Many potential consumers want to know if it is possible to run their entire house, with all its electrical appliances including geysers, ovens, indoor heating/cooling, refrigerators, etc. It is still difficult to believe that you can say farewell to Eskom and rely solely on solar power generation for all your needs. The short answer is kind of. But you will need to make sure about what you want to support with your system and then be prepared to spend accordingly. Going off-grid has a lot of factors involved to be successful, this article will attempt to discuss all these factors.
First of all, you need to look at your electricity bill and establish how much power you consume. It would be a great idea to lower your consumption by converting your house to be more energy-efficient. This will give you a more realistic and attainable goal. After this, look at your sun exposure to figure out if solar is a viable option for you and give you an idea of how much power your system will be able to produce. All of this is a much more complicated exercise that a professional installer can do for you, but read our article “How many solar panels do I need?” to have an in-depth look at how to work out your power consumption and power generation capability.
Other factors to consider are the direction your roof faces, the surface area of your roof, obstructions that cause shade, the location of where you stay, and weather conditions. You also need to factor in what to do during the times of the day the sun doesn’t shine coupled with rainy days and foul weather. When you don’t have the sun as an option for generation, you need to be able to pull power from another source. Therefore, many consumers rather opt for a grid-tied system where they can pull from the traditional grid to supply their power needs. But for those that want to be completely independent, a means of power storage is needed. This is where a battery bank is incorporated. When your system generates more power than you consume, it can charge your batteries for usage during the night and in poor weather conditions.
The installation of a battery bank is absolutely essential to go off the grid, but this is inadvertently the most expensive aspect of your system. It is not possible to run your whole house on solar panels alone. You need to be able to store your power and have batteries as a backup system. On average, a battery bank should be able to provide your energy needs for up to two days. Most of our electricity needs are during the night when everyone returns home from work, so your solar power generated during the day should not be wasted, it should be accumulated for later use. A home that has a solar system and battery bank would need more solar panels than a grid-tied system with no battery storage would to charge the batteries, adding more capital output.
Having another source of power is also a good idea for when the weather is bad for over two days and your batteries are depleted. A fuel-powered generator is often used, but wind or hydropower are also viable options.
Going solar has an initial large financial investment and going completely off-grid even more so. But once you have paid off this initial investment, you will have a source of free and reliable electricity for the rest of your life. Your return on investment will take longer to achieve when purchasing a battery bank and extra solar panels for your off-grid system, but you will still save a lot of money in the long run. Trying to cut corners to save money will backfire, often because people don’t want to invest for what they want, and then get angry when they don’t get what they want.
Luckily we live in South Africa and we have great weather conditions for the generation of solar power, so it’s easier and cheaper to convert to solar than in areas of higher latitude. The costs of going solar have decreased tremendously in the last 20 years because of technological advancements, making it more and more viable to adopt solar energy solutions.
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