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Get Started With Solar

Energy Saver BulbSo, you want free energy from the sun?

Although it's not as simple as just slapping some panels on your roof, it's not extremely difficult to do either.

Every veteran solar energy user will tell you, before you go solar, you must learn to conserve energy. This implies a change of lifestyle and habits.

Whether your motive in changing to solar energy is to save the planet, or save money, the cheapest energy... is the energy you don't use. A person looks at their R2500 electricity bill and starts trying to estimate how much a solar power system costs will quickly abandon the idea when they see the price tag. But if you already use a lot less electricity than normal, then a solar power system becomes more and more feasible.

There are three simple steps that won't cost an arm and a leg, and you can start and finish them in a week:

  1. Buy a solar geyser. The rebate system may, or may not fall away soon. But even so, a solar geyser is a very prudent investment - the best time to get one is now. Solar geysers will reduce your monthly power bill by 1/3. This is a fact. (Unless you have really bad hygiene, in which case you probably don't wash too often, and you won't see much of a difference...). And buy locally produced geysers. We don't produce PV solar panels, so be proudly Chinese in this regards. But we certainly produce very good solar gesers, and they usually include installation and 5 year warranties. Be proudly South African. It will grow this industry and create jobs if you do.
  2. Now you've removed, or effectively removed your 2kW geyser. The next biggest guzzler of power in a house is your kettle and stove. Switch to gas, and buy a stovetop kettle. Gas is expensive, but it is instantly on and instantly off. No-one would naturally leave a gas flame on, and the result is that you use less energy by habit.
  3. Eskom can be credited with the largest rollout of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) in the world. This was a simple step, and it saved SA (and every home owner in it) several power plants worth of electricity. Simple. Easy. If you still have incandescent bulbs in your home, change them now. And don't worry - if you don't like the submarine coloured fluorescent white, warm white CFLs are available everywhere. LED lights are still expensive, but if you buy them now, you'll probably never need to think of them again. LED lights have a very long and reliable lifetime, and they are extremely efficient.

Solar Geyser SystemOnce you really are taking onboard an energy saving lifestyle like this, you will be very much poised to start investing in solar panels and batteries.

Next question: how much solar do you want to switch over to?

Changing you lights, computers and electronics over to solar is an attainable goal. But changing everything over to solar is more difficult (I mean expenisve). The reason is simply this - you  need big and expensive inverters.

Sine wave vs Square waveTo explain: In SA, we have 220V AC - sine-wave. This type of power can run all 220V appliances. Inverters produce 220V, but not quite the same - the wave is called square-wave, and it runs ALMOST all 220V appliances. This definitely includes CFL lights (works fine), computers (works fine), cellphone chargers (works fine), laptop chargers (works fine), and TVs (works fine).

But fridges, freezers and anything with motors in them - not so fine. Actually not at all. Actually maybe damaging them. They need pure sine-wave. And don't be fooled by the term "modified sine-wave". It means square wave. What is more, motor loads, like fridges, have a big start-up current - usually 13 times its power rating. Meaning that you already-expensive-sine-wave inverter needs to be rated a lot bigger too.

This is a problem.

12V DC fridges exist, but are so far characterized by small size, low-efficiency, and a bit steep on the price tag. But they still are cheaper than, say, a 2kVA pure-sine inverters.

So to put it simply - if you are considering buying solar, your lighting is a great place to start, and running your computers off solar is also an easy thing. But if you are in the outback and have no power, and need to run your entire home, entirely off-grid, then you will need to consider your budget a lot more carefully.