There are three general families of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on the market today. They are single crystal silicon, polycrystalline silicon, and thin film.



There are many components that make up a complete solar
system, but the 4 main items on a stand-alone system are: solar
modules, charge controller(s), battery(s) and inverter(s).The solar
modules are physically mounted on a mount structure and the DC power they produce is wired through acharge controller before it goes on to the battery bank where itis stored. The two main functions of a charge controller are to prevent the battery from being overcharged and eliminate any reverse current flow from the batteries back to the solar modules
at night.The battery bank stores the energy produced by the solar array during the day for use at anytime of the day or night. Batteries come in many sizes and  grades. The inverter takes the DC energy stored in the battery bank and inverts it to 120 or 240 VAC to run your AC appliances. 



Grid-tie systems are inherently simpler than either grid-tie with
battery back-up or stand-alone solar systems. In fact, other than
safety disconnects, mounting structure and wiring, a grid-tie
system is just solar modules and a grid-tie inverter! Today’s
sophisticated grid-tie inverters incorporate most of the
components needed to convert the direct current from the
modules to alternating current, track the maximum power
point of the modules to operate the system at peak efficiencies
and terminate the grid connection if grid power is interrupted
from the utility.




There are four basic types of mount structures: roof/ground, top-ofpole, side-of-pole and tracking mounts, each having their own pros
and cons. For example roof mount structures typically keep the wire
run distances between the solar array and battery bank or grid-tie
inverter to a minimum, which is good. But they may also require roof
penetrations in multiple locations, and they require an expensive
ground fault protection device to satisfy article 690-5 of the National
Electrical Code-NEC. On the other hand, ground mounted solar arrays
require fairly precise foundation setup, are more susceptible to
theft/vandalism and excessive snow accumulation at the bottom of
the array. Next are top-of-pole mounts which are relatively easy to
install (you sink a 2-6 inch diameter SCH40 steel pole up to 4-6 feet in
the ground with concrete). Make sure that the pole is plumb and
mount the solar modules and rack on top of the pole.Top-of-pole
mounts reduce the risk of theft/vandalism (as compared to a ground
mount).They are also a better choice for cold climates because snow
slides off easily. Side of pole mounts are easy to install, but are
typically used for small numbers of solar modules (1-4) for remote
lighting systems where there already is an existing pole to attach them to. Last but not least are the trackers, which increase the daily
number of full sun hours and are usually used for solar water pumping applications.Trackers are extremely effective in the summer time
when water is needed the most. In the northern U.S., typical home energy usage peaks in the winter when a tracker mount makes very
little difference as compared to any type of fixed mount (roof, ground or top-of-pole). In this situation, having more modules on a less
expensive fixed mount will serve you better in the winter than fewer modules on a tracker. However, if you are in the southern U.S. and
your energy usage peaks in the summer, then a tracker may be beneficial to match the time of your highest energy consumption with a
tracking solar array’s maximum energy output.




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