PV Panel Solar Arrays for Home, Residential and Commercial Use
Just as PV cells are connected in series to make up solar panels, collections of solar panels are linked together to form what's known as a solar array. Panel by panel, each cell is soldered in line with cells adjacent to it, with perpendicular conducting strips used to connect each finished row together. Electricity generated by these solar panel modules travels in series to produce proper voltage before being connected in parallel to form the array. Hook up enough of these, and you can bring power to your home in the form of free, clean, renewable energy.
Solar arrays made up of several dozen panels are not uncommon. High-wattage arrays containing hundreds of pv cells can all be connected via a series of soldered joints. In the end, a single set of positive and negative terminals can be used to tie the solar array into an electrical system so that the power can be used. Since the flow of current leaving the solar array is DC (direct current), it must be converted into AC (alternating current) before becoming usable by most appliances and household electronic applications. This is done through the use of an inverter.
Solar Electricity - What Happens After the Array?
Certain applications of solar energy don't require an inverter, such as larger scale DC machines found on farms or agricultural settings. In this case, solar-generated power can be diverted directly to run such machinery in its pure form. In other cases, current leaving the power inverter can be sent directly into a home's electrical system to provide standard electric power.
In grid-tied systems, a special connection exists to allow excess energy to leave the closed electric loop of a home. The connectivity allows this surplus power to flow outward, back into the utility company's power grid, to be used by other homeowners. Anything generated through this connection will actually credit the account of the person owning and operating the solar array. This is usually done by net metering, a process in which the electric meter installed on a home will spin in the oppositie direction, paying dividends toward next month's electric bill.
Another application for solar generated power is the charging of solar batteries and thermal collectors. This is essentially taking the sun's energy and storing it for later use. Batteries and collectors can connected back into the electrical system to run current through the home during times when more electricity is required than the solar array is producing at the time.
Solar Array Applications Outside the Home - Commercial PV Systems and Beyond
For a long time now, solar arrays have been more beneficial when applied on a larger, more commercial scale. This is mostly because the costs associated with installing solar panel systems often outweighed the benefits of putting a few panels on the roof of a small home. But as the technology boosts PV cell efficiency, and design methods streamline and cheapen solar panel/array assembly, home solar installation becomes a very cost-effective method of residential power... and an even more cost effective solution for business, government, and beyond.
Commercial applications for solar energy allow for large scale power gains from a single PV array. Large corporations operating out of even larger office buildings often turn to solar power for a number of reasons. Flat commercial rooftops are the perfect place for installing angled solar arrays, allowing the company's unused roof space to generate them some extra income. Additionally, the recent push for green building and energy efficiency has turned the public's eye on these bigger companies. It helps their image to look as 'green' as possible, and there's nothing cleaner and more renewable than a solar energy source.
Newer solar technology has been implemented in a wide variety of lighting applications. Street lights and parking lot lamps can be designed with small, built-in solar arrays. Exposed to the sun all day, these lights can retain that electrical charge to keep lit all night long. Electric signs can take advantage of solar panels in the same way, although vital street and traffic signals must have alternate sources of power as backup.
NASA has even taken full advantage of the photovoltaic effect. Spacecraft and satellites orbiting the Earth often extend huge PV panel arrays and angle them into direct sunlight. The energy gathered by these array structures can often power these machines indefinitely. Scientists are even looking into using solar power to provide propulsion for spacecraft as well.