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Types of Solar Systems

Types of Solar Systems

It was tricky for me deciding on an opening line for this particular article, so I thought I would write from the first person perspective for once. This article will discuss the different types of solar systems. 

There are three types of PV solar systems:

  • On-grid
  • Off-grid
  • Hybrid
 

On-grid

I’m not going to make up some percentage, when who knows how many ancient bearded nomads are scavenging old solar panels to power their DIY electric vans crafted with recycled lawnmower motors and laptop batteries. Most people in Australia live on-the-grid. The return on investment on a correctly sized grid-tie system is 3 to 5 years.

On-grid solar goes by a few names:

  • grid-tie solar
  • grid-connect solar
  • grid-feed solar
 

Off-grid

Off-grid solar power is like a hidden gem in the vast landscape of renewable energy. Picture a group of modern-day pioneers, harnessing the sun’s energy to power their remote cabins, tiny homes, or sustainable farms. One thing to note, off-grid systems require solar batteries. A solar battery stores the energy generated by solar panels during the day so that it can be used later. Generating your own electricity is a brave approach for all you tree huggers out there. There are too many possibilities to provide an exact return on investment estimate for an off-grid system, but it should be between say 5 to 10 years.

Hybrid

A happy medium between on-grid and off-grid solar is a hybrid system. If you’re okay with a delayed return on investment, to harness the power of the sun, to store energy for blackouts, nighttime, or cloudy days, and all while still being able to take advantage of the electrical grid. The return on investment on a correctly sized hybrid system is 6 to 8 years.

How Solar Works

  1. The PV (photovoltaic) effect is when sunlight hits a material called a photoconductor, the photon particles which make up the light knock the electrons that surround the atoms of the photoconductor out of place. This leaves what is known as an electron hole. When that hole is filled by another (or the same) electron, energy is created.
  2. The photoconductor material used in PV modules (solar panels) is silicon. A slice of silicon the size of a coaster is injected on one side with phosphorus and on the other side with boron. This is a process called doping, it creates what is known as a p-n (positive-negative) junction within the silicon wafer. We call the result a solar cell.
  3. A residential solar panel has around 60 cells. These cells are arranged in a 6×10 matrix called a solar panel.
  4. The panel has very thin horizontal metal strips called fingers that collect the electrons in motion. The electrons then move to thicker vertical metal strips called busbars. The busbars connect the neighbouring solar cells.
  5. We capture this as DC (direct current) electricity.
 

On-grid

  • The PV array connects into a ground level wall mounted solar inverter.
  • A grid-tie solar inverter converts DC to AC (alternating current) electricity.
  • The solar inverter and electrical grid both connect into the switchboard to power the home.
  • The net meter keeps track of solar export to the electrical grid and is configured/installed by the electricity retailer.
  • The electricity retailer pays a number of cents per kilowatt-hour of any excess solar that is exported to the grid.

Off-grid

  • The PV array connects to a charge controller which charges the battery.
  • The inverter charger acts as an inverter and a charger.
  • The inverter part of the device converts DC to AC.
  • The charger part of the device allows you to recharge the batteries in the system using a generator when solar power is not available.
  • The battery connects to the inverter charger.
  • The inverter charger connects into the switchboard to power the home.

Hybrid

  • The PV array connects into a ground level wall mounted solar inverter.
  • A hybrid solar inverter can convert either DC to AC or AC to DC. If it is a multi-mode inverter it can also convert DC to DC.
  • The solar inverter and electrical grid both connect into the switchboard to power the home.
  • The inverter also connects to the solar battery. All batteries charge and discharge DC electricity.
  • The battery can power the home in the case of a blackout, at nighttime, or on cloudy days.
  • The net meter keeps track of solar export to the electrical grid and is configured/installed by the electricity retailer.
  • The electricity retailer pays a number of cents per kilowatt-hour of any excess solar that is exported to the grid.

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