PacB Group // Are Solar Solutions a Good Option?


Are Solar Solutions a Good Option?

Until very recently, the cost of solar panels and battery storage has been on a downward cost curve year on year, making the installation of solar solutions, whether for cost saving, backup power, or both, more affordable and attractive. This holds true for residential, commercial, and industrial power users. Many people assume that the bulk of our power still comes from coal-fired power plants because coal is cheap and the power from coal-fired power stations is therefore the cheapest. The decline in the cost of solar and wind power over the last ten years has swung the balance in favour of renewable energy sources as far as cost goes.

Larger solar plants can now provide power at a lower rate per kilowatt than Eskom can. Some futurists are predicting that solar will eventually provide power at a lower cost than a utility’s cost of transmission from a centralised power station, excluding the cost of generation. Solar power solutions are cheaper than geothermal, coal, or nuclear. The argument against renewables has evolved from one of cost to more technical considerations, such as intermittency and the need for high-torque base load provision.

Solar and Grid Unreliability

For both the man in the street and commercial enterprises, cost is not the only consideration. In fact, it can be argued that continuity of supply is more important than cost even though cost is important. Unfortunately, the South African power consumer is being expected to pay more and more for less and less reliable electricity supply. South Africa had the lowest cost of electricity globally for many years, a fact that attracted power-hungry industries, such as aluminium smelters, to set up operations in the region. This cost benefit no longer exists and the reliability of supply has also deteriorated, leading to many power-hungry industries closing or moving to other countries. Fortunately, solar solutions exist for businesses and domestic users.

Solutions for Residential Users

Solar solutions coupled to energy storage have become an attractive option for residential users to mitigate the inconvenience of load shedding and frequent technical outages. Solar solutions are an alternative to a fossil-fuel-powered generator, offering potential savings when the grid is available and backup power when the grid fails. It is important to note that string (grid tie) inverters are usually not suitable for residential users because they do not produce solar power when the grid fails and are not designed to work with batteries.

Solar panels produce energy during the day, which is stored in a battery and then used at night or when the grid fails. Solar solutions offer virtually instant, silent backup power at almost zero cost (other than the capital cost of the system) and need very little management by the end user. The fact that excess power can be employed to give the end user savings makes this a very attractive solution. The only downside is that the initial capital cost tends to be high if a reputable installer and high-quality components are used.

Solar Solutions for Commercial and Industrial Users 

Although in principle, residential and commercial solutions are similar, it is not just a matter of scale. Large commercial systems are complex and nuanced and require real expertise to install and commission. Large commercial systems are more often predominantly aimed at creating savings on power expenditure and less about continuity of supply. Utility scale batteries (large-scale energy storage), have come down in cost but are still relatively costly. Industrial-sized diesel-powered generators are employed to provide backup power in the event of grid failure on many of the bigger solar solutions while the cost savings come from a solar component consisting of solar panels and string inverters.

In principle, the most significant drawback of these systems is the fact that the string inverters (also known as grid or grid tie inverters) are designed to switch off if the grid fails. In practice, this means that if a grid failure occurs during sunny conditions, the solar panels will not produce power until the grid returns. There are ways to simulate the missing grid in order to allow the solar system to continue generating power from the sun, but this requires specialist knowledge and may require additional equipment. Typically, a diesel generator or a battery-capable primary inverter is used to simulate the grid when the actual grid is off.

Generators and Solar Solutions?

Many people are under the impression that generators and solar solutions are either mutually exclusive or need to run as separate sources of supply. Some, on the other hand, believe that any generator can be coupled to their solar system and will happily integrate with it and charge the batteries or allow their grid tie inverters to operate in tandem with a generator.

The use of generators with solar solutions is possible but is not as straightforward as it may appear. The first misconception is that a small petrol-powered generator can be coupled to an inverter in a solar system and will then enable the mains charger in the inverter to charge the batteries, typically at night or during extended rainy weather. Unfortunately, these generators produce notoriously unstable output, which most inverters struggle to qualify as grid. This leads to excessive switching of the relays in the inverter and inevitably, failure.

A company like PacB has the specialist knowledge to integrate solar solutions with generators where possible and desirable     .

Making the Right Choices Requires Expertise

If your requirement is for a professionally engineered solar system, whether residential or industrial scale, PacB is renowned in the energy industry as a manufacturer of superior-quality generators and an installer of solar solutions from residential to industrial scale and will provide what you need.

Solar solutions can be complex and nuanced and a multitude of factors need to be thoroughly understood and matched to the customer’s site-specific conditions and requirements. At PacB, we can assist with the design and installation of a solar solution optimised to your specific requirements. Residential systems offer guaranteed continuity of supply with a savings component that pays the capital cost of the solar solution off over time.

We have expert knowledge and experience with the integration of solar solutions and generators, including peak demand control. With the continuity of supply issues South Africans are currently experiencing and the ever-escalating tariffs as Eskom tries to finance its mountain of debt, a generator is becoming mandatory for most commercial and industrial entities to ensure continuity of supply. Solar solutions can be added to help hedge the cost of electricity going forward. Contact PacB today and guarantee always having electrical power.

Our qualified technicians offer support and advice in the selection of the right power solution for your needs by calculating your power requirements.

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