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Photovoltaic System Types

Exploring Types of Solar PV Systems


Theres more than one way to generate renewable solar energy. It all depends on the type of
solar photovoltaic (PV) system you choose. And for that, you need to understand the various
classifications used for types of PV systems, which is determined by the functional
requirements, the component parts, and how the PV system is connected to any other power
sources.
Generally speaking, there are two main types of PV systems: those that are connected to the
local energy grid, and those that stand-alone, but some systems function as hybrids of these
two types. Each system type has its own advantages and disadvantages, though grid-tied solar
PV is becoming much more common worldwide, making up close to 70% of the residential
solar market today.

Grid-Connected Solar PV Systems


A grid-connected solar photovoltaic system goes by several other names, including utility
interactive, grid inter-tied, and grid-tie systems (GTS). The basic set-up of a grid-connected
solar PV system involves solar panels that are linked to the local electric utility grid. But of
course, the connection between the solar array and the utility grid is a bit more complex than
that. The following are the required components for a grid-connected solar PV system:
o Solar panels
o Inverter
o DC disconnect
o AC breaker panel
o Kilowatt-hour meter
o Utility disconnect
o Electrical wiring in your home
All of these components function together in an intricate design to collect and distribute clean,
renewable energy. It starts with the solar panels that collect sunlight and convert it into an
electrical current. The electricity that these panels produce is direct current (DC) energy, but
since your home and the grid function on alternating current (AC) energy, the raw solar
energy needs to be converted.
For that, the PV system relies on an inverter (sometimes called a power conditioning unit, or
PCU), which is one of the most important components in your PV system. The inverter will
convert the DC energy to AC energy which can then be used inside your home and or be
safely sent to the local utility grid. From there, the electricity travels via your homes normal
wiring through the AC breaker panel.
A grid-tied solar PV system also requires an array DC disconnect, which is essentially a
switch that allows you to stop the flow of electricity from your solar panels. This is used to
shut the system down in emergencies or when maintenance needs to be performed. You will
also have a utility disconnect which is used by the local utility to stop the flow of energy
when
they
need
to
perform
maintenance
on
the
utility
grid.
At this point, a kilowatt-hour meter provides a read-out of how much power your solar array
has produced in order to calculate your monthly utility bill. This leads us to one of the biggest

benefits of a grid-tied solar panel system. When connected to the existing power grid and
producing energy, your solar panel will pump all excess clean energy you produce into the
grid. Through a program called net metering, which many (but not all) communities now
have, you will get credit from your local utility for all of the power fed into the grid. In
essence, the meter will spin backwards during these times!
Conversely, at night and during times when your solar system doesnt make enough energy
for your home, you can draw power from the local utility grid. As a result, most gridconnected solar system do not include a battery since all of the energy is consumed as it is
produced.

Stand-Alone, Off-Grid Solar PV Systems


Unlike a grid-tied system, a stand-along PV array is usually sized to provide a minimum
amount of energy in order to generate an entire homes energy requirements (sometimes
combined with geothermal, wind, or hydro power). Most grid-connected systems, on the other
hand, normally provide only a portion of the energy needed by the home.
The components used in an off-grid PV system are very similar to those used in a grid-tied,
but for a few additional components. Heres the complete list:
Solar panels
Inverter
Back-up generator
DC disconnect
Batteries
AC breaker panel
Kilowatt-hour meter
Utility disconnect
Rectifier
Electrical wiring in your home

So how does an off-grid solar system differ from a grid-connected one? It collects solar
energy in the same way and then converts it into an electrical (DC) current, but in this case, it
can either funnel the electricity into your home or the battery system. It does not ever send
electricity into the local electric utility grid.
In a stand-alone solar system, sometimes the DC energy is pumped straight into the DC
battery, but it can also send the energy through an inverter to convert the DC energy into AC
energy, just as before. Most often the electricity is then piped into your home or the batteries
which can either store the energy for later use or be consumed immediately by your home,
depending on the time of day and the amount of energy being produced and used. As with a
grid-tied system, your off-grid solar array will also have a DC disconnect to allow you to shut
the system down in an emergency and for maintenance, but it will also have a rectifier which
is like a reverse inverter for changing AC to DC power for charging the batteries.
Batteries are finicky pieces of equipment, and as such they require some additional
components to ensure they run well and last a long time. A system meter, for instance, will
measure how full your battery is and how much energy is being produced by your panels

versus how much you are using. This will give you a detailed look at how well your system is
performing and whether or not you have any problems.
Another important component for battery health is the charge controller which also monitors
and manages the charge coming from the panels into the batteries. For homes that are
completely off the local electric grid, a back-up generator is usually part of the energy
package as well. This gas or diesel-powered system provides electricity during periods of
sunlessness and at night as needed. These can, however, be very noisy and produce a lot of
fumes, so are often not preferred by solar owners.

Hybrid Solar PV Systems


A hybrid solar PV system combines some of the best characteristics of an off-grid and a gridtied system. These systems are connected to the local utility grid, but also have a battery backup system. The battery allows the homeowner to store energy for use during non-producing
hours (at night or during black-outs). These systems are ideal for homes where the energy grid
is unreliable because of inclement weather, an unstable utility generation system, and so on.
This is of particular importance for those who rely on a constant source of energy for their
home or business.