Depending on where you live–and how friendly you are with your neighbors–you might have heard someone in your area say they’re “going solar.” It’s a phrase you’re going to hear more often as energy costs continue to rise and concerns about the planet grow, but you might not know exactly what it means. If you’re still in the dark (pun very much intended) we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about converting a home to solar energy.
A solar power system is a set of solar panels and devices installed on your roof to generate renewable energy. The system uses the power of the sun to produce energy that offsets some or all of the energy needed to power lights, appliances, and other electric-powered items in your home. Once your system is up and running, it can yield exciting benefits like lower energy costs, independence from power companies, and the ability to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.
There are several factors that determine the potential benefits you could get from going solar, like the design of your roof, the amount of sun in your area, and your current energy costs. Some of these same factors will also come into play when determining if your home is eligible for solar.
The panels in a solar energy system are made of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert energy from the sun into electricity. When sunlight hits the PV cells in your solar panels, it excites the electrons in the cells, causing them to move around and produce a flow of electricity. That electricity flows through your system, then moves through a device called an inverter which converts it to usable energy. From there, the energy is either used to power your home, stored in a battery, or sent back to the power grid.
The exact components of your solar energy system may vary depending on the provider you work with. In most cases, the system is relatively straightforward, consisting of several key components.
The solar panels are the largest and most visible part of your system. As mentioned earlier, they’re made up of photovoltaic cells that generate energy from sunlight. That’s why solar panels will be placed in the optimal position on your roof to collect as much sunlight as possible throughout the day.
These components are used to attach the solar panels to your roof. They’re made of sturdy, weatherproof materials to withstand the elements and keep your panels securely fastened.
If your solar electric system includes a battery to store solar energy, you will also need a solar controller. A solar controller regulates how much solar energy is passed through to the solar battery. This ensures that your battery bank isn’t overloaded with more solar energy than it can safely store and keeps your battery from overcharging.
A solar battery or battery bank stores electricity generated during peak sunlight hours so that it can be used later when the solar panels don’t get sunlight at night or on cloudy days.
Once your solar panels have generated a flow of electricity from the sun, that electricity must be converted into usable energy. That’s where the inverter comes in. This device takes the direct current (DC) energy generated by your panels, and converts it to alternating current (AC) energy that your home can use for power. The inverter will usually be installed on the outside of your home or in the garage.
A monitoring system tracks the performance and energy production of your solar panels. It measures important metrics like how much energy your system is producing and how efficiently it’s running. This is helpful in detecting efficiency issues, and also provides helpful information on how much energy your home is using. A monitoring system also tracks how much of the energy produced by your solar energy system is sent back to the power grid.
Usually, there isn’t a need to purchase a fancy monitoring system, as you can simply use your electricity meter. But if you want to invest in a more advanced monitoring system, you can use a smart meter to keep track of how much solar energy you generate and use up.
There are several factors that come into play when determining what your solar energy system should look like. Your goals for the system like your budget and desired energy offset will be an important consideration, as well as your location and the design details of your home. The best first step in designing the right system for your home is to meet with a local solar power pro for a consultation. Check your home’s eligibility, then find a trusted provider in your area to get started.