Solar panels are the most visible part of the system, working with other components to collect the sun’s energy and deliver electricity to a property. These other components are the racking system, power optimizers, inverter, disconnect and solar metering.
The solar panels must be mounted on racking, which is typically installed over the existing roof, fastened to the trusses. Or racking can be attached to a purpose-built shade structure or ground mount. On flat roofs and ground mounts the racking tilts the panels towards the sun to maximize the panels’ power production.
The racking system serves to keep the solar panels securely fastened throughout their 25 – 40+ year life. The panels will experience wind, rain, hail and snow through time, possibly severe weather which may bring airborne debris in contact with them, even an errant golf ball.
Each solar panel has a power optimizer mounted on the bottom. It is the role of the optimizers to balance the system in the event a panel becomes shaded or malfunctions. This prevents failures like the Christmas light strings of our youth, when one bulb burnt out and they all went out. Not so with today’s panels and the overall solar array.
The optimizers are then wired through conduit to one or more inverters, which are preferably mounted on an outside, cooler north wall near the property’s electrical panel. The inverters convert the DC (direct-current) electricity produced by the panels into AC (alternating-current) electricity required by your home and compatible with the electrical grid.
The utility company has equipment and safety device requirements to allow for solar electric connection with their grid. A new meter is installed to measure solar power production. Solar powers the property through the main electrical panel, with excess to the grid, turning the existing utility meter in reverse.
Local electrical code requirements may require modification to the electrical panel.
Most importantly, the solar system must be isolated in the event of a power failure. This is to prevent electricity from flowing into the grid causing potentially fatal harm to the utility’s linemen trying to repair the problem.
Optional equipment could include battery backup, which in combination with the solar panels, would be immediately disconnected from the grid in the event of a blackout, but continue to power your property. This backup electricity may be just for critical circuits providing power to an air conditioner, fridge, freezer, a few lights and outlets, or it may continue to power the entire property.
Other equipment could include critter guards, electrical vehicle chargers, energy monitoring device, load controller, or smart thermostat.