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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Free Your Home Through Off Grid Solar Panels

Posted by SEPCO

2/26/13 9:37 AM

There are many options when it comes to setting up an off-grid energy source. Solar panels, which draw energy from the sun, are now the most popular among such options, owing to its relative simplicity and consistency. Unlike windmills that depend on the wind, the energy from the sun is constant. Once the solar panel system is set up, it operates virtually hands free.

How An Off Grid Solar Panel Works

solar house

The three major component of an off-grid solar power supply system are the solar panels, battery, and inverters. In an advance system a generator and monitoring devices maybe used to provide an emergency backup AC supply.

The panels themselves may be either monocrystalline, comprising of a single crystal-wafer, or polycrystalline, comprising of many small crystals. Monocrystalline cells have higher efficiency than polycrystalline cells, but costs higher as well.

The sun’s energy stirs up the tiny electrons inside the panels, and in the process, generates electricity. This electricity is send to the charger, which maximises the power received and charges the batteries. The battery stores the power for actual use, ensuring that power is available even after sunset or on cloudy and rainy days.

The power produced by solar panel and stored in the batteries are DC (direct current), but the power from the grid that lights up the house and on which appliances run is AC Alternating current). The inverter converts the DC from the solar panels and the battery to AC and feeds it to the wires. The inverter also manages the entire system, coordinating the charge controller, the batteries, the AC panel, and also the generator, if included.

The availability of power depends on a large extent to the size of the panels and the storage capacity of the batteries. Solar panels come in many sizes, and larger the size, higher the production capacity. Small panels generally produce electricity in the range of 380W to 570W, medium panels produce around 1140W and large panels produce around 1710W. It is common to install multiple panels, depending on the requirement.

Similarly, larger the battery bank, more the storage capacity. A monitor reveals the quantum of power consumption, and the power available in the batteries. The availability of a generator would allow provide backup AC power, useful to charge the batteries when the capacity becomes low, owing to the solar panels producing insufficient electricity.

Maintenance

The solar panels come sealed. The only thing required with the panels is place it to receive maximum sunlight exposure, and adjust the tilt depending on seasonal changes. It may also be necessary to wipe the panels frequently, to remove it of dust or snow, which may impede the sunlight from penetrating.

Batteries however require constant maintenance. The terminals require cleaning and the water in the cells require replenishment, at frequent intervals, normally once a month. Another routine task required is equalising batteries, which again may be required once a month. Equalising batteries means controlled overcharge for a specified time, to ensure that all cells perform equally. Without equalising, even a single weak cell may deplete the power of the entire system.

Costs

A big factor that may either promote or impede the widespread adoption of solar panels is the cost. Solar panels and batteries are costly. Solar panels last for about 25 years and more, but batteries require replacement earlier. This means that the homeowner has to keep on making significant investments on a periodic basis. Electricity from the grid normally offers about three times the power for the cost that solar panel system would attract, and save the hassles of battery maintenance

However, most countries subsidise the cost of solar panels and systems, which makes it cost effective. In the UK, off-grid systems may even be a source of income, as the 'feed-in tariffs' scheme pays the solar panel owner for electricity produced from renewable sources, even when the electricity is not fed back into the national grid.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Solar panels offer an independent source of energy supply that would make the home or premises self-sufficient. It helps to attain freedom from or lessen the dependence from electricity companies. In remote locations, and places where chances of grid breakdowns are high, solar panels are a superior option in its own right.

The advantages notwithstanding, solar panel systems have their fair share of limitations. For instance, in summer months, most solar systems waste the solar energy produced, and in contrast, during cloudy or rainy days, the power produced may be inadequate. The loss during summer may be as high as 50%. Storage requires investing in powerful batteries, which remains too costly to become viable. In any case, battery storage leads to the loss of about 30% of the chemical energy, owing to the charging/discharging process.


Author: Lewis MacNulty is a Electrical Engineer, Green Entrepreneur and author of numerous articles on green technology, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is one of the leading engineers at WDSGreenEnergy, a leading green technology supplier Find WDS Green Energy on Facebook and follow WDS Green Energy’s twitter feed.

IMG Credit: Mother Earth News

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Topics: Guest Post, Solar Power

Parking Lot Lights Are Now Architecturally Pleasing

Posted by SEPCO

2/21/13 9:39 AM

Parking lot lights have changed a good amount in the past little while, becoming more architecturally pleasing while still providing proper illumination. With the increase in technology that allows lights to be powered by solar energy, the old shoebox style light fixtures are becoming less common, making way for architecturally sound and flattering design.

Parking Lot Lighting Design

Lighting LayoutLights in any given parking lot not only provide illumination during the night, but they also provide security. Engineers attend school or training for many years in order to learn how to design effective and still pleasing parking lot lights, and have to keep in mind the following five elements in their design:

  • Intensity of light

  • Energy consumption

  • Consistency of light

  • Life of the light

  • Color

Lights should be bright - but not glaring to the eye - and evenly spaced throughout the parking lot, and ideally should consume as little energy as possible while still possessing a long life span. The International Parking Institute (IPI) even recognizes outstanding design with their Awards of Excellence Competition.

Parking Lot Light Fixtures

Light fixtures in parking lots all typically follow the same design: tall poles with round or square lights at the top. This allows them to illuminate a large area at once. As technology has become more streamlined, however, lights are beginning to become more interesting to look at than just squares and circles, and can add to the general visual appeal of the building as well. Combining them with other complementary decorative elements, such as nearby greenery or fountains in a park, can make the entire property look more elegant and stylish.

Aestheticism

Architecturally pleasing parking lots lights are important to many businesses, especially retail outlets, and to places like colleges and public buildings, especially at night. A customer who is put off by the design of the lights might not even enter the store, or might unconsciously form a negative opinion about the buildings adjacent to the parking lot. Lights should compliment the architecture of the building or buildings they are in front of, and can accomplish this by being decorative, having interesting designs, and by displaying attractive colors.

Solar Power

Parking Lot Lights

Solar-powered parking lot lights have the added benefit of decreasing a business's carbon footprint and marking them as a 'green' company. As they come with their own self-sustained power assembly, they eliminate the need for intrusive wires and utility lines, and can greatly cut down on energy bills. All the solar-powered light needs is somewhere with good access to the sun. Like with other types of lights, solar-powered lights can be designed to be architecturally pleasing to the eye without sacrificing their reliability and performance. Best of all, solar lights can be used to illuminate areas where the traditional electric grid forces dark spots, or can reduce the amount of light that spills over into neighboring properties.


With the creativity of engineers in the world today, and the access to improved materials that they're given, parking lot lights are becoming more than just the same boxy lights from a few decades ago. By using unique design and taking advantage of solar power, lights in parking lots can continue to provide security and illumination, while still raising the property value.

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Solar Lighting and the Future

Posted by SEPCO

2/19/13 9:30 AM

Sunrise Solar Lighting FutureSolar energy has been harnessed by humans for thousands of years. From the earliest times, our ancestors used the sun’s energy either to heat their bodies or to dry food and clothes. But it has only been in the last two centuries that we have begun using solar energy to produce electrical energy.

The discovery of photovoltaics by French physicist Edmond Becquerel 1839 laid down the foundation for the use of solar energy as an electrical source. In his early experiments, he discovered that electrical current in some materials could be increased when exposed to light. It wasn’t until 1905, however, that Becquerel’s work was fully understood when the famous physicist Albert Einstein published his theories on the photoelectric effect. Since then, solar technology has made significant leaps in development where it became an important aspect towards acquiring safe, renewable energy.

Today, solar energy has become an invaluable power alternative across a wide spectrum of users. Among the first to take advantage of this technology are those living far from the power grids. Though the early use was limited to a few lights and perhaps an appliance or two, it later on became a standard that even when the power grid became accessible in their area they still preferred to use solar power. Solar power also became popular among outdoors enthusiasts. The portability and reliability of solar power makes it ideal for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Not only does it provide power for gadgets, it can also be used for cooking.

But the best achievement of solar energy use to date is providing power to the poorest areas, especially in developing countries. Lack of adequate and reliable power has always been a hindrance to a community’s growth. With the introduction of solar power, communities that used to live in primitive conditions could now boost their productivity as well as pave the way toward educating themselves and their children.

Other benefits of solar energy include:

• Helps reduce pollution – a solar system provides safe and renewable electrical energy. As such, the need for kerosene-based lighting and power generators is eliminated thus lessening air pollution. Moreover, because it runs on a photovoltaic system, solar power helps reduce carbon emissions by up to 6 tons over the rated 20-year lifetime of a typical PV system.

• Reduces the need for constant maintenance – because they are meant to be placed outside exposed to varying weather, solar systems are built to last. This lessens the need for frequent maintenance such as checking on wiring systems or other connections found in traditional power sources.

• More cost effective – though the initial cost is a bit higher, solar systems offer more savings in the long run as maintenance costs are lessened and no longer subject to fluctuating power cost changes.

• Easy installation and setup – whether for providing power for an entire home or for lighting a single lamp, typical solar systems are easy to install. Most come in pre-assembled, mount-and-forget packages that is ideal for any situation. Some companies also offer customized packages that are tailored to your particular needs.

• Improves work efficiency and literacy – in rural and depressed areas, having a reliable source of power means that a regular work day could be extended without worrying about the costs. This allows for faster economic development because local businesses could now operate event at nights. Also, having sufficient lighting means that proper schools could now be built so that children won’t have to read and write in dark conditions. It also means that people would now have access to TV and radio, perhaps even the internet, providing another means of learning.

About the Author: Cassandra Allen, Marketing Director of www.IllustraLighting.com. Cassandra is a marketing professional with over 15 years of extensive experience leading corporate marketing and internal communications for multi-national companies in diverse industries.

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Great Ideas for a Green Outdoor Valentine’s Day

Posted by SEPCO

2/14/13 9:30 AM

Valentine's Day OutdoorsThere are tons of things to do on Valentine’s Day, both with your significant other or just friends. Here are some great ideas to make it green and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.

1. Pack a picnic and go for a walk – there are tons of areas to enjoy the outdoors. You can go to a park, beach or natural preserve and just enjoy nature. Pack a picnic with your favorite eats, get in your most comfortable shoes and enjoy some great time outdoors.

2. Go camping – looking for that overnight stay away from everyone, but want to do something different? Go camping. You can either rent a cabin or bring your own tent and enjoy the night under the stars.

3. Take out a canoe or kayak – not only will you get some great endorphins for exercising, but you will also be spending quality time with your partner. Make sure you put your cell phone in a plastic bag though in case of splashing.

4. Walk around your local area – for those of you who do not live anywhere near nature, just go outside and take a walk around your local area. We are always in such a rush that we miss what is right in front of us. Instead just walk around and look for a new local favorite spot that you and your special person can discover together.

What other great ideas do you have for your Valentine’s Day?

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Topics: Green Ideas, Holiday

6 Solar Power Lighting System Design Questions

Posted by SEPCO

2/12/13 9:30 AM

Solar Power Lighting System DesignWe receive a tremendous amount of phone calls and e-mails expressing interest in our high performance off-grid solar power lighting systems. In order for our solar lighting specialists to provide a solar lighting system design/quote that will best meet customer’s needs, we invariably need to gather additional information by posing a series of project related questions; the answers for which will give our solar lighting specialists all the information needed to provide a comprehensive solar power lighting system design and quote specifically designed to meet customer’s lighting needs. Project questions include:

1. Where is the project located (zip code) to determine sun hours.

2. What type/style of fixture does your customer want? (i.e. Cobrahead, shoebox, contemporary, decorative...) click here to learn more about fixture choices.

3. What (if any) are the light level requirements?  If no specific light level requirements, general description of lighting objective.

  • Note: the wattage of the fixture determines the overall size and cost of the solar power system

  • If no AutoCAD file is available, in many cases overhead image/dimensions of the project can be pulled up on Google Earth

  • Otherwise a rough hand drawn sketch of the project--with rough dimensions of the area to be illuminated can prove very helpful

4. Do you have dimensions of the area that you want to light?

  • If there is an AutoCAD file of the project, we can provide a detailed lighting plan with the quote as well

5. Do the light fixture(s) need to operate at full intensity from dusk to dawn? 

  • Note: A considerable amount of money can be saved if the light fixture(s) can be turned off or dimmed throughout the course of the night as the means to reduce nightly energy consumption--thus reducing the overall size and cost of solar power system needed to power the light fixture

6. Does customer want light poles included in the quote?  If so, what style (i.e direct burial or anchor base) and what type (i.e. steel, fiberglass, aluminum)

With answers to these questions in mind, our solar lighting specialist will have all the critical information needed to provide a comprehensive solar lighting system design/quote that will undoubtedly meet customer’s lighting needs.

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Topics: Solar Lighting Design

The Life and Times of Solar Power

Posted by SEPCO

2/7/13 9:30 AM

History of Solar PowerI’ll bet when you think of electric solar panels you think that this is a new technology, well it isn’t. Solar panels have been used and developed in the 1700’s in France. They took a while to catch on to the masses and even now they are slow to grasp the general public because of the expense of the equipment and the maintenance.

In 1954 we figured out how to harness energy using silicon-based solar cells in California, the sunniest of all places in the US. Which is the home of electric solar panels; this idea has been discovered and rediscovered many times. The issue is the expense of the equipment, weather and accessibility along with the monopoly of the electric companies.

Electric solar panels have been used in California, Texas and the plains states for many, many important things that have proven they would be great for the economy. So we must convince the Governments on a federal and state level to pass legislation to support solar energy. 

When you think about it, solar energy has been used to water crops and feed livestock whereas before, farmers would have enormous energy expenses. This cuts into the daily living of the people who consume the meat and grain products that the farmers sell to the corporations. It is simple, when the overhead is crazy expensive, so is the product that we are purchasing and this is driving the economy into a worse situation, this is why we have to take action.

The Government did pass legislation in 1978 to allow alternative power sourcing companies to interconnect with the existing power companies. Shortly after that in California, the largest producer in electric solar panels in Irvine out of Camarillo CA. was born and still functions today maintaining their reputation.

Shortly after that, the LUZ-SEGS was born in the Mojave Desert. This is the world’s largest thermal energy facility. It looks really neat to visit if you get the chance and you are into alternative sources of energy.  It has the power plant in the background with rows and rows of mirrors that reflect the sunlight into the PV cells. The history of this company is interesting; they ran into financial issues and were sold but the new owners picked the business up again shortly thereafter and they are still generating power some 20 years later!

In 1996 the US Government began to run an extension of the ‘Solar one; program to the ‘Solar two’ program which ran until its end some years later. The programmer proved that the system could create, draw and use power even when conditions were cloudy long-term and when there was no sunshine at all.

There are many prototype town that are built solely on solar energy and electric cars along with crops and services which promote self-sufficiency. These prototypes are set to grow in the United States and in spotty parts of the world like Germany and parts of Scandinavia. For more information, please visit: electric solar panels in Irvine

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Topics: Guest Post, Solar Power

Off Grid Solar PV for Camera and WiFi Applications

Posted by SEPCO

2/5/13 9:30 AM

Solar Powered CameraWith a good energy density, endless supply and steadily decreasing costs, solar energy is quickly becoming the new power source of choice for many different kinds of applications. Street lights, security cameras, highway billboards and more are employing off grid solar PV to great effect. The simplest kind; the solar PV panel, converts sunlight directly into electrical current, allowing you to soon pay off the cost of the initial setup with this perpetual form of energy.

 

 

Off Grid Solar PV Specific Uses

Anywhere you need light, heat or electricity (given the right additional components to convert between the different sources of energy), a solar PV system can oblige you. Their ability to store sunlight energy for later use is what makes them so effective as garden lamps, surveillance cameras and streetlights, since they can be set to automatically release their stored energy at dusk. Their reliability can be enhanced by making use of backups in the form of on-grid power sources (the neighborhood utility grid will do), which has the noticeable effect of drastically describe the imagereducing your energy bill overall – since the times when you’ll need the backup are rare; especially if you reside in a sunny region. It’s also worth it to note that most off grid sola PV systems come with proprietary software to regulate the energy expenditure, which basically just means that the stored energy will be mediated throughout the day – and not just when the sun is out.

In essence then, off grid solar PV functions as a sort of microgrid; which can have positive, far-reaching ramifications. In many sunny areas during the summer months, for example, the local grid is often taxed to the point of rolling blackouts and power shortages, as everyone stretches the available fossil fuels to the breaking point. If you and your neighbors had access to their own personalized off grid solar PV systems, there is no doubt these problems would be drastically reduced – if not altogether eliminated. Neighborhood watches could be much more effective with surveillance cameras employing highly-placed cameras that switch on at night when motion is detected. Pictures and video can then be sent to homebound hard drives without any additional setup by you; for just one of the crucial applications made possible by endless solar energy.

describe the imageBecause of the converters that can change sunlight energy to electricity, solar power is lately being used to power the ubiquitous wireless networks and WiFi systems in sunny regions. This reduces the overhead of companies and businesses that are already offering dirt-cheap WiFi to even lower prices; or completely free – as you’ve no doubt noticed in parks and cafes where you can sit all day and enjoy free internet access. Once again, the solar systems in place pay for themselves very quickly, since the supply of energy is free and unending.



Federal Government Benefits for Solar PV Systems

describe the imageContinuing the trend of community-oriented uses, off grid solar PV power is also incentivized by the federal government; meaning that if you own a robust microgrid and produce more than enough solar energy than the personal energy needs of your family, you can make money by selling this surplus back to the government for on-grid purposes. Even if you don’t make excess energy, the transition to solar is highly sought-after by the federal government as a way of life, and there are already incentives in place to reward people willing to make the transition (in part).

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Topics: Solar Power

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