Solar electric (photovoltaic) systems generate electricity from solar energy. The solar generated electricity can be used in your home/office and/or exported to the utility grid. Therefore solar power systems are divided in two main types – connected to the grid, or ‘grid-tied’, and disconnected to the grid, also known as ‘off-grid’.
The main components of grid-tied systems are solar panels and inverter. Grid-tied systems only operate when utility grid is on. In case of utility grid failure a grid-tied system stops cannot generate electricity unless it is provided with power backup. Grid-tied systems are less expensive than off-grid system and require less maintenance.
Apart from solar panels most off-grid solar electric systems contain a battery and a battery managing device called charge controller. Inverter is not needed if an off-grid system has to provide power to DC loads only. Typically off-grid solar systems are more expensive – both as initial cost and maintenance costs.
If an off-grid system does not contain any other power generators, it is called ‘stand-alone’. Stand-alone systems are used when daily electricity needs of a household or office are up to 2.5 kW. If daily needs exceed 2.5kW, a purely photovoltaic system is usually not cost effective, and hybrid system is a better option to go for. A hybrid system contains at least one more power generator apart from the solar array – this might be a wind generator or a diesel generator.
Grid-tied systems are used to reduce your monthly electricity bills. Off-grid solar system are built in areas where getting connected to a utility grid is either impossible or not cost-effective. A solar system has a lifecycle of between 25 and 30 years and it appears a good investment to meet your future energy needs in a long-term period.
The problem however is that initial cost of photovoltaic systems and their components are still relatively high. You have your daily energy needs and you want to buy a solar system meeting them as cost-effectively as possible. Apart from your budget available however, there are some other limitations. You have a limited roof area and you don’t know how beneficial is the sun at your location for investing a large sum of money into a solar system. Last but not least – your site might turn out to be not suitable for installing a solar system.
An option is to call a vendor and having all the things evaluated. But how to select the right solar vendor? How to avoid all those unfair guys who are eager to take advantage of your lack of solar knowledge and do your down? How to be prepared to distinguish a good offer from a bad one and be aware of what would best match your needs and budget?
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