Solar Electric Basics

Solar Electric (or PV – Photovoltaic) Systems are the most commonly used solar energy system in the world.  PV systems have been generating electricity for commercial, residential and municipal needs across the United States (and around the world) for decades.

A few Solar Electric (PV) Basics to keep in mind…

Types Of Solar Electric Systems
There are two main types of solar electric systems for commercial and residential use.  The first is a grid-tie PV system, and the second is an off-grid PV system.   Grid-tie PV systems are directly connected to the electric grid, where an off-grid PV system is not.  Because of the grid connection, Grid-Tie PV Systems have several significant advantages over off-grid systems, including:

  • System Size Flexibility – because the electric grid is used as a backup power source, a Grid-Tie PV System can be made small enough to produce less than 100% of your energy demands (an Off-Grid system must meet 100% of your electric needs at all times).  This makes grid-tie PV systems more inviting for homes and businesses looking for a more affordable solution and a “starter” system that can be added to down the road as additional funding is available.
  • Net Metering Credits – the connection between your Grid-Tie PV System and the electric grid is a two-way street, allowing you to get energy from the electric grid when you need it (at their regular retail rate, of course), but also allowing you to send any excess electricity your PV system produces out to the electric grid.  Through net-metering, the electric company will actually credit you for the electricity you share with the grid.  This is where the term “Spinning Your Meter Backwards” comes from.
  • Incentive Requirements – many federal, state and local solar incentives require that PV systems be connected to the electric grid in order to qualify for all, or even some, of the funding, rebates and tax credits available.

Typical System Components
A Typical Grid-Tie PV System will typically include the following key system components:

  • Solar Modules – solar panels that actually turn sunlight into DC electricity
  • Mounting Hardware – a racking system to secure your solar panels
  • DC – AC Inverter – convert DC power into usable AC electricity for home appliances
  • Charge Controller & Batteries – for energy storage (only in off-grid PV systems)

Sizing Your Solar Electric PV System
A grid-tied PV system can be sized to offset as much (or as little) of your total energy needs as possible.  Because you have the unlimited backup of the electric grid, Grid-Tie PV systems are often sold as pre-packaged kits (typically priced by the KW – for example a 1kw grid-tie PV system is a solar PV system that includes 1000w (1kw) of solar panels.  The system is typically sized by taking two factors into account:

  • The % of your energy bill you want to offset (solar fraction)
  • Your budget (is a 1kw system more cost-effective for you than a 2kw)

Sizing an off-grid PV system is much more complicated than sizing a Grid-Tie PV system.  An off-grid PV system must be able to provide 100% of your energy needs at all times.  Therefore, the system must be oversized, and generally include a large battery bank (expensive addon) to store energy generated during the day for use at night, or during cloudy weather.

Helpful Hint – Most IGS customers choose a Grid-Tie PV System because of its significant advantages!

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