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Batteries for Solar Power Systems

As you already know, a battery is an essential component to a fully-functional solar power system. It’s important that the energy generated from solar panels is stored in these batteries so that power is consistent when the sun is no longer shining. So what batteries for solar are suitable for your home or business?

Batteries for solar power systems in South Africa (or PV batteries) look very much like car batteries. Of course, depending on what you need, these come in various sizes. If more than one battery is required, multiple batteries for solar power can also be packed together in what’s called a battery bank. What many don’t realize is that batteries must be maintained in a similar fashion to a car battery. This article will show you how simple it is to do this. But first, let’s look at the two different types of batteries for solar available—and which one would suit your requirements.

Battery BankDifferent kinds of solar power batteries for solar

  • The first and most common solar power battery is the deep cycle flooded lead type acid battery. That’s a mouthful! But all it means is that the battery cell plates are fully submerged in electrolyte fluid (hence the term ‘flooded’). The batteries have been used for solar power systems since the early days when solar power was a new concept. Therefore, they have a good reputation of reliability and a long lifespan. Deep cycle LTA batteries are also among the most affordable.
  • Deep cycle valve-regulated lead acid batteries are slightly more expensive. However, they come with a longer lifespan and less need for maintenance. The user does not need to continually change the water within the battery because it has been designed to renew its water continually. The battery works with a special kind of gel as opposed to the flooded design of the above mentioned one.

These are the two main types of batteries for solar power technology. There are various different sizes and types of batteries within these two categories. If you speak about one or the other, a decent solar power vendor will know what you are talking about. But which of these two categories is the best for your needs?

The right battery for your building

Either one of these battery types can be used for your home or office. However, VLRA batteries will last longer in an area where there is poor ventilation. Other factors to consider when making your decision include the following:

  • Are you willing to maintain the battery every few months?
  • Can you afford a slightly more expensive battery that will last longer?
  • How much energy do you want your battery to store?

The price of your battery will determine the quality you ultimately derive from it. As mentioned, deep cycle valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries may cost more, but they will last longer and require less maintenance. However, if you are looking to power a large building, you mayTypical Battery for Solar need to purchase multiple batteries—ones that are slightly cheaper. In this case, a battery bank system may be the answer.

Battery bank systems

A battery bank allows you to pack and connect multiple batteries in order to store large amounts of electricity. Together, these batteries effectually form one large battery. This is not usually necessary for a medium size house, but will be required when powering a large building such as an office block or factory.

If this is the route you are taking, then you will probably want to purchase batteries that are cheaper—therefore deep cycle LTA batteries. There may be more of a maintenance requirement with these, but the once off price will be a lot cheaper than deep cycle VLRA batteries.

How to care for a solar power battery

  • Temperature: It’s preferable that batteries are kept in a storage room or compartment where they are protected from external elements. If your batteries get cold, their performance will be negatively affected. It’s also important to keep them free from dust.
  • Bank of Batteries for SolarBasic maintenance: Your batteries should be fully charged every three weeks to maintain their efficiency and lifespan.
  • Charging: There are some who say that a PV battery should be charged down every once in a while to extend lifespan. However, this can actually cause permanent damage to your battery, so always keep it fully charged if possible.

You now have a good overall view on PV batteries. All that remains is for you to purchase batteries that are the right size for your needs. Also be sure to select a trusted brand to avoid disappointment in quality and efficiency.

* YouTube video about choosing batteries

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Why do you need an inverter for using solar panels?

The inverter is an expensive addition to a solar power system. So are you wondering if you can do without it? In short, your solar power system will not function AT ALL unless you have an inverter in place. That’s because inverters convert solar power-generated electricity into USEABLE electricity.

The electricity generated by your solar panels is not compatible with the devices you use in your home. Yes, it is an electric current; but it’s an unstable form of current. Inverters help to stabilise the current so that it can be used appropriately throughout your home or office.

Let’s see how this device functions and how it contributes to your overall solar power system.

Current transformation

A direct current (DC) is a live electric current that has not been regulated. This current is nothing more than a surge of electric energy. But once this current enters an inverter, it changes its Solar Panel and Inverterwhole makeup. This is where it is transformed into an alternative current (AC).

The difference between these two currents is fairly simple to explain. Think of a battery. It has two opposite points; positive and negative. Because of this, we derive regulated power from a battery to power a torch or radio. An inverter transforms DC into a regulated electric current that has a positive and negative wave flow.

Now that this ‘wave’ of electric current is being sent out of the inverter’s other end, it can power a household device or light. But there’s more to an inverter than simply transforming the current.

Voltage regulation

Inverters not only stabilise the current into an AC form, they also regulate the strength of that current. This is an important part of its function because if the alternative current is too weak, it won’t power the devices needed. On the same note, if the current is too strong, it may damage appliances.

The inverter ensures that the correct amount of current flows into your home. As additional appliances arHow an Inverter Fits into a Solar Power Systeme being used and switched on, the current will increase. When less is needed, the current will decrease.

Different kinds of inverters

There are various inverters designed for different types of systems. Understanding these differences will help you to identify which inverter is appropriate for your setup.

Some inverters produce a higher output voltage than others; while other types (such as three-phase inverters) are compatible for large buildings like factories or massive office blocks.

So how can you know which inverter is the right one for you? Well, simply ask yourself the following questions and relay this information to the company you are purchasing from:

  • How much power are your panels generating? When you know how much DC current needs to be processed, you will be able to identify what kind of inverter is needed to handle that amount of current.
  • What devices are you trying to power? For a home environment, a regular inverter will do the trick. But if you are looking to power computers or high-tech equipment, you will need Typical Inverterto get a pure sine inverter (an inverter that puts out a highly refined voltage).
  • How large is the area you are powering? Remember that solar systems can be built for boats, camping equipment or even a single laptop. These would obviously require a smaller inverter than one needed for a large building.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you will be in a better position to find the right inverter for your purposes. But when you do make your purchase, there are some other factors to keep in mind. Will you need any additional components?

Additional inverter components

Inverters work best if they are coupled with complimentary components. These additional components offer safety during use and will protect your equipment from getting damaged. Some examples of these components are:

  • Overload protection: Sometimes the components within the inverter which regulate the Wall Mounted Invertercurrent get damaged. If this happens, the electrical current can surge and cause irreparable damage to a device—or even injure the user. In a case like this, overload protection will shut down the entire device and prevent any further danger.
  • Grounding error notification: If any of your solar power system components are not adequately grounded, a grounding error notification component will warn you of this.
  • Overheat protection: With all these components working 24/7, it’s possible that overheating can take place. Overheat protection components will shut down the system to prevent permanent damage to any of these expensive components.

As we have seen, an inverter is an essential part of a solar power system. Make sure you get the right one for your needs.

* This YouTube video touches on different types of inverters

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What Kinds of Solar Panels Are There?

Are you a South African who’s ready to change over to solar power? Different kinds of solar panels have different looks, efficiencies and costs. If you want to make an educated decision on which is the best for you, here’s some info on the most popular ones currently available.

When it comes to picking the right kinds of solar panels for your home or business, three questions must be asked:

  • How much electricity do I want to generate monthly?
  • What is my budget?
  • Do I have any aesthetic preferences?

A quick word on terms regarding kinds of solar panls

Something to take note of before reading further is that efficiency of solar panels is often depicted in percentages. If you hear that a solar panel puts out 12% efficiency, this means that out of the solar radiation that hits the panels, 12% of it is harvested and converted into Kinds of Solar Panelselectricity. To put this another way: out of the amount of potential solar energy hitting the solar panel, only 12% is actually utilized for the purpose at hand.

New kinds of solar panels in development

We’ll get to those three kinds of solar panels shortly. But it should also be mentioned that we will look at three of the most popular kinds of solar panel on the market. There are however many other technologies not mentioned here. Further developments are always being made in renewable energy. But if you want to understand the main solar panel varieties in South Africa, read on.

Polycrystalline Solar panels

Don’t let that big word scare you. All you need to remember is that polycrystalline is a type of silicone used to produce solar cells. What’s great about these cells is that they are the cheapest to manufacture.

But this factor is not the only one that has added to their popularity. Polycrystalline solar panels were the first major panels to be produced in many countries. This is why they remain quite popular in less-developed countries.

Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar PanelsAnother interesting fact about polycrystalline panels is that their cells are not uniformed like other types of panels. The cells are laid out in a way that resembles shards of glass stuck together. It’s because of this layout that these solar panels are among the less efficient ones in South Africa (about 13.5%).

But despite this slightly lower efficiency, these kinds of solar panels are purchased by the thousands in South Africa. That’s because they are affordable, flexible and sturdy. Home owners may not opt for this type of solar panel simply because it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as other types. However, businesses and factories are less likely to worry about looks, and more about price.

Monocrystalline solar panels

Here’s another big word. But again, this is just another variant of silicone. But in this case, Monocrystalline makes up one of the slightly more efficient kinds of solar panels. Not just because of the material itself, but because of the layout of the cells within the panel.

Unlike polycrystalline solar cells, these cells are laid out neatly in rows within the solar panel. Manufacturers have recognized that this enhances the efficiency to about 20%. While this may not seem much higher than polycrystalline cells, it is a big difference in solar cell terms.

If you think about a solar panel sitting in the sun atop your roof, you realize that every minute it’s exposed to the sun, it’s creating energy. That small percentage multiplied over a period of days, months and years makes a huge difference.

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These panels are the most popular for home owners at the moment. They look good, work well and are quite sturdy. Some may see a slight drawback in the flexibility of installation. Because Thin Film Solar Panelsmonocrystalline panels are thicker than others, they sometimes pose installation challenges for oddly-shaped roofs.

Amorphous solar panels (thin film panels)

In first world countries, amorphous solar panels are the hottest variety for home owners. Out of the three discussed here, this is by far the most developed. Despite its new arrival on the market, it has been received with enthusiasm—albeit a slight sense of mistrust.

As with all things new, people are skeptical to spend their money on kinds of solar panels that don’t yet have a reputation. But testing various kinds of solar panels has shown that amorphous solar panels put out an efficiency of approximately 26%. That’s a lot more than the other two we’ve looked at!

Unfortunately, amorphous solar panels aren’t popular enough in SA yet. You’d be hard-pressed to find these kinds of solar panels in the country unless they are directly imported. However, it won’t be long before this technology reaches us as there is currently a manufacturing plant being set up near Cape Town.

YouTube video about the 3 main types of solar panels

What Does a Solar Panel Consist Of?

A solar panel is a wonderfully designed component of a solar power system. It has the ability to capture rays from the sun and convert those rays into useable energy. A couple of decades ago, people marvelled at this technology. But today, solar power is becoming quite common. In fact, it’s quite likely that it will be the norm in South Africa within the next five to ten years.

So, are you interested in the technical aspects of a solar panel? What material is it made up of and how does this material contribute to the panel’s function? Let’s go deeper and see what these panels consist of.

A string of photovoltaic cells

At the heart of a solar panel is a small entity known as the photovoltaic cell. A panel mostly consists of a number of groups of these cells which are stringed together. The more cells as panel possesses, the more energy it can generate.

Super Close Up Solar PanelThere really isn’t much more to the inside of a solar panel than the cells it is made up of. Therefore, to answer the question, “What does a solar panel consist of?” we must look at the material used to make these cells. Many people want to try their hand at making their own solar panels. While this is possible, it isn’t as easy as you may think. The materials used are quite specialized. Let’s take a closer look.

Materials used to manufacture cells

Two dominant materials make up a photovoltaic cell: Monosilicon and polysilicon. Some solar cells are made of one or the other, while others are made up of both. But regardless of which one is used, both perform the same function.

The materials are called semiconductors when they are slotted on top of each other like a sandwich. Silicon is part metallic, so it’s made up of the perfect material to attract, conduct and reflect sunlight. Of course all these cells are placed beside each other and are connected, thereby creating the momentum of energy flow.

When light from the sun hits these cells, they generate a kinetic charge. This energy isn’t electricity yet, but it is ultimately converted into useable energy once a current flow is generated. This current is then converted by an inverter into the same power we use to power our homes.

A sturdy frame and installation benefits

Close Up of a Solar PanelBut are you more interested in how these solar panels are fitted onto the roof of a home or business? Some ingenious systems have been developed in order to accommodate unconventional solar system installations. For now, we’ll just look at normal methods.

The first thing to consider is that most solar panels will be installed onto the roof of a building. But different roofs are built at different angles—and some are shaped unconventionally. It is therefore important that solar panels accommodate all kinds of installation challenges.

For this reason, individual mounts are used. These mounts are like brackets which are fitted to the roof prior to the panel being placed. They are fastened with large bolts to ensure sturdiness, after which the solar panel is then fitted.

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Weather proof solar panel

It goes without saying that solar panels must be completely weather proof. This is especially true in South Africa where we have hot sun, lots of rain, and of course hail storms. The bottom part of our country is also known for its strong winds. So how are solar panels protected from these elements?

A thick type of glass is used to cover the insides of the solar panel. This glass is super tough and cannot be easily broken. Even large hail storms will not crack or break the exterior of a panel. This glass also provides great protection from hot sun while letting the sunlight in to do its job on the cells. Rain won’t get through to the inside either because the glass is properly sealed against the metal frame.An Array of Solar Panels on a Roof

For windy conditions, the installer relies on sturdy brackets. As mentioned, these are fastened onto the roof with strong bolts. Strong winds are not likely to move these panels unless the roof itself is compromised.

Different kinds of panels and their efficiencies

The silicon components discussed here are used for conventional solar panels. But it’s worth mentioning that other materials are sometimes used to increase efficiency. As technology advances in this area, better methods are being found to enhance the functionality of solar panels. But cost must also be taken into account. So to date, the solar panels available in South Africa are the most efficient and affordable in the world.