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How to Design Solar PV System

What is solar PV system?

Solar photovoltaic system or Solar power system is one of renewable energy system which
uses PV modules to convert sunlight into electricity. The electricity generated can be either
stored or used directly, fed back into grid line or combined with one or more other electricity
generators or more renewable energy source. Solar PV system is very reliable and clean
source of electricity that can suit a wide range of applications such as residence, industry,
agriculture, livestock, etc.

Major system components

Solar PV system includes different components that should be selected according to your
system type, site location and applications. The major components for solar PV system are
solar charge controller, inverter, battery bank, auxiliary energy sources and loads (appliances).
PV module converts sunlight into DC electricity.
Solar charge controller regulates the voltage and current coming from the PV panels
going to
battery and prevents battery overcharging and prolongs the battery life.
Inverter converts DC output of PV panels or wind turbine into a clean AC current for
appliances or fed back into grid line.
Battery stores energy for supplying to electrical appliances when there is a demand.
Load is electrical appliances that connected to solar PV system such as lights, radio, TV,
refrigerator, etc.
Auxiliary energy sources - is diesel generator or other renewable energy sources.

Solar PV system sizing

1. Determine power consumption demands

The first step in designing a solar PV system is to find out the total power and energy
consumption of all loads that need to be supplied by the solar PV system as follows:

1.1 Calculate total Watt-hours per day for each appliance used.
Add the Watt-hours needed for all appliances together to get the total Watt-hours per
day which
must be delivered to the appliances.

1.2 Calculate total Watt-hours per day needed from the PV modules.
Multiply the total appliances Watt-hours per day times 1.3 (the energy lost in the
system) to get
the total Watt-hours per day which must be provided by the panels.

2. Size the PV modules

Different size of PV modules will produce different amount of power. To find out the sizing
of PV module, the total peak watt produced needs. The peak watt (Wp) produced depends on
size of the PV module and climate of site location. We have to consider panel generation
factor which is different in each site location. For Thailand, the panel generation factor is
3.43. To determine the sizing of PV modules, calculate as follows:

2.1 Calculate the total Watt-peak rating needed for PV modules

Divide the total Watt-hours per day needed from the PV modules (from item 1.2) by
3.43 to get
the total Watt-peak rating needed for the PV panels needed to operate the appliances.

2.2 Calculate the number of PV panels for the system

Divide the answer obtained in item 2.1 by the rated output Watt-peak of the PV
modules available
to you. Increase any fractional part of result to the next highest full number and that
will be the
number of PV modules required.

Result of the calculation is the minimum number of PV panels. If more PV modules are
installed, the system will perform better and battery life will be improved. If fewer PV
modules are used, the system may not work at all during cloudy periods and battery life will
be shortened.
3. Inverter sizing
An inverter is used in the system where AC power output is needed. The input rating of the
inverter should never be lower than the total watt of appliances. The inverter must have the
same nominal voltage as your battery.
For stand-alone systems, the inverter must be large enough to handle the total amount of
Watts you will be using at one time. The inverter size should be 25-30% bigger than total
Watts of appliances. In case of appliance type is motor or compressor then inverter size should
be minimum 3 times the capacity of those appliances and must be added to the inverter
capacity to handle surge current during starting.
For grid tie systems or grid connected systems, the input rating of the inverter should be
same as PV array rating to allow for safe and efficient operation.

4. Battery sizing
The battery type recommended for using in solar PV system is deep cycle battery. Deep
cycle battery is specifically designed for to be discharged to low energy level and rapid
recharged or cycle charged and discharged day after day for years. The battery should be large
enough to store sufficient energy to operate the appliances at night and cloudy days. To find
out the size of battery, calculate as follows:

4.1 Calculate total Watt-hours per day used by appliances.

4.2 Divide the total Watt-hours per day used by 0.85 for battery loss.
4.3 Divide the answer obtained in item 4.2 by 0.6 for depth of discharge.
4.4 Divide the answer obtained in item 4.3 by the nominal battery voltage.
4.5 Multiply the answer obtained in item 4.4 with days of autonomy (the number of days
that you
need the system to operate when there is no power produced by PV panels) to get the
Ampere-hour capacity of deep-cycle battery.

Battery Capacity (Ah) = Total Watt-hours per day used by appliances x Days of autonomy
(0.85 x 0.6 x nominal battery voltage)
5. Solar charge controller sizing
The solar charge controller is typically rated against Amperage and Voltage capacities.
Select the solar charge controller to match the voltage of PV array and batteries and then
identify which type of solar charge controller is right for your application. Make sure that solar
charge controller has enough capacity to handle the current from PV array.
For the series charge controller type, the sizing of controller depends on the total PV input
current which is delivered to the controller and also depends on PV panel configuration (series
or parallel configuration).
According to standard practice, the sizing of solar charge controller is to take the short
circuit current (Isc) of the PV array, and multiply it by 1.3
Solar charge controller rating = Total short circuit current of PV array x 1.3

Remark: For MPPT charge controller sizing will be different. (See Basics of MPPT Charge

Example: A house has the following electrical appliance usage:

One 18 Watt fluorescent lamp with electronic ballast used 4 hours per day.
One 60 Watt fan used for 2 hours per day.
One 75 Watt refrigerator that runs 24 hours per day with compressor run 12 hours and
off 12 hours.

The system will be powered by 12 Vdc, 110 Wp PV module.

1. Determine power consumption demands

Total appliance use = (18 W x 4 hours) + (60 W x 2 hours) + (75 W x 24 x 0.5 hours)
= 1,092 Wh/day
Total PV panels energy
= 1,092 x 1.3
= 1,419.6 Wh/day.

2. Size the PV panel

2.1 Total Wp of PV panel = 1,419.6 / 3.4

= 413.9 Wp
2.2 Number of PV panels
= 413.9 / 110
= 3.76 modules

Actual requirement = 4 modules

So this system should be powered by at least 4 modules of 110 Wp PV module.

3. Inverter sizing
Total Watt of all appliances = 18 + 60 + 75 = 153 W
For safety, the inverter should be considered 25-30% bigger size.
The inverter size should be about 190 W or greater.

4. Battery sizing
Total appliances use = (18 W x 4 hours) + (60 W x 2 hours) + (75 W x 12 hours)
Nominal battery voltage = 12 V
Days of autonomy = 3 days

Battery capacity = [(18 W x 4 hours) + (60 W x 2 hours) + (75 W x 12 hours)] x 3

(0.85 x 0.6 x 12)
Total Ampere-hours required 535.29 Ah
So the battery should be rated 12 V 600 Ah for 3 day autonomy.

5. Solar charge controller sizing

PV module specification
Pm = 110 Wp
Vm = 16.7 Vdc
Im = 6.6 A
Voc = 20.7 A
Isc = 7.5 A
Solar charge controller rating = (4 strings x 7.5 A) x 1.3 = 39 A
So the solar charge controller should be rated 40 A at 12 V or greater.

1. Customer Constraints. What about a specific customer will impact the size of an array?
The most common restraints are:

Energy Usage
Client Budget

2. Site Constraints. What about the client site will limit array size? These are the most
common details about a site you need to gather and well discuss how these variables impact
the size of an array:

Local Shading
Horizontal Shading
Available Roof Space and Roof Characteristics (dimensions, tilt, azimuth)
Module Size and Racking Considerations
3. Determining Irradiation. In order to compute power production, you need to understand
how much energy is hitting your specific area.

Measured in kWh/M2/day or Sun hours per day

4. Estimating power production based on irradiation, customer constraints, and site


Sun hours per day adjust for site characteristics

Power production estimates based on solar resource and the amount of modules you
can fit on the roof.

You Need to have standard process to collect all of this information. Performing high quality
and efficient site visits is absolutely critical to the success of profitable solar projects,
especially residential projects! You need to be able to capture all of the information you need
to 1) quote the system correctly 2) design the project and 3) inform the installation crew what
to expect. An efficient site visit process will lead to smooth operations and profitable jobs
while complex process can lead to unprofitable jobs and a lot of confusion.

Click here to check out Sunify. Sunify is a simple mobile tool that solar sales people use to
make sure they collect all the information they need on a site visit with the least possible
effort. Its so cheap it will pay for itself in one site visit. Sunify does 4 things that will make
your site visits better.

1. Sunify will eliminate paper notes so you no longer have to copy and paste notes into
emails and waste time.
2. Sunify will ensure that you, or the sales people that you manage, capture the
information that they need to on the first visit.
3. Youll collect better quality information because you can collect video and audio
notes in addition to photos and text answers. This will give lead to more accurate
quotes, design, and an easier time for the installation team.
4. Its all the tools you need in one place, so youll never loose your notes again.

Click here to check out Sunify.

1. Customer Contraints.

A. Energy Usage

A possible constraint on the size of a solar project is the clients energy usage. Because of
how net-metering programs are set up, typically it does not make sense to produce more then
100% of a clients annual energy usage. However, because most property owners use so
much power, and the power density of solar PV is so low, its rare to have an array that can
produce 100% of the power with solar power. Its typical that the solar fraction of a project
(total power used / power supplied by solar) is less then 30%.

Commercial Considerations

For a commercial client you will need to understand their demand charges and usage charges.
In order to understand if the solar array will reduce their demand charges you need to
understand the load profile of the building and when exactly their demand is the highest to
see if solar will shave that demand. For example, do they have the highest amount of demand
in the summer or winter? What time of day, early morning, afternoon, evening?

We will not go into depth on demand charges for this post. However, WE WILL discuss the
impact of different electric rates, demand and usage charges in the solar PV financing article
because its critical to understand the value of the power that a solar project produces. Right
now, were just concerned with pure design.

If you need to learn more about what demand charges are, Ive found these are good

Understanding demand charges

Demand Charges Explained

What you need to collect about energy usage:

Yearly average kWh used by the client

Cost of power
The value of a kWh of solar is directly related to the cost of the power it offsets. On a
site visit make sure to get a few months of electric bills.


Lets assume a customer uses lives in Houston, TX and uses 550 kWh of AC power on
average per month and wants a solar system that will produce 100% of the power they use in
a year. How large would you need to design the system? You need to reverse engineer the
problem, heres how:

1. 550 kWh/month / 30 days per month = 18.33 kWh per day

2. Calculate and Adjust Irradiation based on site characteristics. According to PV Watts,
Houston gets an average of 4.79 sun hours per day. For now, lets assume the roof is
directly south and at 30 degrees (the latitude of Houston) so it can harvest 100% of
the 4.79 sun hours per day. See section 4 for how we adjust irradiation based on a
roofs characteristics
3. 18.33 kWh per day / 4.79 adjusted sun hours per day in Houston = 3.83 kW AC
needed in production. Now we need to convert to DC
4. 3.83 kW AC / 80% (to make up for the inefficiency of converting to DC to AC. 80%
is a rule of thumb. You will read more about this in the next part of this series when
we talk about string and conductor selection, inverter selection and derating)
= 4.78kW DC

If the customer wanted to produce 100% of their power from solar energy in Houston and
they had a perfect roof, they would need a 4.78kW DC system.

Well discuss what happens if there roof is not perfect below.

B. Customer Budget
One of the most common client constraints is budget for the system, if they are purchasing
with cash. If they are leasing the system, this will not be so much of an issue. Learn more
about solar leases, prepaid leases and how to sell a solar lease here.

If your installed cost is $5.00/watt, a 4.78 kW system will cost you $23,900. If the customers
budgets is only $15,000, you could only install a 3 kW DC system.

Things to remember:

Know if its a cash or lease sale. Learn more about lease sales in our free course about
solar lease.
If its a cash customer, make sure you understand what their budget is. Make sure you
understand if they are purchasing cash, or with a home equity line of credit or
wrapped into a mortgage for new construction.

2. Site Contraints

Site constraints are the second most common attribute that limit the size of a solar array,
behind a customers budget. Answering the question how many panels can fit on the roof is
a major limiting factor of a project. However, remember that its not just how many panels
can you physically fit on the roof, but how many can be on the roof and produce maximum

**NOTE: Im not going over structural aspects in this part of the series and that will be
discussed in a future post. Remember, simply becasue there is room on the roof doesnt mean
you can install solar. The roof needs to be able to hold the additional load.

Roof Characteristics to Consider and Gather

Total Roof Area: When performing a residential or commercial site visit its good
practice to measure the whole plane on the roof where you plan to install the array,
then begin to work backwards and eliminate space that is shaded or unsuitable for
Local Shading. Local shading is shading that occurs on the roof. Common examples
include: chimneys, stink pipes, eaves, shading from another part of the roof.
A good rule of thumb for local shading is dont place modules anywhere that is closer
then 3x the height of the obstacle from the object. If a stink pipe is 12 inches, dont
place any module north, east or west of it closer then 36 inches away. You can still
place module south of the local shading areas.
When doing a site visit make sure to mark the locations of all local shading elements.
Also, note if there is an attic or cathedral ceilings. If an attic, sometimes pipes and
other items can be moved easily.
Horizontal Shading. Horizontal shading is most often caused trees, but can also be
from buildings. It is shading that occurs off the roof that impacts the amount of
irradiance hitting the roof.
Its best to have no shading between the hours of 9am and 3pm for the whole year. If
this is the case, you will not need to adjust your irradiation numbers for shading.
If you have any shading between 9am and 3pm during any point in the year you will
need to adjust the irradiation numbers that we will discuss step 4.
Here are two examples of a nearly perfect roof and a roof with some shading. The
solar access percentage is what we care about, and this is the number that will
adjust irradiation values. This percentage is a measure of the amount of sun light
youve lost due to shading. If its 95%, youve lose 5% production from the best case
scenario due to shading.
Key to remember: Trees Grow. If youre building an area that has some shading,
when you perform your power production estimates it will be good to assume your
shading will increase by a small amount each year, lets say .5%.
Key to remember: Some states have rebate programs that say a roof must solar access
of at least 80%.

A great roof: On average this roof only loses 4% product due to shading