What are solar panels and how do they work?

The idea of harnessing solar energy began in 1954 when scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that silicon, an element found in sand, created an electric charge when it was exposed to direct sunlight. This led to the development of solar cells that captured energy from the sun and turned it into electricity. Since then, solar technology has evolved and now provides incredibly attractive financial benefits for homeowners and businesses alike. This wasn’t always the case, however, and for many years solar was only available to wealthy individuals who valued the environmental benefits over cheap electricity.


Did you know that the amount of energy from the sun that reaches the earth in a single hour is enough to power the entire planet for over a year? #solarenergyrocks


Thanks to solar panel systems we now have an inexhaustible source of clean, renewable energy that is cheaper than burning fossil fuels, which are polluting our air, and contributing to climate change.



How does it work?


Throughout the day, the photovoltaic (PV) cells in your solar panels absorb the energy from sunlight and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. The DC current travels along your system, and is passed through an inverter, where it converts the Direct Current into an Alternating Current (AC), which is what your home or business runs off of. From there, you will use the electricity to power your home, storing any excess production with a battery storage solution (installed as part of your system), or sending it back to the electric grid to earn credits that will later be used to offset your electric bill. More on that in a bit.

Solar Panel System Components:

1. Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

2. Inverter

3. Racking and Mounting System

4. Performance Monitoring System


Photovoltaic Panels


Solar panels, or photovoltaic panels for the nerds (PV panels for the more efficient nerds, like me), collect energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. They are commonly available in poly-crystalline or mono-crystalline panels, with a variety of outputs ranging from as low as 250, all the way up to 415 watts. The key difference between poly and mono-crystalline panels are price and efficiency. Mono-crystalline panels are typically more efficient, and thus more expensive, than poly-crystalline. There are some good reasons for choosing the more expensive option, such as limited roof space.


Inverters


There are 2 main types of inverters: micro-inverters and string inverters. As your panels collect the sun’s energy, it is converted into DC electricity. An overwhelming majority of homes and businesses, however, run off of AC electricity, which is why it’s necessary to use an inverter to convert the DC into usable AC. A string inverter is the most common and inexpensive type of inverter. It connects your entire array of solar panels together at your main electrical panel. The downside to a string inverter compared to micro-inverters is that if one panel stops producing, whether from temporary shade or other reasons, it can bring down the performance of the entire system. Micro-inverters, on the other hand, are installed at each individual panel and convert DC into AC immediately, allowing for maximum energy production. If one panel stops producing because of temporary shade, or for any reason at all, it does not affect the other panels or the system as a whole. While these are generally more expensive, they minimize the effects of shading on the system’s performance. There is also another option: power optimizers. This is like a hybrid of string and micro-inverters. Power optimizers are installed at each panel, just like micro-inverters, but instead of converting the DC into AC directly, the optimizers ‘condition’ the electricity before sending it to a centralized inverter. Power optimizers tend perform well when one or more solar panel is shaded. They generally cost more than a string inverter system, but less than micro-inverters. A true hybrid.


Racking & Mounting Systems


Racking and mounting systems are used to affix your solar panels to either your roof or directly to the ground. They also allow you to position your panels at the optimal angle for capturing sunlight, which is facing south and between 30 and 45 degrees (depending on your distance from the equator). Panels facing east/west will still work well at an angle of 5 degrees or more, but will produce 10 to 20% less than those installed under ideal circumstances.


There are 2 types of mounts: Fixed and tracking mounts. Fixed mounts are by far the most common and least expensive of the 2. They are the only option for roof mounted systems, but can also be installed on the ground. Tracking mounts follow the sun as it moves across the sky throughout the day, as well as throughout the seasons. Track mounts are only suitable for ground mounted systems and, because of the addition of moving parts, also require routine maintenance to prevent costly long-term repairs. They are also more expensive that fixed mounts, but they can increase your system’s production by 30% or more. Because of the extra expenses associated with tracking mounts, they are far less common and are typically only recommended for situations with limited space in order to maximize production.


Performance Monitoring Systems


Performance monitoring systems give you detailed information about your system’s performance. They allow you to measure and track the amount of electricity your system produces on an hourly basis. This type of performance monitoring can provide significant value over the lifetime of your system by helping you identify production problems, as well as by giving you the peace of mind in knowing that your system is operating properly.


On-site vs remote monitoring


The only difference between these 2 types of monitoring systems is their physical location. On-site monitors are located on your property and directly record your systems performance. Remote monitoring systems transmit your performance data to a monitoring service that you can access online or even with a mobile app in some cases.


It's really exciting to be at this point in solar technology that it now makes sense financially to do something that's great for the planet. The future of solar is huge, and we want you to be a part of the #solarrevolution

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AUSTIN@SOLARHOMEDFW.COM

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