Before you decide which solar energy system is best for your home, you have to know the difference between solar arrays and photovoltaic systems in general.
Because there is so much conflicting information online, this article provides a concise explanation of what makes solar arrays distinct. Once you understand how these two concepts relate to one another you can make an informed decision on whether or not solar power is the right choice for your home.
What does solar array mean?
If you find solar energy terminology confusing, you’re certainly not alone. Solar energy takes into account several distinct concepts and unites them to one purpose: supplying the world with clean, renewable energy. In short, solar energy covers many topics and has many different applications. Not so long ago, solar energy was considered too expensive to be viable, but today, residential solar power is here to stay, and it has become even more affordable to install solar panels with state and federal incentives.
The problem is that as a homeowner you may not understand the intricacies of utility-scale electricity, or the ins and outs of residential solar energy systems. What matters most to you is reducing — or eliminating altogether — your dependence on nonrenewable energy sources that release harmful greenhouse gases into the air.
Also, you can actually save money by lowering your electricity bill substantially when you install a solar energy system on your home. In fact, you may be able to enjoy a $0 energy bill if you install a large enough system. The key is knowing basic solar power terminology to begin the discussion with an expert installer.
Solar arrays defined
Solar arrays begin with a single solar energy cell known as a photovoltaic cell. “Photo” essentially means light, and “voltaic” refers to voltage, which is a unit of potential electrical energy. When you combine these two terms, the word photovoltaic encompasses the conversion of light energy to an electrical current. For the sake of simplicity, you can refer to photovoltaic cells as solar cells.
To provide enough power to your home, you’ll need many solar cells to convert the right amount of sunlight to electricity since a single solar cell only generates a relatively small electrical current. When you connect several solar cells together, you create a solar panel, sometimes called a solar module. According to information from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the typical solar panel consists of approximately 40 solar cells.
When you combine several solar panels, you create a solar array. According to NREL, the average home requires and array of between 10 and 20 solar panels to provide enough electricity to be viable. Certainly, there are many factors that affect how many solar panels your home will need, including which region of the country you call home.
How do solar arrays generate electricity?
Solar arrays generate electricity by converting sunlight into an electrical current. Specifically, the current generated by a solar array is direct current (DC). However, your home appliances and electronics require alternating current (AC) to work properly, which is how energy companies provide power to your home.
Never confuse DC electricity with AC electricity. Installing a residential solar energy system is no easy task for a novice, so unless you’re extremely knowledgeable about electricity, solar energy is not a do-it-yourself project, no matter how independent you want to be. There are simply too many safety concerns when you begin to connect any home to any electrical grid in any manner.
How is a solar array different than a photovoltaic system?
A solar array is the totality of solar cells, modules and panels. However, a photovoltaic system is the totality of every component in the system, including what are known as balance-of-system components. Balance-of-system components are what safely converts DC power to AC power.
Standard balance-of-system components include:
Depending on how you want to supply solar power to your home, you may require different configurations of every component in a photovoltaic system. Solar arrays are the starting point, but balance-of-system components are what makes your solar energy system work well enough to be safe and viable.
Given how much conflicting information you can find online, it is easy to confuse solar arrays and photovoltaic systems. In short, photovoltaic systems consist of each and every component, including solar arrays.
RGS Energy has almost 40 years of experience in installing photovoltaic systems throughout the country, in a wide variety of settings. To find out how solar energy could power your home, visit www.rgsenergy.com.