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photovoltaic power

Typical PV Power System with 8 Panels 

A photovoltaic (PV) power system:

  1. Generates electricity through the use of PV panels (also known as solar panels).
  2. Charges batteries that store the electricity.
  3. Converts electricity to standard, household alternating current (AC).

The system shown above is isolated from any sources of outside electricity.  For this reason, it is known as an "off-grid" system. This is the type of system in Maryland LEAFHouse. However, a home does not need to be powered exclusively by solar energy to take advantage of its benefits.

Two options are available to homeowners who live in an area where utility grid electricity is available. These systems are known as "grid-tied" or "utility-interactive."

The grid-tied option is less expensive and has no battery bank; electricity from the PV panels goes directly to the inverter.  When the PV panels generate more electricity than is needed by the home, the excess electricity is fed into the utility grid. The house electric meter runs backward, and the  local power company effectively buys the surplus energy from the homeowner. At night and other times when the home needs more electricity than the PV panels can provide, normal grid electricity is used.  The inverter controls the use of PV and grid electricity seamlessly.

The utility-interactive option has a PV system with batteries and a charge controller, essentially an off-grid system, but provide a connection to the utility grid as well.  If the PV panels and batteries cannot generate and store enough electricity for the home, grid electricity is used.

The advantage to grid-tied systems is that homeowners can take advantage of solar energy, without having to worry about long periods without sufficient sunlight, and without having to buy a large bank of batteries.

Federal, state and local government programs currently provide monetary incentives to homeowners who wish to install PV systems. These programs offer grants and tax-credits that pay a significant portion of the up-front system cost.  A comprehensive list of state incentives can be found on the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE).

Please read ahead for descriptions of the components that make up a PV system, from the sun to the electrical outlet!

FLEXware System

FlexwareOutBack's FLEXware system provides a way to mount and install the charge controllers, inverters and associated disconnects.

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Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

Photovoltaic (PV) PanelMaryland's house uses 34 Sanyo HIP-205BA3 panels, each generating 205 watts of electricity. Doing a little math on a sunny day, our array is capable of generating 6,970 watts of electricity.

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Photovoltaic (PV) Combiner

Out Back Power Systems PV CombinerThe house uses 2 OutBack Power Systems PSPV PV combiners.

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Charge Controller

Charge ControllerThe house features 3 OutBack Power Systems MX60 charge controllers. Each MX60 is rated for 60 amps of DC output current and can be used with battery systems ranging from 12 to 60 volts.

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Batteries BatteriesA typical car battery is rated for 12 volts, and usually holds 40 amp-hours of electricity.  LEAFHouse features 40 East Penn Deka S8D SLD G LTP batteries, each rated to hold 265 amp-hours at 12 volts.

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InverterThe inverter takes in DC electricity and makes it into AC electricity. The 2007 Maryland home will feature 4 OutBack Power GVFX3648 Sinewave Inverters.  Each inverter takes in 48 volts DC, outputs 120 volts AC at 60 amps continuously, and can handle 3600 watts continuously. 

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The photovoltaic (PV) power system harnesses energy from the sun to generate electricity.

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