Solar 101: solar power systems explained

Since 1954, when scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that sunlight induced a charge in silicon, solar technology has developed and been implemented by more than 2 million houses throughout the United States. Solar panel systems are now a very appealing alternative to homes and businesses as a clean, affordable energy solution.

The fundamentals of solar panel systems

We can use solar panels to tap an endlessly available source of power—the sun. Solar panel systems are very straightforward to install:

  • During the day, your solar panels’ photovoltaic cells absorb energy from the sun;
  • The cells’ extracellular matrix gathers this energy and transforms it into direct current (DC) power;
  • The DC electricity is modified to useable alternating current (AC) through an inverter.
  • You can use this electricity in your home, store it with a solar battery, or return it to the grid if you have access to the grid.

To produce power with solar panels, you’ll need a solar panel system and the appropriate equipment. In this section, we’ll go through a brief overview of solar panel systems and the items required to generate electricity using the sun.

Do you already know how solar equipment works? Fantastic! Check out the next sections in our Solar 101 area to learn more about the advantages of solar, or move on to the following section to discover how solar power may help you save money.

What do solar panel systems consist of?

Solar panel systems are quite simple to install. There are only four essential elements in each solar panel system, and there are no moving components, making them very low-maintenance. The four elements of a solar panel installation include: 

  1. Solar photovoltaic panels–to convert solar energy into electricity
  2. Inverters–to convert DC electricity into AC electricity
  3. Racking and mounting systems–to affix your solar panels to your roof (or to the ground, depending upon your installation type)
  4. Performance monitoring systems–to track and monitor the output and health of your solar panels and inverters

Solar panels

Solar panels are made up of a number of silicon solar cells covered by a sheet of glass and held together by a metal frame, with wiring and circuitry in and behind the cells to capture the flow of electrical current out of the solar cells. Each solar panel, also known as a solar module, is about 4 feet by 6 feet in size and weighs about 30 pounds.

The “active” component of a solar panel is in the silicon cells themselves: when sunlight strikes the silicon solar cells, it activates electrons, which flow through the cell. The flow of electrons in the cells is captured by wires, which are then combined with other cell outputs to make up the output of a solar panel. Check out our article on how solar panels and solar cells actually work.

Solar cells are generally available in either 60 or 72 cell designs. Many firms, on the other hand, are exploring new methods to increase solar cell efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity current, so you’ll now see many “half-cut” solar panels with each cell being sliced in half (i.e., 120 or 144).

There are a few distinctions between solar panels.

To discover the proper solar panels for your house and wallet, keep the following things in mind: product quality, durability, and long-term performance.

Learn more about how to evaluate solar panels in our Power Solar Buyer's Guide for Solar Systems.


The cells in your solar panels transform solar energy into direct current (DC) electricity. The majority of homes and businesses, on the other hand, utilize alternating current (AC). Inverters convert DC electricity generated by your panels into useable AC power. Solar inverters are either string (or centralized) or microinverters. String inverters can also be equipped with power optimizers, which function similarly to a microinverter system.

String (or centralized) inverter:A single inverter bridges the gap between your entire solar panel array and your electrical panel. String inverters are frequently the most cost-effective inverter selection, and they’re a highly durable technology that’s been used for years. Several strings of panels may be linked to each inverter; nevertheless, if the output of one of the panels in a string is lost (as might happen due to shading), that whole string’s performance will suffer.

Microinverters: If you go with microinverters, one is usually put on each solar panel to allow it to produce the most energy possible. Microinverters will prevent performance issues if some of your panels are shaded at different times of the day or if they aren’t all installed facing the same way. The cost of microinverters is generally greater than that of string inverters.

Power optimizers: Power optimizers are a cross between microinverters and string inverters. Power optimizers, like microinverters, are installed at each panel. The optimizers, however, “condition” the DC electricity before sending it to a central inverter instead of converting it into AC electricity. String inverter systems, like microinverters, work well when one or more panels are shaded or if panels are installed facing different directions. They cost more than string inverter systems but less than microinverters.

Racking and mounting systems

Solar racking and mounting hardware are the components of equipment that attach your solar panels to your roof or the ground.

Solar panels should be installed at a slope of 30 to 45 degrees and face south (depending on how far you are from the equator) in order to operate at their best. Panels that face east or west and have a pitch angle of five degrees or more will still produce electricity, albeit 10 to 20 percent less than when they are utilized under optimal conditions. Most roof-mounted systems are “lie-flat” types, which means the angle of your solar panels is parallel to the angle of your roof. However, in some situations, you may tilt or position your panels at an angle that best absorbs sunlight.

Fixed mounts and tracking mounts are the two types of mountings available. Fixed mount panels stay put, whereas tracking mount panels may “follow” the sun as it moves across the sky during the day (single-axis track mounts) and during the changing seasons (dual-axis track mounts). Solar systems mounted to flat roofs or ground-mounted tend to be the only systems that works well with track mounts.

Performance monitoring systems

Solar monitoring systems provide you with extensive information about your solar panel system’s performance. You may monitor and track the amount of electricity your system generates on an hourly basis using a monitoring system.

Inverters for household usage are all equipped with production monitoring applications, allowing you to keep track of how much juice your panels generate. In some situations, the program will also show you how much money you’re saving by using solar panels.

Solar panel monitoring allows you to discover any performance issues so that you may maximize the electricity production and financial return of your solar panel system.

There are two primary types of monitoring systems:

  • On-site monitoring: The monitoring device is physically installed on your property and keeps track of how much electricity is generated.
  • Remote monitoring: Your solar PV system transmits performance information to a monitoring service that you may access online or with a smartphone.
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1 thought on “Solar 101: solar power systems explained”

  1. Solar panel systems harness the sun’s energy through photovoltaic cells, converting sunlight into electricity. This sustainable technology has empowered over 2 million US homes since its inception in 1954. With straightforward installation and benefits like reduced electricity bills and environmental impact, solar panels are paving the way for a cleaner, brighter future.

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