Let’s take some factors into account and find out.
Firstly: What are the different types of solar systems on the market today.
The Simple “over the counter” system:
In the current market there has been a surge of suppliers who market the “do it yourself” type “plug and Play” solar systems. this sounds appealing to most consumers, it’s much cheaper than the one your Electrician suggested, it’s relatively simple to install and it almost seems to good to be true. Well that’s because it actually is to good to be true.
First off let’s take a look at the design differences between two systems. One over the counter system, and one designed for your needs by your accredited installer.
Over The counter Systems:
These systems are often generic. They assume that each house looks the same, faces the same direction, and receives the same amount of direct sunlight daily.
They do not take into account the differences in load for different households. Some families use more appliances daily than others. These systems don’t take the amount or type of sunlight you would get in your area into account. And finally these systems more often than not don’t distinguish the type of solar panel you will require for your specific location.
Designed for you Systems:
Your accredited design and installer will take the following into account before providing you with a complete quotation for a system that will fit your needs.
Your daily load requirements on average and peak.
Your specific needs (What is it that you expect from this system?)
The direction and angle of your roof, or structure.
The average usable sunlight for the area you are based in.
The type of solar panels you will need, to make the most out of your usable sunlight.
This system will upon installation be accompanied by a valid COC that you may submit a copy of to your insurance provider, so that your investment may be completely and sufficiently covered.
Remember that Solar remains the equivalent of a full 3 phase power installation, and by law, requires a valid COC, completed and signed off, by an Accredited PV Green Card installer accredited Electrician.
Back to basics: What is Solar?
It’s important that people understand what solar cells actually are. Solar Cells are essentially semi conductor diodes with the unique capability of transforming sunlight energy particles (photons) to electrical energy particles or current.
This is achieved by coupling large quantities of very small diodes together to form a type of weaved carpet of diodes that will transform enough energy for a household to actually use.
These diodes are referred to as Cells and are usually arranged in series with one another to form modules and modules are arranged in such a way that they form an array of cells commonly referred to as a Solar panel. (As Pictured )
But Why is this relevant?
Well to explain the relevance, we need to look at the meaning of series connected diodes. Let’s think of a chain, where each link represents a diode, when a link underperforms or is taken out, it affects the integrity of the entire chain or string. The same applies to solar panels, when a single Cell is shaded and thus, not producing it’s maximum capacity voltage output, it will affect the entire panel of cells and all the cells in the panel will be reduced to the voltage output of the weakest cell.
This applies to consumers when the placement of the panels are finalized, this also applies to the type of panel to be installed, East West panels for instance are designed for areas where simple north facing panels simply would not deliver the required voltage.
Solar system Shapes and sizes
Solar Systems come in various shapes and forms that vary mostly in function, affordability and accessibility.
So let’s take a look at the various options when it comes to solar and what the benefits of each option are.
Option 1: The Grid Tie system.
A Grid tie system is essentially a solar panel and inverter combination that subsidizes your existing eskom or municipal supply. This means that as long as there is sufficient sunlight the inverter will power your household or plant by using the solar system for the bulk of the load and using Eskom supplied power for the remainder. However when the sunlight grows weaker the inverter will opt to allow more of your grid provided power to satisfy the load requirements. This system in it’s core is a power saving system, allowing the consumer to save on monthly utilities in order to attain enough capital for the next step in the solar evolution.
Advantages of this system falls mainly toward power saving. With the disadvantage being that this is not a back up system or energy storing system and as such in the absence of Grid power the consumer will still be left in the dark. This method is however a great first step to going completely off grid, if designed for the purpose of a transition system, this may be the perfect way to start off your journey to power independence.
Option 2: Off-grid Hybrid Systems:
Off-grid Hybrid systems are a combination of back-up type systems and Grid-Tie systems. This means that just like with the grid tie system it will subsidize your Eskom power but it will also charge a battery bank simultaneously. This system will thus also give you the power saving capacity of a simple grid tie system but it will also act as a power back-up system for essential loads in the absence of grid power. It should be noted that this option is considerably more costly than a simple grid tie due to the battery bank. The inverter will in the absence of grid power, provide only dedicated circuits with power for as long as the battery will hold (The back up time of the battery will obviously be determined by the consumers need and budget as well as the load requirement of essential appliances)
Option 3: Micro Grid With hybrid and Grid Tied invertors
The micro Grid option is the ultimate in off grid systems. Here we have a main Solar storage and supply system with two grid tie applications. Essentially, as the name indicates, this is a micro grid in isolation. From the Main Inverter line two lines are created where an essential or dedicated load line is assisted by a grid tie that will subsidize the Main Solar Inverter and a load line that is also assisted by it’s own grid tie to fully power the main or everyday load.
Here you may refer to your grid or Eskom as a generator for severe back up situations or you may retain your National grid point for a rainy day. Due to the vast amount of power storage batteries required for this installation type, this is a very expensive option. It is often recommended to start with a simple Grid tie, progress to a simple Hybrid system, and then finally make the transition to the integrated off Grid or Micro Grid system.
3 Things Solar designers wish the consumer knew.
There is no fixing or upgrading an over the counter plug and play system.
When you opt to buy and install a DIY type solar system you are almost guaranteed that it will not perform as promised, phoning your local solar expert to “FIX” this will unfortunately leave you wishing you had a professionally designed system installed instead.
Your initial design will determine the expandability of your system in the future.
Solar systems for off grid expansion are designed with expansion in mind, failure to do so from the start will result in the consumer getting stuck with a system that has no expansion capacity. This will sometimes mean that your initial cost is a bit higher, due to the fact that cost compensation is done to provide invertors, and switchgear capable of expanding to accommodate larger system currents in the future.
You don’t ALWAYS need batteries
In the case of the simple grid tie type systems demonstrated above, you will not always need battery banks right away. This will however always be dependent on the needs of the consumer.
The future of Solar in South Africa
Can private consumers push back into the grid? There are some areas in South Africa that have managed to set up consumer kick backs, and feedback into the grid. This will greatly depend on your specific area.
The National Energy Regulator to date has given no clear directive in the matter and have left it to the discretion of the local municipalities.
The Green Evolution
More and more companies and business owners are moving toward Green Energy or lower carbon emission energy sources with Solar energy being the most sought after solution. This is in part due to the rising cost of electricity but also the mounting pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of each enterprise as far as possible. Thus the rising popularity of Solar is a double sided blade, rising demand will create more competition in the industry and reducing prices for consumers, however this will also lead to large numbers of non-accredited “installers” joining the market. Consumers are thus urged to approach the subject of Solar with responsibility and care.
May your journey into the solar evolution be safe, responsible and fruitful.