Generating power for your home, with alternative energy systems can seem fairly daunting, if you don't know how the system works. There are several different types of power systems you can use to power up your place. Most of them work similarly, in that the sun shines on your solar panels, which is then converted into electricity, or the wind turns the rotor, which in turn drives the generator, to create electricity.
Generally the power created in this manner is dumped into a battery bank, and you use the power out of the batteries, usually through a device called an inverter. The inverter changes the voltage you've stored in the battery bank into standard household current. Most homes are set up with power from utility companies, and use AC power, which usually is 120 volt, for light duty functions and 240 volt for the larger heat producing appliances in your home.
Now I've tossed out there several different terms, that may need more explanation. I'll list the different items, and give a short summary of what they are, how they work and how they interact with the rest of your power system. I'm sure no one wants a long drawn out explanation but rather a short description how these items work together to make your home power system produce the power you use.
Solar panels: Using sunlight, panels heat up and convert the heat to electricity.
Wind turbine: wind moving past the blades, turn a generator, creating electricity.
Battery bank: This is how you store, and use the power you've collected, via the panels and turbine.
Inverter: changes the electricity from DC to AC so you may readily use it.
Basic electrical terms
AC is short for "alternating current." AC is the standard form of electrical power you commonly use at home. AC power cycles at 60 cycles per second, meaning the electricity switches direction quickly, back and forth, so as to seem to always be on, and producing the desired results with the appliances you have plugged in, and turned on. When you grab a hot wire, using AC power, the electricity will continue to hit you until you shut the power off, or manage to let go of it. AC power is very dangerous.
DC is short for "direct current". DC is the type of voltage you will have stored in your battery bank. DC only moves in one direction, and will only bite you when you first touch it, and again when you try to let it go. Many farms and ranches use this type of power to charge the electric fences, around the pastures. In small voltages DC is extremely safe, and usually wont hurt you.
The reason for the two differing types of electricity are: AC can be transmitted for long distances, with smaller wire, and has less line loss than it's counter part DC Line loss occurs when power is transmitted over distances. The further away your appliances are to the power source, the more power you have to push through the wires.
When the telegraph became a part of the American communications system, the power source was from a battery bank, made up of "dry cells". Because the power is lessened by distance, the telegraph relied on "relay stations" along its length, to rebroadcast the messages sent.
Other Basic Terms
Volts: The power type or force Amps: The strength of power flowing through the wires Watts: The amount of power required to run a particular appliance Resistance: The degradation of power being transmitted, because of the physics involved.
I promised you I would keep this short and simple, so we won't go into this too deeply. Electricity is an atomic action, whereby an electron is transmitted through wires, to the units you want powered. When the electrons travel through the wires, part of the wire is transmitted with the power. Over time, wires wear out due to this, and can cause bad connections.
There are some mathematical equations involved with the previously mentioned terms. Voltage times amperage equals wattage. 110 volts (ac) times 5 amps equals 550 watts. If the appliance requires 110 v to operate, and uses 9 amps of power, then it will require 990 watts to keep it running. Mostly you won't need to know these things, if you set your system up properly.
Using a home power system
Finally we get to what you were looking for! Solar panels generate a finite amount of power. The stronger the sunlight the more power you can generate, but a panel can only deliver so much. So you'll need many panels, to allow you to use however much power you need. Solar panels will work on cloudy days, but not as effectively as in the direct sunlight.
The panels generate electricity and send that power to your battery bank. Since the batteries are DC, to use this power in your home it goes through an inverter. That changes the voltage from DC to AC
The battery bank will be set up to store the power you produced from the solar, or wind plant. Usually the battery bank will be 12volt, or 24 volt, or various multiples of these. (By the way, your car uses 12 volt DC to run most of the systems in it.) The battery bank is designed to cycle, meaning the batteries will be charged and discharged many times throughout the day, So, the size of your battery bank is as important as the number of solar panels, or the size of your wind plant. (how much wattage it produces, under ideal conditions)
This is just a basic overview. If you are interested in learning more, there are lots of books written about it. Using a home power system can help cut down your electric bill, but the hype about the power company paying you for your excess power is not really a reason to use this system.
This type of system is most beneficial when the power goes off, due to storms, downed power lines, or over usage, as in the brown outs of the east coast, during peak peak usage times, when everyone and their cousins are using their air conditioners in summer, and heaters, in the cold of winter.
If you are going to set up an alternative power system, like the ones I've described, remember to set it up for excess power rather than just the bare minimum. You'll generate more power in the summer than in winter, due to shorter days and less sunshine. Also wind is not steady, though it sometimes seems like it. And … The higher a wind plant is set, the more wind you'll be able to use.