Residential photovoltaic arrays

The third category of photovoltaic applications, residential photovoltaic arrays, forms the most significant area of photovoltaic expansion as a result of major national programmes, particularly in Japan, Germany and the USA, to install solar cells on the roofs of homes.

The residential array is a type of distributed generation. As such it offers some important benefits. The power from the rooftop array is delivered directly to the place where it is needed. This is the most efficient way of generating power because there are no transmission and distribution losses involved. Further, extensive local deployment of this type reduces the need to increase transmission system capacities as demand grows.

Rooftop deployment avoids the problem of finding space to install solar arrays. The space, the roof, is already available. In addition the roof structure provides the support for the array so the expense of a dedicated support structure is avoided.

Placing solar arrays on the roofs of existing buildings will generally be a compromise because the buildings will rarely offer the optimum orientation and inclination for solar collection. Even so efficient production is possible. Far better is to design modern buildings with solar generation in mind. The solar arrays can then become the roofs, saving in building materials. They may exploit appropriately oriented wall surfaces too.

As the solar panel will only generate power during daylight hours, grid connection is essential to provide supply at nighttime. For this reason building arrays, although designated residential arrays, are actually most effective on commercial buildings where the daily cycle matches closely that of the sun.

Single household arrays offer the simplest application but the most cost effective may be a group deployment where tens or hundreds of units are fitted in a compact area. Such projects could be underwritten or owned by a local utility or distribution company. Equally they could be owned and operated by a residents' co-operative. The larger deployment attracts economies of scale that are not available for individual householders.

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