Introduction to Solar Photovoltaics- Part 1 “What is a Solar Photovoltaic System?”

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Introduction to Solar Photovoltaics

Solar Photovoltaics is still only a small part of Alberta’s energy provider but its popularity is growing. In fact, the Alberta Government states it has increased over 500% since 2015. But what is Solar PV and how will it work to create a better energy system for our homes and businesses? We will answer these frequently asked questions for you in a three-part series of articles. If you have further questions or would like to discuss Solar options for your home or business, please feel free to contact us at 403-742-1676 for a no-obligation consultation.


What is a Solar Photovoltaic (PV) system?

Solar photovoltaic energy takes advantage of the sun’s rays to generate heat or electricity. It is a renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner over long periods of time. A solar thermal system produces heat, and a solar photovoltaic system is used to produce electricity.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems come in many different sizes and types. PV systems could be designed for simple uses such as agricultural water systems (stock waterers) or more complex systems like solar power generating stations. The most common PV systems are called Grid Connected Systems (On-Grid) and they typically contain photovoltaic modules, racking, and an inverter.

The smallest component of the solar PV system is the solar cell. The solar cell is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect. This means it converts the sun’s light to another form of energy which we can use in our day to day lives.

Many solar cells are wired together to produce a single solar module commonly known as a solar panel. These modules are the main component of photovoltaic generation. Typically, a home would have multiple panels linked together to create a solar array. When several panels are connected together in this manner, they can generate a fairly large amount of electricity.

Photovoltaic modules generate direct current (DC) electricity like a car battery. It is easier to send alternating current (AC) electricity over long distances, which is why it is so frequently used in electrical power grids, but this means that to make full use of the power from a solar panel it needs to be converted. This is often referred to as ‘Conditioning the Power’. When connected to the electrical grid through an inverter, the DC electricity is then converted to AC electricity so that it can be used in your home or business.

Inverters also track the statistics of the power generation you are receiving from each individual panel so you know your system is functioning properly. A ground fault safety feature is built into each inverter to protect the system and ensures the supply is ‘grounded’ so any leaks run off safely and post no hazard. If you install an on-grid PV system, the inverter will feed any unused power back onto the electrical power grid. This allows for limited excessive energy to be placed back onto the grid allowing for a decrease to your energy consumption charges. With this type of installation, your home remains connected to the grid allowing you to access the power supply when your electricity needs over-exceed your PV system, such as in the evening. A bidirectional meter will be installed from your retailer for this use.


Battery Banks

Photovoltaic power generation is a great way to reduce your expenses and keep your appliances and other electrical needs powered however you may not want to send the power directly from the panels straight to your devices. Instead, you might want to be able to direct the energy to a battery bank allowing you to utilize the power based upon your needs any time of the day.

Batteries can be included in grid tied systems to provide backup power, but they are mostly used in off-grid systems. The number of batteries to be installed in your bank depends on your power usage needs, electrical needs, and the autonomy of the system. Most battery banks hold an average of 12 Volts DC to 48 Volts DC. The most common batteries are lead acid, AGM sealed and gels.


Learn more about Solar Photovoltaics in Part 2 of our three-part series “How Much Electricity will a Solar PV System Produce?” to be released March 10, 2020.

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