A Basic Introduction to Solar Electricity

    There are two basic types of solar system being installed these days.

    1. Grid Connected Solar : These are the systems that have generated such interest from the government. Electricity generated from the solar panels is send back into the main energy grid for use somewhere else.
    2. Stand Alone Solar Systems: Sometimes referred to as Remote Area Power Systems (RAPS). These system are installed where there is no main electricity grid. The power generated from the solar panels is stored into batteries for later use.


    1. Grid Connected Solar :

    Im not going to spend much time talking about these systems; they are very basic, and it is only really suitable for those people who use a bit of power during the day.

    Grid Connect solar electricity system. Solar panels, inverter

    There are only two major components to a Grid Connect solar system.

    1. The solar panels. Not much to be said, they are nothing special, just a stock standard solar panel. If you want to know more about how a modern solar module works read my article on the Basics of a solar panel.

    2. The Inverter. All solar panels produce DC power, however we consume the bulk of our electricity as AC. The inverters job is to convert DC electricity into AC electricity.

    There are quite a few dodgy geezers travelling around NSW at the momement trying to sell Grid Connect Solar Systems. My Advice to most people is do not install a Grid Connect solar system unless you understand your power usage patterns; To find out if Grid Connect solar is really for you check out my indepth discussion on the issue.


    2. Stand Alone Solar Systems:

    These systems are much more interesting; Standalone solar systems are traditioanlly used in remote locations where there is no conventional electricity available. These days the cost of getting electricity to you home can run into many tens of thousands of dollars, even if you are very close the the main electricity line.

    If you have been quoted around the $30,000 to get electricity connected at your premises then consider yourself a candidate for a Standalone solar system.


    standalone solar system basics includes solar panels, battery charger regulator, inverter

    The components used in a Standalone solar system installation are sophisticated, the challenge is to make the system simple and robust. The design and installation of a remote area power system starts at the house. A detailed understanding of the types of appliance that will be used in the house is needed in order to make sure power is always available when needed.

    Once we understand what the power consumption in the house is going to be like, the components can be selected.

    1. Solar panels: The solar panels are a stock standard solar module. f you want to know more about how a modern solar module works read my article on the Basics of a solar panel.

    The more important issue in standalone solar system design is how the panels are mounted. The solar modules need to be mounted to ensure maximum power can be harness from the sun each day. The decision on where and how to position the solar panels can be quite a complex decision. If you are interested in being bored to death feel free to read the article on estimating system yield, which gives quite a detailed discussion on the topic of solar array positioning.

    2. Battery Charger: The battery charger has the job of maximising the amount of energy extracted from the solar panels, as well as maximising the life of your batteries by ensuring they are being charged correctly. A good solar system (like the ones we install) ensure the solar panels are operating at their maximum power point all the time.

    3. The Batteries: These are the heart of your Remote Area Power System; A well designed Solar system will ensure you get at least 10yrs out of your batteries, a poorly designed solar system will dramatically shorten the life of the batteries. Life expectancy of stand alone solar batteries is really important because they are expensive, and represent the largest cost in your system. There are many different types of batteries, and you are interested in knowing more read about the ins and outs of batteries here.

    In basic terms remote area power systems do not use a standard battery, the batteries are known as deep cycle batteries, and most systems run on very large 2V batteries. Each solar system will typically have 12 or 24 batteries.

    4. Inverter: The inverter has the job of supplying power to the house, it takes power from the batteries and converts it into 240VAC which is fed into the house. it seems simple enough however there are some challenges.

    Firstly not all inverters are the same, and some household appliances do not work well with cheaper inverters; Fluorescent lights are a great example of this. Good quality solar systems like ours use sure sine wave inverters which means the power quality is better than that provided by the local electricity grid.

    The second major challenge is peak loads.... The kids are in the show (water pump running), you are in the kitchen with the jug on making a coffee and the microwave running defrosting bread from the freezer. This scenario will bring most inverters to there knees good quality inverters can manage large surges without being damaged.

    If you are anything like me, having a reliable electricity supply is important, the idea of going 5 minutes without electricity is not very appealing. a well designed carefully thoughtout Standalone solar system will be more reliable the the electricity supplied by the local power authority.

    Feel free to contact us if you are looking for technical advice, or browse some of our stand alone solar kits.


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