Wednesday, December 3, 2008

solar energy system components

My solar energy system is still taking shape, but here are the components I am looking at at this time, including some sample web sites that describe them:

1. Panels: Evergreen Spruce 195W — These are polycrystalline panels that we have chosen because of both their electrical and mechanical properties. I will try to spell these out in detail in a later post. We will mount them in sets of 3, to get 72 V and 585 W peak power.
2. Battery charge controller — The charge controller makes sure that the charging efficiency is maximized by regulating the charging voltage to the battery bank (48V) while minimizing power loss.
3. Batteries — These are a big issue, as we want to use the solar energy collected when the sun is down, but battery technologies are far behind the rest of the technologies we are considering, the costs are very high and stay high, as I estimate we will spend $800-1000 per year average to keep the battery banks at full strength. That is more than we expect to save from taking most of our electricity use off the grid.
4. Inverter — Inverter technology is very good these days. The inverter we have chosen is 4400W (model MS4448AE), which has 94% peak efficiency.
5. Automatic transfer switch

There are a lot of options on the market, which is very good. I am still doing my homework to compare systems and technologies.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Solar Home

Web resources:
Puerto Rico Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

Ley 248 del 10 de agosto de 2008
Carta Circular Rentas Internas 08-13
Resumen de ley 248

In August of this year (2008) the government of Puerto Rico announced tax incentives for the installation of solar energy systems in homes and businesses. These include both electricity and water heaters. They pay up to 75% of the cost through June 30, 2009, 50% during the following year, and 25% thereafter. Costs that exceed the taxpayer's tax liability can be carried over to following years, up to 10 years.

My goal is to install a grid-tied solar electricity system to provide for most of my house most of the time. I hope to reduce my electricity use by 1/2, and I hope to sell a little back to the utility (at 10¢/kW-h). Here in Puerto Rico we have adequate to good sun all year, so this should work well.

My home has a solar water heater, and I have been considering solar panels since we began building in 2002. This tax incentive has inspired me to move forward, though I have been studying the options for some time. An internet search identified a handful of solar energy retailers in Puerto Rico, and I send out several e-mail and webform inquiries. I received a response from, and most of what follows came from that communication. I also have visited Casa Solar, PR in Bayamón.

Julio Correa, of PR Green Tech, visited my home on November 21. I was concerned by the fact that there is a tree-covered hill to the east and many afternoons are cloudy, both of which may limit sun exposure, but Correa did not feel these were such important concerns. Sun will be on the panels by between 8:30 and 9:00, even in mid-winter, when the shading is worst, and we should typically have 4-6 hours of full sun. The fact that Puerto Rico is 18N latitude also helps.

Correa works with 48 V DC systems, and the panels are 195 W, 24 V. Rather than connecting to the charging system in pairs, producing 48 V in full sun, he uses the panels in sets of 3, which will produce 48 V even in some degree of shade. The panels are polycrystalline, which, though they are less efficient, have two advantages: 1. they are more durable, and 2. (I understand that) their "turn-on" light level is lower than for monocrystalline (I have to confirm this).

My house has a few items that produce heavy loads. We will exclude the one air conditioner, which will continue to connect directly to the grid. It is a 18,000 BTU/h unit, which is rated for 1950 W. That excluded, we still have the following:
1. A water (deep well) pump. We always use water from a 600 Ga reservoir, which is supplied from the aqueduct authority. This is because water supplies here are quite unreliable (we recently had 2+ weeks with no water during the day, and only a trickle at night). This pump is rated for 1500 W.
2. A microwave oven. Correa says these are among the biggest problems for solar inverters.
3. A toaster oven.
4. Blowdrier
Happily, our oven and cloths drier are both connected to gas. The solar water heater has an electrical backup, but if we are using that, it means there hasn't been sun for a while, so we will be running off the grid in any case.

In future blog posts, I will describe the process by which we choose our solar energy system. These are divided up as follows:
1. Total power output of the panels.
2. Specifics of the charging system (voltage regulation)
3. Battery capacity (in A-h), costs etc. (batteries are not covered by the tax incentive law, so cost is critical)
4. Inverter capacity
5. Grid-tie system
6. Questions:
- At what point in the battery depletion do we switch off the solar powered system and go to grid?
- How much solar panel capacity is needed to provide sufficient charge to the batteries to run until charging re-commences?
- How much energy consumption (A-h) will we need, and how to we convert that throughout the system?
- How do we make sure the system is expandable, so we can add capacity later for running the air conditioner?