Archive for October, 2009

Understanding the Key Components of a Solar Electric System

Using the power of the sun is becoming increasingly attractive from an economic and environmental aspect. If you’re going solar, you need to know some of the terms and components people are talking about and what they mean.

While generally considered electric platforms, solar systems definitely have unique components. Here’s some of the jargon you are going to need to be familiar with before buying.

Solar Electric System1. Photovoltaic Cell
This is the key piece of any solar platform. Known as a PV cell, it is typically a small cell containing a silicon substance under glass. When the sun hits the cell, the silicon undergoes an electrical reaction that creates a charge. The charge is collected by small wires. Bell Labs developed the first silicon solar cell in 1953 – the first to generate measurable electric current. By 1956, this fantastic new technology to generate electricity was costing about $300 per Watt (compared with a rough cost now of $5 per Watt). Depending on the nature of the cell, each should produce roughly half a volt.

Solar Electric System2. Solar Panel
Solar panels are a collection of solar cells joined as a unit in a frame. Traditional solar panels are made from wafer-thin pieces of crystalline silicon, called solar cells. As energy particles from the sun (called photons) impact the silicon they have the effect of bumping electrons from the cells. These electrons flow through connective wires towards a positively charged panel, causing an electric current. While the electricity produced by one of these solar cells is miniscule, by chaining hundreds of these cells together enough electricity is generated to power everything from calculators to an entire home, depending on the overall size of the panel. Between 4 and 22 percent of the energy falling on a panel is actually converted to usable electrical energy. The rest is reflected or turned into heat. These panels should not be confused with those used for solar water heating, which simply use the sun’s energy to heat water directly.

3. Solar System
Also known as a photovoltaic system, a solar system is an interconnected set of solar panels. A Solar Electrical System, also referred to as a PV or Photovoltaic system, consists of solar panels installed on your roof, facade, garage, greenhouse, barn, pole or yard structure, that generates electricity when exposed to sunlight and electronic devices which regulate and convert the electricity into useful forms which can power your house or recharge your electric car. Solar Electric SystemWith a Grid Tie System your electric meter will run backwards during the day when a surplus is generated, thus providing you with free electricity at night from your electric utility company. Adding batteries to your system provides even more redundancy, especially when brown outs, power outages, or natural disasters occur and water pumps or other critical equipment is needed. A solar system typically converts enough sunlight into electricity to provide most or all of the power required by a home.

4. Orientation
Before installing a panel system, one has to give some thought regarding where to put it. The sun tracks across a structure in a particular way. To maximize the energy production, the panels have to be oriented to receive the maximum amount of sunlight. This, of course, results in the maximum amount of electricity.

5. Direct Current
It is a type of electricity that flows in only one direction. Solar cells produce direct current electricity.

6. Alternating Current
Alternating Current is electricity that flows in both directions. AC power is the type of electricity used by utilities companies and therefore in practically all appliances and machines in a home.

7. Inverter
An inverter is a key component in a solar panel system. The inverter converts the direct current produced by the solar panels into AC power that can be used in the home or fed back into a utility power grid system.

Obviously, there are a wide variety of systems for converting sunlight into power. Being familiar with the above components is a good place to start.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with advances in the solar power industry, there have been lots of advances. Now more than ever you have many choices of solar energy products to help you reduce your consumption of traditional fossil fuels. The solar revolution of the last two decades has made solar energy an increasingly powerful force in the energy arena.

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