Facts you should consider before installing a solar panel plant in your home

Solar panels or Solar Photovoltaic (PV) is a technology and a simple solution where solar energy is converted to electrical energy and used to run electrical appliances. What if you wanted to install a solar panel plant at your home?
Solar panel installed on a roof of a house in sri lanka
Renewable energy consumption (https://singularityhub.com)

One of the main topics under discussion these days are energy efficiency, sustainability and use of renewable energy. When it comes to energy, stacking of bills has become an essential part of our typical daily lives. But now there are solutions to minimize your energy usage and to give a rest to spending huge amounts of money on that. Solar panels or Solar Photovoltaic (PV) is a technology and a simple solution where solar energy is converted to electrical energy and used to run electrical appliances. What if you wanted to install a solar panel plant at your home? What should you consider the most when doing that? So, here is a simple guide to know your basics before you do that. In this article we talk about the things you should consider before installing solar panels in your home in Sri Lanka

Can your roof support a solar panel?

Roof arrangements to have a better results from solar panels
Ideal and not ideal solar panel rooftop installations (http://brightensolarco.com)

Solar panels should be installed where the direct sunlit areas are exposed to outside. This helps to generate a continuous supply of power. But if your roofs are shaded by trees or don’t receive a proper amount of sunlight over time, you would have to be a bit more concerned with where to install the panel. You can install it on an outside supporter if the area is secure. But this will cost more than the usual installation. When it comes to installation of solar panels in sri lanka for Colombo, the solar panels are needed to be oriented about 7 degrees to the horizontal in southern direction.

For better results, you can also install solar tracking devices which tracks suns pathway during the day, this helps to generate better results even though it costs a little bit more.

Can you cover the preliminary costs?

The cost system varies from company to company or from place to place. And you should be able to cover the preliminary costs including initial cost and financing costs along with maintenance costs. It will take a certain period to start saving since the preliminary total cost is high depending on the system. The price would depend on the site location, size of the required system and the other physical factors that needs to be addressed. The upside is that the solar technology has become a common use in the worldwide residential areas causing a rapid fall of the prices.  For an example if a customer installed a solar panel of 1kW on the roof, according to our tropical climatic conditions it should generate approximately 115 – 125 units  per month.

For 2kW average,

  • On grid power system will cost about Rs. 300,000
  • Off grid power system will cost about Rs. 400,000
  • Hybrid systems will cost about Rs. 500,000

(Prices may differ according to the system sizes, company of purchase and the location of installation)

The installation of the solar panel

Installation time varies depending on the size and the conditions of the site of installation. Generally, a 5KW system can be installed within a 2-3 days. A 10 KW system can take 1 or 2 days more than that. When installing the solar plant, the customer should enter in to the ‘The Agreement and Grid Interconnection Standards for Net-metering of an On-grid Renewable Energy based Generating Facility’ with the CEB or LECO. When selecting the proper system, electricity bills of three months should at least be examined to get the approximate energy consumption. Residential systems with proper maintenance can run for about 20 years.

Related Article : All about Green Buildings

When it comes to the solar panel systems, there are generally two types in Sri Lanka.

1. Grid tied solar systems / Net metering-based system

There is a method called net-metering. This is a policy which enables customers to consume the renewable energy/electricity on their own and to export the excess to the national grid. So national grid becomes an energy bank for the energy generating customer. But they are also allowed to consume this energy when they are in need.

In Sri Lanka, both Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Lanka Electricity Company Pvt. Ltd. (LECO) are supportive of this policy. The excess electricity generated by the customer which is exported to the national grid can be redeemed within a 10-year time period.

Grid tied solar panel system
Grid tied solar panel system (https://energyinformative.org)

The solar power system installed in parallel to the grid will generate energy that is equal to the average monthly consumption.  The solar inverter will convert direct current (DC) into alternate current (AC) and regulate the flow between grid and the place it is installed. When energy is generated in the daytime, it will be consumed by the household appliances and equipment while the excess is added into the grid. When the solar power is absent in the nighttime or the rainy days, the electricity will be imported from the national grid. The meters will be installed by the LECO and CEB to keep the track of Net Reading which will be added to the monthly bill.

2. Off grid solar systems/ Battery storage system

The second type is about permanently reducing your electricity bill. This means the batteries are used to store electricity and used during the night times and the rainy days without importing electricity from the national grid. Therefore, the idea of looking forward to a bill will be gone. And economical wise, this contribute to a sustainable future. Lead-acid, lead-gel, or lithium-ion batteries are used in these systems. Therefore, you must be aware about their lifetimes, efficiency and safety before purchasing a system.

The customer should also consider the capacity of the battery. An average 4-person home consuming around 4,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually would require a battery capacity of 4 to 8 kWh. If the capacity does not cover the household demand, then the importing power from the grid becomes a necessity which completely fails the idea of being electrically independent. But this grid electricity import occurs only when the battery is fully discharged.

Off grid solar panel system
Off grid solar panel system (https://energyinformative.org)

Where to buy Solar Panels in Sri Lanka?

When buying a solar power plant, you should know whether the company you are purchasing from is registered under Sustainable energy authority. If not, issues will arise when connecting the solar panels and the national grid. One should also worry about the durability of the solar panels in the market. Type ‘A’ Panels are recognized as the most efficient and the durable panel.

Typically producing 1kW system for a single month equals to 0.69 kg of CO2 saved, with 400 light bulbs powered and 1.18 univalent trees planted. Using solar energy is easy to adopt and this contributes to the green economy by reducing the carbon footprint of a building. Having a residential solar panel plant will be a great step for a sustainable future as communities.

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P. Ramawickrama
Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Moratuwa

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