Solar Power On A Budget
Solar power for those of us on a budget may seem like the impossible dream ,we’re being told to reduce our carbon footprint , but the cost of going solar puts it beyond the reach of many . For those who look in purely financial terms , forgetting the environmental factors , the cost/benefit analysis shows a pay back stretching way out into the future , and further still for those who live in the more northerly or southerly parts of our planet , where the investment required is greater to cope with lower overall light levels .There are a growing number of Solar installation companies who will happily come along to sell and install their products , but do you know for certain that what they’re selling you is the best thing for your situation ? Have you really gone in to this thoroughly ? The chances are you don’t know what is best for your situation , and your either going to take these folks on trust , or decide that the whole thing is just far too expensive . Had you gone into to this thoroughly , and looked at the cost implications it’s unlikely that you would have been talking to one of these firms at all . Happily there are much more cost effective ways of going solar , although they do require you to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in . If the cost of going solar were $2000-$3000 instead of $10,000-$20,000 would this not make the whole exercise a much more realistic proposition ? Today all of the components to assemble a fully functional solar power system are easily available to ordinary folks , armed with good quality information and the will to succeed , going solar is a realistic proposition for most house holds-good news for your energy budget ,and good news for the planet.
As with all projects the secret to success lies in good planning , and in order to plan a solar power system good quality information is needed . Describing all the steps in detail is beyond the scope of an article such as this ,what follows is an outline of the steps to be taken with a link to further information below.
The initial step is to calculate the amount of power needing to be produced , (this one action may lead you to review the whole issue of power usage in your home) , are you properly insulated ? are your appliances up to modern efficiency standards ?, are you using low energy light bulbs etc ? The two fig
ures you’re most interested in are average usage over the course of a year and peak usage .The answers will help determine how to size your solar installation and what kind of ongoing relationship you will have with your existing power supplier .You can either become completely self sufficient , or have a two way deal with your power company,( you buy all you use from them ,they buy all you produce ,this way you don’t have to size your system for peak usage ,and provided your system produces more than your average usage you end up in credit). Another decision to make at this stage is to decide how you will make and store hot water . In some households especially those with young children or teenage daughters this can be a big energy user.
The choices are to use part of the solar catchment available to heat heat water directly through an appropriately sized solar hot water panel , to heat with electricity (not an issue if you’re making enough),or some other means ( a back boiler,or wetback on a log burner).In more northerly or southerly latitudes it is likely that a combination of methods will be needed to cope with long winter nights.
The next step is to carefully assess the available solar catchment,in other words , just where will the solar panels be fixed . This is nearly always a compromise , they should face south in the northern hemisphere and north in the southern hemisphere and be fixed at an angle roughly equivalent to
latitude of the installation , this way they will make the most of the available sunlight . Rooftops are often chosen to avoid shading from neighbouring properties ,this is not always ideal as the panels will need periodic maintenance. A careful assessment of the local micro-climate is also called for , solar panels located in Jedda (Saudi Arabia) will under average conditions and over a period of time produce just over twice as much electricity as they would were they to be located in London (UK). Records of Solar radiation should be available for your location from your National Weather (Meteorological ) office.
By now We know how much power we need to produce and we have taken into account our latitude so we know how many solar panels will be needed the next step is to acquire them . There are two choices here , buy them or make them , as we’re focussing on budget solar power making them has to be the preferred option .Home built solar panels can be made at a fraction of the cost the Solar Power companies charge for them ,essentially they consist of solar cells soldered together to produce an output or around 18 volts (needed to charge 12 volt batteries),a heavy duty diode,(to prevent the batteries discharging during darkness)and a weather proof cover with a glass or plexi glass top.
A full and detailed description and videos of construction methods can be found by clicking on the link below. Once the required number of panels are made ,mounted and linked together they are connected to a charge controller that in turn charges an appropriately sized bank of deep cycle batteries. The batteries are connected to an inverter whose specifications must be matched to the overall capacity of your system and your local voltage and frequency ( the function of the inverter is to turn D.C. electricity from the batteries into A.C. Electricity). Finally a professional electrician will be needed to make the connection into either your own ring main or to a two way metering device provided by your power company. Remember that whilst solar power is the most convenient form of free renewable energy to collect and make use of , there are others , and as everyone’s situation will be different , some may find it appropriate to integrate wind turbines , hydro-electric ,and or geo thermal energy into to their systems. Again with the appropriate research and guidance these other forms of renewable free energy can be tapped into at low cost .
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The author is a keen advocate of renewable energy on environmental grounds , but in recent times has seen a growing economic case for ‘going green’. No matter what your views are on global warming , the economic case for using renewable energy and in particular solar power has never been so strong and will continue to strengthen as time rolls by . For more information , instructional videos , sources of solar power equipment, downloadable e books follow the link below.
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