Are you thinking of investing in solar energy but have no idea of how it works and who to speak to? If so, you are in the right place. This post will help you understand the basics of solar energy and all the components that make up a solar system.

Understanding solar really isn’t tricky. Although there are many technical terms and complicated electrical configurations that make up a system, all you need to know is the basic principle of how it works and what comes along with it.

Just like we need to eat and drink to create energy to power our everyday lives, so too does our home need to produce energy to provide electricity to our appliances. Homes without solar panels obtain their electricity either from the national utility provider, Eskom, or through their local municipality. This electricity is produced mainly through the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal. Renewable energy provides a more sustainable approach to the generation of electricity as it does not rely on fossil fuels for its generation.

Solar panels are the devices that capture energy from sunlight and convert it into electricity. However, the electricity it produces is in the form of Direct Current (DC). Most of our home appliances need electricity in the form of Alternating Current (AC). In order to convert the DC electricity produced by solar panels into AC electricity for our homes, we need to use a technology called an inverter. Now, there are many different types and sizes of inverters that can be used, as well as many different brands to choose from, but we aren’t going to talk too much about that in this post. For the sake of a simple explanation, the type of inverter you will require is based on the amount of energy your home/business requires. The bigger your energy needs are, the bigger your inverter will be.

Next up are the batteries. Batteries are not necessary for all solar installations, however they add many benefits. The batteries allow us to store the energy produced by solar panels so that we can use it during the evenings, or during the times when the sun doesn’t shine for prolonged periods (it’s important to note that solar panels WILL still produce electricity on overcast days, however there will be less energy produced on a cloudy day compared to bright and sunny day). In South Africa, it is very popular to have batteries with your system as this allows you to power up your house during periods of load shedding. Sounds fantastic, right? Just like there are many brands and types of inverters out there, so too are there for batteries. Batteries are a large investment, so it is very important that the right batteries are chosen that will suit your storage needs.

As we mentioned earlier, it is not necessary to have battery backup. In cases where you are not storing your excess electricity, you will be connected to the national grid ie. Eskom. In this situation you will be limited to utilizing your produced energy only during daylight hours. In many other countries, the government allows them to send excess electricity produced back into the grid, and be credited for it. This figuratively makes the national grid a battery! The excess electricity is sent to the grid and it can be utilized during the evening, for no extra fee. In fact, if you produce more than you utilize at the end of the month, you are credited for it!

Unfortunately Eskom does not allow this, yet, but there are a handful of municipalities in South Africa that allow for small scale embedded generation! Contact us at Thula Moya Energy if you would like to find out if you qualify!

Next up is the racking and mounting system used to install the system. This is the material that fixes your panels to your roof, or to the ground. It also allows you to position the panels at an angle for the best sunlight penetration. In the Southern Hemisphere, solar panels perform best when they are facing North. This is the direction that receives the most sunlight throughout the day. In fact, panels facing East or West can produce 10 to 20% less electricity even if they are installed at the optimal angle.

Last on the list is a performance monitoring system. This device provides you with a detailed performance analysis of your system and allows you to measure and track the amount of electricity being produced on an hourly basis. A performance monitoring system is also not compulsory to have in your setup, but it does add a significant value, as it helps you identify performance issues to ensure that your system is running optimally.

To summarize, there are 5 main components that make up a solar PV system;

  1. Solar PV panels
  2. Inverter
  3. Batteries
  4. Racking and Mounting
  5. Performance monitoring system

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