What’s In a Solar Panel System?
With many generous state solar incentives and tax credits, Maryland homeowners are opting to harness clean, free energy from the sun. A professionally installed solar panel system can not only provide you with energy independence, but also save you money and lower your electric bill in times of ever-increasing electric rates.
Far too often, the solar panel is seen as the entire system, when in fact the panel is just one of many other integral solar panel system components that make your solar panel system function. This guide provides an itemized breakdown of each component in your solar panel system, and shows how each piece helps complete the system.
The most integral piece of your system, photovoltaic cells, receive clean energy from the sun and convert it into the electricity used in your home and by your appliances. Whether you call them photovoltaic cells, solar modules or solar units, all these terms are interchangeable. Depending on the manufacturer and model, solar panels have different output ratings (in watts). This rating signifies the maximum energy produced by one panel in ideal conditions.
For example, if you’re looking at installing a 4kW system to meet your energy requirements:
- Your system would need to produce 4000 watts.
- If each panel produces 220 watts, you would need approximately 18 solar panels (18 panels x 220 watts = 4000w or 4kW).
A solar inverter is the second most integral part of your system, converting direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). When solar panels collect energy from the sun, the energy is processed into direct current, which cannot be effectively used in your home. The inverter converts that energy into usable energy for your appliances (powering your TV, charging your phone or running your pool’s water pump).
Racking and Mounting Systems
Generally, there are two options for mounting a solar panel system for your home: ground mounted and roof mounted. Depending on your home and its surroundings (trees, adjacent buildings, other structures), there may be a valid reason for using one over the other.
Roof-mounted systems are generally the most common and practical solution. They are out of the way and usually in direct sunlight. For applications where solar panels cannot be mounted on the roof, freestanding pole-mounted options (on the ground) may be a better choice. The advantage to this method is that the system is much more accessible for maintenance and cleaning.
If you are interested in keeping up with your solar array’s energy production, performance and allocation, monitoring systems can be connected to your PC, tablet or smartphone for remote viewing. Many monitoring products display key performance metrics on an easy to use, interactive dashboard.
An example of Enphase Energy’s ‘Enlighten’ interactive solar monitoring system:
A proper connection between your solar panels and other components is crucial to an efficient solar array. If not properly connected, your system could be losing power on its way into your home, or worse, right at the source. What good is clean energy if you cannot use it?
A quality wire for your system is code-compliant and provides a water-tight seal to avoid any faulty connections and energy loss.