Article by Anthony Smith
More and more people are beginnning to show an interest in getting started building their own solar power system. Before embarking on such a project, it is useful to have an outline of all the basic components needed for the successful operation of a solar power system.
Perhaps the most obvious component and arguably, the most important, is the Solar Panel itself. The most common type is the Photovoltaic, or PV panel. There are monocrystalline versions and polycrystalline versions available, which has to do with the manufacturing process. Some would argue that the monocrystalline performance is slightly more efficient, but this may not be a hard and fast rule.
When choosing a panel, you should be concerned with first determining the Watt rating of the panel. Small panels of, say, 10 inches long, may only give out a power rating of a couple of watts, which is not going to be of much practical use beyond the hobbyist level. As a starting point, panels of 60 Watts and upwards, will provide a level of power which can sustainably power electrical devices around the home. For example, a 60 watt panel could supply enough power to run about 4 or 5 energy-efficient lights, or it could power electric machines such as power tools or a couple of large fans. At this level, solar energy becomes usable. Panels can be connected together to increase the power output. As an example, connecting two 60 watt panels will provide a total power output of 120 watts.
The next component needed is the Charge Controller. A solar charge controller is needed in virtually all solar power systems that utilize batteries. The job of the solar charge controller is to regulate the power going from the solar panel to the battery or batteries. Overcharging batteries will result in reduced battery life and could even damage the batteries to the point that they are unusable.
The most basic charge controller simply monitors the battery voltage and opens the circuit, stopping the charging, when the battery voltage reaches a certain level. Older charge controllers used a mechanical relay to open or close the circuit, stopping or starting power going to the batteries.
The other important function of solar charge controllers is preventing reverse-current flow. At night, when solar panels aren’t generating electricity, electricity can actually flow backwards from the batteries through the solar panels, draining the batteries. To prevent this, the charge controller can detect when no energy is coming from the solar panel and breaks the circuit, thereby stopping reverse current flow.
The next component we are interested in is, of course, the battery. These are generally available as 12 volt types, or even 24 volts. The main function of having the battery in the system is so that the energy may be stored for longer periods and used when required. Multiple batteries may be connected together to form battery banks, thereby allowing for greater storage capacity.
The other major component which we are concerned with is the inverter. An inverter is an important component of any power system. Inverters convert Direct Current (DC) to Alternating Current (AC).
Once the power is converted to AC, it will be available to household appliances which can be connected to the power outlet of the inverter. However, it is important to be aware of the watt rating of the appliance being connected, which should ideally be lower than the watt rating of the solar panel(s).
Solar Panels can now be purchased easily from online suppliers and it is becoming ever easier to get started by purchasing a kit, which can be an ideal introduction into harnessing the power of sunlight and putting it to work around your home. Lots of helpful videos are available at www.60wattsolar.com
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