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Solar Basics

solar panel

The term photovoltaic is derived by combining the Greek word for light, photos, with voltaic, named for Alessandro Volta, a pioneer in the study of electricity. Thus, a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell is one that converts sunlight - as opposed to sun heat - to electricity.

Every day, light hits your roof's solar panels with photons (particles of sunlight). The solar panel converts those photons into electrons of direct current (DC) electricity. The electrons flow out of the solar panel and into an inverter and other electrical safety devices. The inverter converts that DC power (commonly used in batteries) into alternating current or AC power. AC power is the kind of electrical current that your television, computer and toasters use when plugged into the wall outlet.

A Net Metering keeps track of the all the power your solar system produces. Any solar energy that you do not use simultaneous with production will go back into the electrical grid through the meter. At night or on cloudy days, when your system is not producing more than your building needs, you will consume electricity from the grid as normal. Your utility will bill you for the "net" consumption for any given billing period and provide you with a dollar credit for any excess during a given period. Check with PacifiCorp regarding NEM rules.

Solar Cells

Solar cells are small, square-shaped panel semiconductors made from silicon and other conductive materials, manufactured in thin film layers. When sunlight strikes a solar cell, chemical reactions release electrons, generating electric current. Solar cells are also called photovoltaic cells or "PV cells" and can be found on many small appliances such as calculators.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System Components

A PV system components include PV modules (groups of PV cells), which are commonly called PV panels; one or more batteries; a charge regulator or controller for a stand-alone system; an inverter to covert solar power from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC) of the utility grid-connected system; wiring; and mounting hardware or a framework. A PV module arranges individual PV cells, and the modules are grouped together in an array. Some of the arrays are set on special tracking devices to follow sunlight all day long and improve system efficiency.