Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are quite simple and only require a few components to function. However, there are additional components that can be added to better optimize your PV systems and help ensure the safety and cost effectiveness for your project. Let’s dive right into each component and where they fall in the installation process.
To kickstart the energy production, you need solar panels, also known as solar modules in the solar industry or PV panels. Solar panels work by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms generating a flow of electricity. To learn more on how electricity is produced, check out this video made from TED-Ed showing this process in action.
Solar panels consist of 6 parts: silicon solar cells, a metal frame, glass sheet, standard 12V wire, and a bus wire. Each part aids in a specific process in the solar energy creation. For a more in depth look into each part, check out this article from EnergySage.
Racking and mounting systems do exactly as the name implies. These devices are installed on the roofs of a building or on the ground. Solar panels are then connected to the racking and mounting system to ensure the solar panel will not move from weather conditions such as wind or snow.
There are different types of racking and mounting systems to cater to different types of roofs. Whether you have a flat roof or shingles or even curved tiles, there’s a right mounting system for you. There are also types designed for pure speed or for extra strong winds. To learn more about the different types of mounting systems and learn which is best for you, check out this article from Solar Power World.
Inverters are a key component of a solar PV system. They convert direct current (DC), which is the electricity solar panels generate, to alternating current (AC), which is the type of electricity that is used to power your home or building (to learn more about this process, read our previous blog). There are two types of inverters: string inverters and microinverters.
String inverters connects a set of solar panels, also known as a string, to a central inverter. Most residential PV systems contain one inverter, whereas commercial and utility-scale projects may contain one or more inverter depending on the size of the building or land. Wires and circuits connected to both the solar panels and inverter transfers the electricity generated by the solar panels to the inverter to convert from DC electricity to AC electricity.
String inverters are by far the most commonly used form of energy conversion on solar projects throughout the world.
Microinverters are installed directly onto the back of each solar panel and convert from DC to AC electricity. This newly converted AC electricity will be passed through wires and circuits to your home or building.
MLPE (Module Level Power Electronics) are devices that connect to solar panels to enable features that can improve multiple aspects of solar installation including performance, safety, visibility and more. The primary features that MLPE enable are:
· Optimization – MLPE can increase the output of a solar installation by minimizing the effects of shading and mismatch on performance. With strings of solar modules, one shaded (or damaged, dirty, etc.) module can affect the performance of all the modules on the string. Optimizers minimize the negative effect on the whole string.
· Monitoring – MLPE enable module-level visibility to key performance metrics so that end users and installers can identify, and diagnose issues remotely
· Safety – MLPE meets a key safety requirement in the National Electrical Code (NEC) by reducing the voltage of the array at the module level when necessary. The requirement – typically referred to as Rapid Shutdown – was put in place for the safety of first responders and is currently active in multiple countries including the US.
Tigo has millions of MLPE operating in more than 100 different countries and lets solar owners and installers pick the features and functionalities that will work best for their location. To see the Tigo TS4 Flex MLPE lineup, check out our products here.
Solar batteries are an optional component of a solar PV system. Batteries are used for a variety of reasons that generally fall into 2 categories:
· Backup power: batteries enable the ability to power all or part of your home’s electrical needs in the event of a grid power outage.
· Energy bill savings: batteries can store energy when it is less expensive and discharge when it is more expensive to unlock savings for customers. Savings may come from time of use rate plans, demand charges, demand response payments, and more.
Solar batteries are typically deep cycle batteries for their ability to handle long, frequent, deep charge/discharge cycles. This ability allows it to store electricity for later use to be used similarly to a backup generator for a limited amount of energy.
Batteries are available in a variety of different sizes, chemistries, and forms. At Tigo, we chose a modular Lithium Iron Phosphate because of its long stability, long useful life, and ability to adjust the size to an individual homeowner’s requirements.
Automatic transfer switch (ATS) is another optional component of a solar PV system and is necessary if the solar PV system contains a solar battery. The ATS is a self-acting device that ensures the continuous delivery of electrical power. The technology within the ATS constantly monitors the electrical parameters of primary (the grid) and alternate power sources (solar battery). If the ATS doesn’t sense any electrical power going into the building’s fuse box, it will automatically transfer, or switch, the load circuit to the alternate power source, if available.
There are many forms of solar monitoring and for many sites the absolute minimum is inverter level monitoring. The monitoring solution is typically an app or a website that gives detailed visibility into the performance of the solar PV system. Common functions include diagnosing performance issues or seeing real time performance data.
As discussed in the MLPE section above, visibility to performance characteristics at the module-level can be enabled with MLPE. In addition, batteries, energy meters, and more can all be connected to the monitoring system to get complete system level visibility from anywhere with an internet connection.
To see an example of a module level monitoring solution, you can view the Tigo Energy Intelligence monitoring system in action. Click here for Tigo’s real time demo.
The main building blocks for a residential solar PV system to function are solar panels, racking and mounting systems, an inverter, and wiring to connect all the components together. The other components are optional parts to help optimize and monitor performance to give you extra satisfaction and peace of mind.
Now that you know about each solar component, you’re one step closer to deciding if solar is right for you. Want to learn more about solar? Follow us our social media accounts to get notified when a new blog is posted. We post every week!
TED-Ed: How do solar panels work? https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-do-solar-panels-work-richard-komp#watch
EnergySage: Components of a solar panel https://news.energysage.com/what-are-solar-panels-made-of-list-of-solar-pv-materials/
Solar Power World: Racking and mounting systems guide https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2017/02/different-types-solar-mounting-systems-roofs/
Tigo Energy: MLPE https://www.tigoenergy.com/ts4
Tigo Energy: Monitoring system demo https://ei.tigoenergy.com/p/9jSvEb1tOkhl/system/overview
About the timeline of solar: https://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/pdfs/solar_timeline.pdf
U.S.solar capacity data: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-energy-united-states
Global solar capacity data: https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/solar-power-countries-installed-capacity/