Wednesday, May 11, 2011

AN IDIOT'S GUIDE TO SOLAR ELECTRIFICATION OF HOMES

We have all heard that Solar energy is one of the best alternatives to electricity generated from fossil based fuels and even hydro-electricity. The advantages are many – it is clean, no carbon emissions, there is abundant supply year-round of ‘free’ sunlight etc. Yet, amid all the rising cost of fossil fuels and the harm they do to the environment, how many of us have thought of using solar electricity for our homes? Why aren’t we reducing our carbon footprint and adopting a more sustainable lifestyle?
One of the main reasons is that although we all are aware that solar energy is good, none of us really know how to go about converting our existing homes to solar electricity or implementing solar energy in our new homes. So here’s a brief look at the things to considered for implementing solar energy in our homes –
·         A basic solar system for home electrification will consist of Solar panels which are placed on the terrace, which is connected to a battery through a solar controller. The battery is then connected to an inverter using a circuit-breaker and is finally connected to the appliance.
·         In a house, solar electricity can be used for all lights, fans, televisions, computers, small water pumps etc.
·         Solar electricity is not advised for heavy equipments like ACs, refrigerators, water geysers etc. This is because if we are to run these appliances also on solar electricity, the area of the solar panels required for generating this power would be too much and the cost will go up a lot. Thus, the circuit for ACs, refrigerators etc will have to be wired separately.
·         In houses, a hybrid system is normally used, wherein, solar generated power is used for lights, fans, TVs etc while electricity from the grid is used for ACs, refrigerators etc.
·         The advantage with such a system is that during operation, if the battery charge falls below the required level, the inverter automatically detects it and connects to the grid to draw the electricity. Thus, the operation is automatic, ensuring continuous supply of electricity. Also the house owner will not have to manually check on the status of the battery charge.
·         The first step is to calculate the total load requirements existing in the house. For this, first identify the total number of appliances used in the house. Then find out the Wattage of each appliance. Next, find out the number of hours each appliance is used. Finally using this data, arrive at the total load requirement.
·         After the load calculation is done, the existing appliances are to be analysed and converted to more efficient ones to reduce the load. For e.g. instead of halogen lamps use CFLs & instead of CFLs use LEDs. Also, instead of 40W tubelights use 28W tubelights. Also, older fans consume around 75W while newer fans consuming just 50W are available in the market. Changing these appliances will reduce the consumption a lot.
·         Once all this is worked out, the exact actual load requirement is known and the exact system can be proposed.
·         Other factors like how much battery backup is required will decide on the type of batteries used. Normally, batteries will last 5-8 yrs and different varieties like 2V lead acid batteries etc are available. 2 types of batteries are generally used – the Maintenance type battery and Maintenance-free battery. The maintenance type battery will last around 6-8 years while the maintenance-free batteries will last 2-3 years.
·         Ideally the distance between the solar panels and the battery is to be kept minimum to reduce the capacity of the wires and the cost of the copper cables. (Normally a 2.5sq.mm copper cable is used, which will cost around Rs350 per meter).
·         The solar panels are kept on the terrace. They are usually 75W panels producing 4amp power. Monocrystalline solar panels are preferred over Polycrystalline solar panels. The panels are mounted over an aluminium framework over a concrete base.
·         The panels are oriented to the South to catch the maximum sunlight. The normal inclination for the panels in South India is around 2-5 degrees, while in North India, it is around 35-45 degrees.
·         The normal life of the system is around 25 years, with reputed agencies giving a warranty of 10 years.
·         The average cost of the entire system is around Rs.3.5 lakhs for 1KW.
The initial investment made will be well worth the satisfaction of having clean energy to light up your home. Also, the cost can be recovered through reduction in electricity bills. So let us all try to implement solar electricity in our homes, to have a sustainable future.



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