So what is solar energy exactly?
The sun isn’t just a pretty face that provides us light and warmth. It is actually a great source of energy when harnessed correctly. Solar energy is the energy produced from the sunlight. We have the ability to convert the energy from the sun’s rays into electricity that we can use to power things like baseboard heaters, heat pumps, lights, appliances and just about anything else that uses electricity.
In order to harness the sun’s awesome power solar panel systems were created. These solar systems have developed in such a way to capture energy coming from the sun and convert it into a usable form of electricity that can power your home or be placed back into the grid to help power others needs.
Let’s take a look at the parts involved.
The Solar Panels
Solar panels are made up of a bunch of solar cells. These are small squares (typically 6”x6”) made up primarily of silicon. Silicon is a conductive element that when exposed to light changes its electrical characteristics which ultimately allows it to generate an electrical current.
A solar panel is basically a bunch of these cells laid out like a grid with a protective backsheet and a glass front. The protective backsheet and glass front are measures to keep those solar cells operating effectively and undamaged. This design allows them to perform efficiently for decades! That’s why warranties are typically 25 years.
A typical solar panel used by many providers is the Canadian Solar 385W 72 cell panel. Panels typically come in 60 and 72 cell configurations. The 72 cell is typically 1m tall and 2m wide.
A house is usually fitted with between 20 and 30 panels in different configurations depending on the roof size and design. When these panels are placed on a structure it is called an Array. They are set on racking and typically are wired into an inverter. This is known as a String of panels.
The inverter is the tool that the energy from the panels flows into and converts it to a usable form to power anything in your home. There are many different types of inverters including string, string with panel level optimizers and micro inverters.
A string inverter is mounted on the wall, it takes multiple panels strung together in series, and if 1 panel is not working all panels in the string are not working. Typical warranties for a string inverter are 7-10 years.
A string inverter with panel level optimizers is mounted on the wall and optimizers are placed underneath the panels. The optimizers allow for one panel to not be working while the rest continue to produce power. Typical warranties for the optimizers are 25 years and the inverters are usually 7-10 years.
A micro inverter is mounted underneath the panels and allows for independent power production from each solar panel. This means that if one panel is covered in snow or has shade on it that the rest will keep working. Micro inverters also typically come with a 25 year warranty.
The monitoring equipment
The sun, solar panels and inverter are the most important parts to solar energy as a sustainable and efficient resource. But one really important part you should never overlook is the monitoring! Since solar panels don’t move, change color or make noises (all great things) it is a little harder to realize they are not working…especially in the case of net metering where your house is always powered either from the power company or your solar panels.
A monitoring system, like APSystem Microinverter, will monitor the energy production in real time and let you know if any issues arise immediately. Monitoring allows you to see how much power the system is producing in real time and identify how each panel is operating. Errors and troubleshooting are fast by showing exactly what and where the problem is.
So that is how solar energy is created for use in your home and distribution back into the grid.
Images Source: Sunly.ca