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Solar Power Installation

A Complete Guide to Solar Power Installation

Solar power offers a safe, reliable and environmentally friendly source of renewable energy. Advancements in solar power systems have made them simpler to install. The ability to connect them to utility grids has made them more practical financially. In addition, recent legislation has provided a number of financial incentives for home owners who install and operate them As a result, an increasing number of home owners have found it an attractive means of countering rising energy costs.

Components of a Photovoltaic System

Photovoltaic Panels

Photovoltaic panels are manufactured from silicon comparable to that employed in computer technology. Each panel is comprised of a number of photovoltaic (or solar) cells that are interconnected to construct a panel. These panels are joined to form a photovoltaic array. There are three different types of photovoltaic cells. Monocrystalline cells are incised from a single silicon crystal. They are the most efficient and the most expensive. Polycrystalline cells are scored from a silicon block that consists of a number of crystals. They are not as efficient as monocrystalline cells but are also less expensive. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells must be mounted in a rigid frame. Amorphous cells are manufactured by adhering thin films of non-crystalline silicon to a variety of materials. They are extremely flexible and the least expensive but not as efficient as the other types.

Photovoltaic Arrays

The photovoltaic array is most often mounted to the roof of the home; however, they can also be installed on a pole, a framework positioned on the ground, detached garages or alternative locations. The photovoltaic array generates DC power that is sent to a DC/AC inverter.

DC Disconnect

The DC disconnect allows the current being generated by the photovoltaic array to be interrupted before reaching the inverter. It is most often used while the system is undergoing maintenance and repair.

DC/AC Inverter

The photovoltaic array generates DC power. DC (Direct Current) power flows in one direction. AC (Alternating Current) power can move back and forth along a wire. AC current is also capable of being transmitted for long distances. For this reason, electrical networks and homes in the U.S are set up to use AC power. In order to use the DC power produced by the photovoltaic array in the home, it must first be converted to AC power. This takes place in the DC/AC inverter.

AC Disconnect

An AC Disconnect is not included in all systems. It allows a photovoltaic system connected to the electrical grid to be disconnected. Many utilities require it as a safety precaution to prevent power from a photovoltaic system from being sent onto the grid while linesmen are working.

Production Meter

The production meter monitors the amount of energy produced by the photovoltaic system. Some incentive programs require systems to include a production meter.

Circuit Breaker Panel and Utility Meter

The power produced by the photovoltaic system enters the home through the circuit breaker panel. If insufficient electricity is being generated to power the household, the power generated by the photovoltaic system is used first and the remainder is accessed from the utility grid. Some systems connected to the electrical grid may produce electricity beyond what is required to power the household. The excess is sent out onto the power grid and results in a reversal on the utility meter. The home owner receives a credit for the power produced.

Siting the Photovoltaic System

It is essential that the photovoltaic system be positioned where it is unobstructed from sunlight during most of the day and the through seasonal changes of the year. Shading from power lines, trees or neighboring buildings can significantly impact power production. Proper siting of the system is crucial to ensure maximum energy production and yield the highest return on the investment.

Alignment and Angle

To get the best performance from photovoltaic panels, they should be positioned in a direction that captures the most sunlight. Photovoltaic panels should be aligned to face true south if they are in the northern hemisphere and true north if in the southern hemisphere. The recommended angle for fixed panels is 30 degrees. However, adjustable panels allow the angle to be positioned for optimal sunlight as seasons change. The recommended angle for adjustable panels is the latitude plus 15 degrees in the winter or minus 15 degrees in summer.

Roof Installations

A substantial part of the cost of a photovoltaic system is for installation. Most photovoltaic systems have a life expectancy of 20 years or more. Some roofs may only last 15 years. Therefore, if any roofing work is planned, it should be completed prior to installing the photovoltaic system. Additionally, a thorough inspection of the roof before installation of the system may prevent the need to remove the panels and reinstall them. Most photovoltaic systems are mounted on sloped roofs, but they can be installed on a flat roof. These systems require additional support to guard against wind shear. Adjustable Photovoltaic Systems

Most photovoltaic systems mounted on roofs are fixed. However, if it is installed on a flat roof or pole, home owners have the option of purchasing an adjustable system. Adjustable systems are equipped with a tracking device that allows the angle of the panels to be tilted to receive more direct light. Adjustable systems produce 20 to 40 percent more power than fixed systems but are more expensive in terms of installation and maintenance. Fixed photovoltaic systems have no moving parts unlike adjustable systems. This adds to the cost of operation and repairs.

Choosing the Right Size Photovoltaic System

When choosing a photovoltaic system, there three main considerations. First, the homeowner should decide if they want to produce all of the power needed for their home or a certain percentage. To determine how much power is needed, view the kilowatt-hours consumed on a utility bill. Install a photovoltaic system compatible with the home’s energy needs. A system that generates an excess of what is needed is not economical since the utility company will not reimburse the excess produced. Next, the amount of space available must be taken into account. The amount of unshaded area available for installation may limit the size of the system. The budget available is another important factor. The homeowner must decide if the project can be paid for from available savings or if financing is required. Any financial incentives available should also be considered.