The following is a simple writeup intended to give you an overview. There are two ways to utilize solar panels. Either by connecting to the utility/power company's grid or to your own batteries. The most common method is to connect the solar panels to a control box that is connected to the utility power. As you generate power that lowers your electric bill by supplying power to you with the result that you use less power from the utility, and may even give you credit for unused power. The utility company is your “battery backup.” But if the power grid goes down so do you as you depend 100% on them to for electricity. If you think that sounds counter intuitive it is because it is! What I am mostly interested in is to store power in batteries so that when power does go down I can continue operating. This also uses solar panels but the control box is a bit different. Rather than connecting you to the power grid it connects you to one or several batteries. The same controller manages the power coming from the panel(s) and sends it to the battery. It ensures that the battery is being charged properly and is not over charged, it also ensure you don't over load it nor deplete it. The power from the solar panels are low voltage. This means that if you want to run a normal appliance you will need to convert it to the 110V your appliances runs on. For that you use an inverter. They vary in capacity from a few watt (enough to run a small lamp) to thousands of watt. The kinds of batteries you should use are called Deep Cycle batteries. Unlike traditional car batteries these are ideal for the kind of charging and discharging associated with this kind of use. Often Marine batteries are dual function meaning they can be a used in a car or as deep cycle batteries. You can connect multiple solar panels to get more power just as you can connect multiple batteries to store more power. A plan needs to be made to match your budget with the capacity you want to get maximum efficiency. A solar contractor can help work out the details. A federal tax credit of 30% is available in 2016. Also, there are financing available that will charge you from your monthly savings preventing any cash outlays. (Technical notes) For the do-it-yourself'ers there are a number of factors to consider such as total power load, cable lenghts and thickness, how high they run above the roof and if in a pipe. The method of securing to the roof (most common) without damaging your roof and create water damage. For example, the satellite antenna installers damage more roofs than any other profession. You need to carefully consider the different types of batteries available for this kind of use. At the same time a properly designed system can work for many years so it is a good idea to use or consult with a professional.
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