Going Solar 101
Solar energy is the greatest energy source on earth. Our atmosphere
absorbs about 70% of the solar energy that reaches the earth. One of the
most popular uses of this endless and renewable energy source is the
ability to harness it and use it for electricity via solar panels.
Many schools, homes, and businesses make a choice to go solar. This change has numerous benefits, with the primary aim being the ability to control costs and obtain energy from a renewable source versus the power grid. Solar power is cost-effective and can drastically reduce electric utility bills. The most fantastic perk of this energy source is that it is clean and renewable. Signing up for solar energy for your home is a way to reduce the pressure of greenhouse gasses on the earth.
This article will give you the 101 on solar panel systems. We discuss what makes up a solar panel and what equipment is needed to produce electricity from the sun's power.
What is a Solar Panel?
A solar panel is a device that absorbs and collects clean solar energy
from the sun and converts it into usable power. Sunlight is made up of
particles of energy called "photons," which can power electrical loads
when stored and directed correctly.
A solar installer can pack solar panels together on a rooftop for residential or commercial spaces to produce enough renewable electricity to fulfill all of its needs and store excess power for nighttime use.
How Solar Panels Work
Here is the basic rundown of how solar panel systems work:
- During the day, solar cells inside your solar panels absorb power from the sun.
- Cell circuits gather that energy and convert it into direct current energy (DC).
- The direct current energy travels through an inverter and transforms the energy into usable alternating current (AC) electricity.
- The alternating current electricity can then be used as an electricity source, stored for later use, or recycled back to the grid.
What Forms a Solar Panel System?
Solar panel systems are robust. Solar panels can be a massive asset to your home if correctly installed and maintained. Four main components make up your solar panels:
- Solar photovoltaic cell panels work to convert solar energy into power and electricity.
- Inverters convert DC electricity to AC electricity.
- Racking and mounting hardware fit your panels to a roof or surface with the best possible exposure to the sun.
- Performance monitoring technology provides data by tracking and monitoring your solar system's electricity output and maintenance needs.
We will discuss each of these components in-depth below:
Solar panels are framed in metal with a glass covering, wiring, and solar cells (silicon, phosphorous, and boron). Typically one panel, also known as a module, is about four feet wide and six feet tall, weighing about 30 pounds. Solar cells are an essential part of solar panels, and thousands of these cells are placed together to do the important work of gathering energy from the sun. Different companies and brands will have unique configurations of solar cells. When incoming sunlight touches the solar cells, it activates electrons that flow through the cells. Wires in the cells absorb and capture the electron energy flow and combine it with other cell energy to generate an electrical current. This is called the photovoltaic effect. A basic explanation of the photovoltaic effect is as follows:
- Sunlight strikes the solar cells, giving energy to the electrons in the cells and triggering them in motion.
- An electrical current is then created by the electrons that flow out of the junction between cell layers.
- Wires and metal plates seize the electron flow, thereby generating electricity.
Direct current (DC) electricity is the power that is generated from the solar cells. It needs to be changed into alternating currents (ACs). Inverters in your solar panels make that change so that the electricity that's gathered is usable for your home. Solar panels have three basic types of inverters:
1. String (or Centralized) Inverters
For this inverter type, a single inverter connects all of your solar panels to your electrical panel. String inverters are a standard and affordable option and offer durable technology. The con of this option is a slightly weaker power converter, mostly affected by the electricity production of every panel. If shading slows electricity production, the entire system's performance can be lowered.
Microinverters are technology installed on every individual solar panel. This separate connection allows each panel to perform at its maximum capacity, even during shading. This inverter option surpasses many performance issues and can usually offer rapid shutdown capabilities, panel-level monitoring, diagnostics, and flexibility for the layout of your panels. The main con of this option is that it's costly.
3. Power Optimizers
Power optimizers combine microinverters and string inverter technology.
- Like microinverters, this type of inverter has power optimizers at each panel.
- Instead of transforming the DC power into AC power, the optimizers shape the DC power.
- The electricity is then sent to a centralized inverter.
- Power optimizers offer many benefits of microinverters and perform well despite shading or multiple panel directions.
- Power optimizers suit complicated installations.
- The pricing for power optimizers tends to land midway between microinverters and string inverters.
Racking and Mounting Hardware
Mounting systems and racking hardware secure the solar panels to your rooftop during installation. The equipment is usually made up of flashings, mounts, rails, and camps. Your solar panel installer will fix the panels at a certain angle, (about 30 and 45 degrees), facing south. The ideal conditions are necessary for maximum power sourcing. Before your solar installer fixes your home solar panels flat on your roof (which is often the case for residential solar), discuss whether you have the option of tilting to capture the sunlight at the best possible angle. Your solar specialist may give you the choice of tracking mounts or fixed mounts for your solar panels.
- Fixed mounts are panels that remain stationary upon installation.
- Tracking mounts can move and "track" the sun throughout the day. This option is commonly only possible for ground-mounted solar panels.
Performance Monitoring Technology
A performance monitoring system will provide all the data of your solar system in the following ways:
- Displays the performance of your system - hourly, daily, monthly.
- Offers information about energy consumption and generation.
- It helps you measure if the optimal use of energy is being generated and used.
- Will alert you to damages or maintenance needs of your solar system.
- Some technology can track electricity savings.
A performance monitoring system can function on-site or remotely (via an app monitoring service or online)
Swap to Solar-Powering Your Home Today
At SwapToSolar.com, we are advocates of clean energy. We're here to answer your questions on solar, help you understand how it works, and customize a design for your home! Contact us today to book your free solar evaluation. We look forward to hearing from you.