Things you should know when starting your solar journey
As a South African, we know for a fact that you get a lot of bang for your buck. But we think there is room to invest in something else: the environment! Living in South Africa, we’ve got one huge benefit – we got a lot of sun. Solar power may seem like an expensive way to go about things, especially when you're on a tight budget. However, with the right combination of having enough money saved up, or looking at finance options, you could make your dream of going completely off-grid a reality. Here are 5 simple things you should know before investing in solar energy:
Your lights and appliances
Before you make the switch to solar power, you should evaluate your home's energy usage. Lighting accounts for about 40% of the average family’s total energy use, so make sure you’re using LED light bulbs instead of incandescent. If you haven't already made this replacement, then you'll want to do that before making the switch. These bulbs use less electricity while also lasting longer than regular ones,
Electric appliances also use a lot of electricity. To avoid the grid, it's a good idea to replace your stove and heater with gas appliances.
How much space do you have?
Solar power requires a lot of space. Firstly, you need about 20 solar panels that can fit comfortably on your roof. Next, you’ll need the space inside to store your batteries. How many batteries depend on how big your installation is but expect about 30 batteries.
The ongoing maintenance
Although solar power systems typically don’t need much maintenance, they do still have to be maintained – particularly the solar panels. Over time the panels can become dirty, which reduces their efficiency. Fortunately, hosing them down usually sorts this out. And although the panels have lengthy life spans, you’ll probably have to replace them every 25 to 40 years, which can be an expensive exercise.
When it comes to batteries, you will need to replace them from time to time. The newer ones available today, fortunately, do tend to last longer than those previously on the market. “Lithium batteries need replacing every 8 to 10 years, especially in hotter parts of our country. Typical solar deep cycle batteries like lead, calcium, or other AGM [absorbed glass mat] batteries only provide 1 500 to 2 500 recharges. These ‘old school’ batteries require replacing every 3 to 5 years,” says Paul Lombard from energy solutions company Regenergy.
Have a backup plan
Even if your plan is to go off the grid completely, it’s important to remember that technology has its limitations. Should your solar power system stop working, for whatever reason, make sure you have a backup system in place so you’re not sitting in the dark until it can be fixed.
The hidden costs
There are a few hidden costs you should be aware of. Typically, 2 types of Small-Scale Embedded Generation (SSEG) systems are used when going off the grid: the grid-tied SSEG system and the off-grid or standalone SSEG system.
There are a few costs you need to take into consideration when going off-grid. Typically, there are two types of small-scale (localized) energy generation systems that tend to be used when it comes down to going off the grid: the grid-tied system and the standalone one.
With grid-tied SSEG set up, you'll get access to the electrical grid. However, in return for having access to the energy in the grid, you will typically have to pay a service fee on top of an electricity fee which is charged per KWh (Kilowatt hour). Unfortunately, there are some hidden costs in these services because they do not exist in all municipalities. Take some time out to call your office representatives and see whether there are any hidden costs.
You also have the option of going the grid-tied non-feed-in PV route, which means any excess electricity you generate on your property is blocked from feeding back into the grid.
For off-grid capabilities, you need an off-the-grid SSEG system. This is a standalone system physically separated and electrically isolated from the grid.
What will it cost to go off the grid?
Start-up costs can be expensive depending on your usage needs. Estimates have put off-the-grid systems in the range of R150 000 to R350 000 which is quite costly, but the good news is that you can go solar gradually.
How to choose a Solar Installer
Deciding to install a solar system is a big decision. A solar system is a 30+ year investment, and it’s critical to find a company that will stand behind their work and is available to honor any warranties. To help you select the best solar installer for your project, we suggest looking at these factors.
Look at their online reviews and speak to their customers
You can learn a lot about a company by reading and listening to their customers. Check out the company's Google and Facebook reviews. Ask the company for a list of past customers you can talk to. Look to fellow businesses, friends, and family for recommendations.
Look at their experience and qualifications
A good company will have a strong track record of quality and reliability. Spend some time looking over their past projects and checking their qualifications, such as a PV Green Card that you can use to find an installer or check on your installer’s credentials here.
Examine their warranty
Your products, like the inverter or solar panels, usually come with a good warranty, but they are most likely not going to fail. Instead, look over the installer’s workmanship warranty, which warrants their work for a few years, promising to fix any issues or provide support at no charge to you.
We know that there is a lot to consider when making this big decision. We will help you on your journey to do it right. In the next couple of days, we'll take you on a journey to "going off-grid." We'll have creative and informative posts and FAQs. And if you're stuck, we're ready to assist.