As a green-minded consumer interested in solar power, you've probably been pricing solar panels for your system, maybe even using a solar calculator to estimate your energy needs. You know the type of panel you want, as well as the approximate number of solar panels you'll need. You have an excellent head start on the project but also realize that the cost of solar panels represents only one part of the overall cost of a residential solar power system. Many questions still need to be answered, such as: how will the panels I choose be mounted? Will the electricity generated by the system need to be changed from one type to another to power my home? Lastly, how much will it cost to have this whole system professionally installed?
I did a little research, the result of which is a quick synopsis of some of the components needed for a grid-tied solar energy system, with a brief explanation of what they are or what they do.
Several solar panels are almost always arranged together as an array, for which mounting racks are needed. The two major styles are racks for a rooftop array and those for ground-mount systems. Ground-mount racks can either be stationary or tracking - which means that they will "track", or move with, the sun during the day to make the system more efficient. I have found that there are differing opinions regarding whether or not tracking racks make enough of a difference in a system's efficiency to be worth the extra money. Because they have moving parts, these racks add quite a bit to the overall cost of a solar array.
Your solar power system will generate DC current which must be changed to AC, or household current, in order to power your home appliances. This is where the inverter comes in. Additionally, the inverter makes it possible for you to sell your excess electricity to the local utility, since they cannot use DC, either. You can buy an inverter with or without battery-charging capabilities, the latter style being more integral to an off-grid setup. These units are usually installed outdoors, and are weatherproof.
AC Breaker Panel and Inverter AC Disconnect
Your solar installation will need to be wired into your house, just as your utility's power is right now . The AC disconnect allows the inverter to be disconnected from the system for servicing. Your utility may or may not require a disconnect for their own use, in addition to yours.
Utilities usually supply these units for free, just as they provide the meter that now tracks how much electricity your home is currently using from their grid. The meter is similar, except that it not only monitors the energy flowing to your home from the utility, but the energy you supply to the utility's grid, as well.
Cost of Solar Panel Installation
Second only to solar panel costs are solar panel installation costs. Experts estimate installation costs to be as much as 40 - 50% of the price of all other components combined. Check credentials of area installers carefully and know the status of both federal, state and local rebates and subsidies available to make sure that they will cover costs associated with a professional solar energy system installation.