Monday, August 20, 2012

Continue Your Green Education Today With Solar PV 102

There are many things to understand about a solar array beyond the panels. While panels are the pretty face of your system, we all know looks can only take us so far! The inverter, in this case, is the brains.
We learned in Solar PV 101 that photons of light excite electrons in a solar cell and create a steady flow of electricity. As mentioned, this is called current, but more specifically, it is called direct current, or DC. Your home, however, does not like DC power (although nearly all of you electronics do!); it prefers alternating current, or AC. If "AC" and "DC" sound familiar, and not because of heavy guitar licks and high-pitched voices, then you have got a great start to understanding the inverter which changes direct current into alternating current.
Changing current from DC to AC sounds like it could be a simple job, but consider that the panels are constantly providing varying levels of power, for example, as clouds move overhead, different amount of sunlight hit the panel. The inverter does not just make the change blindly; it actually plays with the laws of electricity to provide your home with the maximum power possible at every given instant, while at the same time, trying to match the phase of the power provided by the grid. Pretty smart!
The inverter is not done yet. Some inverters change the power of the entire array, while others invert the power from each panel. We call the latter micro-inverters, and the beauty of them is that their use allows us to install monitoring such that something as simple a Frisbee landing on a panel can be detected very easily from anywhere in the world via the internet. Monitoring is the second best way after the array itself, to brag to your friends about your newly installed solar array!
Inverters are also responsible for one of the most common misconceptions about Solar Power: during a black or brown out, you will be just like every other home on the block, following the game or listening to the news on a battery powered radio instead of the television. You see, when the power goes out, someone has to get up on the power lines and fix the problem, and if your system were pumping electricity onto the grid, these workers' lives would be in danger. We refer to this as anti-islanding and your inverter is designed to shut down in order to prevent it.
While not having power during an outage is unfortunate, you should not lose too much sleep over it. Power outages are somewhat rare, and as adoption of solar power increases, they will become less likely.
As the owner of a solar array, the most important thing you should know about inverters is that they generally have a warranty of 15 years. Modules have warranties between 25 and 30 years, so at some far down the line, your system may unexpectedly go down, and chances will be good that it is simply time to replace your inverter.
Ready for more introduction to solar power? Keep an eye out for Solar PV: 103 - Energy Storage.