Solar Power

Lessen your carbon footprint and save on utility bills with solar power

Solar Power - Buying Guide

Solar power components convert sunlight into electricity that can power appliances, lights, TVs, stereos and more. With solar power a part of the green energy movement, you can feel good about reducing your impact on the Earth’s nonrenewable resources.

This guide provides an overview of solar power and highlights its uses, advantages and accessories.

Solar Power Advantages and Benefits

Solar power is economical and clean with low maintenance requirements, offsetting what may seem to be prohibitive upfront costs.

  • While the upfront costs of solar panels may seem expensive, the 25-year-plus life span make solar an attractive option.
  • Power from sunlight is clean and infinitely renewable. The panels emit no fumes, have no greenhouse gases or carbon emissions and are absolutely silent.
  • Best of all, solar panels are self-sustaining and require almost no maintenance.

Applications

The components involved in solar power – including panels and the cells they’re composed of -- are critical to make the electricity usable.

  • Solar panels only generate power during daylight hours, and they do not store electricity. Off-grid power systems require deep-cell storage batteries to store the power for future use. The power stored in batteries can be called upon when the solar panels are not generating power.
  • If your home is connected to an electrical company grid, you can use solar panels to help offset the cost and save money. Solar generated power may be fed back into the grid, causing your meter to run backward. In some states, your account may be credited with the amount your solar panels feed into the grid.

System Components

The components involved in solar power – including panels and the cells they’re composed of -- are critical to make the electricity usable.

  • Solar panels are the key to solar power. They are made up of photovoltaic cells that absorb the sun’s energy and convert it to electrical current. The three most popular types are polycrystalline, monocrystaline and amorphous.
  • Polycrystalline panels are made from a block of silicon with many different crystals. They are rigid, efficient and work great in areas with high levels of sun exposure.
  • Monocrystaline panels are made of one silicon crystal. They are more expensive but also more efficient.
  • Amourphous panels, also called thin-film panels, are flexible and easier to work with than the others. They work in all daylight conditions, making them ideal for areas with lower sun exposure.
  • Charge controllers, also known as charge regulators, regulate the voltage going into the battery and protect battery discharge at night. They also protect the battery as it can be damaged by the fluctuating charge if a panel is connected directly to it.
  • A power inverter converts DC power from the batteries to AC power, which is the common electricity found in homes. Inverters come in two types, modified sine wave and pure sine wave inverters.
  • Pure sine wave power is the same power provided by utility companies, so everything in your home will function the same as it would under grid power.
  • Modified inverters are less expensive than pure inverters. Most home appliances will run using a modified inverter, but some common equipment should not run from a modified unit, such as laser printers, amplifiers, fans and CFL lights.
  • DC disconnects are essential in a grid-tied system but not needed in an off-grid system. The DC switch is installed near the point where the solar panel power enters the house. The switch turns off the power connection to the panels so you can safely work on them.
  • Batteries or a bank of batteries are required to store the power the panels create. Deep cycle batteries are designed to be discharged and recharged hundreds of times, making them compatible for use with solar panels.