While the terminology and language used in solar installations can sound incredibly confusing to the uninitiated. But while understanding how the sun gets from your solar panels to turning on your lights may seem like a black art, it’s straightforward when understanding what the various components are called and how they work together. Once you understand that, you’ll be a more knowledgeable consumer and a homeowner who will understand how to maintain your system.
There are four essential components that go into a home solar system. The solar panels themselves, the charge controller, the inverter and the battery bank. The solar panels collect the actual sunlight and can be mounted in a variety of ways to collect the most light possible during the year. It is helpful to have a motorized set of panels that will “follow the sun” as a day progresses to optimize your light collection. The more panels you have -; the more light (read “electricity”) they can collect. After the panels collect the light, they pass it through a “charge controller”.
A charge controller is a device that monitors the electricity coming in from the panels. As the electricity comes in, it is in DC current. The charge controller will either send the electricity to an inverter or will store it in a battery bank. In order to convert it from DC current to something usable by most household appliances, however, an inverter is necessary. An inverter is the component that takes the charge coming from the charge controller and converts it to household current. (As noted, excess electricity that is not being immediately used will be stored in the battery bank.)
The inverter is responsible for “cleaning” the electricity, as well. Typically, this simply means that it tries to regulate any current fluctuations to ensure that household appliances are not subject to unwelcome electrical surges. The battery bank is a set of batteries that stores energy for future use. At night, when there is no light available, the system will note this and pull the stored electricity for household usage. Keeping your batteries charged above 50-60% is considered critical to maintaining their long-term life and storage capacity.