While solar power systems are becoming more mainstream, relatively few people understand how solar panels work, or what components you actually need to build your own solar power system.
This is where we can help. One of our main goals is to make clean, renewable solar energy as accessible as possible, which is why we have provided this straightforward guide to solar power systems.
We will explain everything from solar panel design, to where you should start if you are interested in setting up your own solar power system. If you are looking to learn the basics of photovoltaic (PV Solar) system design, you have come to the right place!
What is Solar Power and How Do Solar Panels Work?
While you probably already know that solar panels turn sunlight into electricity, you might be unclear how that process actually takes place.
In simple terms, solar panels work by allowing photons, or particles of light, inside their surface. Once inside the panel, the photons bounce around and knock electrons free from atoms, which generates electricity.
Each solar panel is actually made up of smaller units, which are known as photovoltaic cells. Essentially, these cells are made up of semi-conducting materials, which are able to establish an electric field. Other components within the cell turn the electrons that the light knocks free into usable power. Metal conductive places on the side of each cell are used to collect the freed electrons, so they can flow like any other source of electricity. From here, the newly collected electricity flows through a regulator, or charge controller, so it can be used to power electronic devices, or stored within a battery bank.
The Basic Components of a Solar Power System
A simple solar power system will consist of four main components – a solar panel array, a regulator/charge controller, a battery, and an inverter. Now that you have a basic understanding of how solar panels work, we can take a closer look at each of the four main components of a solar power system.
The Solar Panel Array:
As you can imagine, one or more solar panels is required for any solar power system. Since they are the pieces of equipment that actually turn solar energy into useable electricity, they play a critical role in the entire system.
Solar panel design is actually quite simple. They are almost always classified according to their rated power output in watts. Their wattage rating is determined based on the expected watts the panel would be capable of generating in one hour of peak sun exposure.
While it is possible to run a single solar panel, the majority of panels can be wired together to form a series to increase the total voltage amount of current generated. For those stringing more than one solar panel together to increase the amount of electricity their system can generate, a regulator/charge controller is essential.
The best solar panels are treated with anti-reflective surfaces, so they can absorb more of the sunlight that hits their surface. They will also be treated for water resistance and have durable exteriors, so they can actually withstand harsh outdoor conditions.
While it is possible to permanently fix solar panels to a surface, such the roof of a building, many people prefer the flexibility of having foldable solar panels with built-in stands and carrying handles. If the versatility of a foldable solar panel appeals to you, we recommend taking a look at our extensive collection of Foldable Solar Panel Suitcases and Blankets.
For RV and boat owners that are looking for highly portable solar panels, we offer a wide-ranging collection of solar panels and complete solar kits designed specifically for RVs, boats, and camper vans.
The Solar Regulator/Charge Controller:
Solar regulators, or charge controllers as they are also known, regulate the current from the solar panels, which helps prevent overcharging issues and battery drain. They act as a barrier between the solar panels and the connected battery or electronic device.
They provide a useful safety function and protect batteries from suffering permanent damage from overcharging issues. They can also prevent the reverse flow of electricity from the battery to the solar panels, which can occur at night.
Take a look at some of the efficient and reliable charge controllers we carry. Our Charge Controller Collection has a wide-range of products that can meet the demands of any solar power system and budget.
Deep Cycle Solar Batteries:
As you would expect, batteries are designed to store the solar electricity your solar panels generate. They allow you to use the power at your convenience and perform a critical role in any off-grid solar power system.
Solar batteries are rated in Ampere Hours, which specifies the amount of current in Amps that the battery can supply over a specific number of hours. Find the exact battery you need by browsing our Solar Battery Collection.
Inverters are devices that allow you to convert the DC power solar panels generate into AC power, which is what most of the appliances in your home require. Inverters also perform a critical role for those looking to build a grid-tied solar power system. Essentially, they give you the ability to feed your own solar electricity into a traditional electricity grid, so you can earn rebates off of your own utility bills.
Find exactly what you need by taking a look at our Solar Power Inverter Collection. We carry some of the most efficient solar inverters from the top brands on the planet.
Solar Power System Design
When building your own solar power system, there are several steps you will need to follow. By going through the following steps, you will be able to build a solar power system that meets your energy requirements and budget:
Preliminary Design Stages:
Before you get started, the first step is decided how big of a system you need. Your solar power system needs to meet your particular electricity needs, while also being practical in terms of both size and cost.
Take a look at your electricity bills and determine how much power you would need to generate to significantly offset some of that cost. From there, consider your own budget and how much viable space you actually have on your property.
If you are new to solar power, we recommend the Renogy brand. They offer high-quality solar panels, inverters, batteries, and more at affordable prices. Browse our Renogy Collection and find exactly what you need at an affordable price.
During the preliminary design stages, you will also want to determine if you plan on running a grid-tied system, off-grid system, or a hybrid system, which would combine the benefits of both. No matter what sort of solar power system you plan on running, you will be able to find the exact solar panels you require by taking a look at our Complete Collection of Solar Panels.
Once you have a rough idea of what sort of system you plan on running, you can begin selecting the appropriate equipment that you will need to build your specific solar power system.
As with any major purchase, there are a number of factors you will want to take into consideration before you make your selections. Each piece of equipment should be backed with a manufacturer’s warranty, which will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your solar equipment is reliable and made to last.
All of the solar equipment we carry was selected because it is built to a standard we trust. You will find everything from our solar panels to our deep cycle solar batteries are covered by manufacturer’s warranties.
You should also choose equipment that is within your specific budget. After all, one of the major benefits of investing in a solar power system is the ability to save money. Again, we offer a wide range of budget-friendly solar products. These include affordable, yet reliable solar panels, batteries, inverters, and charge controllers from companies like Renogy, Go Power, AIMS, Lion Energy, and more.
Site Analysis and Assembly:
Once you have decided on an appropriate system and have chosen the right equipment to build that system, you can begin putting everything together. Our equipment was designed for easy assembly and installation, so even if you are new to solar power, you will be able to get your system up and running quickly and easily.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to remember that solar power systems are by their very design made to be durable and low in maintenance requirements. They are simple systems that can last for many years to come. Since they have next to no moving parts, most solar power components can last for decades, without needing any sort of maintenance.
Once your solar power system is up and running, you can begin taking advantage of free, environmentally-friendly electricity right away. As always, if you have any questions about solar panel design, or any other questions about how you can take advantage of solar electricity, do not hesitate to reach out to us!