Your Introductory Guide to Solar Energy

January 23, 2020 2:45 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Introduction to Solar Energy 

There are many products available from many different companies which can make choosing the right solar energy system confusing or even daunting.  The information provided below is intended to give you a better understanding of the system components that are generally available and other considerations worth noting.  Hopefully, it will give you a little bit more confidence and assistance when looking for a system.

solar energy panels in blue sky. white clouds. Monocrystalline solar energy panels wth blue color

Solar Panel Types and Efficiencies

There are two main types of solar panels – Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline.  Though both are made from crystalline silicon, monocrystalline panels contain a single, continuous, lab-grown silicon crystal. Because monocrystalline panels are composed of a single, high-grade quality crystal, efficiency is maximised, allowing greater energy production.  Monocrystalline panels perform better in high heat and lower light environments, meaning they produce more energy in less than ideal conditions.

Polycrystalline solar panels are blended from multiple silicon sources, rendering them slightly less efficient. It’s quite easy to differentiate them visually. Polycrystalline panels have a flaking pattern across their face and a blue colour. Monocrystalline structures look very uniform and are darker.

Though monocrystalline panels have a higher efficiency rating, they are more costly to produce.  Polycrystalline solar panels, on the other hand, are created by blending and moulding smaller bits of silicon. This process is less wasteful because hardly any raw material is thrown out during manufacturing.

 

If your system size is limited due to spatial constraints, higher-efficiency panels might be preferable, despite the cost difference. Alternatively, if you have a lot of roof space, or are installing ground-mounted solar, polycrystalline is a worthy economical option.

visual differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells. monocrystallne are uniform in nature, black color and polycrystalline are blue in color with lighter flaking patterns

Mounting Your Solar Energy (PV) System

The way you mount your solar panels can make a world of difference in the long-term. You don’t want strong winds or other environmental factors to damage your system or your home. It’s very important to purchase a high quality, long-lasting racking system that will keep your PV system in place for the duration of its lifespan.

rack mounting of a solar cell

Solar Inverter

The solar inverter is the most sophisticated part of any solar system. It converts the electricity from direct current (DC), which is what panels produce, to alternating current (AC) to use in your home and export to the grid.

 

Of all parts in your system, solar inverters are most likely to have issues, usually because it’s located outdoors in harsh weather conditions including rain, humidity and extreme heat. The inverter you pick can have a huge impact on the overall effectiveness of your rooftop solar system. For best performance and longevity, it’s extremely important to purchase a high-quality inverter.

 

The main types of inverters generally presented when looking into solar and battery systems are as follows:

 

  • String Inverters

These are the most popular and affordable.  String inverters are efficient, robust, have three phase power options and are common among inverter brands.

3 different string-type inverters, gray boxed electrical equipment
  • Micro-Inverters

Though considerably more expensive than string inverters, this type of set up can benefit those who may have shading issues by allowing each panel to work independently.  Although string inverters can be just as effective in this situation, with the implementation of optimizers.

micro-inverter for solar energy

  • Battery Inverters

Also known as inverter chargers, they allow a PV battery to connect to a traditional string inverter (like the type mentioned above).  This inverter will manage the charging of the battery from your solar system.  Inverters also monitor power from the grid. If grid power is cut off, the battery backup capability will switch on,  keeping power running to your house.

yellow battery solar inverter

  • Hybrid Inverters

This is a string and battery inverter combined.  It allows you to minimise componentry when deciding on a solar and battery system all in one.

gray coloured hybrid energy inverter

Choosing a Quality Inverter

To maximise the efficiency of your system, a solar panel system can be oversized relative to the size of the inverter.  While some inverter models handle 50% over their rated power, in order to qualify for government rebates (STC’s), an inverter cannot handle more than 33%.  For example, you can install 6.6kW in panels and use a 5kW inverter.  Generally, panel systems are oversized as panels don’t necessarily perform at 100% and only perform at their maximum for a certain period of time during the day in ideal conditions. Other factors such as cloud cover, general shading, panel orientation and time of day all affect panel output. Oversizing will allow the inverter to work more efficiently and produce more energy overall throughout the day.

 

Inverters tend to have the most problems out of all parts of your solar system. Therefore, it’s imperative that you choose from a reputable company with a good warranty and practical terms and conditions. Some budget brands will only repair a faulty unit if it’s shipped to them. Shipping back returned units can take weeks (or more likely, months) resulting in larger financial costs due to down time.

 

What effect does Shade Have on Solar Energy?

Not every environment is going to be ideal for solar energy. If the sun isn’t shining on your solar panels, they won’t be able to produce energy. You’ll need to consider natural factors, like trees or other obstructions. Even parts of the roof, like a chimney or roof angle can prevent sunshine from reaching your panels. The most obvious way to mitigate shade is to place your panels where there will be no natural shading throughout the day or different times of the season.

 

Days with a lot of cloud cover will prevent your panels from reaching their full potential. You might not be able to control the weather but preparing for less efficient days is the best way to mitigate fluctuations in system output. Using optimizers might be a good solution if shade is an issue. Optimizers allow every panel in a system to operate independently, ensuring other panels aren’t compromised by a shaded one. The addition of optimizers will increase the cost of your system. If shade is not a huge concern, there is no need to shell out for the additional upgrades.

 

Planning for Solar Energy

There you have it! Though there are additional features that are great to have in every PV system, like solar monitoring technology, or power optimizers, these are the basic components of every home solar power system on the market. Using these components, you can easily reduce your power bill, and create a ‘greener’ lifestyle.

As with many things, price cannot be the only deciding factor, even the components on their own.  There are many companies that compete in the solar industry. It’s up to you to decide who you want to install your solar energy system and service your needs for the life of the system.  Ultimately the best way to make things easy for you is to have our Energy Consultants discuss everything with you. Our Energy Consultant can answer all your questions and provide a solution that meets your needs specifically. Many South Australians confidently choose Westside Energy for their solar installation as we can provide expertise and ongoing support that many companies cannot.

If you haven’t already, contact us on 8451 2120 to make an appointment and start saving now. Alternatively, complete the questionnaire below and submit your details, and one of our Customer Service Operators will be in touch.

 

This post was written by Nick Mazis