How to Maximise Your Solar System Performance for Added Cost Savings

South Africa is rapidly gaining interest in the future of renewable energy solutions for homes and small businesses with solar energy leading the way. Currently, solar power is the main source of alternative energy in United States households “with almost 2 Gigawatts of solar, 1.96 GW in total, installed in the first three months of 2020, P.V Magazine- (SYLVIA, 2020)and with the announcement that all new homes built in California must have solar (Solar Energy Industries Association, 2020). South-Africa is eager to follow in the footsteps of the Americans due to the unstable grid connection and the constant rise of electricity tariffs in the country. Solar has become a major positive differentiator when selling private property in a competitive market.

The main reason for this positive differentiation is cost savings. The initial incurred cost may be significant, however, the solar power system of the average household pays for itself within an average of seven years. Tax incentives and the low cost of solar panel installations allow homeowners to ask themselves what the most affordable way is to make this happen.

If you are already a part of our nation’s evolution towards solar power, the next step is finding ways to get the most out of your renewable energy investment. There are three key factors to consider.

1. Work with the sun to get the most out of your solar panels

You have had your solar panels installed by the most reputable installation company you can find. You should have received a proper usage evaluation and a site study including the feasibility for solar at the desired location.

If a proper site assessment has been done, using software similar to “Helioscope” or “P.V syst”, then you would know that your solar installation will produce tremendous results, with maximum efficiency. The software is intended to draw up an overlay of the roof and simulates an installation with some of the important calculations below:

  • Annual Irradiance – This will be the total irradiance that will fall on a flat plane at the location of the array. Different areas around the world including South-Africa experience different irradiance levels. For example, the same solar panel installed in the same condition in different areas will receive a different amount of solar irradiance, which will impact your electricity production from your solar system.
  • POA Irradiance – Your plane of array (POA) will influence your yield depending on the tilt of your solar panels, fixed or flush mounted and the direction it is facing. Panels in South-Africa obtain the highest irradiance levels at an angle of 20-35° dependant on the months. The Winter solstice sun influences the angle yield factor throughout the year.
  • Shaded Irradiance - shading influences your panels more than any other factor. When conducting site assessments it is often that customer that is eager and financially ready for an installation, however, realises upon conclusion of the site assessment that neighboring buildings or even trees on the property, may cast shade that makes a solar solution not feasible for the residence. Most solar panels are connected in series and even partial shading can reduce the entire connected solar array, affecting the yield.
  • Reflection – If the light is reflected on the surface of the modules, it results in uncaptured energy. This will usually occur during a particular time of day but should be minimised as much as possible. If the solar panels are not installed at the correct angle, reflection can be a large culprit for system power loss.
  • Soiling – Loss of solar production can occur due to dirty solar panels. This can happen as a result of dust, dirt, and even snow in some cases. It can cover the panels and obstructs light from reaching the solar cells.

These are some of the contributing factors that will lead to insufficient solar output.

*Below is an example of what a typical report would look like after a proper site assessment has been conducted.

Even though your solar panels store power during the day and use your reserve supply of energy at night, we recommend that you schedule activities that draw the most power for the sunniest parts of the day while adding battery capacity to utilise the same stored electricity during the night to flatten the usage curve.

This does not require a lifestyle change at all – just mindfulness about which activities are being done at different times of the day. You will soon find that you have gotten into the habit of carrying out the most energy-intensive tasks in the sunniest hours of the day – not at all difficult in sunny South Africa!

Let us look at an example. You are running your pool pump and washing machine at 2:00 PM and find that you need both solar energy and electricity to get these jobs done. But if you switched on the washing machine at 10:00 AM, then the pool pump later in the day, you would be using your solar energy more efficiently throughout the day. This is an easy way to get the most out of your solar power investment during the day.

2. Ensure your home is energy-efficient

One of the best ways to use power efficiently is to reduce wastage and improve energy usage in your home.

Start with your geysers and stoves. There are numerous alternatives to the traditional element geysers or stoves such as gas geysers and stoves, heat pumps, and solar geysers.

Do an audit of your appliances. It may seem you are saving money holding onto a 20-year old tumble dryer, but you will be paying for increased electricity usage. Most new appliances come with energy, efficiency ratings (A+ - A+++). So, it does pay to replace older energy-guzzling appliances in the long run.

*Below is an example of an energy efficiency rating label for a refrigerator.

Insulate your home where possible. Start with the roof and make sure your windows and doors are fitted optimally to keep out the heat in summer and the cold in winter. By keeping the use of heaters, underfloor heating, and air-conditioning units to a minimum, you’ll immediately save on electricity bills.

How many electrical devices do you have in standby mode? You may be surprised how many TVs, computers, and kitchen appliances consume electricity when they are not being used. When not in use, switch off devices and unplug them from the socket to make significant electricity savings over time.

3. Use an app to monitor your solar system

Did you know that there are “Energy Monitoring Systems” (EMS) you can use to track the performance of your solar power system as well as home energy usage, your monthly electricity costs, and even local weather reports.

At Alumo, we use the Alpha-ESS app on the AlphaCloud Monitoring Platform. If you have had a globally recognised Alpha-ESS system installed, you will find this app is an easy way to monitor your system from anywhere in the world. Using Alpha’s internet-enabled EMS, you can see in real-time the performance of your system in three areas: PV Power Summary (P.V generation, battery State of Charge and consumption rates ), System Statistics (Overall view of savings and solar usage vs grid consumption and overall load) and System Information(real-time data of solar production, current surges, and load usage). All you have to do is log in with your Alpha ID.

*Below is an example of what the AlphaCloud app would look like on a mobile device.

When you stay on top of the how, when, and where of your energy usage, you can optimize your overall savings by making empowered decisions.

You can get more information about our solar products available to you by downloading our Solec SA Product Guide.