While solar energy systems vary in both size and scope, there are a few key components required for your solar energy system to produce electricity for your home. Beyond the solar panels, inverter, electrical panel, and utility meter outlined in Solar Energy Basics, every Palmetto solar installation includes an AC Disconnect, along with Racking, Wiring, and Conduit.
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, thereby creating an electric current.
Palmetto solar installations rely on premium solar panels in solid black with an efficiency rating greater than 19.8%. When designing your solar energy system, we use sophisticated modeling software to map the solar potential of your roof—accounting for local weather as well as shading from neighboring buildings, vegetation, and other obstructions.
Roughly speaking, the more sunlight each panel receives, the more energy it can produce, so panel placement plays a significant role in system performance and long-term savings.
Learn more: How Do Solar Panels Work? A Comprehensive Guide.
The inverter is usually installed on the exterior of your home, adjacent to your utility meter. While its primary job is to convert DC to AC electricity, it can also help maximize energy production, monitor system output, detect system faults, and communicate with the utility grid.
Inverters typically fall into one of four categories: string inverters, microinverters, power optimizers, and hybrid inverters. Across options, the primary differences are twofold: where the conversion takes place, and if the power is optimized. 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.
At Palmetto, we select high-efficiency inverters with optimized module performance technology and specify components based on your project and location.
Learn more: Solar Inverter Guide: Types, Benefits, Costs, and How Solar Inverters Work
The electrical panel or breaker box is usually placed in a low-traffic area such as your basement, garage, utility closet, or outside. All homes are equipped with an electrical panel, whether you have solar installed or not.
For most solar installations, we can adapt the existing electrical panel to accommodate the addition of solar. However, older homes may require an electrical panel or wiring upgrade to safely handle the additional load of electricity produced by your solar energy system.
A utility meter (also called an electric meter, electricity meter, or energy 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
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 in case of fire, weather, or electrical work in the area. Like the inverter, the AC disconnect is typically installed on the exterior of the home, near your existing electricity meter.
Solar Racking or Mounting Systems
Solar racking or mounting systems provide a structure to attach solar panels to the surface of your roof. Most racking systems consist of four parts: mounts that are drilled into your roof, flashings to cover the holes and prevent leaks, rails to elevate and align the panels, and clamps to attach the panels to the rails. Racking systems are typically made of aluminum—a lightweight but durable material that is resistant to weather and corrosion.
Solar panels sit atop the racking system and are connected together by a system of wires that allow the flow of electricity to reach your solar inverter. Much of the wiring will be hidden beneath your solar panels in the space provided by solar racking. However, the route from your solar panels to the inverter extends beyond the boundaries of your solar panel and racking system. That’s where conduit comes in.
Electrical conduit is a thick-walled tube made of metal, plastic, fiber, or fired clay that’s used to protect and route electrical wires. When wiring your solar energy system, your installation specialist will route conduit from each solar array to your solar inverter, running either through your attic (if access is available) or along your roof and down an exterior wall of your home.
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 or when 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
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