Solar electric systems use solar panels (aka solar modules) to convert sunlight into electricity. This electricity is then routed into your property's electrical system to be used just like electricity from the power company.
Solar electric systems are also knows as photovoltaic, or PV, systems. They have been in use for more than 60 years. Since they have no moving parts, they rarely need maintenance or replacing, which is why manufacturers offer 25- to 30-year warranties. If the modules fall below a specific performance threshold, the manufacturer must replace the defective modules.
Solar panels are most effective when they are mounted facing the south. They can be mounted at a fixed angle, or they can be mounted on a tracking device that follows the sun, allowing them to capture more direct sunlight throughout the day. We will evaluate your property and show you your options during our free site evaluation.
Solar panels are made up of smaller solar cells, which are semiconductors of electricity. Sunlight provides enough energy to release electrons from the atoms that make up the solar cells. As electrons are freed, they move in a circuit along a certain path, creating the phenomenon known as electricity. This electricity is a direct current (DC). An inverter is used to convert the DC into AC, or alternating current, which is the electicity the flows through homes and businesses in the United States.
There are two types of solar electric systems: grid-tied and off-grid (see below). Depending on your system type, excess electricity either flows into the power grid (grid-tied) or is stored in batteries on the property, for use at a later time.
Most homes and businesses with solar electric systems are grid-connected, or grid-tied. With a grid-tied solar electric system, you remain connected to the local utility through the electricity grid, so you can continue to purchase electricity from your local utility when your system is not producing power (e.g., at night).
Grid-tied systems are scalable, so you do not need to purchase a system that meets all of your electric needs. You can start with a small system and add more panels at a later date, as your budget allows. If you need more power than your system is producing, your home or business automatically draws the needed power from the utility, just like it operates now.
With a grid-connected system, when there is a local power outage, you will not have power. Like your neighbors, you will have to wait until the problem is fixed by the power company. In fact, the reason why you will not have power is to protect utility workers from the possibility of your energy system feeding electricity into the grid while they are working on it. To prevent this, the inverter on your system shuts off the flow of electricity. When it automatically senses that electricity is once again flowing through the grid, your power will be restored, and your system will resume operation.
Finally, because you are connected to the grid, you can take advantage of net metering. Net metering is the process of keeping track of the amount of electricity that you send to and receive from the power company. If your system does not have a battery backup and you are connected to the grid, any extra energy that your system produces (but you do not immediately need) is sent into the grid, and your utility will credit your account.
Off-grid (or stand alone) solar electric systems are usually found in rural areas and remote locations where connecting to the electrical grid can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even when the cost of connecting is not an issue, some people prefer to get their electricity from renewable resources only, or they would rather not be connected to the power company. For these people, off-grid is the answer.
Because they are not connected to the grid, off-grid systems must produce all the electricity used by the property. These systems are usually larger than grid-connected systems and in order to use electricity at night or during inclement weather, excess energy that is produced during the day must be stored in a battery backup, which adds to the cost.