Utilising the power of the sun

By converting our homes to be reliant on solar power we can contribute to the national effort to reduce energy demand and start shifting towards efficient and renewable energy use. Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). 
A very helpful and easy to understand website, is worth visiting to understand the complexities of running your home entirely on solar power and to be independent from grid electricity (ESKOM).
“Probably the main concern to any homeowner is the high cost of the initial outlay for such a system, which can cost as much as R 300 000. But in the current climate of load shedding, we probably do not have a choice in South Africa. Also keep in mind that the immediate financial implications could be offset when the property is sold, as future buyers might be swayed by the advantages of purchasing solar powered homes. Your monthly electricity bill will be reduced by at least 50% so the system eventually pays for itself. The sooner we convert to a solar powered home, probably the better” shared Craig Hutchison, CEO of Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.
There are many choices of which appliances to convert in your home, and your decision would be based on your needs and financial circumstances.  But the most essential changes are probably:
- All incandescent globes must be replaced with CFL – low watt fluorescent and even LED lighting, which has become more affordable
- Solar geysers make use of the sun to heat the water by circulating through specially designed heating panels (the geyser is one of the largest consumers of power)

Many household appliances are becoming more and more energy efficient - examples of these are:

- Laptop computers
- Solar fridges and freezers
- Evaporative air conditioners
- Electric blankets instead of heaters
- Gas stoves
Starting/planning a solar system for your home can be done in stages.  For example, to start with the basic solar system that will provide power for a TV, DVD, DSTV, a radio and cellphone chargers and say 10 x 15W lights one would require:

- 4 x 80W solar panels
- 2 x 20A regulators
- 4 x 102A Deep Cycle batteries
- 1 x 2000W 24V True Sinewave Inverter  (so that future increased needs can be accommodated)
- 4 x panel roof mounts
- Cables, connectors and flex
- Installation
It is important to invest in the right equipment from the beginning. Of course, thereafter as you add more appliances to your solar system, you would need to increase the size of all the above components, so it is absolutely essential to consult a professional company for assistance. The most important is to invest in a system which you can add onto, without making what you already have, redundant. Batteries can be always be added, but your biggest single item cash layout are the Inverter and Solar regulators. Then you will be able to start off with a system costing less than R 20 000 and expand that to a system worth R 300 000 over a period of time, without problems.

The solar panel converts sunlight into DC power or electricity to charge the battery. This DC electricity/(charge) is controlled via a solar regulator which ensures the battery is charged properly and not damaged and that power is not lost/(discharged). DC appliances can then be powered directly from the battery, but AC appliances need a power inverter to convert the DC electricity into 220 Volt AC power.

 Solar Panels remain the most popular type of renewable energy producer at present because of their reliability and consistency and in South Africa due to the amount of sun we have available. They produce electricity from photons, found in light radiation, which means even on overcast days they will produce something, though they obviously produce more electricity with direct sunlight.
Solar Water Heating Systems are the most popular solar technology around, and many homeowners have at least heard of a solar geyser and/or pool heating system.  The principle is exactly the same for solar geysers and solar pool heating:
Solar Geysers can either be gravity fed, or pressurised. With gravity fed systems, the tank needs to be relatively high up, whereas pressurised don't need to be. All solar geyser storage tanks are insulated, allowing the water to stay hot overnight, and for an extra day or so, in case of bad weather. 
Solar Pool Heating Systems - the water is pumped out of the pool, up through copper tubes inside the panels on the roof, and back down into the pool. Temperatures can be regulated by altering the speed of the pump.
There are many adaptations found in the solar industry where cells have been integrated into building materials, for example Solar Roof Tiles. These integrated technologies are relatively new, but will definitely become more imminent in the future.
As the costs of the various solar components are dependent on what you buy and for what use you want it, it therefore is worth exploring the many suppliers and, as always, ask for references. Lastly, keep in mind that the installations must be done by an accredited solar installer.

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