If you are planning to make a switch to an alternative energy resource to minimize expenses on electricity bills or you are suffering from consistent power outages or scheduled load shedding and want an off grid electric source to power your home and office, you should know certain things before spending money on buying the required power device for that purpose. Solar energy systems are best alternative to traditional electric generators that can fairly cut short your monthly expenditure on electricity needs. Solar electric power setup does require an initial investment but you will get a permanent source of our own electricity generation. Good quality solar panels can last decades if not get broken or damaged. Charge controller and inverter both can also serve you several years before making any trouble. The only part of the whole setup that wears out faster is the batteries. So, you may need to change the batteries each year or after every few years. But again if you buy some high quality batteries, that repeated cycle of changing batteries will slow down.
These days, hybrid solar inverters are also available which will simplify the Solar setup to generate power. These solar inverters got charge controller and inverter built in so you don’t need a separate charge controller and separate power inverter. Hybrid solar inverters can also charge the batteries with grid power at night time or when weather is bad for several days and you are unable to charge the batteries with solar panels.
There are several things you should be aware of if you have already made up your mind to buy a solar power unit for your need. I shall list them down so you could study them and make the correct decision before going to buy it. Like every other power source, solar electric source also requires a feasibility analysis. Once feasibility report is prepared, you may go ahead and buy your own solar electricity system.
1- Confirm your electricity demands:
This is the first step to begin with. If you intend to utilize solar power backup at night time or occasionally at day time as well, solar panels and necessary setup size shall be different as compared to the entirely off-grid solar power system. For that purpose, you may need to use the solar system size calculator (Use Google search for this calculator. You will find several provided by solar power system manufacturers).
Suppose, your grid tied power requirements are 1000 Watts per hour (1kWh) and you need just one hour backup and sun shines for 6 peak hours, you may need to get solar panel(s) designed to supply approximately 160 Wh to batteries to charge them before using their backup. Once your batteries are charged, you can start using them when sun has set. You will get approximately 1 hour backup with this setup. To extend your backup to suppose 4 hours, you need 4 solar panels each supplying 160 Wh or one large solar panel generating 640 Watts per hour for consecutive 6 hours. The size of charge controller and batteries shall be different for each setup.
Now, if you want an entirely off-grid system, you need to calculate your requirements for such setup. Suppose, your power consumption is 1000 Watts hourly (or 24 kWh in 24 hours) and sun shines for 6 peak hours, you will need 24 or more solar panels with necessary setup (charge controllers, power inverter, large enough batteries) if each panel is capable of producing 1 kWh electricity during peak hours. Note that these examples are for reference only provided that system is 100 % efficient which is not possible in reality. Therefore, you have to consider power losses and system efficiency as well for calculating actual size of solar power system. For your ease, you may ask solar electric system manufacturers or dealers to confirm what size setup will best fit your needs.
2- Confirm your budget
Considering your budget is extremely necessary. Equipment required for the whole setup is not cheap. Only solar panels will cost you a fortune if your power needs are very high. Secondly, you will need to buy appropriate size batteries because this system won’t work without batteries. Even though you can connect solar panels directly to power inverter (if panel voltage output and power inverter voltage input matches) or small devices that require low voltage direct current to work but that will create a lot of troubles when intensity of sun differs due to smog or clouds.
3- Check the availability of space
Yes. That is a very important factor to consider. If your house is small or office space is not enough or you do not have access to roof or private open area is not available, you can not install solar panels. Depending upon your electricity needs, you may need to install several solar panels may be of larger size. So, to fit them, you need appropriate space. If you live at an area where there are trees all around shading the ground, you might not be able to put panels to efficient work as these will not receive enough sunlight. Before spending money on this alternative power system, make sure enough open space in direct sunlight is available.
4- Climate of area
This is another factor to consider. If you live in Alaska, Canada, North America, Russia or some other region where there are very few peak sun hours or clouds cover sun most of the time, solar power system is not going to serve you well because solar cells of panels require strong sunlight to knock electrons and produce electricity. Day light under cloud cover does produce small amount of current. But that won’t be enough to charge batteries or for your needs. Deserts and hot southern plains are best to build a solar park for fulfilling commercial electricity needs. Areas where tornadoes builds or hail storms hit often are also not the best places to install such vast setups. You can still choose this alternative energy source for small residential or official needs if you are sure you won’t suffer from major loss or insurance will compensate that if any of such devastating storm hits your area.
5- Maintenance needs
Solar power system requires some regular maintenance. You need to keep the panels clean from dust or dirt for maximum power generation. If panels are covered with layer of dirt, they are not going to serve you well. Secondly, you may need to adjust the direction of panels to increase their efficiency. To get rid of such hassle, you can buy automatically adjustable solar panels that will detect sunlight and rotate their direction accordingly. The other things out of whole system that require your attention are batteries. They wear out over time. So, you may need to change them. If you are using flooded lead acid batteries, you need to regularly top them up. By using sealed gel batteries or lithium batteries, you will get rid of hassle of repeated maintenance. Still, you need to keep an eye on their performance and change them when required.
Note: In some countries, if you generate your own electricity and put that in the grid, electricity supplying companies pay you a complimentary price for that. So, you can earn some money through this mean as well.