Clean Energy Components

To achieve the optimal clean energy system it has to be designed specifically for your individual needs, goals and budget. Hughes offers the widest range of components and design options in the industry. If a solar energy company offers one panel and one inverter choice then they’re selling parts, not designing custom solar power systems like we do. Each system we build is different because each client and their project is different. An energy company like Hughes has to be flexible enough and skilled enough to meet the nearly unlimited range of issues that our system designers faces every day.

PV-Module-Solar-Module-150x150

PHOTOVOLTAIC MODULES (or PV solar energy modules)

PV module is the technical term for a solar panel, the most well known of all solar energy components because it’s the only part you see when looking at the average clean energy system. They are considered a solar energy system’s defining component. Inside the panels, semiconductor materials use light (photons) to move electrons in a circuit – what’s known as the “photovoltaic” effect. This movement of electrons is the electricity you use in your home.

PV modules are rated in watts, based on the maximum power they can produce under ideal sun and temperature conditions. You can use the rated output (along with a figure representing your local solar resource and an efficiency factor) to determine how many modules it will take to meet your electrical needs. Multiple modules combined together are called an “array.” Although framed modules are most common, PV technology has also been integrated into roofing shingles and tiles, or peel-and-stick laminates for standing-seam metal roofs. Solar panels are very durable and long lasting. Our Solar panel systems carry 25 year warranties. They can withstand severe weather, including extreme heat, cold, and hail.

Array-Mounting-System-Quick-Mount-PV-Flashings-150x150

ARRAY MOUNTING SYSTEM (or mounts, racks)

Mounts provide a secure platform for anchoring your solar panels to a roof. The racks get bolted into the roof frame first, then the solar panels bolt to the racks. Modules are generally mounted on a roof, atop a steel pole set in concrete, or at ground level like in a solar farm. The specifics of your mounting system will vary depending on your unique needs and requirements.

Arrays in urban or suburban areas are typically mounted on a south facing roof. This is because in most cases facing a solar panel south makes the most power. In areas with a lot of space, or if your roof isn’t ideal because of direction or shade, pole or ground mounted arrays are available. Pole mounted PV arrays can incorporate tracking, automatically following the sun across the sky from east to west each day. Tracked PV arrays can increase the system’s daily solar energy output by 25% to 40%, but they come with more cost, complexity, maintenance, and potential failure than fixed arrays because of the motors that spin the solar panels. The less moving parts the more dependable the system will be.

Combiner-Box-Solar-150x150

COMBINER BOX (or series string combiner)

The combiner box is used to wire groups of solar panels together in a line. These are most commonly found in off grid systems, although larger on grid systems will have combiner boxes as well. Coming into the input side of a combiner box will be the positive and negative wire for a module, each with its own terminal. Each positive terminal is internally connected to a series circuit breaker (or fuse) for that string.

The output of each breaker/fuse is connected together on a common bus bar to which a positive output wire is connected. The strings’ negative wires are simply connected to a common bus bar along with the negative output wire. Some battery-less grid-tied inverters integrate a combiner box on the input side of the inverter, eliminating a separate combiner box. And some grid-tied systems only have a few PV module strings (3 or less), and don’t require a combiner box. This is all a bit of technical information that most people probably don’t understand and will never need to know. Your system may or may not even have a combiner box, we’ll determine this when we meet and design a custom clean energy system for you.

DC-Disconnect-Square-D-150x150

DC DISCONNECT

The DC disconnect is used to safely interrupt the flow of electricity from the PV array.  It’s an essential component when system maintenance or troubleshooting is required, and may be mandated by local inspectors. The disconnect enclosure (sometimes a part of the inverter package) houses an electrical switch rated for use in DC circuits. It also may integrate either circuit breakers or fuses, if needed. Basically this cuts the power just like a fuse box in your home. It’s an important safety feature to have in case work is ever required on the system.

Charge-Controller_Solar_Charge_Controller-150x150

CHARGE CONTROLLER (or controller, regulator)

A charge controller’s primary function is to protect the battery bank from over charging. As a battery becomes charged, the controller moderates the flow of electricity from the PV modules into the battery. Batteries are expensive and need careful treatment. Most electronics have some form of charge controller built in to make sure the battery stops charging when it’s full. Over charging a battery or running them completely dry are both bad for the life of a battery. To maximize battery life, avoid overcharging or undercharging. Most modern charge controllers incorporate maximum power point tracking (MPPT); this optimizes the PV array’s output, to maximize clean energy production. Some battery charge controllers also include a low voltage disconnect for the DC loads, to help prevent over discharging that can permanently damage the battery bank. We use all this safety equipment on your home to maximize system output and protect your investment.

Battery-Bank-Surrette-150x150

BATTERY BANK

Solar panels produce electricity only when the sun shines on them. If your system is designed to provide energy without the grid, you’ll need a home battery bank.  A group of batteries wired together to store energy so you can have electricity at night or on days when the panels are not making electricity. For off grid systems, battery banks are typically sized to keep electricity running for up to three down days. Grid tied systems also can include battery banks, which provide emergency backup power during grid outages, to keep critical electric loads operating until grid power is restored.

Although similar to car batteries, the deep cycle batteries used in clean energy systems are specialized for the type of charging and discharging they’ll need to endure. Flooded lead acid batteries are most commonly used in solar power systems and are the least expensive, but they require adding distilled water occasionally to replenish water lost during the charging process. Sealed batteries, absorbed glass mat (AGM), and gel cell, do not require adding water and are often used for grid tied systems where the battery bank is usually small, and the batteries are typically kept at a full state of charge. We’ll determine what type of battery best suits your needs and if you need a home battery at all when designing your solar energy system.

System-Meter-150x150

SYSTEM METER

System meters measure and display several different aspects of a clean energy system’s performance and status. Tracking how full your battery bank is, how much electricity your solar power array is producing or has produced, and how much electricity is being used. Web based monitoring is offered in some metering packages. This is extremely handy to keep tabs and potentially troubleshoot the system wherever you are. Operating your solar power system without metering is like running your car without any gauges. Although it’s possible to do so, it’s always better to know how much fuel is in the tank and how much power is in the battery.

Inverter-DC-to-AC-converter-150x1501

INVERTER

Inverters transform the raw DC electricity produced by the solar panels or from batteries into the alternating current (AC) electricity commonly used in your home. Grid tied inverters synchronize the electricity they produce with the grid’s AC electricity, allowing the system to feed any unused solar made electricity to the utility grid. This is how net metering works. NJ has incredible net metering laws and it’s because of those laws you can actually make money with a clean energy system. For more on net metering visit our blog.

Most grid tied inverters are designed to operate without batteries, either tying to one or more strings of modules, or using a “microinverter” for each module. Microinverters offer module level monitoring and maximize array output with module level MPPT, enabling each module to operate independently of the others.Battery based inverters for off grid or grid tied use often include a battery charger, which is capable of charging a battery bank from either the grid or a home generator when panels aren’t making power. Some inverters can be installed outdoors, but most aren’t weatherproof and should be mounted indoors, close to the home battery.

Inverter-AC-disconnect-Square-D-150x150

INVERTER AC DISCONNECT

Utilities usually require an AC disconnect between the inverter and the grid. Some grid tied inverters have integrated AC disconnects, but these may or may not meet local requirements, calling for a separate PV system AC disconnect box, usually located near the utility kWh meter. In battery based systems, an AC disconnect is also the AC breaker panel and any other AC power source. It is usually incorporated into an inverter bypass breaker assembly, allowing the AC loads to be fed by the inverter or by another AC power source, such as a backup generator if power from the inverter is unavailable. Basically a disconnect works just like any breaker in a fuse box, you flip the switch and cut power. We use as many safety features as possible on our clean energy systems to prevent injury to you, your home and anyone else that may come in contact or work on the power lines.

PV-Production-Monotoring-150x150

PRODUCTION MONITORING

An additional meter to measure solar energy production is useful for tracking system performance, and is needed for production based (per kWh) incentives. This can be a dedicated kWh meter that counts the kWh coming out of the inverter, or can be a full revenue grade or Web based data monitoring package.

AC-Breaker-Panel-150x150

FUSE BOX

The AC breaker panel is where a building’s electrical wiring connects to the source of the electricity, whether that’s the grid or a solar power system. This wall mounted panel or box is usually installed in a utility room, closet or garage.  It contains a number of labeled circuit breakers that route electricity to the various rooms or circuits. These breakers allow electricity to be disconnected for servicing, and they also protect the building’s wiring against over current, which may cause electrical fires. Such as from a lightning strike or power surge on the lines.

Just like other electrical circuits, an inverter’s electrical output needs to be routed through an AC circuit breaker. This breaker is usually mounted inside the building’s main panel, which enables the inverter to be turned off and isolated if servicing is needed. The breaker also safeguards the circuit’s electrical wiring.

Kilowatt-Hour-Meter-Utility-Meter-Centerpoint-Smartmeter-150x150

UTILITY METER

Most homes with a grid tied clean energy system will have AC electricity coming from and going to the grid. A bidirectional meter can cumulatively track the flow in both directions. The utility company often provides these meters at no cost. This is how net metering works in NJ. Most people don’t know their electrical meter goes up and down. If you make more power than you use you get paid the full 100% value of that power from your utility.

home generator

HOME GENERATOR

Clean energy systems can be sized to provide electricity during cloudy periods or bad weather. But sizing a system to cover a worst case scenario, like several cloudy weeks during the winter, can result in a very large, expensive system that will rarely be used to its capacity. To spare your bank account, size the system in accordance with your energy needs, but include a home generator to get through those occasional sunless days. Generators are also used to provide battery charging. Occasionally, high voltage, prolonged charging that brings the weaker battery cells up to the charge level of the stronger cells is needed to prolong the life of your home battery.

Engine generators can be fueled with biodiesel, petroleum diesel, gasoline, or propane. These generators produce AC electricity that a battery charger converts to direct current, which is stored in batteries. Like most internal combustion engines, generators tend to be loud and polluting, and do require maintenance. A well designed PV system will require a running generator only 50 to 200 hours a year.
Hughes also offers permanent home generators which are larger and resemble an outdoor air conditioner. The run on LP or natural gas and never need re-fueling. Their quiet and automatically come on within seconds of being needed.