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What is a solar electric or photovoltaic system?
Photovoltaic (PV) systems convert sunlight directly into electricity. They work any time the sun is shining, but produce more electricity when intense sunlight strikes the PV modules directly. When sunlight interacts with semiconductor materials in the PV cells, electrons are freed and subsequently captured to create an electric current.
PV systems are made up of solar cells; multiple solar cells are connected to form a PV module. A PV system connected to the utility grid includes these components:
- One or more PV modules
- An inverter, which converts the system's direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity
- Batteries for energy storage or backup power in case of a power interruption or outage (optional)
AC electricity is compatible with the utility grid and is used to power our lights, appliances, computers, and televisions. Appliances that run directly on DC power are available, but can be expensive.
Things to Consider Before You Buy a PV System
- PV systems produce power intermittently because they only work when the sun is shining.
- Photovoltaic systems connected to the grid get additional electricity automatically from the utility; non-grid or stand-alone PV systems require batteries to store energy for later use
- If you live near existing power lines, PV-generated electricity is usually more expensive than conventional utility-supplied electricity
- PV power requires a high initial investment; you can lower the cost of your system by taking advantage of State of Hawaii and federal tax credits and incentives
In Hawaii, customers who own PV systems benefit from Hawaiian Electric’s net metering program. Customers are billed for the net electricity purchased from the utility over the entire billing period—that is, the difference between the electricity coming from the power grid and the electricity generated by the PV system.
Through net metering, customers obtain the full retail electricity rate—rather than the much lower wholesale rate—for kilowatt-hours of PV-produced electricity sent to the power grid. Hawaii residents significantly benefit from net metering due to high retail electricity rates.
For more information on net metering, visit Hawaiian Electric’s website.