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olar panels are among the most popular alternative energy sources today. More and more homes want to use solar energy to cut down on their dependence on power companies. But the question is, will solar run your appliances? To answer that you need to know what power solar panels produce, AC or DC.
Solar panels generate direct current (DC), so devices that use DC can run on solar directly. To run AC appliances, the solar panel must be connected to an inverter. The inverter converts DC to AC so the appliance will function.
We will explain how you can set up your solar power system to run AC and DC devices. But first we need to distinguish between the two and how they work.
The Difference between AC and DC
The biggest difference between AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current) is that in AC, the voltage changes from positive to negative then negative to positive constantly. The current flow also alternates. DC voltage and flow on the other hand, is always the same.
Both have their advantages and drawbacks along with other differences. DC benefits include no circuit delay and ability to store electric power. AC however, is easy to convert and shutdown is quicker.
The biggest disadvantage of DC is that switching to different voltages is difficult. This presented a problem for appliance manufacturers so they opted for AC instead. With AC power, it is easier to adjust the voltage and relay power.
This video further explains the difference between AC and DC.
How Solar Panels Produce DC Voltage
When sunlight strikes a solar panel, it produces direct current (DC). Because most appliances run on AC, an inverter is used to convert solar power into AC.
Each solar panel like the Renogy Solar for example, is comprised of cells. Each cell has a unique film, casing, wires and metal frame. To power an entire house, several solar panels are installed and collectively they are known as a solar array. These cells are also known as photovoltaic cells.
This video explains how a solar panel generates DC or direct current. There are many types of solar panels but the example blow is applicable to most of them.
Each photovoltaic cell has two pieces of silicon, one positive and the other negative. When sunlight hits the cell, it results in an electric current.
Devices that run on DC can directly use the power generated by solar panels. Solar chargers for example, are used to power laptops, mobile phones and tablets.
There is no need to convert DC to AC since those devices run on direct current. Rechargeable batteries also use direct current. There are also aircraft and automotive devices that depend on DC voltage.
Do Appliances Use AC or DC?
Some household appliances use DC like light bulbs, computers and flashlights. But most of them run on AC. Toasters, dishwashers, washing machines, most kitchen appliances etc. will only work on AC voltage.
To run a refrigerator on solar power for example, you have to connect the fridge to an inverter. No matter how much electricity your solar panels produce, your refrigerator will not work because it only recognizes AC.
There are always exceptions to the rule. Some TVs for instance, might run on DC. In this case they have a built-in feature that converts incoming AC into DC. While these TVs use DC, they can accept AC power sources. Once AC voltage comes in there is a mechanism that changes it into direct current. Most appliances do not have this capability though. If you want to run your home on solar power, you must install an inverter.
Why You Need an Inverter
Solar panels produce DC and deep cycle batteries also store this power as direct current. To make this power usable for most appliances, an inverter has to convert DC into alternating current.
Old inverters transformed DC into AC by changing the positive polarity into negative repeatedly. The result is called a square wave. While the conversion does work, the abrupt polarity change can damage appliances.
To avoid this, manufacturers have replaced square wave inverters with modified sine wave inverters. Modified sine wave inverters are safer for a lot of appliances, but sensitive electronics will benefit from a pure sine wave inverter. A pure sine wave inverter like the Renogy 2000W turns DC solar energy into pure AC without fare of damaging appliances.
The video below shows you how a typical inverter works. It is a simple concept really and is the reason they are widely used in solar ppwered homes.
What are AC Solar Panels?
The majority of solar panels generate DC, though AC solar panels are now available. These solar panels have an inverter built in, called microinverters. It automatically converts direct current into alternating current so there is no need to buy a separate inverter.
The benefit of this feature is obvious. Rather than install an inverter, an AC solar panel does the conversion right on the panel. This allows you to directly power AC appliances and devices with your solar array. No need to install a pure sine wave inverter, which makes setup more convenient.
Microinverters are also sold separately so you can install them on regular solar arrays. A lot of the major solar power brands are selling AC solar panels because they – and consumers – see the benefits.
AC Solar Panel Advantages
The following are the biggest reasons why AC solar panels are on the rise. For homes that want to go green, these are definitely worth considering.
Simplified Installation. Installing AC solar panels is easier compared to regular solar panels. Once you have the panels installed you are done. There is no need to hook it up to a separate inverter and install additional cables.
Consistent production output. If your solar array relies on a central inverter, a single shaded cell will disrupt output of the entire system. With AC solar panels, they are independent of each other. If one cell is shad it will not affect the rest.
Lower possibility of installation errors. Because the microinverters are already included, you can be certain they will function with the solar panels. An inverter that is installed separately can encounter all kinds of problems, from loose wiring to incompatibility issues and more.
AC Solar Panel Disadvantages
As good as AC solar panels are, they are not without drawbacks.
Expansive. These solar panels are going to cost more because microinverters are included. However the amplified installation will reduce the labor cost. You may want to calculate the cost of an AC vs. DC solar panel to which is cheaper. But if we are talking about the product only, AC solar panels will cost more.
Vulnerable to weather fluctuations. Because the microinverters are on the panels, they are exposed to the changing environment. Solar panels on rooftops are built to withstand changing weather, wind, rain, etc.
Microinverters are also designed for this, but the risk is there. As you probably know, the inverter is component that is first likely to break in a solar system.
Potentially high repair cost. Having several microinverters for your solar panel is both a benefit and potential problem. If the array stops working, a solar technician has to check each microinverter. This will take a lot of time and money. In contrast, having just one inverter will be easier and faster to fix.
Are AC Solar Panels Worth it?
If you want to go solar but your home gets a lot of shade, AC solar panels are ideal. You do not have to worry about the whole system slowing down just because on or two cells are blocked by shade. AC solar panels are also good for homes that will require the panels to be installed in various locations.
If you are going off the grid, a regular solar system array is better since batteries store current as DC. If you live in an area with extreme weather, regular solar panels are the better option too.
Before you decide, think carefully about the type of system you want to install. Think not just of the present but also any future expansion plans you may have. Do this and you will see which option is more suitable.