Solar 101

Solar Energy System Components

While solar energy systems vary in both size and scope, there are a few key components required for your solar energy system to produce useable electricity for your home. 

Solar Panels

Solar panels, also called photovoltaics or PV modules, are installed on viable roof surfaces where they capture the energy from the sun to generate an electric current of direct current or DC electricity. 

Each panel is made with layers of silicon, a semiconductive material that helps to generate electricity. When sunlight strikes the panels, electrons in the silicon are energized, creating a negative charge. The electrons then seek out positively charged protons to connect with, creating an electric current.

Learn more: How Do Solar Panels Work? A Comprehensive Guide.

Home image with solar panels highlighted.

Inverter

The DC electricity flows from your solar panels to your inverter (or, in some cases, inverters) where it is converted to alternating current or AC electricity for use in your home. The inverter is typically installed near your existing utility meter on the outside of your home. 

If your system relies on microinverters, each panel will have its own inverter that feeds AC electricity to a central combiner. In this case, the combiner (not the inverter) would be located near your utility meter.

Learn more: Solar Inverter Guide: Types, Benefits, Costs, and How Solar Inverters Work

Home image with inverter highlighted.

Utility Meter

A utility or electricity meter is required for any grid connection. It provides a safe and accurate way to monitor the flow of electricity between your home and the existing utility grid.

In most cases, a solar-powered home will have a bi-directional meter that monitors the flow of electricity, including voltage and current, both into and out of your home. This meter is typically installed by your utility company after your solar energy system has passed inspection, and just before PTO (Permission to Operate) is granted for the system.

Learn more: How Electric Meters Work and What Electric Meters Do

Home image with utility meter highlighted.

AC Disconnect 

The AC Disconnect is a small rectangular box with a large switch or handle on the side that can be used to quickly shut down your solar energy system if required. Like the inverter, the AC disconnect is typically installed on the exterior of the home, near your existing electricity meter.

Optional: Solar Battery Storage

While solar batteries are not included in every solar energy system, they offer additional energy independence by giving you more control over when and how you use the power produced by your solar array.

When a solar energy system is paired with a smart home battery, you can store the excess power generated by your solar panels during the day to consume at night when sunlight is low, and electricity prices may be higher.

Solar batteries are often installed in the basement, garage, or along the exterior of your home, depending on your preferences, battery, and local permitting requirements.

Learn more: How Does A Solar Battery Work? | Energy Storage Explained

 

Solar Energy System Components

While solar energy systems vary in both size and scope, there are a few key components required for your solar energy system to produce useable electricity for your home. 

Solar Panels

Solar panels, also called photovoltaics or PV modules, are installed on viable roof surfaces where they capture the energy from the sun to generate an electric current of direct current or DC electricity. 

Each panel is made with layers of silicon, a semiconductive material that helps to generate electricity. When sunlight strikes the panels, electrons in the silicon are energized, creating a negative charge. The electrons then seek out positively charged protons to connect with, creating an electric current.

Learn more: How Do Solar Panels Work? A Comprehensive Guide.

Home image with solar panels highlighted.

Inverter

The DC electricity flows from your solar panels to your inverter (or, in some cases, inverters) where it is converted to alternating current or AC electricity for use in your home. The inverter is typically installed near your existing utility meter on the outside of your home. 

If your system relies on microinverters, each panel will have its own inverter that feeds AC electricity to a central combiner. In this case, the combiner (not the inverter) would be located near your utility meter.

Learn more: Solar Inverter Guide: Types, Benefits, Costs, and How Solar Inverters Work

Home image with inverter highlighted.

Utility Meter

A utility or electricity meter is required for any grid connection. It provides a safe and accurate way to monitor the flow of electricity between your home and the existing utility grid.

In most cases, a solar-powered home will have a bi-directional meter that monitors the flow of electricity, including voltage and current, both into and out of your home. This meter is typically installed by your utility company after your solar energy system has passed inspection, and just before PTO (Permission to Operate) is granted for the system.

Learn more: How Electric Meters Work and What Electric Meters Do

Home image with utility meter highlighted.

AC Disconnect 

The AC Disconnect is a small rectangular box with a large switch or handle on the side that can be used to quickly shut down your solar energy system if required. Like the inverter, the AC disconnect is typically installed on the exterior of the home, near your existing electricity meter.

Optional: Solar Battery Storage

While solar batteries are not included in every solar energy system, they offer additional energy independence by giving you more control over when and how you use the power produced by your solar array.

When a solar energy system is paired with a smart home battery, you can store the excess power generated by your solar panels during the day to consume at night when sunlight is low, and electricity prices may be higher.

Solar batteries are often installed in the basement, garage, or along the exterior of your home, depending on your preferences, battery, and local permitting requirements.

Learn more: How Does A Solar Battery Work? | Energy Storage Explained