Buying Guides

Inverters buying guide

What is an inverter?

An inverter converts DC (direct current) into AC (alternating current). Most home loads and appliances use AC power. However, solar panels output DC power. The inverter takes in DC power that is produced by solar panels or stored in a battery and converts it into AC power in order to run your loads.

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Solar Charge Controllers

What is a solar charge controller?

Solar charge controllers are used to regulate the charging of a battery bank. Solar panels produce voltage and current that are variable in nature — meaning they’re a function of the amount and uniformity of solar irradiance (watts per meter squared from sunlight) that a solar panel receives. However, this is not what a battery can use to charge. Battery charging must be done in a highly regulated and specific manner. The amount of voltage and current a battery receives must not vary outside of a small range (too low and no charging will occur; too high and over charging, and possible damage to the battery bank, will occur). The device that regulates the output of a solar panel in order to use the variable power it produces to charge a battery is known as a charge controller. There are two kinds of charge controllers—PWM (pulse-width modulation) and MPPT (maximum power point tracking) charge controllers. Both have a distinct charge regulation method and a similar battery charging algorithm.

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Wiring & Busing

What are the basics to wiring?

Electrical wiring is the conductor that connects components in your system. In most cases, solar system wiring should be copper with properly rated insulation for the location the wire will be occupying.

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Solar Panels & Mounts

What are the different types of solar panels?

Almost all solar panels use silicon semiconductor material that makes up the solar cells. There are two primary types of solar panels: polycrystalline and monocrystalline.

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RV & Marine Solar Kits

What’s the appeal of RV or boat living?

As the cost of living increases, so does the struggle to find affrdable housing. At the same time, many occupations have transitioned to a digital or remote format, or employers have realized the possibility of offing that flexibility to their workers. These factors have increased the usage of RVs, campers, buses, boats, vans and other vehicles as second or in some cases even primary homes. Rather than being saddled with a mortgage or rent with no equity, many people are packing up their lives and hitting the road or water. Of course, that life isn’t for everyone—some prefer to keep their RVs or boats as a parttime or seasonal activity rather than a residence. But whatever the application, electric power comes into play.

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Off-Grid Accessories and Appliances

What are off-grid/DC-powered refrigerators and freezers?

Solar refrigerators and freezers are highly effcient units with exceptionally low energy consumption. These appliances require a small photovoltaic (PV) system. DC refrigerators are powered directly from a battery bank which can be charged via solar and a genset/gas generator. The brushless DC motor compressor operates on 12 or 24V DC.

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Off-Grid Water Pumping Design Considerations

Intro to Water Pumps.

Water pumps are used to transfer water from one point to another by converting mechanical energy into pressure (head). Electrical energy typically drives the mechanical pump, whether from the grid, solar direct, batteries or an inverter. There are various things to keep in mind when selecting a pump and designing a system. Here we’ll discuss the multiple types of pumps, the application requirements which will define suitable pumps, and the overall concepts for powering the pump in a sustainable manner.

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Off-Grid Solar

What does it mean to be grid tied?

The term “off grid” means just that—power and energy are generated from sources other than an electrical utility or power company. Off-grid solar systems incorporate components required for a standalone electrical power system. This includes energy generation from photovoltaic solar panels, energy storage usually in battery form and power generation utilizing an inverter/charger. Off-grid systems can also incorporate secondary energy generation from a fuel-powered generator and sometimes hydro-electric and wind power generation and more rarely fuel cell electric generators.

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Grid-Tied Solar

What does it mean to be grid tied?

A grid-tied solar system is connected to the utility grid. This is the most common system type for those who already have commercial electricity at their home. Grid-tied systems offer a simple and cost-effctive way to offset electric bills with solar energy. At their core, simple grid-tied systems consist of two main components: solar panels and an inverter. The solar panels collect light from the sun, and a chemical reaction inside the panel converts the light energy into DC electricity. This DC power is then sent to the inverter, which converts it to usable AC power before sending that power to the loads in your home. If the loads in the home are satisfied, and the solar panel array is producing excess power, a typical grid-tied system will send the extra power back to the grid. Most customers will get some kind of credit or reduction in their electric bill for selling excess solar production to their utility company. Any energy used by the home (such as at night, when it’s cloudy or if there are extra power needs) is purchased from the utility company like normal.

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Batteries and Battery storage

Battery Buying Guide

Selecting batteries for your solar power system can be overwhelming. With all the different types, sizes and varying price points, it's easy to get confused. We’re here to help you make the best decision for your needs and budget. If you want to take a deep dive into battery chemistry, please check out Battery chemistry, care, and terminology.

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System Management and Monitoring

System configuration is imperative if it’s going to do exactly what you want it to do—whether that’s properly charging your batteries, getting your hybrid system prepped for load shaving or setting your battery monitor to accurate setpoints. Most inverter manufacturers have external devices capable of setting up whole-system management, as long as all major components—like the charge controller, battery monitor and inverter—are from that same manufacturer. However, a few other manufacturers over standalone items that are capable of setting up remote system monitoring all on their own—some even without a Wi-Fi signal present.

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Buying Guide: Backup Power Kits

Backup power systems are a way to keep things operating during power outages. You may already be familiar with a UPS (uninterruptable power supply), which is a specific type of backup power system that keeps your computer running long enough during a blackout to save your work before shutting down. A backup power system can be attached to essential appliances like a refrigerator so your food doesn’t spoil. Or, they can be large enough to run a whole house or even a business.

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