January 14, 2017

24 Hour Solar Power!

Solar power is one of the best inventions since sliced bread, I reckon. 

Unlike sliced bread, it's not that easy to understand. You think it would be simple, put some panels on your roof then you will have the power you require to run your house.

There are things to consider, such as all the different types of panels, inverters, and matching the size system to your appliances, then the cost. 

What if I move? Is it worth it? How long will it take before I get my investment back? These are some more common questions, on top of the myriad you are probably already thinking.

If you know someone with solar that doesn’t understand it, they always say they wasted their money. In some cases, that's true. I am going to tell you my story with solar and how I learnt all about it.

Most of my life I have been a sales trainer, so I know all the tricks. I love spending hours sitting down with the solar guys, listening to their terrible sales skills and, unfortunately, mostly lies. I am a person that, if it's not logical to me, I won't be involved in it. So after sitting down with lots of solar guys learning about all these different systems, I came to the conclusion it's just not worth it. These are some of my reasons of why it didn’t make sense to me.

If the electricity grid is down you don’t have power? Hang on your telling me that I can produce my own power on my roof, but if the grid power is down, my system won’t work because it requires mains power to work?

If one of your panels is shaded, your whole system won’t generate power, the same if one of your panels dies? Really? You're telling me that a bit of shade blocks one of my panels, it'll stop producing? Yep, no power.

Once the sun goes down, you're back using the grid system at peak rates!

These are just a few examples that drove my logic side crazy! Reason being, my wife and I had spent almost $2000 on a solar panel, a couple of batteries, and a generator for just in case, and travelled around Australia for three months. We didn’t require power, and lived like Kings and Queens.

Living off solar for three months in the bush got me thinking that it is so easy to set it up in your car, so why is it so different to the house? My solar setup in the car worked without 240 volts, it produced power when it was shaded,  and when the sun wasn’t there it just ran our two fridges, all our lights and charged our phones. It did everything we wanted and more. We met lots of people that had microwaves, coffee machines, you name it, all running off a car in the middle of nowhere!

So, you can see why my logic brain was going insane when the sales reps were saying that's not possible to have. Based on what they were saying, if you want a solar set up, you have to be connected to the grid. What they were really saying is the systems that they all sell are the ones they make the most money out of, and no one really sells the other systems because they are not that profitable.

After over 5 years of research and asking questions about solar, I learnt the mainstream solar systems that are sold these days are the most profitable systems, not the best systems for our planet. The distinct impression I got was who really cares about the customer, once it's on their roof and the money has changed hands, it no longer becomes the sales rep's problem. He/She has their commissions and they are off to the next place to do another deal. However, in saying this, not all solar sales reps have that intention- most of them just don’t understand it themselves and completely believe what they are selling is the best thing, sadly they are just not educated enough on it.

I have a friend who is in his 70’s and he worked for PMG (Postmaster General), which is what most of us know these days as Telstra. His job was to go around and check the solar setups that they had on the telecommunications towers in rural parts of Australia. We have had conversations for hours and hours about this, and the main question I asked was how often did you change batteries, panels and replace parts for the system?  Trust me I grilled and grilled him for information. Most of his working career he just drove around and looked at the towers, checked them and moved on to the next one. My understanding is that some of these systems have been set up 30-50 years ago, still working with very little issues and they run without any input from the 240 volt grid.

One of the reasons that these great systems designed and built to last never took off is that they were large and financially expensive. This led the powers that be to look at creating all this new technology that they are trying to sell us these days- on first appearance it seems to be financially cheap up front when compared to the price we are paying for power now, however it's just not the best thing for the future of our planet and our people. It's good for the economic system, and that's about it.

What I always look at when purchasing anything is what the Embodied Energy is of that item or product. This in a sentence is 'the sum of all the energy required to produce any goods or services'- with this in mind, it is hard for me to make a commitment to a solar system, knowing that there is a better solution out there. Finally some larger companies are starting to invest in the correct technology, in my eyes.

Here are some tips on what processes I would recommend to go through, before you switch to solar.

First thing is to do an energy audit on your house, buy a watt meter and test all your appliances in your house.

Switch your lighting to LED where possible- it normally only takes about 12-18 months to get your financial return on your investment. If the price of energy is like everything else, it is only going to get more expensive as time goes on.

If you are on electric hot water, next time your system dies put in a solar hot water system. They have longer warranties, fewer issues, and, once installed, there is little or no cost to run them.

If possible, switch to gas cooking and heating, and use a stovetop kettle on gas to heat water instead of an electric kettle. Even if it means buying yourself a gas BBQ (if natural gas is not available in your area) and doing your cooking and heating water on that. It will not save you a fortune in money, however it will allow you to have a smaller battery bank and do better for the environment. For every 100 ton of coal burned to make energy for the grid, only about 30% at best makes it to your home due to losses in the grid system.

Take a good look in your fridges and freezers. Yes, most people these days have a couple of fridges and freezers that are full of lots of unnecessary items. Do you really need to keep all that extra stuff?

Have a look at what you have on standby around your house and what is taking your hard earned money by wasting energy for no reason. After installing a watt meter in our own place, I reduced our standby cost per hour from 20 cents per hour to 6 cents. If that saves us 10 hours of standby time per day, (5 in the middle of the day when no one is home and 5 at night when everyone is asleep) there is  the potential to save us $511 of potential saving per year. The maths is as follows: 20 cents - 6 cents = 14 cents × 10 hours = $1.40 per day × 365 days a year = $511.

Read your power bill to learn it and understand it. Your power bill is the cheat sheet to know when your peak time of day is, and what you get charged. You could save a couple of hundred dollars per year just by putting the washing machine and dishwasher on after 10pm or before 2pm- most energy companies have a peak charge for any power used between 2pm and 10pm at night.

If you understand what uses energy and when in your house, it will make picking the right size solar system easier.

When choosing a solar system, the most important thing, in my opinion, is to get one that has batteries. You can get away with a small battery bank, and that will pay for itself in no time, as most of the power we use is between the hours of 3pm and 9pm. That is why the cost of energy is so expensive at this time of the day, as it's the peak period when everyone comes home from school and work, and starts using power, the sky gets darker, we cook dinner etc. It does not make sense to sell power to the energy company for less than what they sell it to you for- that's unfair in my opinion. This is an extreme example: you sell them your power you have made all day for 8 cents per kilowatt, and if you are on a peak rate you buy it back for up to 38 cents per kilowatt.

Having a small battery bank will allow you to create your own power during the day and store it to use at night in that peak time, which is when you will save the most.

Ask for a grid connect switch. What a grid connect switch does depends on how you have it wired, for example, you can have it wired so that when your batteries get down to 70% the system switches over to the grid. This saves your batteries, as what kills the batteries is when they get cycled all the time. Cycling is when they get lower than 50%, and then charged again.

You can also have your grid connect switch wired so that certain power points in your house are always connected to the grid, again that will help save your batteries. For example, common things that people usually have connected to the grid are washing machines, microwaves and fridges. Maybe you might have some large power tools in the garage, so you can have some power points there connected to the grid and not the battery bank. 

Solar Panels

The best panels, hands down, are Copper indium gallium selenide solar cells. There have been some real advancements in this technology the last few years, and the quick answer as to why this has not been the technology that most companies push is because it requires a larger panel to produce the same amount of power as a Mono or Polycrystalline panel- until now.

They have less Embodied energy and are better for the environment. Now that more mainstream companies are investing in the production of it, the costs are coming down. All the big players invested in other technologies in the factories who produce solar panels have resisted the change in their production lines, due to the cost of redesigning the factory's production lines. Another example of a decision made for the benefit of the economic system, not the planet or the people. If Governments had made the choice of investing in solar for everyone's homes with a battery back up, we wouldn’t have any energy industries (or a very little one), and people wouldn’t need to work so hard just to earn money to survive.

Do some research on these panels and you will see the reason they are so hard to find and why they are not the Number 1 panel sold in the world. There was a time when something that was the best selling item was the best product in the market. Unfortunately, these days the best selling products are normally the ones with the best marketing budget, and which item the big companies will make the most money out of.