Considered a promising energy source for decades, photovoltaic or solar panels can be found on everything from rooftops and roadside signs to stadiums and spacecrafts. Solar energy works by capturing energy from the sun and converting it into electricity for homes and businesses.
Currently, photovoltaic or solar power provides only 2 percent of the power used in the United States. But as solar technology improves and the cost of switching to solar drops, our ability to capture and use the sun’s abundant energy is increasing.
In fact, the International Energy Agency Renewables Report showed that solar power has become the fastest growing energy source – accounting for approximately two-thirds of net new capacity globally. This was the first time solar energy capacity surpassed any other fuel as a source of power. In the coming years, we all will be using solar power, whether we realize it or not. This also means that the time is right to invest in solar power for your home.
Once solar panels are installed on your roof and begin to create energy, there are a few steps required to turn it into energy your home can use. As the sun hits the solar panels, they generate direct current (DC) electricity, where the electrons flow around a circuit in one direction. In order for your home to use this energy, it must be converted from DC electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity, where the electrons are pushed and pulled. When you have solar panels installed on your home, you will also have a solar inverter installed. The solar inverter converts the DC output of the solar panels into AC electricity that your home can use.
When your solar panels produce more energy than your home needs at any one time, you may wonder where that energy goes. That energy is sent back to the power grid and you are credited for it on your utility bill. This process is called net metering, and it’s one of the great things about solar. In essence, your roof is producing energy and sending the excess back into the utility grid through the meter on your home. Net metering allows you to benefit from all the energy your home produces. At times when your home needs more energy than your solar panels are producing, you can use the energy credits from your excess energy to offset the cost of your bill.
In the beginning of the solar industry, there were central solar inverters, and since their introduction, they have pretty much dominated the industry. However, the introduction of power optimizers and microinverters created a big technology shift in the solar industry. Power optimizers and microinverters optimize production for each solar panel while central inverters optimize for the entire system. By optimizing for each panel, every panel performs at its maximum potential. In the long, run, this “smart” technology makes your entire solar panel system more efficient.
POWERHOME uses power optimizers with its solar panel installations because of their superior scalability. The power optimizers condition the DC energy and then send it to your central inverter to finish the conversion to AC electricity. Power optimizers allow your solar panels to communicate with each other and deliver as much power as possible under all conditions. If one solar panel is having an issue with shade or dirtiness, the rest of the panels still perform at maximum efficiency.
That’s a lot of technical information about how solar panels work, so let’s look at how a solar panel array would work on your home. First, sunlight in the form of photons hit the solar panels on your roof or ground mount. The panels convert the energy from freed electrons to DC current, which then flows to an inverter and is converted from DC electricity to AC electricity. This electricity is then used to power your home. It’s simple and clean, and it's becoming more efficient and affordable.
However, what if you are not home? You may not be using the electricity your solar panels generate. What happens at night, when there is no sunlight and your system is not generating power? Not to worry, you still can use the energy your system has created. This is where net metering comes in.
A typical grid-tied solar panel array produces more energy that you can use during peak sunlight hours. That excess energy goes back into the grid and can be used by you or someone else. You are credited for the excess energy your system produces. When needed, you can draw on that credit to get power from the grid during the night. A two-way meter keeps track of the energy sent to the grid along with the energy received from it.
Although most people understand that solar panels help them generate their own power so that they don’t have to depend solely on the power company, there is still confusion about the role the grid plays in home solar energy systems.
Homes that are connected to the electrical grid have a utility meter that measures how much electricity you use. If you have net metering, when your solar power system is overproducing, you send the excess power to the grid in exchange for credits on your bill. Then, during hours of low production, such as the nighttime, you use your credits to meet your home’s energy needs. Net metering gives you a way to store your energy and use it when you need it. This significantly improves the economics of solar power.
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