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A Practical Look At Different DIY Alternative Energy Options For Residential Homes
DIY Alternative Energy From Home
Why go solar?
For many years, people have realized that it makes sense to use solar energy as a clean source of energy as we have so much available. Community attitudinal surveys since the early 1990s have shown that we would prefer to use solar energy as our primary energy source rather than coal, oil, gas or nuclear power.
This is because people instinctively recognized some of the benefits of solar and the disadvantages of continuing to use fossil fuels or swapping to nuclear power. We just needed to make solar affordable and that’s what is happening. The benefits are many and varied, not just to you, but to society and future generations. Here are just 10 benefits:
1. It can give a good’ return on investment. This occurs by income derived from the PV system displacing some of your current electricity demand, by exporting some excess generation during the day if your PV output exceeds your demand, and by increasing the resale value of your home or business. PV’s potential to do this is improving all the time as PV capital costs reduce and electricity prices increase.
2. It secures your energy costs into the future over the lifetime of the PV system, typically 25 years or more – I use panels that are 30 years old for off-grid projects and they are still at 90% capacity. As your neighbors pay more, your total electricity bill costs stay much the same or increase at a lower rate. Many people are in credit with their electricity retailer due to their PV system and efficiency measures they have implemented.
3. It greatly reduces pollution from fossil fuel use by about 90 percent (IEA, 2001:8). This includes nitrogen and sulphur oxides, arsenic, mercury, lead, fine particulates and greenhouse gas emissions. Every 1 kilowatt (kWp) of solar PV electricity installed in Australian coastal cities saves on average about 1.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year from a typical coal fuelled power station (based on PV system output of 4kWh/day and 1 kg C02 per kWh of coal fired electricity).
4. It produces energy locally at the point of use. This can potentially defer or avoid construction of new plant and connections and reduce network losses, particularly when PV system generation coincides with peak demand periods such as from air conditioning. However, network upgrades may be necessary in some locations when a high proportion of power is generated from PV systems. This is due to the fact that the network was never designed to have reverse flow of power and voltage/frequency control and protection problems may be experienced.
5. When integrated into the building envelope, it can provide, in addition to electricity generation, weather proofing, shading, structural support and contribute to solar space heating. Major tech companies use them in their car parks to shade vehicles during the heat of day!
6. It reduces energy lost in the transmission of electricity over long distances between power station and homes or businesses. With the addition of lithium battery technology, it also creates virtual micro-grids.
7. It provides water savings due to reduced demand for water at fossil fuel power stations used for reactor cooling or steam production to turn turbines.
8. By using existing roofs, it avoids the use of land, leaving it available for other important purposes such as food production.
9. It can create jobs in manufacturing, sales and distribution, installation and maintenance. As well, it employs more people per unit of electricity generated compared to fossil fuel generation, and this employment is spread across both urban and rural areas.
10. When combined with short term storage such as batteries and a suitable inverter, it can increase electricity system reliability by continuing to provide power during outages.
What Works – What Doesn’t
The weird and the wonderful: As technology advances, so do our opportunities to dabble in a little home-how-to energy savers. I’ve been called a “jack of all trades, master of none”, I think it is my curious mind. If it interests me, and I know nothing about it – I utilize the wonderful world of the internet (books are no longer “the source”).
YouTube, online forums and many other sources now provide us the information, eBay, Gumtree, Aliexpress and many more like it provide millions of cheap suppliers for all those necessary bits and pieces to make it all work.
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Quick guide to buying & installing grid connected PV systems
Imagine supplying all your home’s energy requirements from solar energy. Many people around the world are now doing exactly that with a combination of solar photovoltaic (PV) electric systems and solar water heating systems. As I sit here writing this guide, my computer, fridge and other household appliances are running off my solar PV – Lithium Titanate Battery system on the roof above me. As well, I am exporting excess power to the electricity grid, hence supplying some of my neighbours’ energy and being paid well for it. Even better, I no longer pay for electricity, but instead receive a (small) credit from my PV system each quarter. (this usually gets chewed up during the winter months)
There is a solar energy revolution happening globally with huge growth in the application of solar PV/solar battery world wide. This is leading to many new products and players in the market place, all competing for your custom. From a homeowner or business operator’s perspective, this can be daunting and confusing. “Which is the right system for me?” is the common question being asked.
This section outlines briefly the steps in buying and installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, also known as solar electric systems.
1. Do your research
Is the installation of solar PV system likely to suit your individual circumstances?
Do you want to ad batteries either now or later and what size should they be?
What system size would be appropriate for your needs?
A 1.5 kilowatt system would provide about a quarter to one third the electricity needs for a family of three to four with average energy consumption of 18 to 22 units of electricity per day.
Most standardized systems are 5kw due to this being the maximum most municipalities will allow due to the overall effect on the grid. A 5kw system should be ample for most people unless you have a pool or run your AC continuously during the day – then talk to your installer.
Is your roof suitable?
Ideally solar panels are installed in a north facing position with minimal shading for the southern hemisphere, and facing south for the northern hemisphere. You can also split an array East-West if needed – I even have panels on my roof that doesn’t face the sun, being the complete opposite though I do get mid-day sun in winter and plenty of sun in summer (depends on your latitude).
Is your roof flat? then you need to figure in an angled mounting system. Is your roof strong enough? an important factor. Can panels be installed without compromising the weather rating of your roof for both rain and wind? Are you in a high wind area?
2. Obtain quotes and understand the installation contract
Talk to several Clean Energy Council accredited system designer/installers to obtain quotes. Try to find installers that have been around for some time with experience and a good reputation. Ask questions about the amount of sunshine in your area, temperature performance ratings for panels, warranties and any hidden costs such as installation of a new meter or roof repairs.
You should also ask about the payback period for your investment in the solar panel in terms of savings on your electricity bills. Installation can be more difficult and costly depending on the construction and design of your roof. Make sure you read the fine print on any contract document carefully and are clear about how long you may have to wait before your panel is installed.
3. Choose a system
Choose the quoted system that best suits your needs including the quality of all parts, the efficiency and the warranty. The accredited installer will then design a PV system to meet your requirements. Make sure to ask whether the solar PV panels, inverter and design (lay out) meet the relevant country standards. A list of approved panels, batteries and inverters is available from your local government agency.
4. Understanding Rebates and Feed-in Tariffs
There are both Federal and State Government schemes that encourage the uptake of solar PV systems. It is also most important that you take the time to understand these schemes. Details are given in the section titled “What Government assistance is available to make Solar PV more affordable?”
5. Obtain approval for connection
You will need to speak to your electricity distributor and retailer to ensure the necessary approval and connection agreements for your PV system are in place. Approval must be sought before installation. Flowcharts showing the approval and connection procedures for each State and Territory, are available and your supplier or installer may organize this for you.
6. Install the system and connect to the grid
When you connect your PV system to the grid, this should only be done by an accredited installer who is also a licensed electrician. Your state government electrical regulator will also have specific requirements for your system to be connected to the grid.
7. Apply for rebates/Solar Credits
You may be eligible for Solar Credits, feed-in tariffs or other government rebates or support. In some cases, your installer will be able to advise you on these.
8. Post installation
Your grid connected PV system may be inspected by your local electricity authority, depending on the state or territory you are located in. If you have any concerns that your system does not meet the relevant countries standards or has not been installed correctly you can file a complaint against the installer. For all complaints of a commercial nature, you should contact the Office of Fair Trading or the equivalent body in your state or territory.
The Government does not accredit or license installers – the Clean Energy Council accredits system designers and installers. Installers are also licensed electricians and who must install solar systems which meet your country and international standards. Warranties for the quality of installations remain the responsibility of installers.