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solar power system types

Solar Power System Types: Equipment Needed, Costs, Pros, And Cons

More and more people worldwide are installing rooftop solar panels for their homes. They're motivated by reducing long-term energy bills and minimizing their carbon emissions.

According to a study by SEIA, a record number of new solar installations were completed during quarter three (Q3) of 2021, and the industry expects continued strong demand for the next few years. 

Rapid developments in solar energy technology have been spurred mainly due to improvements in the efficiency and lower costs involved in these new technologies.

So, What kinds of solar panels are available? What kind of tools are required for an efficient home solar energy system? Are you able to install solar panels by yourself? When will you reach break even? Let's go through each question and answer them one by one.


What is a Solar Panel System?

Solar panels installed on rooftops take advantage of the sun's energy and convert it into a usable energy source. Solar panels are sometimes called PV (photovoltaic) solar power systems.

Home installations of high-quality solar systems can drastically cut or eliminate dependence on the electric company by powering most of your household needs.

Solar panels installed at your residence produce clean, renewable energy that requires minimal maintenance and saves you money.

After your solar system has been fully paid off, you'll be able to generate energy for free for the rest of your life.


What are the Different Types of Solar Energy Systems?

solar power system types

There are three main kinds of solar energy systems:

  • Grid-tied Solar Systems: The most common solar panel design for residential applications; the house is plugged into the local electrical grid so it can draw power from the utility company when the solar panels aren’t generating enough energy to power the entire household.
  • Hybrid  Solar Systems:  Also known as Solar-plus-storage systems, the solar panels are paired up with a solar storage device to store energy for the house to use later on or when there’s no electricity from the grid. The home is also linked to the grid.
  • Off-grid Solar Systems: It has nothing to do with the grid and works completely off of energy generated and saved by solar panels.

How Much Will a New Solar Panel Installation (PV) Cost?

Solar panels typically cost between $18,500 and $20,000 without considering government rebates or tax credits. You could spend an additional $10,000 to buy a battery for your system.

Off-grid systems are usually more expensive than grid-connected ones because they require more solar panels and battery capacity to power your electricity needs.

Remember, the cost of a solar energy system depends on several factors, including the size you want, where you're located, which type of system you choose, and who installs it.

Also, you may be eligible for some financial incentives, including a substantial 30 percent federal income-based solar energy credit.

Our solar calculator includes upfront costs and long-term savings to determine if going solar makes sense for you.


Which Solar Power Systems are the Best for Your Home?

solar power system types

What kind of solar power systems would be best for your home depends on which features you're looking for.

If you want to reduce your electricity bills using renewable energy, a grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) solar power installation may be right for you. If your utility offers retail net metered rates, then grid-tied solar panels are an excellent choice.

A hybrid solar system may be best for you if you live in an area with grid access but still frequently lose electricity. Most often, you're not saving money by using solar batteries alone; instead, you're mainly buying yourself the comfort of knowing you've got power stored if there is an outage.

Hybrid systems are also used by people who wish to maximize the amount of renewable energy they generate at home.

If you don't have electricity from the power company, off-the-gridded systems are best for you. Whether you live on a rural farm or a tiny cabin in the wilderness, an off-grid system lets you generate electricity.

However, if you go completely off-grid, you may need to undergo significant lifestyle changes since you'll need to be aware of your energy consumption.


What are the Main Parts of a Solar Energy System?

solar power system types

Knowing the different parts of a solar power system is the first step to choosing the best one. A grid-tied solar energy system includes solar panels, inverters, racking, a net meter, and a solar performance monitoring system.

You'll need additional solar battery storage and a charge controller for hybrid and off-the-gridded systems.

We will discuss each component one by one as follows:

Solar Panels

Solar cells are the main components of a solar panel system - they convert sunlight into electric energy. Solar Panels exist in all types of solar energy systems. Solar panels consist of solar cells which are connected together to form solar arrays.

Several well-known solar power companies include JinKo Solar, SunPower LongiSolar, and LG.

SolarReviews provides comprehensive reviews of leading solar panels worldwide, comparing their costs, efficiencies, and warranties.

Today most solar panel installations use mono­crystalline cells, but some homeowners still opt for polycrystalline solar cells to save a few dollars.

Solar Inverter

solar power system types

Solar inverters turn DC electricity from solar panels into AC electricity for use within a home.

Inverters come in three types:

String inverters: They're the cheapest, but they may not be efficient because there may be energy production losses if the shade is on the roof.

Microinverters:  Solar power systems using these inverters are more expensive than conventional ones but allow for smoother operation, even if some panels are shaded.

Power optimizers: Each panel contains an optimizer that controls the DC voltage produced by each solar cell in the panel. These voltages go through a string inverter to produce AC power. They're less expensive than microinverters but somewhat more expensive than string inverters.

Solar Racking

Solar panels aren't installed directly onto roofs. Roof panels are usually installed on racks placed on the roof and angled for optimal sunlight exposure.

Net Metering

Net meters are a key component of solar energy installations that connect to the electric power system if your local utilities offer net metered rates.

Suppose your local utilities offer net-metered rates for solar energy, whether you have a battery or not. Any excess solar energy you generate but don't consume or store is sent back to the electric power system.

Net metering allows you to sell any excess energy back to your power company, lowering your monthly bills.

If you want to know how much energy your solar panels generate compared to how much energy you consume from the grid, you need to install a special electric meter, known as a ‘net meter.'

Off-gridded solar systems don't require a net meter because they're not connected to the power company.

Solar Performance Monitoring

solar power system types

A monitoring program will help you track the efficiency of your solar energy production by showing you how much electricity is produced each hour, per day, and annually.

It can detect potential performance changes, too.

Solar Battery Storage

Adding battery storage to your solar power systems allows them to store excess solar energy so you can access it at night when there isn't enough sunlight to produce electricity.

Storage batteries also enable a photovoltaic (PV) system to operate without an electrical grid.

Install a solar battery to ensure your solar panels continue working without electricity.

Both hybrid solar systems and off-gridded systems store solar energy using batteries.

Charge Controller

Charging controllers are only needed if you're using solar panels connected to batteries. Without batteries, grid-tied systems don't need a charge controller.

Installed between the solar panels and battery, charge controllers help prevent overcharging and ensure that the battery is properly charged at the appropriate voltages.

Batteries can get too hot and catch on fire if they're overcharged. So, a charger control device is essential for ensuring your battery system is safe.


Do You Know How to Install a Solar Panel System Yourself?

If you're interested in installing solar panels yourself, you might be able to cut down on installation costs by doing so. People who choose DIY methods often use solar panels that range in price between $7,000 and $15,000 to power everything they need.

While installing a DIY solar installation could save money upfront, it will take significant time and effort and pose serious safety hazards. You'll also need to manage permit and inspection applications, which can be quite challenging.

Some utility companies don’t allow you to hook up DIY solar systems to the grid, and if you do so, you may void your equipment warranty.

Short answer: Yes, you can install a rooftop PV system yourself, but we strongly discourage it.

Which Company Should I Hire to Set Up My Solar System?

A proper installation can be just as important to future performance and ROI as the quality of the equipment itself. You need extensive experience and a thorough knowledge of each element.

Many reputable companies partner with qualified solar installers for every region. These companies offer onsite training for their install professionals. They verify them before they get certified.

Use the solar calculator below to get the information you require to decide whether investing in a solar power system is right for you.

About the Author David Roberts

I'm a Mechanical Engineer who's obsessed with solar energy and sustainable living.

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