Solar 101 – Understanding the Basics

As solar equipment becomes more and more efficient and inexpensive, chances are you have noticed your friends becoming the newest solar powered home on the block. BriteStreet is retrofitting rooftops and parking lots across America with highly efficient solar systems (or solar arrays, as we call them in industry), at record speed. While you probably understand the basic principles behind capturing free energy via sunlight, you might be wondering how the entire array comes together to provide you with that energy.
For this lesson, BriteStreet will cover the four basic pieces that make up your solar array, and their sub-components:
Solar Modules/Panels – These are the actual panels you see on the roofs of homes, or perhaps on the ground. There are two types of solar modules:

Polycrystalline – The most common type of panel; cheap to manufacture and procure. An easy way to visualize the way these modules are made is to compare them to a section of plywood. When a high-efficiency, next-gen monocrystalline panel is manufactured, there are leftover scraps of material, just as you would have scrap wood when you cut timber into planks. Those monocrystalline scraps are reclaimed and compressed, then heat-treated to form a uniform polycrystalline panel. As a result of this recycling technique, these panels tend to have a lower efficiency rating, however their cost is correspondingly lower. An example of a polycrystalline panel would be the Jinko 265w which BriteStreet keeps readily available.
Monocrystalline – These are “pure cells,” or to continue our theme of comparing a solar panel to lumber, these are your solid planks. To put it simply, monocrystalline modules have higher efficiency due to their increased silicon purity over their polycrystalline counterpart. While these panels are more expensive, their higher efficiency rating means that a smaller array is needed to produce the same amount of energy as a larger, polycrystalline array. A stunning example of a monocrystalline panel would be the Silfab 300watt panel that BriteStreet installs on homes and business to give it that “sleek” look.
Inverters – When sunlight hits your solar array, it produces an electrical current known as Direct Current (DC). Our homes, however, don’t use Direct Current – they use Alternating Current (AC). In order for BriteStreet customers to use the DC power that our solar array is providing, we need to convert that current to AC power. In order to make that conversion from DC to AC, we use a device called an inverter. There are two types of inverters that residential systems can use:

String Inverter– Inverts the electrical current of a series of panels (known as a “string”). A great example of a string inverter would be the Fronius Primo – one of our go to string inverters over here at BriteStreet.
Micro Inverter – Inverts the electrical current of 1-2 panels at a time, and combines with other micro inverters in the same solar array to produce the electrical current the home needs. BriteStreet’s preferred string inverter is the APsystems YC500i. With this product, you can attach 2 modules per 1 string inverter – saving you time on installation and overall cost of hardware.
For more detailed information on inverters, and what type of inverter is best for your specific build, please check out BriteStreet’s previous blog, “String Inverters or Micros?”
Racking – This is how your solar array is mounted. There are a few different types of racking systems, depending on the specific design of the solar array:

Roof-mounted Systems – You guessed it! These mounting systems enable you to mount a solar array on your roof.
Ground Mount – These mounting systems enable you to mount a solar array on the ground.
Solar Parking Canopy – Typically used for commercial clients. These arrays not only provide electricity for the owner, but also provide shade for vehicles of their patrons. Win-win.
Balance of System (BOS) – So you have your racking on your roof, and you have your solar panels on top of that racking, and you have an inverter to flip the current from DC to AC. That’s great! Now you need a way to connect all that together, and that is where your Balance of System (BOS) comes in. BOS encompasses all components of your solar array, other than the panels themselves. BriteStreet carries all your BOS needs from wiring, switches, conduit, fuses panels… all the way down to the NEC required stickers on the electrical panel box.
This is a high-level view of how a solar system works – there are certainly more intricate details as to how it all comes together. If you’re interested in putting solar on your home or business, or simply want to learn more, don’t hesitate to give us a call over here at BriteStreet. We are truly passionate and knowledgeable about solar at BriteStreet, and look forward to any questions you may have.