Levene Energy

The ABC’s of Solar Power Systems

By: An Editorial by Aniefiok Usoro, Solar Technology Engineer

Renewable energy is the top-burner during most discussions regarding energy for the future. Solar power is usually the primary option when renewable energy is considered. There are many reasons for this, some of which are listed below:

  1. The sun will always shine.
  2. Solar power is scalable.
  3. Solar power is cost effective.
  4. Solar systems usually require low maintenance.

This article seeks to provide a basic understanding of how the different components of the solar system work. The aim is to demystify solar systems, making it easy for everyone, no matter your background, to know what happens within a solar system.

There is an adage that say, “What man does not understand, he fears; and what he fears, he tends to destroy.” I hope that this article provides the understanding that takes away fear.

To make this as practical and simplified as possible, we will be using a family unit as an analogy for the solar system. The Solar System Family

The solar system family has basically four (4) members. They are:

  1. The Solar panels (Master Solar Panels)
  2. The charge controller (Miss Charge controller)
  3. The battery/storage (Mrs. Battery)
  4. The Inverter (Mr. Inverter)

The Solar panels (Master Solar Panels)

Most people recognize the solar panel component of the solar system as it is the most visible. The solar panels are responsible for transforming light energy to electrical energy. This is done through what is known as the photoelectric effect. This simply means that when certain materials (e.g., silicon) are exposed to light, they will react to the exposure by producing electricity.

With solar power systems, the solar panels are where the magic begins, and light is exchanged for electricity. The challenge is that the electricity produced by the solar panels is in a raw state and some refining must be done before it is suitable for ‘consumption’. This is where the next component, the Charge Controller, comes into play.

The charge controller (Miss Charge controller)

Following on from the ‘family’ analogy, we can consider the Charge Controller as a protector or maybe a doctor. The Charge Controller receives the electrical power from the solar panel and gives it a treatment that ensures the electrical power is right for the battery. This is more like what happens when water is filtered to ensure it is healthy for human consumption.

Apart from treating the power from the solar panels, the Charge Controller ensures that the battery stops receiving power when it gets fully charged. This ensures the health of the battery is maintained at optimum capacity. Simply put, the Charge Controller ensures that the battery is healthy by making sure it is working within safe limits.

The battery/storage (Mrs. Battery)

Given that sunlight is present for a limited number of hours in a day, there must be a way to store energy produced during the sunlight hours for use when there is no sunlight or little sunlight. This is where the battery takes the lead. The battery is a storage system that can be likened to a water tank. You store the excess power generated in a battery and use this power when you have little or no power from other sources (i.e., solar panels, power grids or standby generators). The battery can also receive power from other sources like the generator and electric power grid. This power is processed by the inverter before being directed to the battery. The battery is usually what requires the most attention and is, most of the time, the most expensive component. A wide range of technologies have been deployed to ensure the battery is safer for use, the battery’s lifespan is improved, and the battery’s weight is reduced, amongst many other considerations. Storage holds the key to reliable power supply from solar power systems.

The Inverter (Mr. Inverter)

All the earlier mentioned components deal with one form of electric power, and this is Direct Current (DC) power. However, most of what is powered makes use of another form of power known as Alternating Current (AC) power. This therefore means that the power from the solar panels to the charge controller to the battery is all Direct Current, but the power required by must equipment or appliances is Alternating Current. To make this change from Direct Current to Alternating Current, we have to introduce the Inverter. The name ‘inverter’ means to “invert” from Direct Current (DC) to Alternating current (AC). As simple as the inverter’s job may seem, a lot is involved in the process of inverting from Direct Current (DC) to Alternating Current (AC). The inverter is one component that has advanced reasonably with efficiencies getting to as high as 99%. The charge controller is sometime housed in the same unit as the inverter. This means that both units will become one and is this consolidated device is called a “hybrid inverter”.

In Summary

  • Power comes from the solar panels. This is light energy converted to electrical energy by means of the photoelectric effect.
  • Raw power from the solar panels comes to the charge controller for treatment. This treatment ensures the power is right for the battery.
  • The Battery receives power from the charge controller (for solar power) or inverter (for grid or generator power) and stores the power to be used when there is little or no power available from other sources (like solar panels, electric power grid or standby generator).
  • The inverter changes (inverts) the Direct Current (DC) power from the solar panel and battery to Alternating Current (AC) power used by most appliances to be powered.

Memory Assistant

To help with memory let’s go back to the family set up.

  • You may want to consider Master solar panel as the son who is out there searching for the resources (in this case sunlight) to produce what is required for the family (Direct current power)
  • You may consider Miss charge controller as the daughter who takes what Master Solar panel has been able to produce and prepares something thing healthy for Mrs. Battery her mother.
  • Furthermore, you may consider Mrs. Battery to be a resourceful mother who keeps all that is produced safe for a rainy day.
  • Finally, you may consider Mr. Inverter as the man who takes what is produced and what is stored and uses it wisely in meeting the demands of the external factors and that is powering of equipment and appliances.