Where to Begin

Basically, I am designing the system backwards.  This is because we know the parameters we have now.  We also know where we want to land at the end of it all.  So, I start there and work backwards.  That insures that we land at the right place.

A solar energy system has a few basic parts.  Most of these are optional, but add benefits to the system as a whole.

Solar Panels (required)

These are what collects the Sun's DIRECT energy for the system to use.  Without these, the system is some other kind of energy system.

Charge Controller (optional)

The charge controller is what takes the energy the solar panels collect and uses it to charge the batteries.  Charge controllers also keep the batteries from getting over-charged, which shortens the battery's life.

This IS an optional component, depending on how you plan to use the energy.  You could use the energy directly from the solar panels and just rough it through nights and days when the Sun doesn't shine.  You could also let the panels charge the batteries directly, but charge controllers significantly increase the efficiency of charging the batteries as well as extend the life of the batteries.

Battery Array (optional)

Energy during the day is collected by the solar panels.  This is fine for day-time use, but what about night time and times when the Sun doesn't shine? 

Batteries can be used to store extra energy during the day, so it can be used at night and during cloudy days when the panels are not able to collect enough energy from the Sun.

This IS and optional component.  However, without it, you will not have any electrical energy to use at night.

Power Inverter (optional)

The power inverter is what converts DC energy stored in the batteries or pulled off of the solar panels into AC power used by common appliances.

This IS and optional component.  However, without a power inverter, you will not be able to use AC appliances.  This will significantly diminish the usefulness of the energy you extract with your solar panels.

Solar Tracker (optional)

Solar trackers are used to keep solar panels tilted and panned to the optimum position to collect the most energy.  Their use has diminished over the past few years due to the lower cost of solar panels.  

The idea is that the solar panels would be mounted so that they can be tilted and aimed by a set of actuators.  As the Sun crosses the sky, the panels would follow it.  This increases the collection of energy somewhat.  

Likewise during seasonal changes in the Sun's altitude, the Sun tracker would tilt the solar array up and down to collect the most energy for the season.

These are optional components.  You will get more energy collected by using them, but the money is probably better spent adding more panels to the array.

In portable, trailer-mounted arrays, seasonal adjustments can be done with a crank handle and human power. 

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