Albert Einstein created the mathematical formula for the photovoltaic principle in 1904. The development of photovoltaic has been slow due to the efficiency of the panels. The earliest cells only converted 1% of the light into electricity. In 1954, Bell Laboratory researchers developed a crystal silicon cell with a light ratio of 6% light to electricity which ignited an interest from the U.S. Army Signal Corp. The first solar-powered telephone system was installed in Georgia by Bell Telephone in 1958.
From the space program which powers the International Space Station and satellites to commercial buildings, photovoltaic panels are beginning to appear. Today we have panels that allow light to pass through and reflect on the bottom bringing efficiency to a new level. Most PV cells are currently 16% efficient.
Photovoltaic (PV) is emerging rapidly becoming a new way of life. From homes and villages in remote areas, to flashing lights along the highway, the sun is beginning to power the world. PV is probably the fastest growing industry in the world. It doubles every four years. There are over 15 American manufactures and more than 100 foreign companies currently producing PV cells. Germany leads the pack in the number of cumulative kilowatts installed (1,429,000) followed by Japan (1,421,908), while the United States (479,000) lags behind. Only 1% of our electricity is produced by PV panels, but it's rapidly changing.
Let's consider the potential of PV. If we could convince the environments to give up 135 square miles (about the size of Philadelphia including the suburban area) we would be able to produce more power at its peak than all the power plants in the world. After fifty years of PV production and usage it has proven to be the safest and most reliable form of energy production. PV power is clean energy and home owners and businesses can generate their own electricity.
Photovoltaic vs. Turbines
We have researched turbines or wind power for several years and have observed the working models in use. It has become very clear that turbines require a considerable amount of maintenance. PV panels require no maintenance. There are no moving parts and have been tested to withstand wind and hail.
After servicing and maintaining stand-by generators, we soon realized that maintenance on turbines are very expensive. Turbines are simply big generators up in the air which constantly turns. We have seen several break downs and have bearing failure within the five year warranty period. Most wind turbines will need to be replaced or have a major overhaul with-in 15 to 20 years. For this reason we chose not to get involved with wind energy.
Will it work and what is the payback?
If you have a clear southern exposure it will. Even on cloudy days the panels will generate some electricity. Though sun exposure is less in the winter months, Northern Ohio is still a productive area for PV and the payback is still here. Depending on the type of system you choose to install, the pay back at current electric rates is 10 to 12 years.
Photovoltaic system types
There are basically three approaches to the PV systems. One must decide whether you want to connect into the power grid, use batteries as a backup, or a combination of both. Remember the PV panels only generate electricity during the day, therefore electricity at night must come from the power grid or storage batteries.
- The grid system. This is the least expensive to install. It allows you to connect the panels into the power grid by running the electric meter backward. You can actually sell any extra electricity that you produce back to the power company . However, if the electric line is down or not working, you would be out of electricity.
- The battery backup system. With this system you do not connect to the power grid. Instead you use specially designed batteries to store the extra electricity you generate during the day, then draw from the batteries at night. If the grid goes down with this system, you have complete independence.
- The combination system. This is the most complete system because it allow you to store power into batteries during the day which provides plenty of reserve if the grid goes down. Then if there is any excess it can be sold back to the electric company. This system provides the most return and independence.
Installing Your Own Photovoltaic System
You may ask, " Can I install a PV system myself?" If you have a working knowledge of AC and DC Voltage and general knowledge of the controls, it is possible. In our experience, the key to installing PV systems is engineering. From proper sizing of wires to matching equipment with the PV array is critical for achieving maximum efficiency for your system.
One mistake can cost you your home or even your life. It is possible to even destroy some of the expensive equipment on your project, however we have a sales engineer available to assist you in design. We also have the components available to assemble your own system. However, if anything is not connected properly or anything is damaged either equipment, property, or bodily injury due to improper hook-up, Shoup's Solar Solutions or Shoup's Plumbing and Heating cannot be held liable in any way.