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How to Manual

Residential Photovoltaic Systems

Walter Hulshorst
Econ International January 2008

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The sun is an abundant and readily available source of energy. A photovoltaic system, known more familiarly as PV or solar panels, captures the suns energy and converts it into usable electricity. In fact, PV systems are already an important part of all our lives. Simple PV systems, for example, power many smaller consumer items, such as calculators and wristwatches. More sophisticated systems power communications satellites and water pumps, and power the appliances and lights in many homes and workplaces. PV is a renewable energy source that can be installed easily, even in existing homes, which makes PV systems very attractive to urban dwellers.

Figure 1: Residential PV installations [1] How to use this manual This manual provides basic information to those who are considering installing a photovoltaic (PV) system in their home, at their office or in other types of buildings. With a PV system, you have a quiet, environmentally friendly, electricity-producing power plant. Choosing a PV system also makes a strong statement in support of ecologically responsible, sustainable energy. PV technology will also likely play a significant role in meeting our future energy needs.

How to Manual to Residential Photovoltaic (PV) Systems

Whatever of these reasons applies to you, this manual will help you decide whether PV is a viable option for you. This guide will: give a basic explanation of how PV works; describe some of the main components of a PV system; offer ideas on the design and placement of a PV system that is right for you; outline how to determine if PV makes sense for you. One important point to bear in mind is that, for a PV system to be most effective, a house or building must already be energy efficient. The less energy a home or building uses, the fewer PV panels will be needed, and thus the smaller the initial investment. How PV systems work: An overview Photovoltaic (PV) systems work by converting sunlight directly into electricity, by using what are known as solar cells. A solar cell is made of semi-conducting material in two layers: P and N (see figure 2). When radiation from the sun hits the photovoltaic cell in the form of sunlight, the boundary between P and N acts as a diode: electrons can move from N to P, but not the other way around. Photons with sufficient energy hitting the cell cause electrons ( ) to move from the P layer into the N layer. An excess of electrons builds up in the N layer while the P layer builds up a deficit. The difference in the amount of electrons is the voltage difference, which can be used as a power source. As long as light continues to hit the panel, the voltage difference is maintained; even on cloudy days, due to diffuse radiation of the light.

Figure 2: Schematic overview of the operation of a photovoltaic cell [2]

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The amount of electric power that a photovoltaic produces depends principally on two factors: the amount of incident sunlight; the efficiency of the photovoltaic in converting this light into electricity.

This output is specified as the total nominal DC solar panel output, under standard test conditions, in accordance with IEC 61215; for example, illumination of 1 kW/m2, cell temperature of 25o C. Output efficiency of crystalline PV arrays decreases by 0,5 per cent per degree Celsius over the standard test temperature of 25 C. Proper ventilation is required at the back of modules. In determining the placement modules, exposure to cooling breezes is an important consideration. Specialists in the field of PV do not express the installed power of a system in watts (W) but in watt-peak (Wp). A residential PV system enables a homeowner to generate some or all of their daily electrical energy demand on their own roof, exchanging daytime excess power for future energy needs, usually for night time use. The house remains connected to the public electricity grid at all times, thus any power required above what the PV systems can produce is drawn from the grid. PV systems can also include battery backup or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to operate selected circuits in the residence for hours or days during a grid outage. The emphasis of grid-connected PV is on the built environment, also known as building-integrated PV (BIPV). Most often, PV installations are part of the existing infrastructure, or are integrated into the building structure of residential, office or industrial buildings. Roof-mounted PV systems, for example, are considered a building-integrated application. In most applications, the electrical power generated by solar energy is fed into the internal electrical grid of the building.

PV technology
The three main components of a PV system (see figure 3) are the PV cells and panels (A), the inverter (B), and the meter that records the amount of power produced (C). For PV systems without a grid connection (D) so called standalone PV batteries (E) are also a necessary component.

How to Manual to Residential Photovoltaic (PV) Systems

Figure 3: PV system overview [3]

Photovoltaic cells Most commonly, photovoltaic cells are produced from monocrystalline or multicrystalline silicon material. The efficiency of monocrystalline cells is significantly greater than that of multicrystalline or polycrystalline silicon. Monocrystalline silicon is produced as single crystal ingots, while multicrystalline manufacturing starts with melting the material, followed by a solidification process with a predetermined crystal orientation structure, resulting in multicrystalline blocks.

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Thin Film
Amorphous Silicon CIS (Copper Indium Diselenide) 10-11% 10 m2

Crystalline Wafer
Multicrystalline 12-14% 8 m2 Monocrystalline 13-15% 7 m2

Module efficiency Area required per kWp

6-7% 15 m2

Table 1: Technology for PV cells To produce PV cells, the silicon ingots or blocks are sliced into thin wafers. Typically, crystalline cells measure 10x10 or 12,5x12,5 cm2. The colour of multicrystalline silicon cells is steel blue, while monocrystalline silicon is anthracite in colour. On top of the cells, a screen of aluminium conductors is installed. Photovoltaic panels A PV module is the basic building block of any PV power system. A PV module consists of interconnected cells sealed between a glass cover and weatherproof backing. The modules are typically encased in frames suitable for mounting. A PV module contains a series of between 48 and 72 connected cells, Typical PV modules are 0,8 x 1,2 and 0,8 x 1,6 m2, which corresponds to approximately 80 to 150 Wp, and the average weight of a PV module is approximately 12 kg/m2. Two or more modules can be pre-wired together to be installed as a single unit called a PV or solar panel. Additional PV panels can be added as electricityproduction needs increase. The entire PV system, consisting of one or more panels, is known as an array. Inverter The PV cells and modules generate direct current (DC). Since most household appliances use alternating current (AC), an inverter is used to convert the DC voltage to AC voltage, matching the frequency and voltage of the local grid. Inverters for PV applications include control functions to optimize the power output, which is referred to as maximum power point tracking (MPPT). The power output is equal to the voltage multiplied by the current (P = V x I), and the MPPT function continuously adjusts the load impedance to guarantee optimal power.

How to Manual to Residential Photovoltaic (PV) Systems

In the past, a single inverter was applied for an array or complete PV system. Currently, however, common practice is to install an inverter for each string, or even to equip each module with its own inverter; a process that is also referred to as AC modules. To reduce the losses between the PV panels and the inverter, it is recommended that you place the inverter as close as possible to the PV panels. In addition, be sure that the inverter is sufficiently cooled and do not place the inverter in direct sunlight. Measuring equipment To ensure that the PV system is working properly, it is recommended that you have a measure of the PV system output. The meter records the amount of electricity (kWh) produced by the system. Note that in some installations, a single meter is used: the reading on the meter decreases when power is being generated, and increases when power is being consumed. There are, however, several metering configurations available, each with their respective advantages and drawbacks. Ultimately, it is up to the local electrical authority as to which configuration they will approve. Grid connection Depending on the size (Wp) of the PV installation, smaller units can be connected to the grid by plugging it directly into an electrical socket, whereas larger units can be connected at the meter board where the cables of the public grid enter the house. Batteries PV systems with batteries for storage are particularly suitable in areas in which a utility power supply is unavailable or in which utility line extensions would be prohibitively expensive. The ability to store PV-generated electrical energy makes the PV system a reliable source of electric power both day and night, rain or shine. PV systems with batteries can be designed to power equipment that requires DC or AC electricity. People who run conventional AC equipment will add an inverter between the batteries and the load. PV systems with battery storage are used all around the world to provide electricity for lights, sensors, recording equipment, switches, appliances, telephones and televisions.

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Design and installation of PV

A major advantage of PV systems is that they can be easily adopted in existing buildings or homes. PV systems are modular and can be installed anywhere. In addition, these types of systems produce no noise, harmful emissions or polluting gases, and most importantly the energy produced is free. Manufacturers have designed several different models, which can be placed at a variety of different types of houses or buildings. Design PV panels convert the light that reaches them into electricity. The amount of electricity they produce is roughly proportional to the intensity and the angle of the light that reaches them. The panels, therefore, are positioned to take maximum advantage of available sunlight within the constraints of their placement. Maximum power is obtained when the panels are able to track the sun's movements during the day and throughout the various seasons. These types of panels, referred to as trackers, are usually ground-mounted using a heavy steel pole sunk into a concrete foundation. Roof-mounted tracking units are rare, because they can create structural problems and tend to be noisy during windy weather. The best elevations for PV systems vary by latitude. The optimal orientation of the PV modules is due south. If the orientation is not to the south but e.g. to the South east or South West, output decreases be a few percentage points. The optimal tilt angle, with respect to the horizontal, is approximately 41 for Northern Europe, 35 for Central Europe, and about 32 for Southern Europe [4]. The optimal tilt angle is higher during winter and lower during summer. As shown in figure 4, maximum solar irradiation values vary between 1.000 W/ m2 for Central and Northern Europe (with the exception of Northern Scandinavia) and approximately 1.600 up to 1.800 W/m2 for Southern Europe. Figure 3 also provides an indication of the yearly amount of electricity (kWh) produced by PV by geographical region. As you can see in the illustration, a 1.000 Wp PV system located in Southern Europe, for example, produces approximately 1.250 kWh, while a similar system in Northern Europe produces approximately 750 kWh.

How to Manual to Residential Photovoltaic (PV) Systems

Figure 4: Electrical output by geographical region [5]

Based on the data provided in figure 4, we can easily calculate the size of the PV system, depending on the type of cells. The installed power for crystalline silicon cells is approximately 100 Wp/m2 and 50 Wp/m2 for thin-film cells. If an PV installation is required that produces 875 kWh per year equal to 25 per cent of the average annual electricity consumption of an European household (3.500 kWh) the size of the installation in Belgium (1.000 kWh/m2) would be approximately 1.170 Wp, while the size of the installation in Italy (1.600 kWh/m2) would be approximately 730 Wp. Depending on the type of cells, the size required in Belgium is approximately 11,7 m2 (silicon) and 23,4 m2 (thin film), for Italy, the size required is approximate 7,3 m2 (silicon) and 14,6 m2 (thin film). Obviously, the investment required for a PV installation with similar electricity production in Italy will be lower than the installation in Belgium.

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As shown in figure 4, a standard performance ratio of 75 per cent is used. Along with geographical location, the performance of the system output is also be affected by factors such as the following [6]: Shading: One of the main factors in the design and placement of a new PV system is that it be free from obstacles that cause shading on part of the PV system. Trees, chimneys and other roof protrusions, for example, are well known obstacles that can lead to shading losses on roof-mounted PV systems. The problem is that shaded PV cells act like a strong resistor, dissipating the electricity generated by solar units to the remaining, non-shaded, area of the string. This is observable through the high temperature (hot spot) in the shaded modules of a partly shaded system. Frequent high-temperature cycles shorten the lifetime of a cell and module. Currently, most module manufacturers supply their products with bypass diodes to prevent a fully or partly shaded module from sapping the generated energy of the other string modules. Standard test conditions: The output of the solar PV system is rated by manufacturers under standard test conditions. These conditions are easily recreated in a factory and enable consistent comparisons of products, but nevertheless need to be modified to estimate output under common outdoor operating conditions. Temperature: Module output power reduces as module temperature increases (0,5% per degree Celsius). Dirt and dust: Dirt and dust can accumulate on the solar module surface, blocking the sunlight and reducing output. In regions with heavy annual rainfall, the problem is mostly avoided because the dirt and dust is cleaned off by rain showers. Mismatch and wiring losses: The maximum power output of the total PV array is always less than the sum of the maximum output of the individual modules. The difference is the result of slight inconsistencies in performance from one module to the next, and is known as module mismatch. Power is also lost to resistance in the system wiring.


How to Manual to Residential Photovoltaic (PV) Systems

DC to AC conversion losses: The DC power generated by the solar module must be converted into common household AC power by means of an inverter. Some power is lost in the conversion process, and there is additional loss in the wires from the modules at the roof down to the inverter. Residential installations Photovoltaic modules can either be integrated into roofing materials or mounted on the ground or pole. Whatever the mounting, the structure should be stable and durable, and be able to support the modules and withstand wind, rain, hail and other outdoor conditions.

Figure 5: Building integration of PV and Flat roof PV installation (Netherlands) [6] PV applications in the built environment, as well as ground-based installations are manifold each requiring a specific type of integration or support structure. A wide range of products has been developed for use in PV module installation. Particularly in the built environment, mounting and support structures are designed in such a way that the PV system is fully integrated into the building and contributes to its aesthetic and architectonic value. PV support structures are available for faades, slanted roofs, flat roofs and PV tiles that can be used to replace conventional roof tiles. Often, the most appropriate and convenient location to place a PV array is on the roof of a building. The PV array can be mounted above and parallel to the surface of the roof with a standoff of several centimetres for cooling purposes. In some cases, such as with flat roofs, a separate structure with a more optimal tilt angle is mounted on the roof. When considering a roof-mounted PV installation, attention must be given to the structure of the roof and weather sealing of the roof.


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Figure 6: PV on slanted roof (UK) [6] and PV on faade (Sweden) [7] Operation and maintenance Operation and maintenance of a PV system is simple and requires no extensive maintenance or upkeep. PV systems contain no moving parts to wear out, break down or replace. Operation of the PV system should be checked by measuring the kWh produced by the system. Depending on the amount of dirt and dust build-up, the PV panels should be cleaned annually. (In most European countries, the amount of annual rainfall is sufficient to clean most dirt and dust from the PV panels). You must also ensure that the PV system remains free of shading throughout its lifetime; growing trees and new home construction, for example, can lead to shading on the PV system. Batteries on PV systems require maintenance. The batteries used in PV systems are similar to car batteries, but are built somewhat differently to allow more of their stored energy to be used each day. Batteries designed for PV projects pose the same risks and demand the same caution in handling and storage as automotive batteries. Batteries must be protected from extremely cold weather and the fluid in unsealed batteries must be checked periodically.

Costs and benefits

Along with investment costs, an economic evaluation of PV systems includes other aspects which should also be taken into account: 1. Reduction of the annual electricity costs due to the production of electricity by the PV system: future expectations of the electricity price should be taken into account; 2. Possible positive stimulation programs by government for PV systems: for example, subsidies or tax incentives; 3. The costs of saving on other building materials through the use of PV modules;


How to Manual to Residential Photovoltaic (PV) Systems


Costs of CO2 pollution due to the production of electricity: zero for PV systems. Investment costs

As of 2007, prices for PV systems are between 5 and 7 euros per Wp (including taxes). These prices are expected to drop to 3,50 euros per Wp by 2010, and to 2 euros per Wp by 2020 (excluding taxes) [8]. Furthermore, many producers offer performance warranties of 20-25 years on their modules. Some countries and grid operators also provide subsidies for purchasing PV systems. The generation costs of household PV systems are, in most cases, not yet competitive with residential electricity prices, except where support programs are in place. Electricity prices vary greatly across the 27 EU countries. According to Eurostat, the average price of electricity for an average household within the EU (as of January 2007) is approximately 0,1528 kWh [9]. Evaluation of PV systems To get a quick indication of the generation costs for PV systems in homes, divide the investment costs of a PV system by the amount of kWh produced during the lifetime of the PV system. With the PV system as described in chapter 3.1, you can easily calculate the generation costs per kWh. The installation with an output of 875 kWh per year (25% of annual consumption), will produce over a life time of 25 years, an output equal to 875 * 25 = 21.875 kWh. For this, PV system of 1.170 Wp is required in Belgium. For Italy 730 Wp suffices. If you consider an investment cost of 6 euros per Wp, the cost of 1 kWh in Belgium is 0,3209 per kWh, and in Italy the cost is 0,2002 per kWh (not taking into account the time value of money). Prices in each of these places is higher as compared to the average electricity price for households within Europe, however, the electricity price in Italy for households in January 2007 was 0,2329 per kWh. With these prices, PV systems can be economically competitive for Southern European countries. While PV electricity costs are higher for some countries, the price is likely lower than what we can expect to pay 20 years from now; the costs of PV systems has decreased steadily for several years, while the costs of electricity (kWh) has increased in recent years. Some countries and grid operators offer higher prices for kWh generated by PV systems and feed this energy back into the grid. It can, therefore, make sense to sell electricity to the grid.


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One question that often arises is how much PV power is required for an average home. This depends largely upon three main factors: 1. the maximum investment you can afford; 2. the maximum number of PV modules that can be placed on your roof; 3. the electricity (kWh) you want to produce with a PV system. Before making an investment in a PV system, it is recommendable that you decrease your electricity consumption, for example, by using energy-efficient appliances. The lower your electricity consumption is, the smaller your PV system can be. Table 2 provides an indication of the costs and space requirements for the electricity produced by a PV system in Belgium and Italy for covering 25, 50, 75 and 100 per cent of average annual energy consumption (3.500 kWh).
25% (875 kWh) area (m2) Costs (Euro) 11,7 7.000 7,3 4.375 50% (1.750 kWh) area (m2) Costs (Euro) 23,3 14.000 14,6 8.750 75% (2.625 kWh) area (m2) Costs (Euro) 35 21.000 21,9 13.125 100% (3.500 kWh) area (m2) Costs (Euro) 46,7 28.000 29,2 17.500

Belgium Italy

kWp 1 0,63

kWp 2,33 1,46

kWp 3,5 2,19

kWp 4,67 2,92

Table 2: PV systems dimensions at various production levels Most PV systems do not have to meet 100 per cent of your homes energy requirements. If your financial resources are limited, you can simply start small. Install a system that meets, for example, 25 per cent of your annual energy use, or even lower. As the cost of PV systems decline, you can gradually increase your systems size. Moreover, this example does not factor in subsidies for investment in PV or for higher electricity prices for selling electricity onto the grid. Along with economic evaluation, PV systems also provide additional benefits, such as: space-saving installation: PV is a simple, low-risk technology that can be installed anywhere where light is available on the roof or faade of a building; increased efficiency of the electrical network: since power is generated close to the point of use, losses in the electricity grids decrease. This can also reduce or postpone investment in the grid, for example, during the summer when the use of air conditioning units in homes goes up. In this way, PV systems can reduce peak loading in the grids caused by air conditioning; lower utility costs: after your initial investment in a PV system, your monthly

electricity bill will go down; sunlight, after all, is free; climate protection: PV systems emit zero carbon dioxide during their operation;


How to Manual to Residential Photovoltaic (PV) Systems

security of supply: if you use a back up system (batteries), your PV system can operate while no electricity is delivered from the electricity grid.

Installation in your home or business

Installing a PV system at your house or business can be incredibly beneficial. Before you install a PV system, however, be sure to contact organisations in your area, who can provide you with local information regarding PV use in homes or business. This chapter provides some steps to assist you in getting your PV system up and running.

1 Contact your local utility, insurance agent and architectural review board. Some utilities and some insurance agents do not like customers to install utilityconnected power generation systems. Therefore, it is important to call both your utility and your home insurance agent to determine whether you can proceed. Your local utility can also inform you about possible incentives for PV systems. Also, ask about the possibility of feeding electricity back onto the grid. Your local utility can also inform you about the possibilities for potential subsidies on investment and/or feed-in tariffs.

Some insurance companies and agents, however, may be unwilling to insure your PV system. If you live in a subdivision with regulations that restrict the use of solar energy systems, you will need to submit your PV system plans to an architectural review board. If you perform the installation without prior approval from the board, you may be required to tear down your newly installed system. If you run into problems with your architectural review board, you might also consider installing PV roofing as an alternative. PV roofing blends with your homes appearance and reduces the aesthetic concerns often expressed by review boards.

2 Installation and maintenance Proper installation and maintenance is essential for maximizing the energy performance of a small solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) system. When installing a PV system, there are many factors to consider, including placement, system size, electrical safety and so on. PV systems are complex. An improperly


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designed system can endanger your home or utility line workers. PV systems must not be treated as something a do-it-yourselfer can install over a weekend with an instruction booklet. Instead, consider hiring an expert to design and install your PV system. An experienced PV system professional can also help educate your local utility and answer questions from building inspectors.

3: Design considerations Remember, most PV systems do not have to meet 100 per cent of your homes energy requirements. If your financial resources are limited, you can start small. Install a system that meets 10 to 20 per cent of your annual energy use. As the cost of PV systems decline and state and federal incentives become available, you can gradually increase your systems size to meet a greater percentage of your energy use.

Most PV manufacturers in Europe are members of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association ( This website lists a number of PV manufacturers for each country, including each companys website.

End Notes
[1] Picture Suntech (L) and Goldbeck (R) [2] Van der Wekken, T., 2007, Application Note, Photovoltaic installations, KEMA Consulting, [3] Dass grosse Buch vom Energiesparen, Pabel-Moewig Verlag KG, Rastatt. [4] ri M., Huld T.A., Dunlop E.D.,2005, geographical and time variability of the solar electricity generation in Europe, Ispra. [5] ri M., Huld T.A., Dunlop E.D. Ossenbrink H.A., 2007. Potential of solar electricity generation in the European Union member states and candidate countries. Solar Energy, 81, 12951305, [6] Endecon Engineering, CEC, 2001, a guide to PV system design and installation [7] IEA Photovoltaic Power System Programme, 2007, [8] PV-trac, A vision for photovoltaic technology for 2030 and beyond, 2004 [9] , Electricity prices for EU households and Industrial consumers on 1 January 2007