Solar How To

Solar How To

This solar how to article will discuss each piece of a solar power system, explain what it does and how it fits into the system as a whole.   Each component handles a particular role , though you don't need every part in every solar system .  A typical solar power system produces electricity, stores the electricity using batteries to be used later and then converts the Direct Current electricity from the batteries to the same type of Alternating Current electricity that comes from the wall sockets in your house .

Solar Panels

Energy from the sun is transformed into electricity by solar panels.   The panel has a layer of silicon.  When photons from sunlight hit the silicon, they knock loose electrons.   These electrons turn into electricity and are directed through wires.   Many solar cells, each of which generates about one half volt are put together to make a single solar panel.   Any voltage can be generated by putting together the proper number of solar cells.   You can actually build a solar panel and produce your own free electricity fairly cheaply and easily .   To read more about how to build your own solar panel, check out DIY Solar Panel.

Charge Controller

This part charges the batteries using the power produced by the solar panels. The power going to the batteries is regulated by the charge controller. As the batteries get close to fully charged, it gradually reduces the power sent to the batteries to make sure the batteries don't overcharge. The charge controller will also "top off" the batteries every once in a while after they are fully charged to make sure they stay fully charged. For a more detailed discussion about charge controllers, take a look at Solar Charge Controllers .


Standard 12 volt batteries like you find in your car are used in most solar systems.   Sealed lead acid are the most common type.   This type of battery is rugged, easy to find and cheap.   The only potential downside is weight, but it isn't really much of a problem since you aren't going to be moving the batteries around.   You can often obtain surplus batteries from places like computer UPS systems for very cheap or even free.

Power Inverter

A power inverter converts the 12v Direct Current (DC) electricity from the batteries into 120v Alternating Current (AC) electricity like what comes out of your wall sockets.   There are two different kinds of power inverter called Modified Sine Wave (MSW) and True Sine Wave (TSW).  There are two kinds: Modified Sine Wave (MSW) and True Sine Wave (TSW).   Of the two, TSW is the better one because it exactly matches the electricity that comes from the sockets in your house .   A TSW inverter will cost more than an MSW inverter, but it is generally a better choice in the long run.

Complete Solar Power System

Now we will put all the pieces together into a complete system.   The roof is where the solar panels are typically mounted.   Wires are used to connect the solar panels together and then send the electricity to the charge controller.    The batteries are charged by the charge controller with the power coming from the solar panels.   The batteries are charged all day while sunlight is striking the solar panels.  All day, while sunlight is hitting the solar panels, the batteries store the power generated by the panels.   The DC electricity from the batteries is converted into the standard 120v AC electricity that your appliances are used to by the power inverter.   A system like this can be small enough to power only a single appliance, or big enough to supply power to your whole house.

If you're interested in how much it would cost for enough solar panels to power your whole house, check out this guide to Solar Panels Cost .

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