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Custom solar panels increase in popularity

As renewable energy sources have become a reality for homeowners, solar panel systems that can provide energy for an entire household are a viable option to help people live ìoff the grid.î Do-it-yourself solar panels provide a less expensive option.Art Wilson, a Falcon resident of 14 years, said he got on board with renewable energy when he built a greenhouse on his property. ìI wanted to have the solar panels to power the stuff in the greenhouse,î he said. ìI wanted to make it stand alone.îIn July 2012, Wilson said he began researching solar panel systems and found that most included huge panels and cost about $30,000 to $40,000. Wilson said when he found a system that produced more electricity with fewer panels at a ìcheaper cost,î he went for it. He purchased the system; and, with his knowledge of electrical operations and applications, installed the system himself, he said.ìThe driving factor for me was that it was a cheaper system, a better system, a more powerful system; and I would see a payoff in my lifetime,î Wilson said. ìIt takes less than one week to install and itís a 6.5 kilowatt system, which is more than enough to run the average household. Itíll take maybe 14 years to pay the system off, whereas before you wouldnít pay it off at all.îJohn Kivlin, Helios Solar Works chief operating officer, said his Milwaukee-based company allows people to pick and choose the products they purchase to fit their needs. ìItís nice because you can customize your needs,î he said. ìYou donít want to buy too big or too small. Itís not rocket science but youíre playing with electricity so we would not recommend it to your average do-it-yourself guy unless they have the proper electrical background.îWilson said the system he purchased includes panels that measure about 51 inches by 77 inches. Each panel contains 96 cells, which makes them the biggest panels available, he said. His system not only uses daytime sunlight to charge the batteries that feed electricity into his house at night but it also feeds energy back into the power grid, he said. ìAny excess electricity goes back into the grid, and the electrical company is bound by law to buy it from you,î Wilson said. ìThe maximum you would make that way is $200 per year, but the major driving force here was eliminating my electric bill.îThe electric company charges $30 to allow the solar panel system access into the electrical grid; and, ultimately, that will be the average amount per month of his electrical bill, he said.Another major benefit Wilson noted about his system is that it has an optimizer, he said. ìThe optimizer turns each panel into its own production plant,î he said. ìThree panels got iced over in a storm this spring but those were isolated, and the rest of the panels were still pumping out 3 kilowatts of power.î With other systems, if one panel gets covered, it affects the entire system of panels, Wilson said.Kivlin said DIY installers like Wilson arenít commonplace. ìPrimarily for residential installations, service providers are providing systems for no money down and providing a monthly fee for performance,î he said. ìThey come in and design and install the system, and the homeowner signs a contract and off they go.îHelios will provide some guidance for DIY system installers but not much, Kivlin said. ìThereís a ton of information out on the web thatís helpful for the DIY person,î he said. The trend in the industry is to sell the products to an installer or distributor who can make sure to follow the different rules and regulations of their jurisdiction when installing the system, Kivlin said.Wilson said he will install the systems for other people interested in solar panels.Whether purchasing the system upfront like Wilson did or leasing a system, Kivlin said, ìAt the end of the day, weíve got a product that provides power for 25 years. Itís warranted for that long so youíre basically buying that much power upfront.î

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