Solar system components: How to setup your pv system

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Once solar panels are set up on a property, they're relatively maintenance-free. This is because most solar panel systems have no moving parts; as long as they're receiving sunlight and the products aren't faulty, they will be a reliable source of electricity for at least 25 to 30 years.

Because of their ease of use, most people don't think about the actual solar panel system setup. What parts are required? And how do they all connect to produce power for your property? Here's a quick intro to the most important solar system components and how they're set up on your home or business.

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Key takeaways

  • Solar panel systems include a few key components: a solar array, racking and mounting equipment, inverters, a disconnect switch, and, optionally, a solar battery.

  • While you may be tempted to DIY your solar system, it's generally easiest and safest to hire a professional installer.

  • Check out the EnergySage Marketplace to compare quotes for solar panel systems from our network of pre-vetted installers.

There are a few key components required for a solar panel system:

The most important piece of your solar panel system will be the solar array itself. You want your solar panels placed in a sunny spot on your property. The panels should face south for optimal energy production, but they can also face east or west and still produce a good amount of electricity, so long as the area is clear of shade.

You have multiple options regarding the type of panel (monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film) and the manufacturer. The solar panel technology you choose should depend on the type of installation and your preference. For example, if you're installing a ground-mounted system, you probably have a good amount of land available. This means you have the space to install more standard efficiency panels and spend less upfront. If you're installing on a roof with limited space for solar panels, then high-efficiency, monocrystalline panels – like those from SunPowerLG, or REC – can help produce more electricity to maximize your savings. Many solar shoppers will choose high-efficiency panels even if they don't require them because they prefer to install fewer panels overall.

Your solar array will be affixed to your property using racking and mounting systems.


Rooftop solar panel systems will have a fixed mount system, keeping the panels stationary on your roof. All rooftop mounting systems serve the same functional purpose but can differ in how they're installed. Most racking is standard "penetrating" rooftop racking, which means holes will be drilled into your roof to fasten the mounting system. Installers will use sealants at the penetration site to prevent roof leaks (and should also provide a warranty for that). But, this type of roof mount may not be the best for your property, depending on the material of your roof. If you have a metal, clay, or Spanish tile roof, installers may recommend racking systems that do not require roof penetration (such as Quick Mount PV or Ecofasten).

With ground-mounted installations, there are also fixed-mount systems. Some people may choose to use track mounts, or "trackers," which will allow the panels in the solar array to follow the sun as it moves across the sky. The downsides of using trackers are that they're expensive upfront and require more maintenance over time. But, the benefit of installing them is that solar panels mounted on a tracking system will produce more electricity than if they were stationary.

Your solar panel setup will also have an inverter (or multiple) connected through wiring to the panels. The purpose of an inverter is to convert the direct current (DC) electricity formed at the panel site to alternating current (AC) for your home's appliances to use.

The three main types of inverter technologies include string inverters, power optimizers, and microinverters. Depending on how your solar array is set up, one inverter solution may be more suitable than the other. String inverters are the most cost-competitive option, but power optimizers and microinverters are better for more complicated installations, such as those with panels facing multiple directions or panels that experience marginal shading. This is because they're module-level performance electronics (MLPEs). MLPE technology enables a solar panel system to produce efficiently, even if one or a few panels are out of commission.

If you use a microinverter solution, the inverters will be at the panel site. If you install a power optimizer or a string system, your inverter will be at ground level. Historically, inverters have been placed both inside and outside of buildings. These days, it is more common to have an inverter outside to make servicing easier. In addition, some local towns or fire codes may require that the inverter be placed outside. Check with your installer if you'd prefer the inverter to go inside your home for aesthetic reasons. Local installers should know your town's building and electrical codes that may impact your installation options.

In addition to being connected to your solar panels, your inverter is connected to your existing electrical system through your breaker box. Electric panels will sometimes need upgrades before installing solar because of the amperage increase in the energy running through your home.


Solar panel setups should also have a disconnect switch that will turn off the solar panel system. Many solar panel systems have two disconnect switches: a DC disconnect (disconnecting the DC current between the solar panels and the inverter) and an AC disconnect (disconnecting your inverter from the grid with grid-tied systems). Though most disconnect switches aren't commonly used in the lifetime of a solar panel system, it's necessary in most states for safety reasons. Professional installers will use the disconnect switch to turn the system off for repairs or maintenance.

Batteries are becoming increasingly popular to install with solar panel systems. Many property owners use batteries in grid-tied systems to provide backup power or mitigate time-of-use (TOU) charges. Others elect to use batteries to go off-grid.

Where a solar battery lies within your solar panel setup will depend on the type of battery. Some batteries must be connected to the DC side of your system. With these batteries, the solar energy runs to the battery before conversion at the inverter. Some batteries are connected to the AC side of the systems, post-inverter in the energy flow.

Batteries are becoming a more popular component of a solar panel system, but they're not a requirement. If you're installing a grid-tied system, rarely experience power outages, have a favorable net metering policy, and don't deal with time-variant electricity pricing, purchasing a solar battery isn't going to make economic sense. You can always talk to an installer about designing and setting up your solar panel system, so it's ideal for a battery addition later if it's something you may consider.

You can get multiple solar quotes (including equipment, labor, and permitting) by using EnergySage Solar Marketplace – all free and entirely online. Installers that provide quotes on EnergySage have been pre-screened and vetted to ensure they're experienced and reputable. If you'd like to learn more about the optimal solar panel setup for your property, you can ask installers to provide a system design image with their quote or chat about their recommendations for positioning and equipment.

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