Solar power systems are becoming more and more popular nowadays. To understand why, you should first know what solar electricity is and how it can be used in our daily lives.
Solar electricity explained
A solar panel system uses sunlight to make electricity. That is achieved through special photovoltaic (PV) modules. Since solar power comes from a natural source, the energy is extremely durable and can be used over a long period of time. The method of generating solar power is impressively simple and effective. All that is required is for the solar panels to be left in the sun and they can produce enough energy to run the appliances in the house.
The energy from the sun is collected by a PV array also known as solar “generator”. The photovoltaic effect was discovered back in 1839 by a French physicist. Basically, when the sunlight reaches the PV cell, the cell absorbs some of the energy which is later being transformed. There are two main types of PV cells – crystalline silicon and thin-film. The main difference is in the material they are made from. The crystalline modules have a much bigger market share at the moment.
A solar power system normally consists of several components. The main component is the array but in order for the energy from it to be used, inverters, charge controllers and batteries are needed. However, these components vary according the system type.
There are four main types of solar energy systems.
PV – direct systems
This is the basic solar system and is made up of only two things – the array and the load. Because of its simplicity, it can only be used when the sun is shining. That makes its applicability very limited.
The best thing about off-grid systems is that they can work pretty much anywhere. That makes them very suitable for remote locations that can’t get regular utility service. The off-grid system operate independently is able to provide the electricity for the whole household.
Grid- tied systems with battery backup
This type is similar to the previous one but with one main distinction – it also includes the utility grid. That is important because that way, the system doesn’t have to provide all the energy all the time.
Grid-tied systems without batteries
These are the most popular solar power systems. They are also known as grid-tied, on-grid, grid-direct. The reason why they are so preferred by users is that using them is almost no different from living with utility electricity. The only distinction is in the source of the energy- the sun. The only disadvantage of on-grid systems is that if the grid fails, the whole system ceases to operate.
Why you should use solar electricity
Solar energy systems achieve their full payback in three or fewer years. They may seem a bit expensive at first but they are worth the money. PV systems continue to produce clean electricity for decades after their payback. Looking at the bigger picture, solar energy is a better source of energy than conventional fuels which have negative environmental and economic impacts. In addition, the pollution caused by the mining, processing and transporting of fossil fuels has a huge negative impact on public health.
Unlike regular electricity for which the bills should be paid every month as it is used, most expenses for the PV systems are paid at the time of their installment. Since they use energy from the sun, the energy they produce is essentially free. If you are looking to cut on your utilities expenses by investing in a home solar power system, you should keep in mind that the rate of your return depends on three things:
- disposable solar resources
- electricity prices
- state policy
When there is inflation in the country, normally the electricity prices will be inflated as well. This means you will be saving more by not having to pay those higher bills. Statistics show that utilities rates rise by approximately 4 % every year in times of financial crisis. In addition, there are available federal tax credits for renewable energy systems and other benefits which reduce further the system’s initial cost.
In addition, if you have off- grid PV system, you are not subjected to blackouts and brownout. Moreover, you system would not be subjected to the local utility policies or terms. All these provide you with a certain amount of freedom and save you money because it is cheaper to be off-grid than extending a utility line to your property. PV systems also have no moving parts which makes them very easy to maintain.
How to implement solar electricity in your home
First, you should decide which system is right for you. That depends on your goals. The most commonly installed system in the United States today is the grid- tied PV system. If you are not sure which system is best for your particular situation, you may use the following checklist to find out.
- Are you interested in clean power?
- Do you have a sunny location to install the solar system?
- Do you often have problems with infrequent utility?
If the answer is yes to all those questions, you need a grid–tied PV system without batteries. This system is more efficient than the battery-based ones that are similar in size. There is one main disadvantage though. If the grid goes down, it cannot provide energy anymore. However, the grid-tied PV system can provide a very good payback for a relatively low price.
Of course, you can also choose an off-grid system. In that case, you should know your household daily energy usage as well as how it differs seasonally. Therefore, that can be a bit demanding. You should also know the daily and seasonal availability of sun. All this is necessary for the determination of the battery bank size and other off-grid system’s specifications.
Secondly, you should cut back on electricity usage. That can be done mainly through efficiency measures and conservation. Once that is done, you can set your solar energy system. The figures of your annual energy usage are important for the PV array size. Another thing that should be taken into consideration is the availability of shade-free area you have on your property. PV modules can be put on roofs as well as on the ground.
The most important thing with solar energy is that you understand how it works and the long-term implications of using it. Make sure you have conducted a thorough research on the subject of solar energy before you implement it in your home. That will help you be prepared for possible complications in the future and also set your expectations at a reasonable level. Solar energy is the energy source of the future and the sooner you get started, the better.