Living Off The Grid: Solar Panels A Beginners Guide (Part 1)

The installation and use of alternative energy is on the rise and has been for several years now. Some people opt for having a system installed by the professionals while others like to set theirs up themselves. Either way you go, I feel alternative energy is a great investment, whether you live on or off the grid, and not just when it comes to the money either -- it's like an investment in a cleaner future.

I did a lot of research before I got my first solar system. I wanted to fully understand what I was getting into, how they worked, and the whole nine yards. Because there is so much information I decided to break this guide up into a 3-part series so I can go a little more in-depth about some things. This first part will break down the main components that are used to create your solar system.

The Panels

There are two types of solar panels, Monocrystalline, and Polycrystalline panels.

Mono = One

Poly = Many

Both types of solar panels provide the same functions, which is to take the energy captured by the sun's rays and convert it to electricity in your home or office. The difference between the Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline panels is simply how they are made. Monocrystalline panels are basically silicon formed into little bar shapes and then cut into sections. The silicone that is used in the Mono panels is single-crystal silicon. This allows the electrons that generate the flow of electricity to have more room to move around, making the panel more efficient.

The Polycrystalline panels are also made with silicone, but in place of the single-crystal silicone there are many fragments of silicone melted down together. This means there are multiple crystals involved which takes up more space, leaving less room for the electrons to move about and making them a little less efficient than the Mono. In the end, Monocrystalline panels are more expensive to make, which means they are more expensive to buy than the Polycrystalline but they’re much more efficient. The Mono panels have a black tint to them and the Poly have a sky blue tint.

The Inverter

Just like there are two different types of panels there are also two types of inverters. The Central Inverter is about the size of a large briefcase. You only need one central inverter for a whole system. The Microinverters are much smaller than the Central and with these, you will need one for each individual solar panel.

So What Is An Inverter’s Job?

The inverter’s job is to convert DC electricity that is produced by the solar panels into 240 volts of AC electricity. AC is what everything in your home runs on.

AC ~ Alternating Current. This electrical current periodically changes which direction it is heading, so it travels back and forth.

DC ~ Direct Current. This is a very powerful and very direct current of electricity and it only flows one way: in. A DC is much more dangerous than an AC because of its power and the fact that it only continues to flow in one-way, rather than back out.

Some people prefer the Central Inverter because there is only one that has to be bothered with, but in all actuality, the microinverters can be much nicer, in my opinion. When you have the small inverters attached individually to each solar panel it optimizes that panel to its full capacity, which, in turn produces better power and flow. Microinverters run on a lower voltage than the central inverters, but that can add 15%-20% power, which is why I feel as though they are worth it.

The Batteries

Not everyone who uses solar panels uses batteries. The batteries are your electricity storage banks. The power is stored in the battery banks and can be used when the sun isn't shining or at night. In order to do this, the AC energy that's produced that isn't used directly from the solar panels is taken and stored into the battery bank for future use. If you don't have any batteries to store the extra electricity then that electricity just bounces back and forth, never being used. When the sun goes down for the night that electricity that was bouncing to and fro is now just lost energy.

You can use regular car batteries but the best ones are the Marine Cycle batteries because they're bigger and they store more power and they seem to be more powerful. You can use old recycled batteries -- even ones that were dead and revived -- but I think it's best to get a newer one for the full potential.

Solar panels can be very simple yet quite complex. Happy Off-Gridding, Friends!

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