Project: Go Solar
How we did it:
1. Get inspired. Check out Dwell Magazine and see some of the cool applications of energy efficient appliances in your home/office.
2. Do your research on what kind of state/federal/local incentives are out there to make your project more affordable. Usually your prospective vendors will help you here.
3. Talk to multiple vendors and negotiate. We're lucky to be in the Bay Area, where it was easy for me to get quotes on our project from 3 different vendors, which allowed me to get the best price from the vendor I liked the most. The bidding process is also your best chance to get lots of information for free. Potential vendors will help you size your array and find the best location (you've got to have southern exposure!). We used: Occidental Power and were really happy with their work.
4. Include solar or other energy efficient measures in other improvement jobs to save costs. We put in solar and insulated our roof when we needed to replace the roof. Doing so probably saved us thousands of dollars.
How To: Go Solar (From Wired Magazine January 2007)
You may not be the first on your block to install photovoltaics, but you can be extra-smart about your D.I.Y. project.
* Evaluate your access to the sun. If a few of the cells on a panel end up in the shade, power generation can drop by 85 to 90 percent.
* Choose the right system. Want a house that produces all of its own electricity? Opt for monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. They're the most efficient – and the most expensive. Amorphous photovoltaics are roughly half the price but only about half as efficient. If you can't bear the appearance of those big black roof slabs, go with building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Your normal-looking roof and windows become solar catchers.
* Optimize your positioning. One rule of thumb: Subtract 20 degrees from your latitude to find the best angle for mounting. In Seattle, latitude 47 degrees north, you'd want to install your panels at a 27-degree angle facing due south.
* Pump it up a notch and install a solar collector, a kind of water heater that sits on your roof. An antifreeze-like liquid runs through the collector and then through pipes down to your storage tank, translating warmth from the sun into steam in the shower.