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Solar Electricity


Solar power works well for most items except large electric appliances that use an electric heat element such as a water heater, clothes dryer and electric stove. It is not cost effective to use solar power for these items. Conversion to natural gas, propane or other alternatives is usually recommended.



The basics of solar power:


Using solar power to produce electricity is not the same as using solar to produce heat. Solar thermal principles are applied to produce hot fluids or air. Photovoltaic principles are used to produce electricity. A solar panel (PV panel) is made of the natural element, silicon, which becomes charged electrically when subjected to sunlight.


Solar panels are directed at solar north in the southern hemisphere at an angle dictated by the geographic location and latitude of where they are to be installed. Typically, the angle of the solar array is set within a range of between site-latitude-plus 15 degrees and site-latitude-minus 15 degrees, depending on whether a slight winter or summer bias is desirable in the system. Many solar arrays are placed at an angle equal to the site latitude with no bias for seasonal periods.


This electrical charge is consolidated in the PV panel and directed to the output terminals to produce low voltage (Direct Current) - usually 6 to 24 volts.

Components used to provide solar power:

The four primary components for producing electricity using solar power, which provides common 220/240 volt AC power for daily use are Solar panels, charge controller, battery and inverter. Solar panels charge the battery, and the charge regulator ensures the proper charging of the battery. The battery provides DC voltage to the inverter, and the inverter converts the DC voltage to normal AC voltage.

Charge Controller:


A charge controller monitors the battery's state-of-charge to ensure that when the battery needs charge-current it gets it, and also ensures the battery isn't over-charged. Connecting a solar panel to a battery without a regulator seriously risks damaging the battery and potentially causing a safety concern.

Charge controllers (or often called charge regulator) are rated based on the amount of amperage they can process from a solar array. If a controller is rated at 20 amps it means that you can connect up to 20 amps of solar panel output current to this one controller. The most advanced charge controllers utilize a charging principal referred to as Pulse-Width-Modulation (PWM) - which ensures the most efficient battery charging and extends the life of the battery. Even more advanced controllers also include Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) which maximizes the amount of current going into the battery from the solar array by lowering the panel's output voltage, which increases the charging amps to the battery.



The Deep Cycle batteries used are designed to be discharged and then re-charged hundreds or thousands of times. These batteries are rated in Amp Hours (ah). Simply stated, amp hours refers to the amount of current - in amps - which can be supplied by the battery over the period of hours. For example, a 350ah battery could supply 17.5 continuous amps over 20 hours or 35 continuous amps for 10 hours.


The battery should have sufficient amp hour capacity to supply needed power during the longest expected period "no sun" or extremely cloudy conditions. A lead-acid battery should be sized at least 20% larger than this amount. If there is a source of backup power, such as a standby generator along with a battery charger, the battery bank does not have to be sized for worst-case weather conditions.

The size of the battery bank required will depend on the storage capacity required, the maximum discharge rate, the maximum charge rate, and the minimum temperature at which the batteries will be used. During planning, all of these factors are looked at, and the one requiring the largest capacity will dictate the battery size.

Using an Inverter:

An inverter is a device which changes DC power stored in a battery to standard 220/240 VAC electricity . Most solar power systems generate DC current which is stored in batteries. Nearly all lighting, appliances, motors, etc., are designed to use ac power, so it takes an inverter to make the switch from battery-stored DC to standard power.

In an inverter, direct current (DC) is switched back and forth to produce alternating current (AC). Then it is transformed, filtered, stepped, etc. to get it to an acceptable output waveform. The more processing, the cleaner and quieter the output, but the lower the efficiency of the conversion. The goal becomes to produce a waveform that is acceptable to all loads without sacrificing too much power into the conversion process.


Inverters come in two basic output designs - sine wave and modified sine wave. Most 220VAC devices can use the modified sine wave, but there are some notable exceptions. Devices such as laser printers which use triacs and/or silicon controlled rectifiers are damaged when provided mod-sine wave power. Motors and power supplies usually run warmer and less efficiently on mod-sine wave power. Some things, like fans, amplifiers, and cheap fluorescent lights, give off an audible buzz on modified sine wave power. However, modified sine wave inverters make the conversion from DC to AC very efficiently. They are relatively inexpensive, and many of the electrical devices we use every day work fine on them.

Sine wave inverters can virtually operate anything. Your utility company provides sine wave power, so a sine wave inverter is equal to or even better than utility supplied power. A sine wave inverter can "clean up" utility or generator supplied power because of its internal processing.

Efficiency Losses:


In all systems there are losses due to such things as voltage losses as the electricity is carried across the wires, batteries and inverters not being 100 percent efficient, and other factors. These efficiency losses vary from component to component, and from system to system and can be as high as 25 percent. That's why it's a good idea to speak to someone who has extensive design experience to properly design a specific system and to configure the right equipment for you