Solar Electric Power

Solar generated electricity comes in two basic flavors — Solar Thermal Energy, which is primarily used for large scale power production and is not really useful for home power generation. (At least not to my knowledge at this time. I will be researching this and updating the site as necessary to reflect the current technologies available.) And Solar Photovoltaic Energy, which is generated with solar panels that use photovoltaic principles to generate electricity. This is the primary system to consider when you want to consider producing your own electric power.

Why you should install and use solar electric power in your home?

As energy prices have risen over the past year (Energy prices are up 29% in 2008 alone) more and more people are exploring the option of using solar electric power for their homes and businesses. People want these systems for a variety of reasons, from simple cost savings to saving the environment to patriotic reasons like increasing our energy independence and reducing the trade deficit.. Here are some chief advantages you get when you install a solar electric power system:

  • Solar Electric power is reliable
  • Solar Electric power is Pollution free
  • Solar Electric power uses a renewable source of energy – You have it whenever the sun is shining.
  • Solar Electric power systems produce no noise.
  • Solar Electric power systems have no moving parts, which means minimal maintenance
  • Solar Electric power systems never run out of fuel when the sun is out.
  • Solar Electric power contributes to energy independence, both for you and the country.
  • Solar Electric power is good for the economy, because it reduces the trade deficit since many components are produced in the United States.
  • Solar Electric power systems provide you with the safety and security that comes with having your own back-up power system.
  • Solar Electric power will save you money.

Wouldn’t it be nice to free yourself from the worry of continuing skyrocketing energy costs while at the same time doing your part do reduce carbon emissions and foster energy independence? Well you can do that by installing a solar electric power system.

What exactly is a PV-based solar electric system?

PV-based electrical power is solar electric power that is generated using Photovoltaic (PV) technology and principles. A PV cell is made from semiconductor materials that react whenever they are exposed sunlight, converting the sunlight directly into electric power. These cells work whenever the sun is shining on them. How much electricity is produced varies depending on the intensity of the sunlight striking the cells and with the angle at which the light impacts the cells. (90 Deg. Is optimum.) Since the sun moves across the sky throughout the day, changing the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the panels, and the sun’s intensity varies with cloud cover and weather conditions, the actual power produced by your solar cells will vary as well. All these need to be taken into consideration when deciding upon and choosing a home solar power system.

It is important to remember that Photovoltaic technology does not use the heat of the sun to generate electricity, it uses the sunlight itself. Electricity is produced directly from the interaction of sunlight with the semiconductor material contained in the PV cells.

Basic building blocks of your Home Solar Power System

 

While any discussion of “How” photovoltaic solar power cells work may seem complicated, (and depending on the level of detail you want they are complicated!), the actual system is very simple. There are only three (4) primary components that you need for a grid tied solar power system. These are:

  1. Solar Panels
  2. A Charge Controller
  3. An Inverter
  4. A battery system – optional for grid-tied systems, mandatory for off-grid (or “stand alone” systems).

The solar panels produce the electricity, which is low voltage direct current (DC) power. The inverter converts this DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is electricity you can use in your home, which is normally 120vac, 60 Hz.

PV Technology

The basic building block of PV technology is the “solar cell”. These cells are bundled together into solar PV modules, ranging in power from about 10 watts to 300 watts. When sunlight strikes these cells they generate DC current, which needs to be run through an inverter to change it to AC current. AC current is compatible with both your house electrical system and with the utility grid. Sometimes battery systems are added to store power to be used at night or on cloudy days as a backup system.

It is important to remember that PV systems produce power only when the sun is shining, so an alternate source of power is needed for night time and on those occasions when the sun isn’t shining. For most people this isn’t a problem because they are also connected to the local utility power grid. This allows them to take advantage of Net Metering and/or net billing in addition to providing them with a reliable back-up source of power. Off-grid or stand alone systems need to either install a battery backup system or install another source of alternate power such as a wind, geothermal or hydro system.

 

A significant (and historical) disadvantage of PV generated electricity is that it tends to be more expensive than the raw cost of utility supplied power. I say raw cost because Environmental impact accounting is typically not reflected in the cost of electricity. The good news is that the cost of solar power is continually coming down as new developments occur in both the manufacturing process and in PV cell efficiency. Current costs for solar generated electricity runs about $0.25/Kwh, which, depending on your local utility costs, can be two to five times what you are paying. Costs can be reduced by net metering and Federal incentives like rebates and tax credits.

 

When you think about it, Installing a solar electric system is like paying your utility bills years in advance, as it requires an initial large investment followed by years of low or no electricity bills. Financing your PV installation over a large number of years however, can provide you with an immediate payback in terms of monthly costs whenever your monthly savings are more than the monthly finance payment for your system. When financed this way and combined with available rebates and incentives, solar electricity not only makes sense, it seems downright foolish not to install a solar system..

Rebates, tax credits and other incentives

Because it makes so much sense both economically and environmentally, more and more people are making the decision to take charge of their own energy future by installing solar power in their homes. Governments and utilities see the sense in having more and more solar power systems installed in homes and businesses and they have set up several incentive programs consisting of rebates and tax credits to encourage people to go solar. These programs change year to year and the best way to get the latest information is to check out the website for the National Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy Resources. This website contains latest information on the incentives in place to help you finance and pay for energy improvements.

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