Solar power: the nuts and bolts

solarpanelA previous article discussed the growing viability and popularity of solar power systems in New Zealand and around the world, and gave information on how you can learn about overall costs and installation techniques.

However, for most of us approaching the idea as novices, there are some daunting matters to get our heads around. What are the components? How hard are they to get and how much do they cost? Out of the vast range available, what really is the best and most suitable for my particular needs? Can I really do it myself, or do I need an expert?

For some basic information and consolation, you might like to try this website, which outlines the basic components of a home solar power system. It tells you simply and clearly that a photovoltaic power system is basically comprised of photovoltaic (PV) panels that collect the sunlight and convert it to DC (direct current) electricity, an inverter that converts the DC current into usable AC (alternating current) power which is what you use in your home, batteries that store electricity for later use (particularly in off-grid applications) and a collection of switches, fuses, meters and wires to connect things and maintain safety. The site also gives a more detailed breakdown of the individual components and what you need to know about them.

For even more detailed background, with in-depth information about photovoltaic systems, you might like to try this Wikipedia article, which discusses different types and sizes of PV cells, varieties of inverters, mounting systems, tracking systems which move the panels to take full advantage of the available light, maintenance issues and likely lifespan of a system. Within the New Zealand environment, one of the no-obligation quotation providers also provides access to a great deal of background information on setting up a solar system, addressing issues such as how the panels work, the pros and cons of being connected to the grid, the costs of panels and inverters and the types available, and general design considerations.

Written from a US perspective but still providing very useful information under the headings of "What is solar electricity", "Why use solar electricity", "How to implement solar electricity" and "Getting started with solar electricity," this site is also well worth a visit. In the same vein, a considerable amount of practical information is available here, also from a US source.

The photovoltaic (PV) panels are the biggest single expense in setting up a solar power system, and as with any major expense, it's always advisable to get several quotes before proceeding to purchase. A starting point for component prices can be found here, and there are many other New Zealand suppliers who can be located using an internet search.

In New Zealand there are a number of websites which provide no-obligation quotes for full installation and also give some guidance on individual components. You could take a look here for quotes on a system you specify for your situation and here for a similar service which also provides a considerable amount of background information on componentry.

For those who are really serious about setting up their own system and doing the installation themselves, there are also detailed Webinars available, dealing with each of the components in a normal domestic solar system. To make a start on these, this site provides access to a number of 1-hour sessions online.

Finally, it's worth remembering that you don't have to go the whole hog right from the beginning, and you might prefer to implement stand-alone solar systems for just some of your farm requirements. As mentioned in the previous article, there are many solar systems available to deal solely with water pumping for farm and domestic supplies and irrigation, and there are also suppliers of solar electric fencing power supplies. Whatever you choose, there is a growing range of expert advice available online all over the world, and by direct phone contact with companies here in New Zealand.

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