How does solar power work

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Solar energy and Solar Power in the Green House

Solar Energy to Solar Power Explained

 

The house above shows how the energy from the Sun – Solar Power – is captured by solar panels and converted into electricity for use in a building.

1.      Solar panels – Capture the solar energy of daylight, produced from the Sun and convert it into DC electrical energy. Generally speaking, the brighter the weather, more solar power and more energy is produced by the solar panels.
You can think of a solar panel being like a battery. If you connect each panel together, as you would when connecting batteries, you produce a larger source of DC energy. This energy needs to be converted to AC energy so that appliances in the home such as fridges, televisions, light bulbs etc can use it. The device labelled number (2) is called an inverter: this device converts the electricity to that required by appliances.

How much Solar Power energy is produced from the panels depends upon a number of factors:

  •  Where you are in the country; as the further south you are the greater number of Sunny days and more solar power.
  • The angle at which panels are mounted (usually determined by the pitch of a roof as this is where they tend to be installed).
  • The direction the panels face with respect to South.
  • How much shading the panels are subject to.

 

2.      Inverter – This is the heart of a solar PV system. An Inverter converts DC electricity to AC electricity which is what any home or building is supplied with in order to operate electrical equipment. An inverter is like a mini power station supplying power to the building to deliver some or all of its energy needs[1].

There are generally two types of inverter: grid tied or standalone.

A grid tied inverter is one that synchronises to the incoming mains supply from the grid. When the building doesn’t require all of the energy generated by the solar panels the surplus energy can be sent back to the grid.

A standalone inverter is one that is not connected to the grid. They are useful in remote situations where no grid is available to supply power. They usually require some form of battery storage so that energy created during the day can be used at night.

3.     Generation meter – This is also known as a Kilowatt hour meter (kWh meter) and records the amount of electricity that a solar PV system is producing. This meter needs to be registered with a feed-in tariff supplier so they can take readings  and pay you for the number of units of electricity generated. It is usually supplied as part of your PV system installation and additional to the normal electricity meter.

4.      Consumer unit (fuse board or distribution board) – This is the means by which power from the solar PV system is fed into the property for use within the building. A spare circuit within an existing consumer unit[2] can be used to distribute power into the building. If surplus energy is produced, it will be fed back to the grid via the energy supplier’s metering equipment. If this metering equipment is an old analogue type with a disc that spins, it is possible that it will spin backwards when energy is being exported back to the grid[3].

5.       Electrical appliance – This is any electrical appliance normally plugged in to an electrical point within the property.

6.      Wireless performance monitoring – There are a number of devices on the market which enable you to monitor the functionality of your PV system. These are generally wireless monitors which connect to the inverter by Bluetooth communication and will extract information about the performance of the PV system. These are particularly useful if the inverter is located in a loft space or somewhere where you cannot easily access the equipment so that you can check everything is functioning.

7.      Web-based monitoring – Systems can be monitored away from the property by connecting to the PV system via a web interface. This can also be installed on a handheld device, such as a mobile telephone, with an App to read data from the inverter.
8.     The Grid – Power from the national grid. Notice that the two way arrows show power being exported as well as being imported from the grid.

Advantages of solar power 

  • It is a mature technology, robust and reliable, has no moving parts requiring minimum maintenance.
  • Helps to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Adds to the value of property.
  • Financial incentives, feed-in tariff makes system payback much quicker.
  • Performance of photovoltaic modules are guaranteed for between 20 and 30 years.
  • Relatively quick and non disruptive to install.

Disadvantages of solar power

  • Only produces energy during the day light hours.  Battery storage capability allows the energy created at night to be used during the hours of darkness.
  • A large area is required for solar panels to capture enough energy. Roof areas are usually the most convenient place to put them as they will be out of the way and more likely to be out of the way of shadowing.

 


[1]  This depends upon how much energy the building requires and the amount of energy being produced at a particular moment in time.

[2] Compliance with IET regulations regulations required.

[3] Analogue meters need to be changed to more modern digital meters that won’t decrement the usage count as this is fraud. Energy suppliers will replace meters for free.

See also:

Is your roof suitable for a Solar Panels PV system

Green energy grants and incentives

 

How does Solar Power Work by Green Systems Engineering