Basically the Sun releases energy in the form of sunlight and heat. Both these two types of energy can be harnessed. Solar heaters make use of the heat energy from the sun to heat water, gases and other fluids. On the other hand, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.
Small cells called solar cells are connected together to form a solar panel. Solar panels in turn are connected together to form large systems called arrays.
A small cell, solar panel and aray (Left to right)
Solar panels work hand in hand with other important components to form a solar electric system. Typical components include a solar charge controller, rechargeable battery and an inverter.
Solar Charge Controllers
The charge controller is an important component prevents damage to the battery and solar panel. It regulates the charging of the battery to prevent overcharging and blocks current backflow from damaging the solar panel.
Rechargeable batteries are used to store the electricity produced by the solar panels. This allows electricity produced
in the day to be stored and used at night or as when needed.
Inverters are used when normal AC appliances are used in conjunction with the solar electric system. It should be noted that solar panels produce direct current (DC) electricity. Common household and industrial appliances use alternating current (AC). Therefore, an inverter is needed to convert DC to AC before any AC appliances can be used.
Advantages of using an inverter are that most normal AC appliances can be used. The disadvantages are that there will be energy wastage during the less than 100% efficient conversion process and obviously there is the additional cost of purchasing an inverter.
Alternatively, DC appliances are available that do not need inverters at all. Common DC appliances include DC lightings, fans and water pumps.
A grid-connect system allows energy produced by a solar electric system to be fed back to the electricity grid. Depending on the regulations in different countries, the excess energy produced by your solar system can be sold back to the electricity gird company, thus helping cut down on the monthly utility bills. When sunlight is available, your solar electric system will be providing you with electricity. When there is no sunlight, the utility grid supplies you with electricity. Thus eliminates the need for batteries to store excess electricity produced by your solar electric system.
Stand Alone System
A stand alone system (often called an off-grid system too) is not connected to any electricity grids. The system is solely responsible for powering any loads connected to it. This type of system is common in remote locations where an electricity grid is not available or too costly to connect to. It consists of at least a solar panel, charge controller, rechargeable batteries and the various loads. The rechargeable battery stores any electricity produced by the solar panels. The charge controller acts as an intelligent central unit where solar panels, batteries and the various DC loads are connected and monitored.
For remote rural areas where there no electricity is available, a simple stand alone lighting system consisting of a solar panel, charge controller, rechargeable battery and some DC lightings will be sufficient. For bigger systems, an inverter can be added to allow AC appliances and loads to be used too.
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