Solar power has been one of the leading sources of power and energy for households for a long time now. Although it faced a decline as a major power source with the development of other sources like hydroelectric power stations, the photovoltaic power system has always been there and is now making its return. As a form of renewable energy, a solar power system is a clean form of energy and power that does not harm the environment in any way as it’s derived from an inexhaustible source—the sun. This pure energy source is undeniably strong; it can supply energy to millions of homes and establishments worldwide.
Today, with the awareness level about climate change conditions and the threats of global warming, many homeowners and businesses are subscribing to solar power systems to power their appliances and light their spaces. However, there are necessary components for a proper and functional solar power system installation in your home. This article will give you an insight into what they are and how it all began.
A brief history of the solar power system
We can trace the first use of solar energy to the 7th century BC when humans used sunlight to light fires. From there, the use of solar power evolved with prominent discoveries and innovations from the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. Throughout these periods, solar energy was used and harnessed through crude means such as magnifying glasses or reflective surfaces (like glass) and rooms that could retain the heat from the sun.
Before the advent of Smart Solar Energy and other similar offers available in the market today, the discovery of the first photovoltaic power system or cell was in 1839 by French scientist Edmond Becquerel. He discovered the photovoltaic effect, the first concrete scientific experiment that proved that solar energy can be harnessed and converted to electricity. From 1839 onwards, many scientists, such as Willoughby Smith, William Grylls Adams, Richard Evans Day, and others worked on various parts and aspects of harnessing solar energy. By 1883, Charles Fritts made the first solar cells from selenium.
We owe the modern-day form and composition of solar power energy we use today to Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson, who worked at Bell Labs and discovered that the best composition of the solar cell was silicon. With it, they built the first actual solar panel in 1954, opening the doors to the modern photovoltaic technology we know now.
It is from this that the structure of the solar power system was initially set up. The photovoltaic cells (silicon-made) placed on the solar panels absorbed the sun’s energy all day long and converted it into direct current (DC) solar electricity. Then, this is passed through the solar power inverter component of the overall system that converts the DC electricity into alternating current solar electricity. This is the form of electricity fit for home usage to power various appliances and gadgets.
Components of a home solar power system
From its long history, we can now identify the components required for any solar power system. These components include photovoltaic cells, solar panels, and solar power inverters. Although these are vital components, they are not the only ones required in a modern-day solar power system. A standard solar photovoltaic system comprises seven components, and these are as follows:
1. Solar panel
The major component of any photovoltaic system is the solar panel. Solar panels comprise countless solar cells that absorb the sun’s energy (i.e., the photons of light from the sun) and convert them into electricity for use through a process known as the photovoltaic effect. You can have solar panels on the roof covering a part or the entire roof or have the solar panels placed on the ground. The number of solar panels required by any household or building depends on the amount of electrical power needed to power the appliances or the entire building.
Solar panels can be mono-crystalline, consisting of singular large crystals and considered more efficient in absorbing the photons of light, making them more expensive. Another is poly-crystalline solar panels, made of multiple smaller crystals that are not as efficient in absorbing the photons of light but are reliable.
2. Charge controllers
The system comes with a charge controller that regulates the DC that the batteries receive to ensure that the batteries of the solar power system do not overcharge. They are designed to measure the amount of energy available, tell when the batteries are fully charged, and stop the current from flowing into the batteries once they are fully charged. Charge controllers are vital as they ensure that the batteries and the overall solar system have a longer lifespan and protect the system.
It is important to note that charge controllers are often present in solar power systems that utilize a battery bank. Meanwhile, a charge controller is not necessary for models without a battery bank.
3. Battery bank
As the name implies, the solar battery bank is the component that stores unused solar energy, thereby preventing wasted energy. The battery bank stores any excess energy produced by the solar panels that aren’t used. This is redirected and resupplied to homes later when the solar power system can no longer acquire energy, like at nighttime or when there is little sunlight.
Like in the case of a charge controller, not all solar power systems use a battery bank. Small solar power systems can be used without a battery bank. However, larger ones that provide huge volumes of energy to homes would require a battery bank to ensure an uninterrupted energy supply.
4. Solar power inverter
A solar power system is incomplete without an inverter as it is the main component that converts the DC solar electricity received from the panels to usable and safe alternating current electricity. Simply put, the solar power inverter is the main engine that transforms light rays into electrical energy for use. Solar power inverters come in two major types:
- String solar power inverter – This is a single inverter type that connects to all the solar panels through a central unit. String inverters are the least expensive due to their central conversion unit. However, they are only most effective when the panel system is built with access to full sunlight. Thus, the conversion output drops when one panel is shaded or receives a limited amount of sunlight.
- Micro solar power inverter – Unlike the string inverter that utilises a central unit, the micro inverter is attached to individual panels and produces output through individual panels. This means that each micro inverter acts as a solar system on its own and does not depend on the functionality of other panels to convert energy.
Micro inverters are excellent choices in places with uneven solar distribution, but they are expensive to acquire.
5. Mounting racks
These are the means through which the solar panels are fixed to the home’s ground or roof. The solar power system’s mounting racks are designed to hold the solar panels at perfect angles. These give the panels good access to capture the sun’s rays during the daytime.
Mounting racks also have two types: fixed mounts and track mounts. Fixed mounts are designed to mount the solar panels in a stationary manner, whereas track mounts are designed to allow the panels to follow the sun’s position. That is, they allow the solar panels to move to wherever the sun’s rays are coming from or are strongest at any time of the day.
6. The wiring
The wiring connects the solar panel to the solar inverters, then to the home grounding system. This allows the produced electrical power to flow from the inverter to the appliances in the house. The wiring is also connected to the utility meter where the output is constantly measured.
7. Solar performance monitoring system
The solar performance monitoring system provides information about the volume of electricity consumption per household by measuring how much electricity is produced and used in the home. A performance monitoring meter or system is connected to the solar power system and measures the amount of power consumed from there.
The monitoring system also alerts the homeowners of changes in the electricity generation or electricity output that could damage the overall system. Hence, homeowners can gauge their solar system’s performance and output and quickly address issues that could affect the performance of the power system.
Today, solar power systems are synonymous with cleaner and safer sources of energy that are efficient in the purest forms. Their popularity in most homes and commercial establishments has been lauded globally and successfully, prompting many others to do the same to help save the environment and lower their electric bills, too. Although solar power systems can be costly to purchase and set up depending on the type and your needs and requirements, they are lifelong investments for free and clean energy. Indeed, they will pay off in the long run as long as all the components discussed in this article are functioning as they should.
Featured image: Adobe Stock