How Solar Works

Have you ever wondered how solar works?  On this blog, we’re going to discuss what it takes to make the sun’s energy produce AC voltage for your home.

Since the early 1900’s the United States has spent a crazy amount of money on the current infrastructure.  This infrastructure supports mining, drilling, transporting, refining and distributing fossil fuels for our use.  At the same time, the demand for energy has gone up steadily with the population.  In the US, we get the majority of our power from coal, oil, and natural gas.  Solar, Wind, Hydroelectric, and other renewables are starting to make a dent in the infrastructure, however.  I think there is definitely hope for renewables in the future as a primary source of energy.

It’s hard to believe that the Earth absorbs over 173,000,000,000,000,000 watts of energy.  That’s 173 thousand terawatts in a day, 10,000 times more sun than we need on any given day.  Did you know 20 days of sunshine is all Earth needs to produce more energy than all the fossil fuels ever did on this planet combined?

Transforming light from the sun directly into electricity without any moving parts is science!  It’s free, and when it’s not we won’t care, right?  So how do we harness that potential energy and power our homes with it?  It’s a process as predictable as the sun rising and setting every day.  And there are no moving mechanical parts during the whole process.  This makes solar technology so desirable because the technology will last for decades at a time.

So how do we take photons from the sun and get them to push the electrons on the solar panel in a manner that will create enough electricity to power our homes?  It all starts with the PV cell.  A single PV cell is the smallest component capable of this process.

The Perfect Element

Silicon solar cells are the most common type.  Silicon, being the second most abundant element on earth, is perfect for this.  The silicon is then sandwiched between two layers of conductive material.   An atom within the silicon connects to other atoms with four strong bonds.  This keeps the electrons stationary, so no current can flow.

A silicon PV cell is a semiconductor with two main layers, a positive and a negative.  The positive side is doped with boron to give it a positive charge or extra electrons, and the negative side is doped with phosphorous to give it a negative charge.  The junction where the positive and negative layer come together is called the P-N junction, and an electric field is created there.  It generates a half (0.5) volt dc potential to travel through the cell from the P layer to the N layer, but not in the other direction.   The connection between the P layer of one cell and the N layer of an adjacent cell increases the overall voltage, which is added in series.

Tapping Sunlight

Sunlight has particles of light shooting out from it, called photons.  When a photon hits the solar panel hard enough, it knocks an electron from its bond, leaving a hole. The negative electron and location of the positively charged hole can then move around freely.

Since there is an electric field at the P/N junction, the electrons will only go one way.  The electron gets pulled over to the N-side, while the hole gets pulled to the P-side.   From there, this process repeats itself and does work like powering the house until the electrons return to a conductive aluminum sheet on the back of the panel.

Because the voltage of an individual crystalline PV Cell is only 0.5 v dc, a PV module consists of numerous cells, wired together in series.  So, when 36 cells are wired in series, you should expect to get 18 volts DC.  Unlike voltage, the current of the cell is dependent on the surface area, so the larger the panel the more voltage it can produce.  In general, though, the current of each cell will be the same as the current of each module.  The panels of yesterday were 18 and 36 cell panels.  In 2019, our panels are 60-cell at the very least and go to 72 and 96 cell panels for the residential market.  More cells mean more power per panel.

Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline

Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline panels are your choices for your solar panels.  Because of their efficiency and aesthetics, Monocrystalline panels are currently the most desirable. Typically a black panel and frame, these are made with a single type of crystal.

The single crystalline material used on Mono panels makes them more efficient than polycrystalline panels.  They’re more efficient because they allow the electrons to move more freely.  The reason they’re a tad bit more efficient than polycrystalline panels is due to the casting process of the cells.

Polycrystalline panels are made with a variety of crystals.  So when the molten silicon of multiple types of crystals gets poured into the mold and solidifies, it dries flat into what looks like a bed of flakes or crystals.  Polycrystalline panels have a bluish tinge to them too.

The different crystals within the cell create grainy speedbumps that can make it more difficult for the electrons to navigate out of the cell.  Monocrystalline panels are smoother at that level.  That’s the reason Monocrystalline panels are all the rage right now.

Going Solar

I hope this has helped you gain a little understanding of the process of solar energy production.  If you’re in the Greater Sacramento area and interested in having Fox Family come out and give you a quote on your solar project just give us a call, or you can text us, too, at 916-877-1577.

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Which Inverter is the Best for my New Solar System?

What’s So Great About Microinverters?

Hello, solar enthusiasts! Have you been wondering which inverter is the best to use on your new solar project? If so then this article is for you!

What are Inverters?

You know, solar panels get all the glory, but it’s the inverters that do all the work in the solar energy system. Central string inverters that came with solar systems of the past — let’s say up until 2018 – managed the conversion of DC to AC voltage for the entire solar system. That meant if one panel went down because of shading or a mechanical issue, the entire system would stop producing.

Then microinverters were developed out of Fremont, California by a company called Enphase®. These people were working on the central string inverters for a big company until they decided to go out on their own.  They created an inverter that would convert the DC energy produced by the panel into usable AC voltage for your home. Nobody else is doing this, and the central string inverter companies were thrown for a big loop because these new inverters are also warrantied for 25 years instead of 10.

But undeniably, the best thing about Enphase® is their inverters are double insulated for proper grounding and small enough to be placed at each individual panel. Because each panel has its own inverter, if one panel goes down because of shading or a mechanical issue, all your other panels will still continue producing clean energy for you.

New, But Are They Safe?

These microinverters are UL Listed, relating to voltage and frequency, synchronization, disturbances, faults, and reconnect time. This UL Listing ensures that your grid direct system meets IEEE 1547.1-2005 which specifies the type, production, and commissioning tests that must be performed on these microinverters. On our permits, we must show that these microinverters comply with the Rapid Shutdown requirements of NEC 2014, Section 690.12. This applies to PV conductors over 10 feet from the PV array and requires that the conductors power down to 30 volts and 240 volt-amperes within 10 seconds of rapid shutdown initiation. Enphase® products do it in less than six, making your house safer during power outages.

Revolutionary

To me it’s so interesting how one company can change the composition of an entire field the way Enphase® has done with solar. The old DC inverter companies are now trying to play catch up. The way they’re duplicating Enphase® technology is by creating “DC optimizers” at each panel, which act just like a microinverter in the way that allows the rest of your solar system to work even if one or two panels go down. You’ll still have a main inverter down on the side of the house, but you’ll also have DC optimizers at each panel, mimicking Enphase’s® technology. They had to!

My territory manager, who gets me my solar parts and equipment in Sacramento, tells me his top 3 grossing solar companies all use Enphase® microinverters. DC inverters are getting dropped quickly as outdated technology. Happens all the time.

Which Inverter Does Fox Family Install?

Fox Family installs Enphase® microinverters because they are the best technology for today’s quality driven customer. You can watch our latest video on this topic, here.  The price comes out the same on the jobs, too. The industry did a good job of pricing them similarly. We also use Quickmount® PV flashings and racking. I’ll leave a link to Enphase® and Quickmount® PV in the space below if you’d like to learn more. Both companies are engineered right here in California. They are produced in China, but there isn’t one inverter company manufacturing their own inverters here in the US, unfortunately.

What’s So Great About Microinverters?

Okay, just to geek out a little bit, I wanted to point out a couple of things I really like about Enphase® microinverters. Most importantly, since they are located right at each panel, the maximum power point (MPP) of each module is tracked and sent to your monitoring app on your phone. Enphase®’s is called Enlighten. I’ll have a video out soon about Enlighten and the cool features it has, like monitoring your production. Shading only affects those modules it’s shading rather than the whole system.

Solar panels can be installed at different angles and azimuth orientations, unlike central string inverters which require all the modules in each source circuit to be at the same tilt and orientation. We’re not running high voltage DC circuits through your attic or across your rooftop. We’re running AC voltage instead.

You know how your central string inverter is probably going to go out after 10 years? If one microinverter went down before the 25 year warranty had expired, the rest of the system would keep producing.  This would lower your down time, and lower your production time. ☹

Want to See Us In Action?

If you’d like to see Fox Family installing one of our recent projects, please visit our YouTube channel and see us in action installing solar.

Thanks so much for checking us out here at Fox Family. We want you to feel good about the products we use. We only choose the products we would use on our own houses. In fact, our house is getting solar done this week.  It will be nice to finally have my own solar system running!  You can read more about Fox Family solar installations here.

We’ll see you on the next blog!

Learn more about Enphase

Learn more about QMPV

Don’t miss our blog post related to this topic:

Top Benefits of Installing Solar Panels

solar company in sacramento

In the economy today, consumers are constantly looking for ways to save money. Rather scrapping money giving up things you love, have you considered solar energy? Residential solar panels are the future and not only do they benefit the environment but can help reduce energy cost. They present you with a chance to gain energy independence with little to no reliance on big energy corporation.

Still not completely convinced? We have some benefits of residential solar panels you should consider.

Solar is a Reliable and Secure Energy Source

Unless you live in Alaska, the sun is a reliable source of energy. You have a good idea of daily sun activity when it will rise and set. Even on cloudy days, you generally get enough sunlight to power your home. The system is also connected to a battery that charges and provides power when sunlight is not present. Which means you won’t face any power outages which do occur from time to time with electrical power.

The sun is a secure form of energy as it is an entity no one has control over. No one can stop you from using the sun as a source of energy as there is no way to control it or monopolize the sun. As long as you have proper residential solar panels, you should be secure in terms of energy.

Save on Energy Bill

We sort of touched upon this but you are probably wondering exactly how much on an average is saved with solar panels? Well, there isn’t an exact estimate because it depends on how much energy your home consumes. However, you can find that some homes with panels actually completely eliminate their energy bill. They get enough energy from the panels so they don’t need to rely on the grid. SMUD charges a small solar connection fee each month, and generally, you will acquire more energy than you will use from your solar investment.

To make sure the panel works well throughout the day, it needs roughly around 5.5 to 6 hours of sunlight a day. Alaska in Fall and Winter is the only state in the US that doesn’t receive that much sunlight.

The time of the year also depends on how much you save. When the weather gets cold, you will probably save more than when it is hot. You may also have to rely on the grid more in the summer since the air conditioning would be required. Overall, you will notice your energy bill shrink once you have solar panels installed.

Earn Rebates and Other Credits

Cutting energy cost isn’t the only cost you will be saving on. Some states in the US offer various schemes for residents that opt to have solar panels installed. The federal government offers 30% tax credit for residents that utilize solar panels.

Rebates scheme are also offered so you can save more. The solar rebates in California scheme present users with two options to save, they can save $500 that covers the permit fee of installation to saving unto $0.95 per watt of the overall capacity of the system. If you were to install a 6kW system then you would end up getting a rebate of around $1,500. These initiatives were established to promote the use of solar energy for residential purposes.

Increase House Resale Value

Solar panels may seem like a big investment at first but with all the savings and rebates, you end up saving more than you invested. The panel system also adds value to your home. A 2011 report that analyzed homes with solar panels in California saw an increase of $5,911 to the resale value for every kilowatt of solar power installed. The average medium size home needs a 3kW system so that is roughly $18,000 of resale value added to your home.

Saves the Environment

Traditional electricity has drastically contributed to global warming. The use of fossil fuel from coal and natural gas has led to constant greenhouse gas emission into the environment. Therefore, has led to the deterioration of the environment. Fossil fuel is also a finite resource and will run out eventually. The fuel is also reliant on water resources, which is a resource that is slowly becoming scarcer around the world.

The process of electricity production is unsustainable and it is important that more people opt for alternatives. Solar energy causes no harm to the environment as it relies solely upon the sun. There is no emission and as the world turns to solar energy, it greatly reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.

With so much upside, it’s surprising that more Sacramento homeowners don’t opt for solar panels. The state of California has seen a drastic increase in homes utilizing solar power. You can easily find a solar company in Sacramento and other areas that can guide and install solar panels to help you save and gain energy independence. So don’t wait any longer and start saving today.