Solar power plants are simple systems comprising a power generation unit, a conversion unit, and other electrical support systems.
Following is the list of key components used for a solar power plant:
- Panels – [Sunlight to DC Power]: A panel consists of a number of solar cells that converts sunlight into electricity. It is the main component of the plant and accounts for 50-60% of the capital costs. Its selection has a significant effect on the overall generation of the plant.
- Inverters – [DC Power to AC Power]: Inverters convert the electricity from solar panels which are in DC form to AC form. Apart from this, command and control signals for electricity production from panels are provided by the inverters.
- Module Mounting Structures – [Module Support]: Mounting structures support solar panels on the ground or on the rooftop. They provide a secure fastening of the panels and protect them against wind, water logging and other external impacts.
- Cables – Cables transfer electricity from the panels to the inverter, and from the inverter to the load. Solar cables are expected to withstand long-term exposure to sunlight and other atmospheric conditions.
- Batteries – Battery packs can be added to the solar power plants at an additional cost to store the excess energy produced by the solar power plant during day. But beware – batteries, at their current costs and performance, provide value for money only for small scale rooftop solar power plants.
- Other Electricals – Components like combiner boxes, fuses, switches, meters, distribution boards, monitoring systems, etc., complete the solar power plant infrastructure.
But a component that usually gets less attention than it deserves is the inverter. You see, the inverter is actually the brain of the solar power plant. Not only does the inverter convert power from DC to AC, it also synchronizes optimal delivery of power to the grid, to appliances or to the battery as the case may be. The inverter performs other important functions too under select scenarios.
Apart from the solar panels and inverters, the rest of components are fairly commoditized. All the same, they will all be exposed to the elements for 25 long years.
As the well-known saying goes, any system is only as good as the weakest link. Your panels might be the best in the world, but if the mounting structure collapses for instance, the entire system follows!