Solar System Anatomy
Learn what the basic components of your solar system will be -- and what they do!
The Solar Array
A collection of solar panels, usually mounted flush to your roof. While solar panels don't appear to do much – they just sit there – a lot is happening on the inside. When photons from the sun hits a cell, usually made of silicon, they excite electrons from the material of the cell. The wires connected to the solar cell collect these electrons, converting them into electric current. Multiple interconnected cells are used in a single solar panel, with many connected panels forming the “strings” that comprise a photovoltaic (PV) array.
The Solar Inverter
The power generated by the PV array is direct current (DC), while our homes and many other electric devices run on alternating current (AC). The inverter converts the DC electricity of the solar array to the AC electricity that is used in your home or office. Most inverters have a display that allows you to read data about how your system is performing.
Expandability: if you want to start small and build your array up over time, you will want to size your inverter for your final projected array size.
Production Meter. Before being fed into your home or office, the AC current travels first to a production meter. This meter measures all of the solar power your system produces before it is consumed by loads in your home or fed back into the grid. Washington State's Production Incentive is paid based on the data collected by this meter. In some cases, utilities require an AC disconnect be installed between the inverter and your main service panel.
The Main Service Panel
The AC current from your inverter is fed to a breaker in your main service panel. From there, the solar power you generate flows first to loads in your house, which means your house is being powered by the sun. In some cases, if the output current of your system exceeds the capacity of your existing main service panel, we will have to upgrade the panel.
The Net Meter
Once your system is installed and ready to be turned on, your utility will replace your old billing meter with a specialized Net Meter. This meter measures the power to you push into the grid at high production times (spinning backward), and draw back from the grid during low production times (spinning forward). In Washington State, if you produce more electricity than you consume you receive credit on your electricity bill.
Every solar array we install comes with a monitoring system and software. This provides real time data – allowing us to keep tabs on your solar production via the Internet. This makes tracking your production possible for us without ever having to manually poll your inverter, and you will be able to compare your energy production with your consumption. See Also: How Solar Power Works.