This was a fun list for me to write, because I got to take a trip down memory lane and remember all of the mishaps I experienced starting with solar. Some of them seemed obvious, but sometimes it takes us humans a few f**k-ups before we learn our lesson! So here are the top eight mistakes I made starting with solar that I hope will save you from learning by trial and error.
1. Not understanding how much power different components use.
Before I started paying attention to this, I created a few smoky situations — literally. Excessive heat means melting components, smoke, and broken parts. I would also sometimes plug in tools, and find that they would barely work.
The lesson here was understanding that the root cause of these problems was not knowing how much power I needed to run the tool or appliance.
2. Mismatching component sizes.
I’m sure that you’ve heard the term “you are only as strong as your weakest link.” There is always going to be a weakest link in any system, and that’s hard to eliminate. The real problem is when your weakest link is put under enough of a test that it actually matters.
Being able to identify the weakest link in your system — and if and when it will matter — is an important skill for anyone building reliable and safe solar energy systems to have.
3. Not managing batteries properly and losing them.
Batteries are the most expensive part of any system, and yet last the least amount of time. They can be overused, incorrectly used, or overcharged, greatly reducing their working life.
I’ve since learned about the different types of batteries available, and the tools we need to manage them. Years later, my batteries last longer and I haven’t made any stupid mistakes (lately).
4. Waiting too long and asking someone to do it for me.
I spent years wanting to build solar energy systems, but didn’t take action for a long time. My first approach — which I tried for many years — was to find a company to install my system for me. But this either didn’t get me the results I wanted or ended up in a quote for thousands of dollars.
It was a super hard first step, and it was the wrong approach to take. I finally figured out that building a small solar energy system myself would have been a much easier first move.
5. Making positive and negative terminal mistakes.
With solar energy systems, we have direct current energy flows. Think of a flashlight or anything else that uses batteries — you have to insert the batteries correctly if you want the flashlight to work. Similarly with your solar energy system, you need to make sure that you have the right positive or negative terminals.
When I started, I wasn’t always diligent in labeling the positive and negative on my tools. I also used components that were easy to plug in incorrectly. These mistakes can be costly, leading to broken components and appliances.
6. Melting small wires.
Sometimes we’re in a rush to try something out or we just don’t have the right equipment, so we put smaller wires in and try to use our tools as a workaround.
What quickly happens though is that small wires heat up a lot — to the point of melting plastic and even metal. As you can imagine, that creates some risky conditions you want to avoid.
7. Not mounting solar panels high off the ground.
After you finally get your solar energy system together, you are always excited to see it in action. It’s tempting to just place a panel in the sun to see it work, but there’s a risk with not mounting solar panels first. It’s easy to drop tools on the panel or for the panel to fall over.
Panels are tough and I’ve never actually broken one, but there were a few times that I got close. Panels can last a long time if you treat them right, and you don’t want to lose your investment. I now mount all of my panels up high or with a wooden frame.
8. Not using a multimeter to see electricity.
When issues come up, we try to understand what the problem is and solve it. The challenge with solar energy is that there are no moving parts, so when something is wrong it isn’t visible.
It took some time for me to build the habit to get out the multimeter when something went wrong. But it’s worth getting into the routine, because the multimeter will let you see the flow of electricity, and make it easy to figure out which problem needs to be fixed.
What were some of your early mistakes going solar? What are some recurring challenges you still experience with your solar energy system? Share below and let’s discuss!