A solar power system is composed of multiple components that work in unity to convert sunlight into electricity. Solar technology has been in existence for more than 60 years. Historically, the technology was dormant mainly due to the relative affordability of fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels have come under scrutiny due to their ever increasing price and supply instability. This has led to a renaissance of interest in renewable energy. Solar power is seen, by many, as one of the main resources we can utilize to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
In order to convert sunlight into electricity many solar components must be utilized. The components used to convert solar rays into electricity are inverters, solar modules, wiring, racking, switches, and production meters. Once all the components are assembled the system requires little to no maintenance, mainly due to the lack of any moving parts. Each solar component plays a pivotal part in converting the solar rays into electricity. The amount of power the solar system produces is influenced by a variety of factors. The number of solar modules, the efficiency of the solar modules, the orientation of the sun, and the amount of sunlight present ultimately dictates how much solar power a solar system can produce. For optimal performance, a solar system should face southward and be tilted in order to fully maximize the solar rays.
Solar panels are mounted on a roof mounted racking system. The roof mounted racking system adds an additional 3 to 5 pounds per square foot on a roof. When a solar power system is mounted on a roof, the system is attached to the roof’s trusses in order to properly secure the solar system. The holes that are drill on the roof are flashed to weatherproof. Flashing is the process where multiple pieces of sheets overlap each other in order to prevent water from leaking into the building. Solar power systems can be mounted on any solid structure that will last at least ten years or more. A solar system can also be installed on a ground mount. A parcel of land is needed to construct the ground mount structure.
Once a solar system is mounted the solar system can begin to produce electricity. Solar modules, also referred as solar panels, convert the solar rays into electricity. As the sun strikes the solar panels an electric current flows out of the solar cells and into the wires. The current produced by the solar panels is direct current electricity. Direct current electricity occurs when an electrical charge flows in a constant direction. Unfortunately, the grid and our homes use alternating current. Alternating current electricity refers to electrical charges that occasionally reverse direction.
An inverter is used to convert direct current electricity into alternating current electricity. The electricity is modified in order to be used by the appliances in a home and the electrical grid. There are multiple inverter systems that have their advantages and disadvantages. String inverters connect to the electrical grid and match the current from the utility supplied. In case of a blackout the inverter automatically shuts down and stops the supply of electricity back into the grid. The system shuts down in order to eliminate the danger of utility workers being electrocuted as they work on the electrical grid. When power outages are experienced solar customers will also be affected by the outage because the inverter will automatically shut down. String inverters attach multiple solar panels, yet when a single solar panel experiences lower productivity the entire solar array’s productivity decreases as well. The advantage of string inverters is their affordability. Solar micro-inverters convert direct electricity into alternating electricity as well. Solar micro-inverters connect to a single panel, unlike string inverters where a solar array is tied to the inverter. A solar array is multiple solar panels attached together. When solar micro-inverters are installed a single solar panel whose performance decreases will not affect the entire solar array. Yet solar micro-inverters cost more than string inverters because of the added cost of parts and labor.
Stand-alone inverters receive direct current electricity from batteries that are charged by solar panels. The inverters are not tie to the grid and are not required to shut down when an outage occurs. An advantage when compared to grid tie inverters. Unfortunately, the incurred cost of the batteries drives the price upward for a stand-alone inverter.
Once solar power is converted to alternating current electricity by an inverter, the energy is sent to the home’s service panel. The home is now harnessing the power of the sun any excess energy can be exported on to the utility grid. When a customer generates excess electricity, the electricity is fed onto the utility grid. This is known as net metering. Net metering allows customer to be paid or receive credit by the utility company for their excess electricity. During a twelve month billing cycle the utility company will pay or credit the customer for any excess electricity they produced. The average price a utility company will pay or credit a customer is four cents per kilowatt hour. At the end of the twelve month billing cycle a customer will be credited for any surplus electricity.