What is residential solar?
It is simply a solar electric system that provides electricity from the sun, by using photovoltaic (solar) panels which capture and convert the suns energy into electricity. The electricity produced by solar panels is typically Direct Current (DC) which can be stored in batteries.
Not all residential solar systems store electricity in batteries, some simply feed the DC electricity directly to an inverter which inverts (changes) the incoming DC to Alternating Current (AC) which is the type of electricity commonly found in residential houses. This AC electricity is usually referred to as 110 house current, which means 110 to 120 Volts 60 cycle AC. Typically homes have two legs of 110 volt electricity which makes 220 volt electricity.
There are three types of residential solar, two are completely distinct and one is a mix of the other two.
- OFF GRID or STAND ALONE.
This is a completely autonomous electrical system with little or no outside source of incoming power. The basic components are solar panels, an inverter and storage batteries.
The solar panels make the energy during the day from the sun, with any excess energy that is not used while the sun is out, being stored in the battery bank for use in the evening after the sun goes down.
Most systems such as this will include an alternative source of energy as well, such as a Wind Turbine, a Micro-Hydro Turbine (where there is a live water flow) and/or a propane or diesel generator back-up.
- GRID CONNECTED or GRID-TIED.
This is the simplest solar electric system you can have, as far as equipment goes. It is comprised of solar panels and an inverter which is connected to the main service (breaker) panel in the house.
In this scenario the solar panels make electricity during the day, and any excess energy that is not used by the house during day is pushed out to the electric companies grid (for storage) and taken back for use at night after the sun goes down. In this case any excess energy produced will be credited toward future electric billing.
In most cases, with slight differences around the country, the power company buys what you produce at retail up to your average bill on a yearly basis. If you make less you buy from them, just like you do now. If you make more in a year than you use they will buy the power from you at wholesale (usually way less than it costs you to have the equipment)
You see that in this type of system it really should be designed by someone who knows what they're doing because the best you can do is to wipe out your electric bill; you can't Make Money.
- GRID-TIE WITH BATTERY BACKUP.
This is the system that is basically made from the two systems above. With a regular straight grid-tie system when the power goes off from the grid, the system shuts down as well because you can't be an island in the middle of the grid in a power outage pushing electricity to the grid because you could kill someone working on the power lines. This is called Anti-Islanding all grid tied systems MUST be fail safe anti-islanding systems.Some folks think it is crazy to have all those solar panels on the house and still be looking for a flashlight during a power outage. Still others need to have a guaranteed continuous source of power for medical or security reasons. Hence the grid-tie with battery back-up system. This system has all the components that a stand-alone system has, with the added benefit of being able to sell to the power company.
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