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Configuring Your PV Array

Joe Schwartz

One of the most user friendly aspects of photovoltaic (PV) technology is that it’s a modular

energy source. Individual PV modules can be wired together in different configurations to meet the voltage, current, and power requirements of a specific system.

The big benefit of this modularity is that an increase in energy demand can easily be met with an increase in solar production. This represents a 180 degree shift, both technically and conceptually, from the large, centralized energy sources that provide electricity to most folks’ homes and workplaces.

To understand different PV configurations, or how individual PVs can be wired together, you need to have a few principles of basic electricity under your belt. Getting a handle on these concepts is an indispensable step toward designing and installing your own PV system.

Making Sense of Series & Parallel

Many electric components can be wired together in two basic configurations—series and parallel. The PVs and batteries used in renewable energy (RE) systems are typically wired together using a combination of series

PVs Wired in Series

©2002 Joe Schwartz

and parallel connections between the individual components.

The circuitry in your home appliances also relies on networks of series/parallel connections. And series/parallel configurations are not limited to electricity. For example, the collectors and tanks used in solar thermal (hot water) systems can be plumbed in series or parallel configurations, depending on the application.

Let’s take a look at a couple of simple electrical circuits to illustrate the difference between series and parallel configurations. A series configuration places all the components in a single electrical path. So the electrons flowing through a series circuit must pass through each individual component.

Series electrical connections are made by connecting the positive terminal of one component to the negative terminal of another. If we connect the positive terminal of one PV to the negative terminal of another, the output of one module is electrically tied to the output of the other. Like links in a chain, the modules are working in series to charge the battery. See the diagram below, on the left.

A parallel configuration creates multiple paths for the electrons to flow through. Once again, let’s use a couple of PVs as an example. A parallel connection between two PV modules can be made by running the positive and negative output wires from each PV to combiner

PVs Wired in Parallel

24 volts

nominal to batteries

Photovoltaic Modules: Two 12 volt PVs wired in series

12 volts

nominal to batteries

Photovoltaic Modules: Two 12 volt PVs wired in parallel

36

Home Power #87 • February / March 2002

Image | Configuring Your PV Array



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