Tuesday, July 29, 2008

PV System Performance Update

People sometimes ask me how much I save on my electric bill since installing solar panels. I have some difficulty answering that question. While my grid-supplied electricity usage is about 50% less than it was two years ago, much of that is due to energy efficiency improvements I’ve made. Replacing my refrigerator and switching to CFL lights contributed in a big way to cutting electricity usage. Still, my PV system has made a significant contribution and it’s good to evaluate performance now and then.

About my system:

My system can be considered small. If this were my only source of electricity I would be quite limited in the appliances I could use. Although some folks rely on PV systems much smaller than mine to meet all of their needs for electricity, my family prefers not to live with such limitations. I’ll continue to use electricity from the power grid, and continue to enlarge my system as my budget allows. I plan to add 1 or 2 more solar panels before the end of this year, and perhaps 2 more next year. I would like to be able to use wind or hydro, but those options are not practical for my location. Solar fits nicely into my budget, unlike more elaborate solutions such as hydrogen generation.

System specifications and capabilities:

I have 425-watts of PV panels on my roof.
My main battery bank is rated at 630ah.
My spare battery bank is rated at 420ah.
The typical load is a chest freezer, and a refrigerator.
When neither compressor is running, the load can be as low as 5 watts.
The maximum load sometimes exceeds 525 watts.
The system is automated. The load switches to grid-supplied power when batteries are low.

With about 4 hours of sunlight per day, I expect 1700 watt/hours of electricity production.

At 65% efficiency, I should get 1100 watt/hours from the system each sunny day.

My refrigerator and freezer need about 3.6 kilowatt/hours per day for their operation, much more than the PV system can generate. I could have provided a smaller load, but by connecting a load greater than the system can handle I’m not wasting any of the power that the system is capable of producing.

Measured results:

For the month of June, my solar panels delivered 42kwh to the batteries and load, an average of 1.4kwh per day.

My data also shows that I’m sending about 2kwh to the loads each day, more than the solar panels produce. The apparent discrepancy is due to the fact that I top off the charge on my batteries at night with a battery charger. My utility-provided electricity has been very inexpensive at night, and I take advantage of that by storing the low-cost energy for use during the day when rates are higher. This opportunity will end in the fall, when daytime rates go down, and nighttime rates increase. You can learn more about this plan at www.powersmartpricing.org.

When the grid fails:

My day-to-day strategy is to use as much of the solar-generated power as I can for household use, cutting my electric bill. My strategy changes dramatically when grid power fails. Since I don’t have enough capacity to keep my big refrigerator running, I unplug it. I place all of my frozen food in the chest freezer. I place items from my refrigerator in ice-chests, and use ice that I’ve previously stored in the chest freezer. My PV system can keep the chest freezer running continuously, as long as I have plenty of sunshine. I use CFL’s for light, watch TV and listen to the radio, use the microwave oven, charge the cell phone battery, and do most of the other things I would normally do with grid-supplied power. I just have to use this limited supply of power more conservatively.

Winter is the worst possible time to suffer from an extended grid power outage. To conserve electricity, I heat only a portion of my home using my corn-burning stove. Eventually I’ll have a solar PV system big enough to keep the stove running 24/7, but I’m not quite there yet. My system is big enough to meet my summertime needs, but using central air-conditioning is not possible. I have plenty of energy during mild weather grid-power outages, and I’m very comfortable in my home when that happens. It’s a joy to have plenty of light, to be able to use a TV and appliances, and to prepare food while many of my neighbors are using candles. I must admit that I still have a small gasoline-powered generator, but I’ll phase it out as my PV system grows.


I’ll soon be installing another solar panel, and I have a couple of system modifications in mind that I expect will improve overall system efficiency. Starting small has been a rewarding experience for me, and I would highly recommend it to others. You might be surprised by how much you can benefit by implementing a small PV system, and you’ll certainly learn a lot. Each system upgrade makes you more independent, and improves your comfort level in the event of a grid power failure. Producing your own electricity will lead to using less gasoline. By using less gasoline you’ll be sending less money to those who want to kill you or convert you to Islam against your will. For each kwh of grid-supplied power that you don’t use, about 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere, not to mention other pollutants emitted from coal-fired power plants. If many of us do a little, it will help a lot.


1 comment:

James said...

Disasters, Hurricanes, Wind Storms, We’ve seen the after-effects, entire communities without power!

Here are some tips on how to safely restore power due to unexpected power outages and safely use emergency generators.

How to Choose the Right Emergency Electric Generator

How to Safely Operate a Portable Generator and Transfer Switch

Generator Safety Frequently Asked Questions