Going Solar Part 1 – Installing a 4kW PV Array at the Automated Home

Having watched the price of photovoltaic solar panels steadily fall over the last few years and seeing a drop in incentives looming on the horizon, we decided to pull the trigger on a system for the Automated Home.

We had visits from 3 local companies to quote for a 4kW PV system. That’s the largest single phase domestic installation you can connect to the grid in Northern Ireland currently.

Two of the companies quoted a similar figure of around £5,000 whilst the third quoted for a more sophisticated system using micro-inverters at almost double that.

We went with the Solar Panel Co NI, one of the companies around £5K after receiving a personal recommendation from a friend that had used them before.

Our system comprises of 14 x 285W SolarWorld mono black panels and an SMA Sunny Boy 3600TL-21 inverter.

Whilst we could have mounted some panels on the south-facing roof at the front of the Automated Home they wouldn’t have looked great and we have plenty of space so we opted for a ground mounted system in the back garden instead.

4kW Ground Mount Solar PV Array

Our rear fence runs around 25 degrees off perfect South meaning the parallel array faces SSE. A slightly westerly facing array is usually better than an easterly one as that means you continue to generate a little more power in the evenings when you normally use the most. But it should make very little practical difference.

The guys from the Solar Panel Co NI did a fantastic job, installing the ground mount in the garden, erecting the panels, burying the cables that run into Node Zero and connecting everything to the SMA Inverter – all in one day.

SMA Sunny Boy 3600TL-21 inverter Being Installed in Node Zero

Northern Ireland has it’s own incentive scheme (NIRO), like the rest of the UK – England and Wales (RO), Scotland (ROS). ROCs payments continue for 20 years and we cover the economics in part 2 of this review series, but I’ll say this, it’s a special moment when you see your electricity metre slow down, stop and then start to go backwards 🙂

For now checkout the video of the system below and make sure to watch to the end for the obligatory time lapse of the whole day.

Part 2  :  Solar Panel Co NI  :  SolarWorld  :  SMA

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16 Comments on "Going Solar Part 1 – Installing a 4kW PV Array at the Automated Home"

  1. Bravo looking forward to part 2. The ‘Immersun’ unit used to be a good addition to a PV system but I heard they had ceased trading … I wonder if anyone is making a similar system that allocates surplus power to the immersion heater rather than selling it cheaply to the grid.

  2. Thanks Patrick. We’ve installed a ‘Solar iBoost+’ which we’ll cover in another video.

  3. Well done and good to hear about your experience. I took the leap earlier in the year with a 3Kwp system on my West facing roof. I plumbed for an in-roof rather than on-roof system, whilst significantly more expansive they don’t stand out as much, the panels include micro-inverters. Have you had a look at https://openenergymonitor.org/emon/ nice visuals and open source solution for monitoring consumption and generation

  4. Thanks Paul – love to see pics of your setup. I’ll checkout open energy monitor, thanks for the tip.

  5. Congratulations and welcome to the #PV club. Your interest in weather, when the washing machine and dishwasher go on, chasing down your base load, the need to regularly check your generation stats, checking your Solar iBoost divert figures, reading about battery storage, exploring air source heat pumps and other traits of ownership will send the rest of the household crazy, but you can justify it!

    The guys at http://www.solarpanelni.com/ were a pleasure to deal with and did a very tidy install. I opted for 14 of the SolarWorld 285w panels and they are very unobtrusive on our black tiles. I’ve used the SolarWorld SunnyPortal to setup the predicted average yield expectations and year to date I’m on track to meet them.

    The Solar iBoost has given us plenty of piping hot water which in turn kept our wood pellet boiler off, so reducing those fuel costs and wear and tear on the boiler.

    All in a good decision and it provides hour of fun and entertainment, if you like that sort of thing!

  6. @Mark – you are right on the above 🙂 Thanks for all your help and recommendation! M.

  7. Well done Mark. I’d keep the “meter running backwards” bit a secret, as you’re gaining twice. Getting FIT and the meter going backwards. Annoyingly my meter went wrong just after my solar was installed, and they insisted I had a digital meter installed 🙁

    Just checking they installed the 240v inverter output onto it’s own MCB *outside* of the Consumer Unit. Many installers will install the MCB inside the Consumer Unit, which will defeat the RCD. ie if the RCD blows, the inverter will still be supplying power for a second or two, thereby giving you a shock

  8. @Mike – Thanks, big backlog in getting export metres fitted over here and talk that we’ll just get given a percentage of total generation instead (45%?). The guys fitted a small separate consumer unit with RCD and isolator switch.

  9. looks very neat – any chance of installed dimensions ?

  10. @Chris – the panels are a metre wide so 14m in length. If you need the height width I can get them for you?

  11. many thanks, that’s enough … tempted to use something like the galvanised supports to mount a line on the south wall of the house (16m long) – our garden is quite narrow, so they’d been seen mostly edge-on and, with some stand-off & spacing between panels, might not cast too much of a shadow …

  12. Did the video miss something, or did they really bury a cable carrying up to 40amps in a trench about 10cm deep?

  13. @MichaelID – It’s about 10″ deep and in an armoured flexible conduit.

  14. 40A is quite a lot – wonder if, on sunny winter days, a line in the frost will appear … like crop marks, from the air ? !

  15. Congratulations on green energy. Its a great feeling that you / we are not using the finite carbon or giving cash to the energy suppliers.

    You have now tied in your energy costs at todays rate for 20 years and it will continue long after.

    I had a 4kw install just over a year. 2kw east 2kw west. Not perfect and took a few years to sort.
    Its just popped 3003kwh in the first year way above the estimate of 2,500kw so well happy.
    12 X 330w benq pv, trannergy 3600 inverter.
    I had an I boost but changed to immersun as its logging ability and 2nd channel for underfloor heating in kitchen when hot water tank is hot. I set the thermostat to 65oc for pv and 52 for gas. This is like a battery system forcing energy into hot water is always way hot and enough. had to play with timer settings.
    The underfloor set to 24 on pv so heats way above what I need but excess heat goes to rest of house especially spring autumn saving on gas or running the boiler. You can program it to do a lot of things.

    The immersun logging is a must in how you use the energy. My inverter tells me every 15 mins what i am producing but its the immersun every 10 seconds that tells me what i am using or diverting or giving to the grid/ excess that i could use. It still does this but until someone else picks up the great product I feel its soon wont.

    I am looking for a device that does pv generation, house use with 3 temp sensors, house, hotwater, outside, and gas meter use all logging to the web or pc.

    I used to spend £120 per month on gas and elec, now its £40 and my fit and export payments are over £460 so I am cost neutral. With £120 per month staying in the bank I will be getting the upfront cost back within 5 years. Sooner a I had cash back on recommendations.
    As the export and fit are index linked and energy linked the returns will increase as with any increase in energy. Well happy.

    I dont agree about the look, its the future, but yours is great if you have the ground as you can get the perfect angle.

    The last point is this my base use is around 300w/hr with a 4kw import. My cooker eats elec and I cook at 20:00 when its dark, No good generating 20kw during the day but you only use 6kw. As winter comes days shorten so getting even 300w/hrs gets hard.
    So my ideal would be to have a 4kw battery system for no more than £1,500 on economy 7 top up (seems mad but if you can gt 4p/kw during the winter get it and use in evening and save on the 12p/kw. PLUS a 600w wind turbine to top up during the winter and nights.

    Jas

  16. Thanks Mark, great review start. Moving house soon PVs top of my list of to-dos along with new heating system and controls. Will be going thru other reviews as well over next few weeks.

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