FAQs about Solar & Wind Power Solutions

YOU Magazine approached us recently to answer some questions set out by one of their Journalists but decided not to go to print due to the length of the response. So we decided to put it to get use and add it as a blog post for you to enjoy.

Q: What options do consumers have when it comes to Wind Power? 
A: Wind Power is not really a feasible option for urban environments. This is due to the fact that wind turbines need consistent wind in the same direction to gain enough speed to start generating power. With disruptions to the wind caused by buildings, trees, vegetation and other large structures, turbines often do not gain the necessary traction to do this efficiently. They fare better when installed in rural environments, such as wide open plains or out at sea where there is less likelihood of disruptions in the wind. Solar power is far more cost effective in urban communities as it provides more consistent power at a considerably lower cost per kWh (1kWh = 1 unit of electricity). As a simple comparison, in ideal conditions a 1kW turbine can be expected to produce approximately 3960 kWh annually at an installed cost of an estimated R 40 000.00 whereas a solar system providing the same yield of energy will cost approximately half that.

Q: Are there ways to introduce it slowly to suit a pocket?
A: No, a wind power system doesn’t lend itself to modular installation like a solar power system does.

Q: Where do you start looking for help and what kind of things do you need to keep in mind?
A: This is applicable to both wind and solar power systems. It is advisable to contact a reputable company with good references, that has proven record of experience with renewable energy systems. With the high demand for power systems brought on by load shedding, the renewable energy industry has exploded. This is somewhat of a double edged sword – on one hand, system components have become far cheaper and more available than 10 years ago, but at the same time, many companies have started selling this equipment without the necessary knowledge or experience to provide safe and/ or accurate advice. We appeal to you to do your research on any company you use and not just base your investment on cost. Take note of accreditations and qualifications of the company you are dealing with. While the internet has a lot of information available, there is also a lot of misinformation which leads people to buying the incorrect equipment or installing systems themselves without the necessary knowledge of how to do it properly. This not only leads to damaged equipment but wastes hard earned money. The bottom line is that working with electricity is high risk and you should always use a professional. Do not trust people who say it is not. Your installer should provide a certificate of compliance on completion.

Q: Where do you start?
A: This is also applicable to both wind and solar power systems. The first thing you should do when you are thinking of investing in a power system, is prepare your home by becoming as energy efficient as possible. The more power you use, the more power you need to generate and the more costly your power system will be. You can become more energy efficient by replacing all your indoor lighting with LED lights and your outdoor lighting with LED or solar lights. Reduce your reliance on anything that generates heat. Invest in AAA rated appliances (be very careful here as some companies have done an internal rating based on their range of equipment rather than on the international standard) which has manipulated consumers into believing they have energy efficient appliances when they in fact, do not. Invest in gas cookers instead of a stove and solar water heating systems or gas geysers to heat your water. These are just a few things you can start doing immediately to start saving on electricity costs while preparing to invest in a renewable energy system.

Q: What would it cost a consumer to have this installed?
A: This is also applicable to both wind and solar power systems. This is very much dependent on a wide range of factors and is not as straight forward as one would expect. Installation costs depend very much on what type of system is being installed, what size system is being installed, if any rewiring is required, if any changes need to be made to the property (even to the extent of trimming trees to ensure efficient solar production). Wind turbines require concrete slab foundations and guy wires to be installed as well, so all these requirements need to be taken into account and can differ from household to household.

Q: What hidden costs could there be?
A: This is also applicable to both wind and solar power systems. Over the years, companies have started selling packaged systems for convenience. These are designed to be available to a wide range of people, and do not necessarily include additional accessories required for installation at your particular premises (things like lagging, piping etc). While professional installers will do their best to provide a comprehensive quotation, some accessories may not be included in the initial quote as installation issues may only arise during the installation itself. Another hidden cost that people are often not aware of are maintenance costs that may come up from time to time. For example, we had a client whose solar array’s daily yield dropped drastically. After an investigation into the matter, it was discovered that this was due to dust from passing traffic that had collected on the panels over time. A cleaning service had to be brought in to resolve this issue.

Q: When you get quotes for installation, this is what to watch out for.
A: This is also applicable to both wind and solar power systems. When getting a quotation for installation it is important that the installer can provide a certificate of compliance. Another thing to watch out for, if applicable, is that the equipment is approved by your local municipality. We would recommend researching the installation company ensuring that they have more positive reviews than negative. Ask the installer directly if there are any hidden costs that may occur. They are required by law (i.e. the CPA) to provide this information upfront. It’s a good idea to get this in writing.

Q: How long would an installation take? Where would you install it?
A: This is also applicable to both wind and solar power systems. This again depends on a number of factors similar to those listed in the installation cost question. As to the question of where, a wind turbine would need to be installed in a big enough area to cater for the guy wires and the concrete slab foundation. Wind turbines cause a lot of vibration too so please bear this in mind. You will need permission from your neighbours for this install due to the potential height of the wind turbine and its location to your property’s boundaries. Solar panels should ideally be installed on a north facing sloped roof for optimal power generation. A battery bank should be stored in a dry, well ventilated area and should be raised off the ground with adequate space between each battery. Inverters should ideally be installed as close to the battery bank and solar panels as possible. All electrical equipment should be installed to standard and out of reach of children.

Q: How popular are wind power home installations in SA?
A: Due to the restrictions specific to wind turbine installations, it is far less popular than domestic solar power installations. There is a great deal of interest shown due to the levels of wind we experience, especially on the coastline, but people tend to opt for solar once they have been provided with the options available to them.

Q: Anything else on this topic you think is important for readers to know and understand?
A: We have seen the industry achieve exponential growth in the last decade. What was a niche industry with a small number of players has now become a mammoth that is continuing to expand. The demand is increasing availability and making these solutions accessible to more and more people. It is also making room for further research and development to take place, thus providing improved solutions for all. This is the way of the future.

Q: What options do consumers have when it comes to Solar Power?
A: Going completely off-grid (i.e. zero reliance on Eskom) is not going to come cheap unless you use very little power. Not only do you need to have enough power storage to power what you use daily, you will need to increase the battery bank (the most expensive component of a solar power system) to allow for rainy days when there is no sun.
Solar Power Back-Up kits are the most popular choice currently. Supplementing one’s current power usage is a more feasible option for those who want something to see them through loadshedding while at the same time starting the journey towards less dependency on Eskom. Solar Power Back-Up kits include a battery bank and use a combination of solar and the grid with an inverter managing the power supply. Should there be a power outage, certain lights and appliances will remain on.
Grid-Tie systems are another option here. This is where the solar power system is used to supplement power usage to save on electricity costs. However, purely grid-tied systems do not have a battery bank which means that this system will disconnect and not provide power should there an outage.

Q: Are there ways to introduce it slowly to suit a pocket?
A: Yes, solar power systems can be designed in such a way that they are modular and can be expanded upon at a later date. Investing in this sort of system may be a high capital investment but you will save in the long term. Starting with a small system and then adding on a number of other small systems may be a small initial investment but it will cost more in the long term. The budget you have in mind will affect the outcome of this decision.

We hope this has provided some insight into renewable energy and that you will make use of our free professional advice when investing in solar power.