Solar power, or Photovoltaic, is becoming increasingly popular over the last few years. There are many reasons to make the upgrade. The up front cost of installing your solar panels is the only cost of the energy it will generate making it a very cost efficient solution in the long run. It is also one of the most Eco-friendly choices available on the market. It is a zero emissions method of generating electricity while the majority of the grid energy is generated using coal or oil, which are both high carbon output.
There are four major parts of a solar system required when looking to have the power integrated with your houses grid power. These components will help you get started along with wire gauge appropriate for the amount of power you will be generating.
The solar panel is the beginning of the entire process and determines how much energy you will be producing. The photovoltaic cells gather energy from the sun and convert them into electronic flow through a wire. Things to consider when selecting a panel appropriate for you are; how much space do you have, how much money are you willing to spend, and how large can the energy storage and transfer units be. Once these limits are addressed and your guidelines are established you begin the process of selecting the proper size and wattage of your solar panel. For more specifics on choosing the best panel in terms of size and watts per dollar please refer to the solar panel specifics article located here. The solar panel you select will be wired up to to the solar controller where the energy will be stored to the battery bank when not being used or sent to the inverter when power is being consumed.
The solar controller is essentially the brains of the solar power setup. It ensures that the energy collected is not wasted as well as protecting the different equipment in use. The controller must be selected based on the watts your solar panels will be providing as well as the watts you will be drawing from the system at any given time. It acts as a buffer making sure that nothing is damaged in the event that the power used exceeds the batteries abilities or if the batteries are fully charged to prevent over charging. The energy from the solar panels is sent the the batteries for storage through this unit and features an automatic shutoff when the battery is full. It also has a feature that will turn off the power output when the battery reaches a minimum voltage to maintain battery life and stability. An LED light or audible notice occur during events such as over drawing in use, battery below minimum level, or solar panel input overload.
The battery bank is where all the energy will be stored until it is needed for use in your home. It is a crucial part of the system because without it any energy produced by the panels and not used immediately would go to waste. It allows for a lot more flexibility on the use or input end of the setup. 12 volt batteries are the perfect choice. Solar controllers will be set up for 12 volts or 24 volts (or occasionally both when labeled as such). If the controller is capable of storing to a 12 volt system this means you can use a single 12 volt battery or more than one 12 volt battery wired in parallel, which maintains the voltage while increasing the amperage. If your controller is able to run on a 24 volt system this means your system can have two batteries wired in series or two sets of 12 volts wired in parallel with each other. There are some advantages to each style of setup and should be investigated further. When choosing the best batteries remember that these will occasionally be drained almost fully. This means that one should choose deep cycle or similar use batteries. Regular car batteries are designed to maintain a mostly full charge at all times; the closer comparison to what you will want is a marine battery.
Inverters do just as they say. They invert the incoming power into a different voltage. It turns the power from the batteries into 110 volts as would come from the outlet in the wall. This will be very important in the system except for the few items you may have that run/charge on 12 volts (anything with a car charger adapter). There are two different types of inverters; pure sign wave and modified sign wave.
*Be careful when making this purchase. Sign wave inverters change the voltage in a way that makes the outcome exactly like that coming out of an outlet however the other does not and can damage certain equipment. Though it is cheaper be sure you know the limitations of what should be used before springing for the purchase.
These can be attached with wires directly to the solar controller. However a trick I found very useful was to attach the controller to an outlet like the well known cigarette lighter. This helps for quickly attaching the inverter at times as well as allowing you to use the 12 volt system just as it is when you can. The inverter will generate heat when increasing the voltage because it is not extremely efficient, which is why it is a good idea to try and use 12 volt ready appliances when making the solar panel switch.