21st Century Guide to Solar Power and Photovoltaics: Green Domestic Power from the Sun - Practical Information about Home Electricity, Water Heating, Panel and Cells, Solar Energy Financing by Progressive Management - Read Online
21st Century Guide to Solar Power and Photovoltaics
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This ebook provides comprehensive coverage of all aspects of solar energy and photovoltaic power, with practical advice and information on solar power systems for homes, farms, ranches, and businesses, along with extensive information about solar technologies and research - selecting residential rooftop electrical and water heating (solar thermal) systems and contractors, costs and benefits, more.

Published: Progressive Management on
ISBN: 9781452375007
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Module 1: Better Buildings Series: A Winning Combination, Design, Efficiency, and Solar Technology

Basics of a Solar Electric System

Today's solar technologies are more efficient and versatile than ever before, adding to the appeal of an already desirable energy source. Solar electric systems, which use a natural source of power — sunlight — produce less pollution than traditional forms of electrical production. And they can offer homeowners the security of producing their own power.

Components of a System

Interconnected solar cells, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, form a solar panel or module, and several modules connected together electrically form an array. Most people picture a solar electric system as simply the solar array, but a complete system consists of several other components.

An inverter converts the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the modules into alternating current (AC) electricity for powering lights, appliances, and other needs.

Wiring connects the various components of a solar electric system. In some cases, the system is also interconnected to the utility power grid. If the system produces more power than is required for the house, the utility may offer the homeowner credit for the excess power produced through a program called net metering or net billing. Your state energy office or local utility can provide more information.

Batteries are used to store solar-produced electricity for nighttime or emergency backup power. Batteries may be required in locations that have limited access to power lines, as in some remote or rural areas.

If batteries are part of the system, a charge controller is included to protect them from being overcharged or drawn down too low.

Finally, disconnect switches allow the power from a solar electric system to be turned off to provide safety during maintenance or emergencies. Most providers of solar electric technologies can supply you with all the components you will need for a fully functional system.

Choosing Solar Modules

In purchasing solar modules, you will be seeking a balance between the best cost and years of reliable service. Most solar electric modules on the market today are composed of solar cells made from either crystalline or amorphous silicon. Crystalline silicon solar cells have been used since the 1950, whereas amorphous silicon is a newer and more common technology. If you have a calculator without a battery, it is likely powered by a very small amorphous silicon solar cell. Other new materials, such as cadmium telluride and copper indium diselenide, are now being used to manufacture thin-film solar cells.

Thin-film solar panels give consumers more design options because they require less semiconductor material, and can be made on flexible materials such as plastic or thin stainless steel. This feature has led to thin-film solar panels resembling traditional roofing materials such as shingles that serve a dual purpose—protecting your roof while generating electricity for your house.

Choosing a System

So what system is best for your home? Your decision will depend primarily on how much energy you require to operate your home, but also on aesthetics. For example, you can purchase thin solar modules that resemble traditional roof shingles, standing-seam metal roofs, or slate tiles.

Location is one decision that won’t vary for different types of systems. Solar electric systems work best when placed on an unshaded roof or in a yard having no obstructions to sunlight. Observing the potential location for your system throughout the day will help you spot any shadows that might be cast across the system at different times.

Modules are usually mounted directly onto a south-facing roof (in the Northern Hemisphere) or integrated into the roof itself. However, they can also be used as skylights, placed on a vertical wall, or mounted on a structure apart from the building. Some modules can be mounted on a tracking system, which allows them to directly face the sun throughout the day for increased energy production.

Don’t worry if your home doesn’t face exactly south—the solar electric system will still work, although you may need more modules to meet your electrical needs. Talk to your distributor or manufacturer about the benefits and costs of several types of solar electric systems before you make a decision about which type of solar electric system is right for your home.

Battery Power for Your Residential Solar Electric System

A battery bank stores electricity produced by a solar electric system. If your house is not connected to the utility grid, or if you anticipate long power outages from the grid, you will need a battery bank. This fact sheet provides an overview of battery basics, including information to help you select and maintain your battery bank.

Types of Batteries

There are many types of batteries available, and each type is designed for specific applications. Lead-acid batteries have been used for residential solar electric systems for many years and are still the best choice for this application because of their low maintenance requirements and cost. You may remember the flooded version, which used to be widely used in automobiles. The sealed version is used in most types of portable equipment. Other names for sealed batteries are absorbed glass mat, valve regulated lead acid, and gel. Lithium and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, which are commonly used in cell phones, laptop computers, and camcorders because of their energy-to-weight ratios, are very expensive and may be difficult to use in residential solar applications.

The best kinds of batteries to use in a residential power system are deep-discharge lead-acid batteries specially designed for stationary solar electric systems. Some golf cart batteries may be a less expensive alternative. Car and marine batteries are not recommended for solar electric system use because they are designed to give a large burst of energy when starting a vehicle and are not made for deep discharges. Although they are sometimes used in situations in which deep-discharge batteries are not available, car and marine batteries will quickly fail if used in a solar electric application.

The Battery Bank

The basic building block of a lead-acid battery is a 2-volt cell. A battery bank is a collection of connected 2-, 6-, or 12-volt batteries that supply power to the household in case of outages or low production from renewable energy sources. The batteries are wired together in series to produce 12-, 24-, or 48-volt strings. These strings are then connected together in parallel to make up the entire battery bank. The battery bank supplies DC power to an inverter, which produces AC power that can be used to run appliances. The decision to select a 12-, 24-, or 48-volt battery bank will be determined by the inverter’s input, the type of battery you select, and the amount of energy storage you require.

Sizes and Costs

To determine the number of batteries you need, you must first determine how much energy storage you need in kilowatt-hours (kWh). If you are connected to the utility grid, you can use your monthly utility bill to calculate past energy usage for your household. (Keep in mind that implementing energy-efficiency measures in your home is a preliminary step to installing a solar electric system. Reducing energy consumption and installing energy-efficient appliances are far cheaper than purchasing larger solar electric systems.) A second way to determine your required kWh of energy storage is to multiply the wattage of your appliances by the number of hours you use them in a day. Because watts = amps x volts, if you require 1,000 watt-hours (or 1 kWh) per day, and if you have a 24-volt battery bank, then you need 42 amp-hours of useful storage. Because you cannot fully discharge lead-acid batteries, you would need to install a larger battery to get the needed 42 amp-hours of capacity.

Over the lifetime of the solar electric system, batteries will be the most expensive component of the renewable energy system in an off-grid home due to maintenance and replacement costs. Initial costs for residential batteries range from $80 to $200 per kWh. What should you look for when purchasing a new battery?

1. A long cycle life, or how many deep discharges the batteries can provide.

2. Thick lead plates — the thicker the plates, the deeper the discharge and the longer the battery life.

3. If you have flooded batteries, look for space at the bottom of the battery case to hold sloughed-off material, which can lower the battery’s performance level, and adequate head space above the plates so you don’t have to water as often.

Flooded (unsealed, watered) batteries may be the least expensive choice. However, flooded batteries require periodic electrolyte maintenance by adding distilled water and equalizing the charge among cells. Keep in mind that sealed batteries still require maintenance, even though you don’t have to check electrolyte levels. Sealed batteries are sometimes specified in difficult or remote locations.

Battery Maintenance

All batteries will wear out in 1-15 years, even if they are rarely used, because the acid in the battery wears down the internal components regardless of use. However, you can maximize the life of your battery bank by adhering to the following practices:

1. Avoid repeated deep discharging of batteries. The more a battery is discharged, the shorter its lifetime. In addition, if your batteries are deeply discharged every day, you should increase the size of your battery bank.

2. Keep batteries at rated temperatures. Battery life is rated for 70º-75º temperatures. Keeping batteries warmer than this significantly reduces their life. Passive solar is a great way to heat a battery storage unit, but it must be well insulated. Keeping the batteries cooler than 70º-75º will not significantly extend their life but will reduce their capacity. Discharged batteries may freeze and burst, so maintain an adequate charge on the batteries in cold weather.

3. Maintain the same charge in all the batteries. Although the entire series of batteries may have an overall charge of 24 volts, some cells may have more or less voltage than neighboring batteries.

4. Inspect your batteries often. Some things to look for are leakage (buildup on the outside of the battery), appropriate fluid levels (for flooded batteries), and equal voltage. Your battery manufacturer may have additional recommendations.

Battery Tips

1. The largest cost, over the life of the system, is the batteries. The lifetime cost, including maintenance, of your batteries is dependent on your initial purchase price, how well you adhere to a maintenance schedule, and the replacement interval for the batteries you select.

2. The energy storage capacity of a battery is measured in watt-hours, which is the amp-hour rating times the voltage. For example, a 12-volt, 100-amp-hour battery has a storage capacity of 1,200 watt-hours, which is the same as a 600-amp-hour, 2-volt battery.

3. Follow manufacturer recommendations for voltage set points. Make sure that your charger or charge controller will supply the correct voltage.

4. Place batteries in a well-ventilated, temperature-moderated area because batteries give off gases that could accumulate to form an explosive mixture. Batteries should be kept in an uncluttered, dry area of a shed or garage or placed in a vented box with a strong lock for easy but safe access.

5. Always refer to the battery manufacturer’s recommendations for use and maintenance.

Connecting Your Solar Electric System to the Utility Grid

In the past, most homes with solar electric systems were not connected to the local utility grid. It made sense to install solar electric systems in areas without easy assess to the power grid, where the option of extending a power line from the grid might cost tens of thousands of dollars.

In recent years, however, the number of solar-powered homes connected to the local utility grid has increased dramatically. These grid-connected buildings have solar electric panels or modules that provide some or even most of their power, while still being connected to the local utility.

Owners of grid-connected homes can choose to supply a portion of their energy with solar energy, using the utility for power during the night or on cloudy days. Because of the up-front costs of installing a solar electric system, many of these homeowners initially install systems that meet about one quarter to one-half of their energy use.

Net metering

Solar electric systems sometimes produce more electricity than your home needs. This extra electricity is either stored in batteries or fed into the utility grid. Homeowners can be given credit by their local power companies for the electricity produced at their homes through net metering programs.

Grid-connected systems generally use a billing process called net metering or net billing. In this process, any energy generated by the solar modules that your home does not use immediately is sent to the utility grid. However, when the solar electric system is producing less power than is needed, you can draw additional power from the grid. If your system is connected to the grid through a single electric meter, your meter can actually run backwards as you contribute excess energy to the utility. The excess electricity is being credited to you at the same retail rate as the electricity you use from the utility. Your utility may require the use of two meters — one that meters your consumption of energy from the grid and the other that meters your contribution to the grid. In this case, your solar-generated excess energy could be credited at the retail rate or possibly at a lower wholesale rate, depending on the utility.

In addition, some utilities bill their customers according to a time-of-use rate system. Under this system, customers are billed at a higher rate during certain times of the day, such as during the sunniest daytime hours of summer when air conditioners are working at their peak. If this is the case with your utility, you may be able to trade your excess energy to the utility at these same rates. You can therefore benefit from the fact that your solar electric modules produce the most power during those sunny summer days. When you need power from the utility during the off-peak periods, such as in the evening, the rate is usually lower.

If you choose to have a grid-connected solar electric system, and your system produces enough energy in any given month so that you do not have to draw from the grid, you may still receive a small monthly bill. This is because many utilities charge monthly fees for meter reading. Again, check with your local utility.

Connecting to the grid

One of the most important steps in purchasing a grid-connected solar electric system is choosing a provider with experience. A good provider will also have a properly licensed electrical contractor, have enough years of experience to have demonstrated an ability to work with customers, and be able to compete effectively with other firms.

A good provider should be familiar with your local utility’s regulations on interconnection requirements. If your provider is not familiar with these requirements, check with your local utility, state energy office, or state or local Public Utility Commission for details.

Your solar electric provider should supply you with everything you need to run your system, including a specific type of inverter for grid-connected systems, batteries (if you want backup power), and a special electric meter. As mentioned already, some utilities require you to have one electric meter that runs both forward and backward. Other utilities require two separate meters: one for incoming power you receive, and one for power you generate that goes back into the system. These meters are sometimes paid for by the utility, but may be part of your provider’s price for the system.

As part of the installation of your solar electric system, you will need to sign an interconnection agreement with the utility company. Your solar electric provider may be able to handle the negotiations and paperwork with the utility, but this contractual agreement is between you and your local utility. Be sure to read the fine print in this agreement, which may differ considerably from one utility to another. It could range from a short one-page statement to a lengthy booklet. In either case, the fine print may contain references to liability issues that you will want to fully understand before signing the contract.

Also, be sure to speak with your homeowner’s insurance provider, because the solar electric system itself will need to be added to your policy. In many cases, you may have to add a rider to your policy for the grid-connected system.

More information

Contact your local utility for more information about its particular practices. The general customer service representatives may not be familiar with net metering, so several phone calls may be necessary to find the correct contact person. Your solar electric provider should also have more information.

To learn about local incentives in your area, go to the national Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (www. dsireusa.org). This Web site also includes rules, regulations, and policies for many areas across the nation.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Module 2: Heat Your Water with the Sun

Would you like to learn more about how the sun can help meet your home’s heating needs without straining your budget?

Today’s solar heating systems not only keep swimming pools warm — they can also heat much of your home’s water and interior space. Their popularity is increasing, for several reasons. Solar heating systems are reliable, adaptable, and pollution-free because they use renewable energy from the sun. Many systems include sleek, attractive, low-relief collectors that people often mistake for skylights.

Did you know that solar heating systems work well in many different climates? Some applications, such as pool heating, are widely cost-effective today. The cost-effectiveness of other applications depends on specific circumstances, such as the type and cost of your usual source of energy. Today, special financing is available to help you purchase the system that’s right for your home.

If you’d like to find out more about solar heating for your home or pool, this booklet is a good place to start. Here, you’ll learn how solar heating systems work, how they’re used, their benefits, and how to purchase one yourself. Please note, however, that this booklet isn’t a technical guide to designing and installing a system. For that, you’ll need to consult an experienced solar heating contractor; see Getting help in this booklet for more information.

A solar heating system