I am continually getting questions about how to hook solar panels into someone’s house or directly into some appliance or other. What this tells me is there are many people looking into the use of solar panels to generate electricity that have absolutely no idea how a solar electric system actually works to produce useable electricity for their house. I will explain it to you.
Solar panels produce electricity when the sunlight strikes the photo electric cells in the panel. I will not go into the technicalities of how that works because that is not within the scope of this article. The important thing you need to know is that a panel will generate electricity when exposed to sunlight. Most panels available to the general public produce 12 volts direct current (DC) at what ever is the wattage rating of the panel. Panels are available in different wattage ratings depending upon the size and quality of the panel. Obviously, the higher wattage panels are more expensive than the lower wattage panels.
To make practical use of this power for most household appliances, it is necessary to convert it into 110 volts alternating current (AC). (Some 12 volt appliances can be powered by hooking directly to the panels but this is not the norm, and only works when the sun is hitting the panels). Conversion of 12 volts DC to 110 AC is done in 4 steps;
- The panels convert sunlight into 12 volts DC which is fed into a charge controller.
- The 12 volts DC is fed from the charge controller into the batteries where the energy is stored until needed.
- The 12 volts DC is converted directly from the batteries into 110 AC by use of an Inverter.
- The 110 AC is fed from the inverter into the appliances to be used.
So, a solar electric system consists of;
- Solar Panels
- Charge Controller
- Necessary wiring to connect all these items together
To answer the most common questions I have been asked;
- No. You cannot hook solar panels directly into your household wiring and have an inexhaustible supply of electricity.
- No. Solar panels do not produce electricity at night.
- Yes. Solar panels will produce some electricity on cloudy days but not as much as on sunny days.
- Yes. The power generated is directly related to the intensity of sunlight hitting your panels.
- Yes. You can power everything in your house with solar generated electricity if your system and storage is big enough. Is it practical? Not always.
There are some appliances that are just not practical to power with solar generated electricity. For instance; electric cooking stoves, electric space heaters, microwave ovens, electric water heaters, air conditioners, all use large amounts of electricity. They can be powered by a solar electric system, but it would have to be large and therefore, expensive.
If you are considering the use of a solar system to generate electricity for your house, give yourself an energy audit. The easiest way to do this is to read your own meter or look at the kilowatt hours on your last light bill. From this you can determine how much electricity you normally use, and how much solar generating capacity you would need to become your own Power Company.
There are many ways you can cut down on your use of electricity. For instance; we use propane refrigerators, 12 volt lights, propane cook stove, wood heat, solar water heater, and there are many other things you can do to cut down on your use of outside power.
I hope this gives you a basic understanding of how a solar electric system works so that you can make intelligent decisions about solar energy and how it can fit into your personal situation.
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