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Solar Power 101 Guide: Panels, Inverters, Generators & More

Are you ready to make the switch to renewable energy? Are you curious about solar power? Well, you should be. Solar energy is clean, efficient, and requires little maintenance. Once properly installed, a good solar system can power an entire house. Consider this your solar power 101 guide, discussing solar power for homes and commercial spaces in the simplest possible terms. 

Solar power converts sunlight into electricity through the use of solar panels. So that is free electricity whenever there is sunshine. That is why an increasing number of homes are opting to have solar panels installed. 

Solar power is one of the quickest ways to get reliable energy to power most of your appliances and tools. Getting energy from the sun may sound simple, but it actually needs several components in addition to panels. Some of these components are pricey, so setting them up wrong can be expensive. In this beginner's guide to solar power, we will discuss the components in most solar system setups in detail. 

Solar Power 101: What are Solar Panels?

You probably have heard a lot about solar panels. The most visible part of a solar power setup, solar panels are also called photovoltaic cells or solar cells, and their job is to convert light into electricity (in DC). 

Solar panels are coated in semiconductor crystalline silicon and glass that allows light to pass through. They make electricity using the photovoltaic effect, wherein light excites and frees electrons in the silicon, allowing them to flow and make an electric current. If you recall science class way back when, there is an electric current when electrons move through a conductor. 

Crystalline silicon is the preferred material for solar panels because it is plentiful and relatively cheap to manufacture. There are several types of solar panels you will find in the market. 

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

As the name implies, monocrystalline panels are made of a single silicon crystal. One way to identify them is that they have a rather dark, almost black, uniform color. The electrons have an easier time flowing through the single-crystal structure, making monocrystalline panels the most efficient among solar panel types, reaching efficiencies of 17% to 20%. 

In addition, they are the most durable and can deliver good amounts of energy even if temperatures soar, unlike other types. That’s because they have a higher temperature coefficient, losing only 0.5% efficiency per degree (Celsius). That also means the panels still generate adequate power even during cloudy days. 

Monocrystalline solar panels are made from cut wafers from a single silicon block or ingot. Panels are made by connected solar cells; each is made of a single crystal silicon wafer or lattice. 

Monocrystalline panels are a great choice if you want the maximum electricity-generating power. They are also a great choice for limited spaces, as they still generate a lot of electricity. Because of their dark color, they also look great and suit the look of most home roof styles. 

The only downside is that they cost more, which has much to do with the manufacturing process. However, their efficiency and durability offer the best value for your money. These panels have a useful life of beyond 25 years before having a significant drop in efficiency. 

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Next on the list are polycrystalline panels. They are less expensive than monocrystalline panels and are a good choice for the budget-conscious. You will find them useful for covering large spaces such as roofs of warehouses and factories. 

Polycrystalline solar panels are easier to produce, so they are cheaper. These panels are made from silicon pieces melted together, with noticeable grains like a mosaic. Electrons have a harder time traveling between those grains, resulting in lower performance. Most panels have a bluish color and have no metal frame. 

Polycrystalline solar panels have a lower efficiency ranging from 13% to 16%. They also produce lower output when subjected to intense heat (above 40C), so they are fit for cooler climates. That does not mean they are bad performers, as these panels still produce a lot of electricity. 

In terms of lifespan, polycrystalline panels degrade slightly faster than monocrystalline panels. However, they last beyond 25 years and remain useful. 

Flexible Solar Panels

A relatively new panel technology is the flexible type. They do flex and are lightweight, which is ideal for situations calling for portability. They are either polycrystalline or monocrystalline solar cells but made much thinner (mere micrometers in thickness) between layers of flexible plastic. 

Flexible solar panels are attached to surfaces with adhesives, so installation is a breeze. Campers, hikers, and explorers find flexible solar panels useful to charge their phones and other devices in remote locations. Many boaters, RV owners, and van dwellers choose flexible solar panels to fill spaces and fit on the odd angles of their roofs. 

One problem is that most flexible solar panels cannot match the output of rigid solar panels. The heat from the roof also puts a limit on the electricity output. Because they are sealed in plastic, flexible solar panels are also less durable and, at the same time, more vulnerable to water ingress than rigid solar panels.

Solar Power 101: What are Inverters?

Once you got solar panels selected, the next thing to have is the inverter. Solar power applications usually call for a type of inverter called a solar inverter. There are several types of inverters, but this article focuses on central (or string) inverters, which connect several solar panels into one inverter. 

The main function of the inverter is to turn DC to AC, or the type of current you get in the mains It turns 12-volt DC into 110 or 220-volt AC. As you can see, solar panels emit direct current, usually at 12 volts. Your home devices and appliances cannot use DC, except maybe for 12-volt car phone chargers or LED lights. The inverter is connected to the fusebox of your home to electrify appliances and other devices.

How do inverters work? 

In the most basic terms, inverters have switching devices that turn the straight-line DC into a wavy form characteristic of AC and then use a transformer to step up the voltage from 12 volts to 120 volts (or 220 volts). 

You probably saw inverter models displaying watts, which shows its overall capacity – a 3000-watt inverter can give up to 3,000 watts. That is, for example, an air conditioner (1500 watts), a computer (900 watts), and a speaker (350 watts). Going beyond the capacity can cause the inverter to shut down. More expensive inverters typically have higher watt ratings and so can power more appliances.  

Note that inverters, like other electrical devices, do not have 100% efficiency. You should also carefully check appliances and ensure a surge does not breach the wattage limit of the inverter; there should be a buffer in case there is cloud cover that lowers the amount of sunlight. Inverters also emit heat when operating, so many models have an internal fan to aid in cooling. 

The Difference Between Pure Sine Wave vs. Modified Sine Wave 

You can see that inverters are either labeled ‘modified sine wave’ or ‘pure sine wave.’ Modified sine wave inverters produce a squarish wavelength for power-hungry devices like heaters and water pumps but not for sensitive devices like computers. Modified sine wave inverters are cheaper, but they cause motors to run inefficiently and emit more heat.  

Pure sine wave inverters are more expensive. However, they produce a wavy electrical wavelength, much like the mains, and can be used for computers, CPAP machines, TVs, refrigerators, and other sensitive stuff. Most grid-tie inverters are pure sine wave types. Although it costs higher, pure sine wave inverters like this one (pictured below) are worth the money because you can use them on appliances and PCs without causing problems. 

Types of Solar Inverters 

Solar-type inverters are further categorized into grid tie, battery-charged, and hybrid. Grid tie inverters are directly connected to your local electrical power grid and have no battery. 

Battery-charged inverters are needed for setups with a battery, and they power your home and charge the batteries simultaneously. A hybrid solar inverter can do both, being able to connect to your electric grid safely and also charge batteries. 

Grid tie inverters are the lowest in cost because there is no need for a battery. However, that means you don’t get any power at night or during bad weather. Battery-charged inverters can give you power even when the sun is out, but the batteries mean added costs. Make sure to choose an inverter that will fit your needs.

Solar Power 101: What are Solar Generators?

Solar generators, or power stations, combine the inverter, rechargeable batteries, and outlets in one package. They are designed to connect to solar panels and provide 120-volt electricity and 220 volts on more expensive models. Smaller, lower-priced models have fewer ports and wattage but are lightweight and useful in powering tools or electronics in remote locations.

The advantages of solar generators are that they are portable and easy to set up. Just imagine having the inverter, battery pack, and outlets in a single package. Plug them into solar panels and get clean energy right away. Or, charge them by plugging in your wall outlet or with the solar panels. On the other hand, you can bring the power station alone and use it as a power source during your trip if you want to be lightweight. 

Solar generators are always worth the cost because they are versatile. Aside from charging them with solar panels, you can keep them at home as backup power or as a UPS (uninterruptible power source) for electronics. Bring them during trips or long-distance travel to power your devices, and bring the panels along to have off-grid power! 

Other Things to Consider

Getting solar power is a great choice to cut energy bills and switch to a more sustainable lifestyle. In the United States, the federal government offers a solar tax credit where the percentage of the total cost of the solar energy setup can be claimed as a tax credit. Several local state and city-level governments offer solar panel incentives, rebates, and property tax relief. Those incentives often stack, so you will save significant money buying solar panel systems. 

Suppose you have a grid-tie setup connected to the grid. In that case, your local electric utility company may even provide credit every time your solar setup provides electricity back to the grid. 

One key factor to consider in solar systems is maintenance. Solar panels may need periodic wiping to remove surface dust, as accumulated debris can reduce sunlight gain and efficiency. Batteries and solar generators may need to get recharged every month or two when unused. 

Get Solar Power for Your Home Now!

A complete solar system comprises solar panels, an inverter, and a battery pack. You can choose a solar generator, which packs the inverter and the battery in a single package. These solar kits also include panels, so you get the complete package and can use them immediately. 

Solar systems may have a high upfront cost, but rebates and reductions in energy bills mean it pays itself after several years. It is a good source of power in distant places with no electricity. Having one is a good investment. 

Getting your very own solar system is now easier than ever. Get the best solar kits by heading over to our Solar Paradise. We have complete solar systems, solar panels, and solar system components, and the most helpful customer service! Contact us today and see what solar system setup is right for you. Buy now!

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