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What are the main components of a solar energy system?

3 Components of a solar system; panels, inverters and batteries.

What are the main components of a solar energy system?

When you think of solar energy, what do you immediately picture in your mind? Our guess is, you’re thinking of some of these!

But, as we all know, there is so much more to a solar energy system than simply the panels. There are multiple components to the entire system, with many brands to choose from for each. These brands can offer some very unique and advantages and often make or break a system’s ability to perform as expected. So it’s no wonder people often find the process of installing solar incredibly daunting.

But fear not, we’re here to help! We’ve created this article to help the beginners out there to better understand the investment you are looking to make for your home, whilst also helping people with existing systems to better understand all the parts and how they work in unison to power your home.

So read on, enjoy – and let us know if you have any feedback by emailing info@gemenergy.com.au.

The four major components of a solar energy system are the panels, inverter(s), racking and solar battery storage unit(s) (if desired).

 

Panels

Solar panels are the most visible element of your system, which is why you’re likely the most familiar with it. They are, in essence, the “face” of solar. If you go out and look up and down your street right now, you will likely be able to tell who does and doesn’t have solar energy powering their home purely by looking for solar panels on their rooves.

The way that solar panels work is that the panels generate DC electricity as sunlight, or solar irradiation, stimulates electrons to move though solar cells that are in-built into the solar panels. Contrary to what some may think, it is the sunlight itself, and not heat, that generates the electricity. In fact, overheated panels can become less efficient, similar to a computer overheating. Thus, any solar panel you choose must be able to withstand the warm Australian climate for around 25 years (we’re assuming you do want your investment into solar to last that long, right!?). There are a wide variety of solar panels on the market – so knowing where to start can be tricky. We’ll delve further into this in another article on another day, but for now, let’s quickly go into the technology and products so that you can better understand the options available to you right now.

Technology – Polycrystalline or Monocrystalline Panels?

Monocrystalline panels consist of singular large crystals, are darker in colour, even in aesthetic consistancy and, as a result of the production process, the corners of cells are usually missing.

Polycrystalline panels consist of multiple smaller crystals, can be light or dark blue in colour and have variation in texture where some patches are lighter than others.

Historically, monocrystalline panels were seen to have an advantage as the superior technology in the Australian market. Historically, monocrystalline solar cells were producing higher peak efficiency as large crystal sizes tend to be more absorbent, and the technology was more readily available than polycrystalline solar cells. However, over time both technologies have matured and improved, making the difference quite negligible in most regions. In essence, both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are great for any solar energy system in Australian climates.

Instead, it has become increasingly evident that the more important aspect to focus on is the quality of the product, the reliability of the manufacturer and the performance of the product over time. These three factors alone can make all the difference in how much of your energy costs are offset, how long they will yield a return on your investment and how quickly you can receive support if things do go wrong (or even just need general maintenance – which we do recommend!).

How to choose your solar panels

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for when deciding on which solar panels to install for your home or business.

Though the savings of purchasing a budget panel may seem appealing in the short-term, they often depreciate more quickly and perform worse over time. Or just flat out don’t work. Or explode.

Solar energy systems are a long-term investment (systems should last around 25 years), so your main concern should be the performance of that system over time, the quality of the installation, the longevity of the products and the warranties attached. Maximizing savings over the long term rather than minimizing the initial cost of a system is the smart move. Many companies offer very cheap systems and cut corners to get to that price – rushing installs, putting your home at risk and selling the cheapest products that will barely last 5 years on an Australian roof. The products we sell are top of their range and come with a 20-30 year product and performance warranty as standard.

Brands

There are good budget brands that perform very well at an affordable price – we often recommend Jinko, Hyundai, Canadian Solar, Phono & Trina. Then there are our premium products, made with the highest quality technology and that come with extended warranties. These products include LGQCells and SunPower (suppliers of Apple and NASA), which are usually made and engineered in Germany or North America and are considered the best panels on the market.

Our Expert Advice: 

You can likely afford the best panels with only a slight increase in up-front costs or payback period, and this will pay off in the long-term.

When you speak with one of our expert consultants, they will breakdown the best option to maximize your savings.

Inverters

Inverters are a crucial part of any solar energy system. Their purpose is to convert the DC electricity that the solar panels produce into 240V AC electricity, which is what powers everything in your home. The inverter is a hardworking piece of equipment that works constantly throughout the lifetime of your system – so it tends to be the piece most likely to have faults. This means they usually only have a warranty of around 10 years. For this reason, we will always recommend that you choose a high quality inverter that is easily serviceable such as Fronius, ABB, Sungrow or SolarEdge.

Inverter Technology – String Inverters vs Microinverters

The two main types of inverters are string inverters and microinverters. A string inverter is installed onto a wall in a shaded area and will convert the energy from a string of panels (for residential systems this is usually the entire system) into AC electricity to be used in your home or business. Microinverters are installed on the back of each panel, allowing the energy from the panels to exist independently from each other. When partial shading occurs on one panel in a string inverter system, the performance of the rest of the panels are also affected (as demonstrated below). Microinverters are the solution to this, as they allow the panels to operate independently but also come with an increase in price. There are also power optimizers, which are the middle-of-the-road approach between the two, as they are cheaper than microinverters but somewhat less effective. Shading isn’t always a critical issue so microinverters aren’t always necessary. To find out, our experts will help you assess your particular situation.

Racking

The third main component of a solar energy system is the racking/mounting. This is what securely attaches your panels to your roof. Racking / mounting will not be a decision you need to lose sleep over. Any reputable solar provider will use quality racking equipment from brands like Radiant or Sunlock, which are Australian made. What is most important is that the installers of the solar energy system are CEC approved and that the company you go with has a reputation for quality installations. Many companies rely on quantity over quality, which means that they rush through multiple installations per day in a race to get as many done as possible and, ultimately, putting your home at risk! Volume-based, cheap and non-accredited installers are well known to cut corners, leave holes in rooves, leave loose live wires and other critical safety violations. While the initial cost may seem higher, companies such as ours will spend the extra time to ensure correct procedures are followed and that the performance and safety of your solar energy system and family are guaranteed.

Batteries

Batteries are used to store energy generated during the day to be used throughout the night when the system is no longer generating power. Battery technology is quickly developing into a more feasible option for those who primarily use their energy in the evenings. We have installed battery systems for major clients such as PCYC Queensland and schools like Bundaberg Christian College, who operate sporting facilities and boarding colleges that require energy throughout the night.

Are batteries for you?

While battery technology has come a long way, it is still in its infancy and comes at a significant increase in cost. The value of including batteries on your solar energy system will depend on a range of factors such as your usage needs and your feed-in tarrif rate. Your feed-in tariff is the rate which the Government is prepared to pay you to send the energy you have produced into the common energy grid for all to use. If you are storing excess energy in a battery, then you are not feeding it into the grid and are not being paid for it. So when your FIT rate is high and you are not at home or working in the premises during the hours of the day to utilise the energy you produce, it does not make financial sense to store that excess energy. This is particularly the case given the relatively high up-front cost of a solar battery storage unit.

Our experts will analyze your usage to determine if battery technology is the right move for you.

Tesla Powerwall 2

GEM Energy are preferred installers of Tesla Powerwalls and Powerpacks (suitable for large-scale commercial use) here in Australia and are experts in the field of battery technology.

Tesla Powerwall

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