Discovered in 1839 by Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, the photovoltaic effect increases the electrical current flowing in a circuit when the juncture of two different metals is exposed to light. Since then, solar cell technology has undergone dramatic improvement. The price for these devices has plummeted because of mass production. This source of renewable energy is competing with fossil-fueled generation and gaining market share.
Today, solar project developers can assess a business or home for a rooftop or ground-mounted solar installation in a matter of hours. Residential sized systems can be installed and operating in a few days. The maintenance required for these systems is also minimal when compared to alternate technologies. Solar photovoltaic energy generation has matured into commercial viability. Adding a solar energy system happens in roughly three steps: assessment, physical installation and commissioning and start-up.
Assessment for a Solar Energy System
Project developers use computer software tools to combined local weather data, available unshaded roof or ground area and the energy requirements of the facility. The software quickly analyzes possible configurations and suggests optimal system size and orientation.
Installation of a Solar Energy System
Affixing solar modules to roofing material is accomplished in different ways depending on the type and slope of the roof. One approach is ballasted metal pans that avoid roof penetrations and potential leaking after installation. After the modules are positioned and mounted, electrical wiring is connected between modules. Wiring must then be connected from the roof down to a collection and distribution system. Modules are also connected to earth ground for safety.
Commissioning and Start-Up of a Solar Energy System
This phase includes an orderly set of steps in which various system components are activated and checked for proper functioning. Systems often also include computer monitoring equipment that acquires performance data over time. System performance can then be tracked over time and system failures can trigger alarms to notify the owner that maintenance is required.
The commercial success of solar energy has taken decades. Increasing prices for fossil-fueled generation and technological advances have reached a tipping point that is resulting in massive adoption of this renewable energy source. Further improvements may result in solar technology becoming the dominant source of electricity in the future.