Solar Array

What is a Solar Array?

This term may confuse the novice in solar energy, but generally speaking a solar array is any order or group of solar panels that may be of one single or mixed types with the intent to capture and transform sunlight into some other form of energy. View a few systems here to visualize and get an idea what we are talking about.

The word array comes from the Old French word areer to put in order. Perhaps even further back, the meaning to ready is more appropriate as this is the task of any solar array, to put in order or to ready solar energy into something we humans can use directly or indirectly in order to be more sustainable.

The solar array chosen will depend on what the need is. Someone looking for enough electrical energy to power an entire house, strictly on solar energy, and that includes electrically heating their water, will need a totally different solar array than one that heats their water directly with solar energy.

There are two more traditional styles of solar energy panels used in residential, commercial and industrial areas today. The two most popular are photovoltaic energy and photothermal energy. Most solar arrays to date have been a mixture of these two viable systems.

Heating water can be pretty expensive for those who use electrical water heaters, either centralized or directly on the showerhead, such as in countries where the climate is usually very hot and people rarely need a hot bath.

In those places where taking a hot bath is more important year round, the house will usually be completely prepared for both hot and cold water on all spouts, but there is a central water heater that is once again either electric, gas, or even oil powered.

But for do-it-yourselfers that are trying to get partially off the grid, these seem to be the most cost effective approaches as they are relatively low-tech.

Most solar water heater arrays are nothing more than a folded tin box made in shop class with a hack saw and a vice, a piping of squiggling copper inside the box and a glass face, everything painted black.

In the northern hemisphere it can be propped up at a 45 degree angle on the roof and water going through the copper pipe comes out scalding steam on the other end.

For centrally planned water heating, solar water heaters are the best alternative in brighter months leaving something to be desired in darker months such as winter when most needed.

So different strategies are needed for different times of the year, different locations or different weather conditions all together. Mobile homes and sailboats must be the most versatile as they suffer the most inconsistencies with long-term climate predictions.

So what does one need to keep in mind when choosing their solar array?

  • Placement – The solar array must be placed at an angle that will best capture the most direct sunlight.
  • Direct Sunlight – Both active and passive solar trackers can help the solar array become more efficient for a longer period during the day.
  • System Needs – Every solar array needs to comply with the needs of the system and its consumers for worse case scenarios.
  • Shade – Any shade or light obstructions will inhibit the solar arrays effectiveness.
  • Technology – Possible solar arrays may include such diverse mixtures as photovoltaic, photothermal, photosynthetic, holographic photovoltaics, PV-TV or any single one alone depending on the systems needs.

Ultimately, water heating is the biggest concern for those who are thinking about a residential system and want to get away from the use of fossil fuels, natural gas, grid electricity or any-other resource that must be collected from outside the solar array alone.

Holographic photovoltaics are an interesting alternative for their low-cost, neat look and especially passive tracking optics system. Not to mention they use 85% less silicon than traditional photovoltaics and are much cooler panels with semi-transparent plating for additional indoor natural lighting as a skylight or window.

For the pure production of electricity the time proven alternative for solar arrays is definitely any of the different generations of traditional photovoltaic solar cells. Some are cheaper than others and some are more efficient than others.

There are so many that there isnt space to cover each one in this article, but they do the job and are consumer tested. They may take anywhere from 5 to 20 years to pay for themselves, making them a mid range consumer cost.

If money is no object and the design is everything, then photosynthetic mosaic canvases or even PV-TV arrays can be used as a skin for commercial buildings or residential mansions. These translucent windows can be flexible plastic or solid and unbreakable sleet proof glass; they are quiet powerful and cut electricity bills completely adding to the energy on the grid. Some used as two-way mirrors can be doubly used as low light billboards or theater screens. These are the solar arrays for serious big business consumers.

In the end, there are many ways to build or use a solar array, either commercially or buying the parts and doing it ones self. But what goes into a solar array is an orderly arrangement, to best ready the harnessing of sunlight for sustainable needs. A solar array is a way to catch a beam of light from the earths sun and transform that heavenly power into a useable fuel that is clean and renewing, for the further growth and well-being of human civilization.

Bob’s Homemade Solar Array


Posted in Solar Times by admin on June 24, 2006.

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