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  • Writer's pictureHarvey Woods

Solar 101: Introduction to Solar Energy

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

Solar energy is one of the most promising forms of alternative energy and is rapidly gaining popularity around the world. Whether you're a homeowner, business owner, or simply interested in the topic, this guide will provide you with an introduction to the basics of solar energy and how you can use it to your advantage.


Brief History of Solar Energy

Solar Energy History Photo (Navy)
Early Naval Applications Of Solar Energy

The history of solar energy dates back to the 7th century B.C. when people used mirrors to light fires. However, it wasn't until the 19th century that scientists began to understand the principles of solar energy.


Over the years, advances in technology have made solar energy more efficient, cost-effective, and accessible to the general public.


Today, solar energy is used to power homes, businesses, and entire communities across the planet is now one of the cheapest as well as rapidly growing energy sources on the market.


Local Fact: Did you know in 1954, the first practical silicon solar cell was demonstrated at Bell Labs in Boston, MA?

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Solar energy works by harnessing the power of the sun's rays. Solar panels, also known as solar modules or "mods", are installed on the roof or ground and capture the sun's energy in the form of light.


This energy is then converted into electricity using an Inverter, that can be used to power your home or business, charge an electric vehicle, and sell to the utility company to lower your bill!


Basic Components


When it comes to solar energy systems, there are several key components that are essential for the system to function properly. These components play a critical role in capturing the sun's energy, converting it into electricity, and delivering it to your home or business.


Whether you are installing a new solar energy system or simply curious about how these systems work, it is important to understand the various components that make up a solar energy system.


  1. Solar Modules (SM): These are the panels that capture the sun's energy and produce DC Energy.

  2. Inverters (I): These are the devices that convert the energy captured by the modules into AC Energy.

  3. Racking Systems (RS): These are the physical structures that support the modules and ensure that they are securely attached to the roof or ground.

  4. Monitoring Platform (MP): These are the tools that allow you to track the performance of your solar energy system and make any necessary adjustments.


Let's dive a little deeper into what each component is and how it works!


 

Solar Modules

Solar Modules (SM) are the foundation of any solar energy system. They capture the sun's energy in the form of light and convert it into electricity.


When choosing a solar module, it's important to consider the following factors:

  • Output: This refers to the amount of energy that the module can produce.

  • Efficiency: This refers to how well the module can convert the sun's energy into electricity.

  • Price: This refers to how much the solar modules costs.

  • Warranty: This refers to the length of time the manufacturer will warranty the product for.

When choosing a solar module, you have several options to choose from. Some of the most popular options include: Qcells, REC, Solaria, and Panasonic.



 

Inverters
Chris Showcasing A SolarEdge EnergyHub Inverter

Inverters (I) are the devices that convert the energy captured by the modules into electricity that can be used to power your home or business. There are two main platforms to choose from when selecting an inverter:

  • SolarEdge: This platform uses a DC Power Optimizer architecture that ensures maximum energy production.

  • Enphase: This platform uses a micro-inverter architecture to allow for independent optimization of each module.

When building your solar energy system, it is important to choose the best system architecture for your environment!


In New England, Harvey Woods highly recommends SolarEdge Systems with Power Optimizer Architectures. This is because they are engineered to better handle shade across the array, low light conditions, and winter weather, which is critical to ensuring maximum power production year-over-year.



 

Racking

Racking Systems are the structures that support the modules and ensure that they are securely attached to the roof or ground.


There are two main types of racking systems: Roof Mount and Ground Mount.


Roof Mount Racking Systems attach to the roof of a building and come in different types to match the roofing material, including asphalt shingle, corrugated metal, and standing seam metal. The type of roof mount that is chosen will depend on the roof's material, structure, and slope.


Ground Mount Racking Systems are attached to a concrete pad or directly to the ground. They are ideal for homes with large open spaces and perfect for when a a roof mount might not be possible.


There are many different brands to choose from depending on the type of racking you need. At Harvey Woods, we highly recommend SnapNRack for roof-mount systems and SunModo for ground-mount systems, as they are well-suited for dramatic weather that is common in New England.

 

Monitoring Systems

The Monitoring Platform (MP) plays an important role in ensuring that your solar energy system is operating efficiently, producing the desired amount of energy, and safely reporting to the grid.


These systems not only allow for the monitoring of the system, but also for reporting.


There are two main types of monitoring systems: net-meters, revenue grade meters (RGMs).


A Net-Meter (NM) is a device that measures the amount of electricity generated by a solar energy system and the amount of electricity used by the building. When the system is producing more energy than it is consuming, the excess energy is sent back to the grid, and the customer receives a credit for this excess energy.

A Revenue Grade Meter (RGM) is a device that accurately measures the amount of electricity produced by a solar energy system. This is important for customers that are looking to take advantage of Renewable Energy Credits (REC), which are an additional financial incentive granted to solar energy owners.


Monitoring Dashboard (MD)

The Monitoring Dashboard (MD) allows the customer and Harvey Woods to easily track their production, see how much energy they are generating, and monitor the performance of their system. This platform provides real-time data and can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, making it convenient for customers to keep track of their system's performance.


Monitoring systems and software are a vital component of a solar energy system, as they provide the necessary information to ensure that the system is producing the desired amount of energy and operating efficiently.


 

Conclusion


Solar has come a long way since its inception in 17 BC and is now the fastest growing energy source globally. We learned generally how a solar energy system works and the key pieces of equipment you should know before making the decision to upgrade your property with solar energy.


If you would like to learn more about these topics, simply click the hyperlinks provided throughout this blog post and we are sure to have additional information that you will find useful.

Let's do this.


Our team of experts at Harvey Woods is ready for you. Our knowledgeable and experienced team will guide you through the process of custom engineering, installing, and maintaining solar energy system. Contact us today to learn how you can take advantage of this renewable energy source and make a positive impact on the environment.




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