW of PV panels.

Grid-Tie Solar Powered Farm,
Jefferey Yago,
Backwoods Home Magazine, July/August 2005

The full article ...

An article in Backwoods Home magazine by Jeff Yago on a grid tie system with some useful design and install information.

Note how simple the modern grid-tie inverters make these systems.

Solar Electricity in Spite of the Fog

Greg Bundros

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 99

Good article on an grid tied PV system in Northern California.  The system has 1320W of PV panels and cost $22K before rebates.  The author installed the system, and covers design and installation of the system.  He also provides very detailed performance records for the system.

Solar Electric Vision Becomes Reality

Alan Stankevitz


How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 105

Description of a 4KW grid intertied, batteryless PV system.  A full description of the system is provided including costs.  The system was installed by the owner, and some of the details of the installation an permitting process are described.

From The Ground Up – My RE System Design Choices

Linda Pinkham

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 106

Good article on going through all the decisions to be made in implementing an medium size, grid tied PV system.  Size, siteing collectors, tracking or not, batteries or not, component selection, …

Solar Solidarity – An IBEW-Supported PV System

Vincent Endter

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 97

Good article on installation of a 5KW,  grid-tied, no batteries system for a residence in California.  Quite  a bit of detail on the design and installation of the system. 

Illustration of 8 KW (DC) GT Solar PV System Install for Residence in Urban Area


This is a many page post on Northern Arizona Wind & Sun forum.  It covers the installation of an 8.1KW grid-tied PV system.
Lots of detail is provided, and there is some good discussion of the system.
Construction Details for a PV Array at Craters of the Moon Monument Grid tied PV systemSome detailed pictures of a large PV array at Craters of the Moon National Monument.  The clean mounting system and simple wiring and equipment mounting might provide some helpful ideas for your system.

Construction Details for a PV Array at Craters of the Moon Monument...
Clarian SmartBox Plug-In the Wall Grid-Tie PV system

My blog entry on the system...

The Clarian website...



This is an interesting grid-tie, microinverter system that literally plugs into a wall outlet.
It can start with one 200 watt PV panel and be easily expanded with additional panels.

Prices are projected to be about $4 per watt -- it is supposed to "be in stores in 2011".
Cold Springs Solar Power



This is a huge solar electric installation at the Cold Springs Station on Hwy 50 in a very lonely part of the Nevada desert.   It is a 30KW grid tied PV installation that sells excess power to the utility.
Some nice construction details in the photos.

A grid tied inverter that provides emergency power during outages..


With most grid-tied systems, when the grid goes down, the grid-tie PV system also goes down, and you get no power even if the sun is shining.

This new grid-tie inverter from SunnyBoy provides about 1500 watts of back up power when the grid is down and the sun is out. It does not require batteries to do this -- a major plus.

The article Alex Wilson article from the Green Budilding Advisor site provides quite a bit of detail on it...

Grid Tie PV System Kits -- The systems listed just below are the first offerings of PV systems that are aimed at homeowner installation.  They are small (but expandable), grid-tied systems that are relatively easy to install.  They all use microinverters (one per PV panel) to simplify the systems and to allow one to start small, but easily expand.

NOTE: It appears that all three of the pv system kits listed below have been dropped. I would not let this discourage you from doing your own system, as some of the systems are relatively straight forward to put in as a diy project as long as you are willing to invest some learning time. I would look over the first two systems described in the "Grid Tied PV" section on this page -- they provide quite a bit of detail and should allow you to make a decision about whether you want to tackle installing a system yourself. Another option is to do most of the install yourself and get some help on the parts you don't want to tackle.

Also, the "Power to the people..." project listed below makes a great way to get started.


Westinghouse DIY Solar Kit

Westinghouse Solar...

Do It Yourself Resources...

Installation Manual... (pdf)

Kit Contents...

All the above links are dead -- it looks like Westinghouse has dropped the diy kit PV systems.

westinghouse pv kitWestinghouse announced the release of solar PV kits for DIY installation.  The kit includes the PV modules, microinverters, parts for roof mounting, and the other bits needed to complete the system. 

It appears that each PV module mounts to the roof independently, and that the mounting hardware is included.  It appears that the microinverters are integrated with the PV panel.  The kits will be offered in 3 sizes: 1 panel, 4 panels, and 20 panels, where each panel is 235 watts.  As with all microinverter based systems, it is easy to expand the sytem.

The Westinghouse Solar website links to the left give more information on the system.  There are some resources for DIYers, and what looks to be a detailed and well written installation guide.   Westinghouse appears to be pretty serious about this effort.

The Westinghouse sales person told me that the systems can be ordered via Lowes Hardware, and the the cost for a 4 panel (940 watt) system is about $2600.  This does not include the Enphase EMU monitoring unit, which many people will want to monitor the system.
The system is based on the Enphase microinverter -- you can get a detailed understanding of how this system works and goes together by reading the first two entries in the Grid Tied PV section ...
I would love to hear from anyone who gives this system a try.
Clarian SmartBox (Not working -- Clarian appears to have gone out of business?)
Clarian DIY solar pvThis is a similar microinverter based DIY PV system kit from Clarian.  It was announced some time back, but is not yet available for sale -- hopefully soon.
This BuildItSolar Blog entry and the Clarian Website give as good a description as I could work out from the limited material available.
Starter Kits based on the Enphase Micro Inveter.

Some example suppliers:

There are likely many more, and any solar retailer who handles the microinverter systems can put together a similar kit for you.
pv starter kitThese are starter kits that several of the PV retail suppliers have been offering based on the Enphase microinverter.  These systems typically consist of one PV panel, one Enphase microinveter, and possibly a rack and some other odds and end.

The systems are basically one panel versions of my system, and you can get an idea how the work and how they go together by reading the details on my system and just reducing the number of panels from 10 to 1.
Calling these systems kits is a bit of a stretch in that they are not likely to come with a start to finish step by step manual -- you will get a pile of parts, and its up to you to work out how they go together.  This can be and interesting challenge or a nightmare depending on what you were expecting.
The kits vary a great deal in how complete they are.  The things that may or may not be included are: a rack or mounting hardware, the Envoy monitoring unit, connecting wire and breakers. 
These systems are not toys and they are not dead ends -- they are fully functional (if small) PV systems, and they can be expanded seamlessly up to multi kilowatt systems as your budget allows.  I think they are a good way to go if you want to start small and learn a lot.
Be aware that even on these small systems, you will be working on 240 VAC house power circuits -- so, do your safety homework.

Power to the People: How to Build a Plug and Play Grid Tie Solar Array, from the Ken-nect Blog


All the details on this under the radar PV scheme..

This is a way to do a small, under the radar, grid-tied PV system that uses a China import grid-tie inverter.

This could make for a cheap system -- some PV modules are available for about $1 per watt, and the inverter can be found on ebay for about $0.35 a watt --add a bit for mounts, wire, etc. and you would likely still be under $2 per watt.

The utility is not going to approve this as a grid-tie system for net metering, but if its kept small, net metering is not really a factor as your usage will nearly always be more than the system is producing.  While the inverter includes anti-islanding, it is not UL approved for grid-tie use.
Grid Tie PV Systems With Battery Backup -- These homes are connected to the utility grid, and work in the same way as the "grid-tied" homes above, but they also have batteries, which allows the lights to stay on when the utility power goes down.  On the negative side, the systems are more expensive, and the batteries must be carefully maintained.
Note that new inverters that are designed specifically for grid-tied with battery backup systems have recently come out -- these include:

Outback GVFX series
Xantrex XW series

Bob's Solar Project


This is Bob's blog on installing a grid tied with batteries, Unisolar PV shingle system.  It is very detailed and should be very helpful to anyone considering doing this.
All the details on the design, solar shingle installation, wiring, and equipment installation are covered in detail.  Thank you Bob!

Grid Tied PV and Wind System with Battery Backup



A very good personal website on designing and installing a PV and wind system that is grid tied with battery backup.



Lots of detail and helpful information on design, components, installing, wiring,  suppliers, permitting, ...

Grid Tie, Battery Backup, and System Monitoring

Brent Simons

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Article, issue 94

Very good article on planning, designing and installing a 4.8KW grid-tied PV system with 400AH battery backup, and a 4KW inverter.  The system also includes instrumentation to monitor the performance of the system.  Quite a bit of component and installation detail.

PV Tracking and Mounts and Soft Concentrators -- Systems that track the sun or that use reflective surfaces to concentrate more light on the PV cells make better use of the expensive PV cell material.
An HP Article on PV Tracker Basics,
Richard Perez


An article explaining the basics of PV tracking.  Contrasts the passive trackers with the electronic trackers.
Field Test Results of the Archimedes Photovoltaic V=Trough Concentrator System,
Klotz, Mohring, Gruel, Sherborne, Bruton, Albella, and Tzanetakis

Archimedes Paper (pdf)



Very good paper with results on testing a simple scheme that uses one axis tracking coupled with high acceptance angle V troughs to provide average daily concentrations around of around 2.   Simple aluminum cooling fins are used to keep cell temperature comparable to non-concentrating commercial PV panels.
(My thanks to Greg for suggesting this)
Low Cost Tracking Ridge Concentrator

Picture Gallery of Examples:

Simple tracker and concentrator design might nearly double PV panel output.

The website(s) are a bit confusing, but provide some useful material.

I'd like hear from anyone who has had experience with these.

Pumping Water for Irrigation Using Solar Energy
H.J. Helikson, D.Z. Haman and C.D. Baird

University of Florida -- Extension Service

Pumping Paper (pdf)


Interesting 1992 paper on PV powered pumping for irrigation wire.  Good analysis of system.

Interesting reflector/tracking arrangement on the PV panels that increases panel output significantly. LED3Xc3 Solar Tracker Assembly



Duane at offers a $35 tracker that can drive a simple satellite dish linear screw actuator to make an inexpensive tracker for PV and other applications.

The page gives examples of many systems using the RedRok tracker.

$35 DIY PV Tracker This home made tracker for PV panels is made from a satellite dish antenna and the $35 tracker, plus an old bed frame!


Mother's Super-Simple Solar Tracker
Dennis Burkholder

Finding Mother Earth News articles...



Mother Earth News Article, Issue 48, Nov/Dec 1977.
This article provides some how-to information on designing and building solar array trackers that use canisters of refrigerant to passively track the sun.  This is similar to the very popular ZomeWorks trackers.  Several designs are discussed.
The trackers in the article use Freon -- in a new design you would, of course, have to substitute a different refrigerant.
Canuckle Tracker


Light duty solar trackers that you can make from computer parts and ABS tubing.

And, a simple Sun Switch sun sensor and motor driver.

Water-Powered PV Tracker
Bill Spurlock

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power magazine article, issue 85

An interesting mix of high tech PV and low tech genius to implement a water powered PV array tracking system.

PV Array Mounts
A simple mount using treated wood plus commercial rails...


This is the simple set of mounts I used for my PV array.  It uses commercially available rails to mount the PV panels to along with simple treated wood timbers and concrete footings.
Doug's New 4.6 KW DIY Grid Tied PV Array

Doug came up with a very durable and inexpensive mounting system that saved many hundreds of dollars over commercial mounts.
Doug's grid tie PVThis is a really well done grid-tied PV project by Doug Kalmer.  It is a 4.6 KW array using Enphase micro inverters.
PV Mounts

Doug has worked out a very nice, long life, low cost mounting system that he shows in detail.
All the details on Doug's system...

Simplified Building Concepts Pipe Racks


pipe rack PV mountsSimplified Building Concepts offers several systems that use standard galvanized metal pipe with fittings that allow the pipe to be configured for just about anything, including PV panel mount racks. Looks like a very flexible and easy to use system, and people report that they are willing to help you make your project work.

They have several PV racks in their projects gallery -- here is one nice one...


Another way of doing treated wood supports with commercial rails...


This is a nice  and simple system that uses a combination of commercially available aluminum rails attached to large treated timbers that anchor the front and back of the PV array.
Construction Details for a PV Array at Craters of the Moon Monument PV mountsSome detailed pictures of a PV array mount system using galvanized steel pipes coupled with standard industrial fittings to make a sturdy, simple and clean looking mount system.

Mount Details for a PV Array at Craters of the Moon Monument...
Home Built Solar Mount

My home built PV mount...

Pretty good looking and well anchored wood mount for PV panels.

Installing PV Systems -- How-To

Some of the articles above that describe example PV systems have some construction detail, so see these as well.

PV systems have become more straightforward to install as equipment has been refined over the years -- grid-tie systems in particular have become much simpler.  But, this does not mean its an easy DIY project.   There are serious safety issues that you must fully understand -- even folks with considerable AC system wiring experience should be very careful to learn and understand the hazards of working with strings of PV panels that will produce several hundred volts whenever the sun is on them.
In addition to the safety issues, there are permits and utility companies to deal with -- some areas may not even allow a home owner to install his/her own system.  So, as always, do your homework!
See the entries in the other sections on "Off Grid", "Grid Tied", etc.   These articles contain lots of detailed accounts of DIY installations.  
Solar System Install Guide

The full tutorial:

The PV part starts in Lesson 5:

This is a pretty good and detailed installation tutorial for installers.

Its about the most readable thing I have found that provides enough detail to be useful in installing your own system.
Photovoltaic Power Systems  and the 2005 National Electrical Code: Suggested Practices
John Wiles, Southwest Technology Development Institute, New Mexico State University

Suggested Practices for PV System Wiring 2005 ... (pdf)

A set of quite detailed suggested practices for wiring PV systems to comply with the National Electric Code.

Kind of tough sledding if you are not a code devotee, but accurate and authoritative.
Inspector Guidelines for PV Systems,
Prepared by Brooks Engineering for PACE University

Inspector Guidelines for PV Systems (pdf)

Inspecting Photovoltaic (PV) Systems for Cod Compliance...


This is a very helpful set of guidelines on PV system equipment, and particularly on wiring of PV systems.
I found it helpful in both the planning of the details of the component locations and the wiring, and as a good checklist on what inspectors will be looking for.
The second link is 168 page presentation with lots of examples and photos.  Probably more detailed than most will need, but lots of examples of common mistakes.
NABCEB (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners)


NABCEB Resources...

The NABCEB offers certifications for installers of PV systems.
Their web site Resources page has much information of interest to people want to install a system or want to be knowledgeable about what a good installation should look like.
The "Study Guide for Photovoltaic System Installers" is a good one.  (thanks to Doug for suggesting this)
A Guide to Photovoltaic (PV) System Design and Installation,
California Energy Commission, June 2001


A pretty detailed guide written for installers of PV systems in California.  largely applicable to other areas.
Residential/Commercial Solar PV Installations,
Basic information and installation guides for roof mounted systems,
Ed Larsen, June 2008
City of Flagstaff/Project Review Section

Residential/Commercial Solar PV Installations ... (PowerPoint)


A Power Point set of guidelines for roof mounted PV installations.

Some good planning, design, and installation detail.  Quite a bit of detail on installation.

Written for Flagstaff, but generally applicable.
How to Install A Pole-Mounted Solar-Electric Array

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power magazine two part article in issues 108 and 109 on installing a pole mounted PV array.

A very detailed how-to -- lots of good advice.

PV Combiner Box Buyers Guide,
Lena Wilensky

How to get articles from Home Power ...

This article covers a lot of the issues of wiring the array to the inverter.

Home Power Magazine article, issue 132, Aug-Sept 2009.

Good article, not only goes over available combiner box offerings, but covers the wiring, fusing, and sizing procedures for the boxes.
Also tells you when you don't need one at all.

Picking the right wire size



PV oriented wire voltage DC drop table...

General purpose wire voltage drop calculator...

More refs on wire sizing...

Maverick Solar DIY Workshop


A collection of helpful articles and references for DIYers on PV systems.

Includes some fairly detialed examples of several systems, and some good "how-to"s on wiring etc.

PV Components
See also the list of suppliers for PV systems ...



Renewable Energy Design Guide and Catalog -- 34th edition

Sign up to download the free 268 page guide/catalog here...


This is a very helpful reference and catalog for renewable energy systems.  It covers PV, wind and small hydro with emphasis on PV.

Right up to date and with lots of information on PV system components and lots of good reference material.

PV Combiner Box Buyers Guide,
Lena Wilensky

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 132, Aug-Sept 2009.

Good article, not only goes over available combiner box offerings, but covers the wiring, fusing, and sizing procedures for the boxes.
Also tells you when you don't need one at all.

106 What’s Going On – The Grid?  A New Generation of Grid-Tied PV Inverters

Joe Schwartz

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 106

Rundown on the latest in inverters for grid tied PV systems.   What to look for, and how they rate.

Deep Cycle Battery FAQ


This is a good rundown on the type of batteries normally used in PV systems.

Lots of good information.

PV Shade Structures  -- various ways to use PV modules as an integral part of solar shading structures
Solar Deck Canopy -- How Well Does It Let Light Through During Winter?
Amy Heidner, PE,  2012
PV shade canopyThis is a very interesting paper showing the use of PV panels as part of a shade canopy that provides shade for living space that was overheating and generates solar electricity as well.

The aim of the project was to provide sufficient shading to keep the living area behind the canopy from overheating, while at the same time not providing  so much shade that the the deck and living area would be too dark.

The authors found that by selecting a PV module design that lets some light through and adding some glazed areas above and below the PV modules that they could get just the right light levels under the canopy.
Bifacial PV Modules for Sun Shade Structures

Solarscapes - a New Face for PV,
Topher Donahue
Originally appeared in HomePower Magazine

PV shade structures utilizing bi-facial PV modules

Another example
Sun & Shade with a 9.12 KW PV Awning System,
Justine Sanches with Greg Koss,
HomePower Magazine, Feb 2009
bifacial PV shade structuresThis article describes the use of bifacial PV modules for building sun shade structures that let a controlled amount of light to penetrate the shaded area and simultanously harvest solar electricity.

Bifacial PV modules convert light coming in to either side of the PV module into electricity.  In contrast to monofacial PV modules they do not have an opaque layer beneath the silicone cells -- they are semi-transparent to sunlight.  This can make them ideal for shading structures that want to pass more light into the shaded area that regular opague modules would.

The article provides an overview of using these panels to design sunspaces, and gives a few nice residential examples.
Solar Canopies...

solar pv shade canopyA nice collection of solar shade canopy exmaples.
A Solar Pergola...
Solar Pergola PVBrief description of a nice pergola constructed with PV panels over a wood pergola framework.
A few more PV module shading structure pictures... PV module windowThese are just a few more random pictures of shading structures made from PV modules...
Off Grid Cooling
Cooling for off-grid homes can be difficult due to the need to minimize electrical power use.  This section has a couple of low electricity use cooling schemes.

A whole house fan that operates on DC would be another good one, but I have not seen one.

Many of the passive techniques listed in the Cooling Section apply VERY well to PV powered homes since they use no power at all.

Ceiling fans with aerodynamically designed blades



Ceiling fans with "Gossamer Wind" technology blades move about 40% more air for the same power use.
Models are available that operate at 12 or 24V, and can be operated direct PV or battery.
FSEC paper:  Performance and Applications of Gossamer Wind™ Solar Powered Ceiling Fans
PV Powered Evaporative Coolers

Some notes on  a DIY one:

These evaporative coolers use low HP 12V fans that can be powered by PV arrays.
Off Grid Refrigeration
Refrigeration is one of the major electric loads for an off grid home. 
Some of the solutions people are using:
  • Use a modest size Energy Star rated conventional refrigerator.   This approach has a low initial cost, and pretty good energy efficiency.  See the Energy Star link below for for the best ones. 
    Conventional freezer above and fridge below are the most energy efficient and make best use of space.
  • Use one of the brands that specialize in high efficiency fridges for PV use, such as SunFrost or SunDazer.  Less energy use, but higher initial cost. 
  • Also listed below are some less conventional solutions that use even less power, and are inexpensive.
  • Another option is a propane powered fridges.  These are very energy inefficient fridges, and (I think) are best avoided -- but some like them a lot.
    (as near as I can tell looking at energy stats from sellers, propane fridges use about 5 times more energy than energy star electrics of the same size)
Energy Star

Energy Star Ratings ...

Energy ratings and energy use for appliances.   Energy advice and online audit for homes.   Energy star appliances and homes.
In my view, the Energy Star program could be more aggressive, but its certainly a good place to start.  For example, they have no plans to require more efficient refrigerators until 2012 at the earliest -- let them know you would like to see a more aggressive approach.
Efficient Refrigerators for PV





A couple of brands that specialize in low power consumption fridges and freezers for PV.


Very Efficient Chest Refrigerator

Chest Fridge Full Article (68K pdf)

This article is from the Mt Best -- Australia solar house site:  A very interesting solar house with several unique features, and a bit more info on the chest fridge.

Another approach here... (if this link does not work, try it here on the Wayback Machine...)
Uses added thermal mass and a simple timer switch -- the thermal mass is intended to allow the fridge and inverter on an off grid site to be turned off overnight to save the idle inverter load on the batteries.

The thermostat shown on this page is reported to allow you to use a chest freezer as a refrigerator with large energy saving:
Beer Fridge Thermostat

This refrigerator, which is a converted chest type freezer uses only about 0.1 KWH per day.  See the article for details.  Latest update includes a design for a low standby power thermostat.
Apparently not all chest freezers are created equal, as some do not report quite as dramatic an energy saving as Tom reported in his paper -- so if you are getting a new chest freezer for this, pick an efficient one to start with.
One person reported 0.3 KWH per day (108KWH/year) on a newer Kenmore freezer that was EPA rated at 279KWH per year.   So, something like a quarter of a typical, similar size conventional (upright) refrigerator seems easily achievable.
Solar Powered refrigerators,
Jeffery Yago, Backwoods Home Magazine



Good article on efficient, solar powered refrigerators.

Most run directly on 12 VDC, and are easy on solar PV systems.

Make a Fridge?

Description of the fridge making kit and instructions for making a fridge from it ...


More Details (pdf)


Another kit fridge -- DIY System Kits...

This is just a thought.  NovaKool (maybe others?) offers a kit for people who want to make their own fridges.  It consists of a compressor, evaporator, condenser, controls, and pre-charged tubing -- all the guts of a fridge.  It is intended for boat or RV owners who want a built in fridge.   It uses the DanFoss compressor, which is reputed to be efficient.

If you wanted to make a very efficient fridge, this kit would allow you allow you to build the box with as much insulation as you want, it could be top opening, and the compressor could be located in an optimal spot.  On just a rough guess from their specs, you might get down to 0.1 KWH per day for a very well insulated 8 cubic foot fridge.  Unfortunately the kit is not cheap, but this still might pay well for off-grid PV users.
If anyone has tried this (or similar), please let me know how it turned out -- Gary
Passive Refrigerator/Icebox


Note: I would not try this unless you have a lot of time to tinker -- I am guessing there is a significant learning curve attached to getting one of these operating well.

This fridge uses a well insulated 300 gallon water/ice container that is cooled by an outdoor finned tube baseboard unit to supply year round refrigeration with no energy use.  No moving parts.

Other interesting projects on the same site.

Off Grid Appliances
Finding efficient appliances for off grid can be difficult, since the power draw is very important, but you still want an appliance that does the job well -- this section will collect a few appliances that off-grid people favor:
How to build a wood fired clothes dryer

Full details ...

Ray's site has many other interesting projects...

Ray was looking for a way to dry clothes in the winter for his off-grid home.  He came up with this design that captures heat from a wood burning boiler or stove chimney so that the only electricity needed for the dryer is motor and controls.  He provides full details for converting an electric clothes dryer to use heat from burning wood.
Other Interesting PV Applications
Solar Scooter

Full Scooter Plans from Don


Article on the scooter in Tree Hugger with some additional pictures:

A solar scooter by Don Dunklee.   Street legal, affordable and dependable. 

 Thanks to Don for making the plans available!

"Big Belly" solar powered trash bin



"Big Belly" is a trash bin with built in compaction.  It is solar powered and requires no power connection. 
The compactor reduces trash volume by up to 8 times -- this reduces the number of garbage truck pickups, which in turn reduces energy use and GHG emissions.   Big Belly has very carefully designed power management, and can go for many cloudy days without running out of power.

Roof-Integrated PV From Sunbeam To Standing Seam

William Ball

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 105

Description of using Uni-Solar laminated PV bonded to a metal standing seam roof produces an almost invisible PV installation.  Detailed description of the laminated PV installation and of the PV system

A DIY solar powered pool pump installation

All the details on design, build, and economics...


PV Powered Pool PumpBruce cut his total home electricity usage by 25% using this PV powered pump for his pool.

The system uses two 170 watt PV panels to power a Speck Swimming Pool and Spa pump through a Lorentz controller.

All the details on design, build, and economics...

Build A Simple Solar Powered Outdoor Light, Jeffery Yago, Backwoods Magazine


Backwoods Magazine Article on building a solar PV powered "street light".

The Biggest Solar Electric Boat this Side of the Mississippi

Steve Cooper

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 57

Interesting article on using solar PV to provide auxiliary power on a 30 ft sailboat.

PV and EV -- My Solar-Electric House and Car
Mark Jensen
Home Power Magazine Article, Issue 113

How to get articles from Home Power ...


Good Home Power article.  Mark describes the large PV system that runs his house, as well as keeping his Toyota RAV 4 EV (Electrical Vehicle) charged.
These EV's are no longer offered by Toyota, and after reading the article, one wonders why?
Energy Tile -- PV modules that look like roof shingles


PV modules that resemble roof shingles and tend to blend in with the roof.
Electricity From Solar Generated Steam
There is a persistent interest in schemes that use concentrating solar collectors to make steam, which is then used to drive a steam engine or steam turbine, which in turn drives an  electrical generator.
One of the advantages of this plan is that solar thermal collectors to make steam are several times more efficient than PV modules, but this is somewhat offset by the low efficiency of steam engines. 
Just below is all I could find on this area -- if you know of more information, please let me know.
Note: Even though there is quite a bit of interest in this area, I was not able to find much on small scale projects -- if you have experience in this area, or find any interesting material, please let me know. 
Zenman Energy...
solar thermal electricity small scale This is a small group trying to develop and open source, small scale electricity generation system based on concentrating solar thermal collectors and the Green Steam Engine to power a generator.
DIY Concentrating Solar Collectors...

DIY concentrating solar collecotrThe link at the left is to our page on concentrating solar collectors that can be tackled as DIY projects. 

Some of these might be suitable for steam powered electrical generation.
A Concentrated Solar Thermal Energy System,
Christopher Newton, Florida State University

This is a Masters thesis project that goes through the design and build of a small concentrating solar collector, steam generation system, and the build of a turbine.

You may or may not want to build this particular design, but going through it gives a feel for how much work is involved in one of these systems. 

This is from
Generating steam with George's parabolic trough collector... steam generation from sunGeorge has been doing some interesting experiments using his parabolic trough collectors to generate steam.

It will be interesting to see where this leads.

Small Steam Engines and Turbines

Green Steam Engine ...

Green Turbine...

Mike Brown Steam Engines...

Strath Steam -- I'm not sure if they are still in business, but there website which has been archived on the Wayback Machine has quite a bit of useful information...

Also check YouTube for videos on the Strath Steam Engine.

Steam engineSmall steam engines and steam turbines are few and far between -- these are a few places to start looking.

Commercial Scale Solar Thermal Electricity

Wikipedia on solar thermal power plants...

NREL: Concentrating Solar Power: Energy from Mirrors

Ivanph project....
solar thermal electric generationThere are many examples of successful large commercial electrical generation plants that use large arrays of parabolic collectors heating fluid at their focus, or use large fields of heliostats that reflect energy onto a tower mounted receiver.  Some of these plants even include molten salt energy storage so they can continue to supply power after the sun goes down.
Make Your Own PV 
Here are some detailed articles on how to build your own PV panels from individual PV cells.
If you think that you want to roll your own PV panel, these are the best descriptions I could find -- some of them are very detailed.
Careful weather sealing needs to be addressed.
Caution: bogus books on making your own PV panels I've noticed that a number of books have popped up on the Internet and on ebay that promise to tell you in detail how to easily make PV panels (or wind turbines).   

Many of these are scams that contain little or no useful information.  I don't know how you tell the good from the bad, but the two links below and the ones on the wind page provide quite a bit of how-to detail for no charge, so I'd start with these.

Home Build Solar System

Full Details...  (pdf)


This is a very well done article on building not only your own PV panels, but adding the additional components to make a full system.

Home Build Solar System is Hans website, and has additional materials on this and other renewable energy projects.

Solar Panel Do-It-Yourself


This website from Hante provides very detailed and carefully thought out techniques for assembling your own PV panels from individual cells.

There is also material on adding the other components needed to make a full system.

How I built an electricity producing Solar Panel,


Another quite detailed run down on making your own PV panels from individual solar cells purchased on ebay.
Homemade Solar Panels

Homemade Solar PV Panel...

This is a fairly detailed post describing how to build your own PV panels from individual solar cells.
I've also heard a couple stories about early failure of homemade panels from moisture penetration due to weather exposure -- don't know what the design of these panels was.
Home DIY Solar


Another good and free source of information on how to make PV panels.

Sean uses a vacuum bag technique to seal the PV panel together.