Solar Power - The Way Forward For The Planet

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    Nov 15, 2012
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Solar power is something which many people have heard of, but know little about. When hearing that I live with solar power, and have done for eight years, people often make comments like, “But is it real electricity?” “So you do you have electricity at night?” “Isn't it just 12 volt?” In fact, once you understand solar power and get used to it, for most people who have it it is far superior to grid electricity.

I live in a remote place, and there is no grid electricity available, nor is there likely to be. So the choice is to have a generator or to have solar power. (Well, it's possible to live without electricity – one and a half billion people in the world are forced to do so – but it doesn't make for an easy life).

A solar system at its simplest consists of solar panels which directly operate a piece of equipment. For example, a farmer may need a remote pump operating during the day. In this case, solar panels can be directly connected as a power source to that piece of machinery. A more usual system involves a battery or batteries, to enable the power to be stored. A very simple system would involve a solar panel, a charge controller to enable the electricity produced to be stored in a battery, and of course a battery. This is the kind of thing you would find on a boat or or RV.

A normal household solar power system would have solar panels, a charge controller, an inverter, which converts the power into, say 110 volts to enable it to be used for conventional electrical equipment, and a bank of batteries to allow the power to be stored until it's needed. It will also have a control panel to allow the user to understand the status of his or her system, for example, how much power is coming in, how much is being used at any one time, and how much is available.
Once you have swallowed the high capital cost of solar power, it's virtually free to run, and this makes it an attractive financial proposition over the long term. Costs of solar panels are coming down, slowly but surely, but battery costs and the costs of associated equipment such as charge controllers and inverters stay relatively high. The battery bank will need replacement from time to time, and how frequently you need to do this depends on how carefully you use it.

Batteries like to stay in reasonable equilibrium. They don't like being repeatedly run down low and then charged up again, this has a drastic effect on their lifespan. The careful solar power owner will nurse his or her batteries like babies. Some batteries, such as gel cells, need no maintenance, but if you have batteries which require topping up with distilled water, for example, you must do this religiously to keep them happy.

One of the key things that you need to do when planning a solar system is work out your usage levels. Every single thing that you are likely to want to use has to be added into the equation. Incandescent light bulbs, that is, the old fashioned kind, not modern energy saving ones, are astonishing users of electricity, because we tend to use several at once and have them switched on for extended periods. Anything with a heating element is greedy for power, so things like electric coffee makers and hairdryers, although they can be used, need to be used sensibly.
Once you've decided on your energy use, then you design a system to produce the power you need. A system which would allow for the reckless use of power common in many homes, with ac turned up to full blast, every light burning, electrical appliances left on standby, and gadgets like electric can openers used at every turn, is going to be be very expensive, and give pause for thought. So consumption patterns need to be examined too – do we really need to be using electricity as if it were limitless?

In the solar home, everyone has to be conscious of power use. Is it a cloudy day? Then let's not use the bread maker today (remember, it has a heating element). It the sun really bright? Then it's a good day to use power tools.

In my solar home, I have two fridges, a freezer, TV, several computers, satellite internet, lights, fans and a few gadgets such as power tools, a blender, hair dryer, and a bread maker. Most of the time I can use these without thinking, but on cloudy days, I may have to decide not to use the hair dryer, for example. At least, unlike the rest of the country who are on an unreliable grid system, I have never once had a black out or even a brown out. I wouldn't have grid power now if you paid me.

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