Solar Energy DIY– Converting Your Home to Solar Power

When beginning a solar energy DIY home conversions project, one question many people have before they start is: What will I need to complete the conversion?

Of course, before you start with anything, you should get a good DIY solar guide, and you will be walked step by step through the process of setting up your solar energy solution. Aside from that though, let’s cover the basics of what you will need, in order to go solar!

There are 7 main components you’ll need when wiring up a solar energy solution for your home. It should be noted here that we’re talking about converting a home, and not just creating portable solar energy solution (in which case you’ll only need 4 components).
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Before you install your home energy solution, you’ll need the following components. These are listed in the order they will be wired into your solar energy system.
  1. Solar Panels – In most DIY applications these will be built by you. You order discount photovoltaic cells, and assemble those into 50W, 75W, or 100W Panels.
  2. Array DC Disconnect – This simple device is basically just a switch. It allows you to cut the DC power from your solar panels should system maintenance be required. If you shop around you’ll likely pay less than $25 for this component.
  3. Charge Controller – Most home systems will be built with a battery backup. The charge controller ensures that a consistent amount of power is sent to the batteries, and that the batteries don’t discharge at night. Again, if you shop around for this component, it won’t be a large expense.
  4. Deep Cycle Batteries – To store the power from your solar panels, you will need deep cycle batteries. If you find reconditioned batteries, these can be obtained for fairly cheap. Better yet, you can get old batteries for free and recondition them yourself.
  5. System Meter – This component is actually optional, but it is suggested so that you have a clear way to see how much power is being fed into your home from the solar panels.
  6. Converter – Since your solar panels produce DC power, and your home runs on AC power, the converter makes the solar energy usable by your home. A 1500W converter likely won’t cost you more than $50.
  7. Backup Power – Most systems will also include some sort of backup power. In an off grid application this would generally be a generator. In a city or town, the power grid itself provides the backup.
From there the system gets wired into your home breaker box. At this stage, unless you are qualified, you might consider getting a qualified electrician to install the system. At any rate, you now have an idea of what will be needed to get your home running on solar energy.

If you haven’t done so yet, you should also consider downloading a copy of one of the top guides to teach solar panel DIY. Doing so will ensure you have all of the information you need to get the conversion finished right – the first time! 

Click here to download your copy of 'The Easy DIY Guide To Solar And Wind Power'


Have you got the flare for Solar Power?

Following up my look into hydroelectric power on a personal scale, I’ve decided that next on my list for a detailed examination is Solar Power. It seems an obvious point that most people will want to know about this kind of technology to supplement their electricity, (that means electric power, electric radiators, etc...) so I will attempt to tackle the more pervasive issues in this field, such as how can you effectively produce this kind of energy on a small scale? Is it of any use in a place as devoid of sunshine as the UK is?! What are the uses of solar powering? These questions and more will be tackled in this blog post.

Ok, so sticking with the previous posts format, let’s start with the basics. Solar power is by far the Earth's most available energy source, easily capable of providing many times the total current energy demand.

At its most basic, solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity. This can be achieved in two primary ways. These are directly using photovoltaic’s (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). PV converts light into electric current using the photoelectric effect, whilst CSP uses lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. (I’ll explain both in more detail later).

These systems (especially CSP) can be built on massive scales. The 97 MW Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant in Canada is the world’s largest photovoltaic plant. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s, and the 354 MW SEGS CSP installation is the largest solar power plant in the world and is located in the Mojave Desert of California. Spain also boasts some impressive plants, the Solnova Solar Power Station (150 MW) and the Andasol solar power station (100 MW) in particular.


PV is a device which generates electricity directly from visible light by means of the photovoltaic effect. In order to generate useful power, it is necessary to connect a number of cells together to form a solar panel, also known as a photovoltaic module. The nominal output voltage of a solar panel is usually 12 Volts, and they may be used singly or wired together into an array. The number and size required is determined by the available light and the amount of energy required.
Concentrated solar power

CSP systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear Fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage. The diagram here shows how one type, a trough, works. The pipes and arrows represent the working fluid. This is heated when the sun’s rays are reflected from trough, thus giving a higher thermal energy for the fluid leaving. 

Personal use
So there are the principles of solar power. But how can this work on a personal level for the home owner? Well, most small, personal use systems will involve the use of PV’s. The diagram on the left shows the basic principles of solar power for the home.

This highlights the fact that you can not only use the available electricity for your own home, but you can sell back any excess to the national grid. This is maintained in a Grid-connected system. In this system, the solar array is connected to the mains. Any surplus power is sold to the electricity company, and power is bought back from them when it is needed.

In a Stand-alone system, however, this is not possible, as this means you are not connected to a grid. Therefore storage of energy is needed. In this type of system the usual choice for energy storage is the lead-acid battery. Bear in mind, the number/type of batteries is dependent on the amount of energy storage needed.

Should you go Solar?

One of the first things to consider is, of course, the source of energy itself. Just as with hydro-power, this type of power generation is site-dependant; no sun=no power. So some levels of sunlight are necessary. 

So, to decide if you can go solar, and what system to use, calculating Insolation is necessary. To be able to make calculations in planning a system, the total amount of solar radiation energy is expressed in hours of full sunlight per m². One hour of full sun provides 1 kWh/m² (the solar energy received in one hour on a cloudless summer day on a one-square meter surface directed towards the sun). Insolation, or sunlight intensity, is measured in equivalent full sun hours. One hour of maximum, or 100%, sunshine received by a solar panel equals one equivalent full sun hour. The easiest way to measure your solar power needs however, (for those of us who don’t speak “maths”) is via an online calculator, such as at Renewable Resource Data Centre. You enter the number of kilowatts your theoretical system produces and it will tell you how much solar radiation is available throughout the year where you live and how much electricity that turns into.

Next to consider is the initial start up cost. Whilst these are relatively lower these days, (some can be bought for less than £500/$812 now) it is still a relatively costly procedure. However, these initial investments will pay off in the long run, normally within 6 years. 

Whilst finances are paramount for some people, others consider the environment. It was said that the amount of emissions saved from using solar was less than the emissions produced by making the solar panel. More recent studies however have shown that the emissions produced by manufacturing a solar panel are balanced out in three years of use. And as solar panels now have warranties of 20 to 25 years, and last even longer, the environmental benefit is massive. If you are interested in solar because of the environmental benefits, even generating a portion of your power with the sun will improve the environment.

So, with both financial and environmental gains to be had, is it time you switched to solar?

Article submitted by Carlo Ruggiero.
Carlo Ruggiero is a green aficionado who is passionate about getting the word out on renewable sources of energy and all things green, from funding your hot water to making money from your electric heating.  You can follow his struggle with social media and daily musings on Twitter.

Hydroelectric power, a new wave in personal renewable energy

Following responses on a previous post on basic and general principles for renewable energy sources at home, this writer will now attempt to go into some of the fundamental principles, advantages and problems facing the average person in their attempt to become as energy self-sufficient as possible. 

In this post we tackle one of the most problematic, yet highly efficient means of reaping the rewards of renewable energy on a personal level; using the kinetic energy of water to power your electricity. This is probably most applicable to the average person in the generating of electricity to power your electric radiators

First of all; the basics. As this rather dramatic picture of the hydroelectric plant in Columbia shows, hydroelectric power refers to electricity generated by hydro-power; that is the production of electrical power through the use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. This type of power is one of the most widely used on large scales due to its many advantages over other types of energy generation. It accounts for approximately 20% of the world's electricity and about 88% of electricity from renewable sources. This method of garnering energy at hydroelectric complex’s has taken off massively in recent years, hitting unprecedented levels of usages; the Three Gorges Dam in China at 22,500 MW being the largest to date. Hydroelectricity has eventually supplied some countries, including Norway, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Paraguay and Brazil, with over 85% of their electricity (nearly 90% in Norway). Even the US has gotten in on the act, with currently over 2,000 hydroelectric power plants which supply around 49% of its renewable electricity. 


So, how does it work? BASICALLY, in a hydropower system, dams on a river capture its power and direct the fast-flowing water through turbines and turning generators to produce electricity. The difference between the water levels above and below the turbine and the rate of water flow determine the amount of power generated.



However, this of little use to the average homeowner who doesn’t have a convenient river/dam, or the funding to build one. On a personal level, it is the use of Pico-hydro that becomes applicable. Pico-hydro is a term used for hydroelectric power generation of under 5 KW. As the average house wattage is less than 2 KW, this is ideal. 

Pico-hydro setups typically are run-of-the-river; meaning that dams are not used, but rather pipes divert some of the flow, drop this down a gradient, and through the turbine before returning it to the stream.

The main parts of this system are intake from stream or river, pipe (known as the penstock), water turbine, electrical generator, electronic controller, electrical distribution system, but they can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, as seen here. 

  • Gives you uninterrupted and reliable electrical power
  • User controlled power generation
  • Can provide electricity to all typical domestic appliances (think electric heating), so is versatile. Power packs up to 1 kW can be used of non-motive loads such as lighting, TV, Computer, water heating etc. Larger power packs can be used for motive loads such as refrigerators etc...
  • No recurring fuel costs. All this is required is the running of the water down a slope.
  • Has next-to no maintenance costs as the rotating parts are fully balanced and are not exposed to high temperatures unlike internal combustion engine based power packs.
  • Starting costs. You need the funds to buy the equipment!
  • An obvious drawback to his type of renewable energy sourcing is the necessity of moving water on or near your property. So is very site specific
  • Run-of-the-river style hydro-power is affected by flow and ebb of water, meaning it can be unreliable in certain places or during certain times of the year
  • Certain head, flow and output characteristics are required.
  • Regardless of output, there are certain fixed costs.
Hydroelectricity eliminates the flue gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, including pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, dust, and mercury in the coal. Hydroelectricity also avoids the hazards of coal mining and the indirect health effects of coal emissions.
Compared to wind farms, hydroelectricity power plants have a more predictable load factor. If the project has a storage reservoir, it can generate power when needed. Hydroelectric systems can be regulated to follow variations in power demand.
Overall, hydroelectric power seems like an attractive prospect for the homeowner. So if you have a site that could run this system and the funds to start it, why not give it a go?

Article submitted by Carlo Ruggiero.

Carlo Ruggiero is a green aficionado who is passionate about getting the word out on renewable sources of energy and all things green, from funding your hot water to making money from your electric heating.  You can follow his struggle with social media and daily musings on Twitter.

Wind Turbines, Solar Panels, Electric Heating? Are you catching the Green Bug?

‘Sustainable sources of energy.’ ‘Sustainable fuel.’ These are phrases that we hear in the media with raising frequency. The buzz word on everyone’s tongue at the moment is ‘green.’ Whether you’re talking about rising oil prices, pollution, transport, or home life; the green movement keeps cropping up in conversations time and time again. From newcomers and casual environmentalists to hardcore eco-warriors, everyone is talking green. So, now that everyone has caught the ‘green bug,’ more and more people are turning to renewable sources of energy on a personal level. Therefore it seems prudent to combine these adventures with the rest of your home life.

Previously limited to crack-pot environmentalists, the whole world has gone green on a personal level. So with personal renewable energy now in the mainstream and at your finger tips, you need to ask yourself some questions. Why not produce your own electricity? Why not sell this back to providers when you don’t need it? Why spend money on gas central heating when you can make use of electric radiators, using your own, personally generated electricity? 

There are various different ways of generating electricity; here are some of the main ones that can be implemented on a personal scale.

  • Thankfully the Sun doesn’t charge for its energy. Solar energy is the energy derived from the sun through the form of solar radiation. Solar water heating can reduce your bills by generating up to 60% of your hot water needs. Flat plate solar panels or evacuated tubes are installed on the roof and connected to your heating system.
  • Photovoltaic panels are another way of generating electricity. This converts the solar radiation from the sun into direct current electricity. With the new Feed in Tariff (FIT) this is a good way to supply energy to your home, reduce your bills, receive income for the energy you use and any additional electricity sent back to the grid. 
  • We live in a windy place; therefore Wind Power is often a highly topical issue across the UK. But we’re not talking wind farming here; it is possible to generate electricity by installing a small scale wind turbine. It is essential that a full site survey is completed initially to see whether the investment and location will provide a suitable return both in power and financial gain. 

  • If you happen to live on a piece of land with access to a river or stream, then maybe hydroelectric power is the one for you. This basically involves the production of electrical power through the use of the gravitational force of flowing water. Micro-hydro and Pico-hydro advances in the last few years mean this solution has become a real alternative on a small scale.

Whilst these methods may have a fairly large start-up cost, there are significant advantages to using them.  Firstly, once the renewable infrastructure has actually been put in place, the energy from it is free forever. Unlike carbon-based fuels, the wind and the sun and the earth itself provide fuel that is free, in amounts that are effectively limitless. Also, the renewable energy sources market is a rapidly changing one, whilst the fossil fuel technologies are effectively stagnant. With improving technology happening constantly, it is giving is the ability to increase the efficiency of renewable energy and continually reduce its cost.
As the world as a whole, including world leading governments, (see recent G8 meetings, Kyoto agreement etc...) continually makes strides towards the commitment to renewable energy, production volume are increasing rapidly, decreasing the individual cost of installing the infrastructure necessary. Also, with governments adding more and more monetary incentives for additional research and development, the innovation process is only getting faster.

Add this to increasing monetary incentives on a personal scale (recent UK RIT scheme for example) and it seems the benefits of renewable energy are fast outweighing the costs.

Article submitted by Carlo Ruggiero.

Carlo Ruggiero is a green aficionado who is passionate about getting the word out on renewable sources of energy and all things green, from funding your hot water to making money from your electric heating.  You can follow his struggle with social media and daily musings on Twitter.

California State Assembly Pushes Tough Green Energy Requirement

California has consistently led the nation over the past decade in its adoption of clean energy technologies. The Golden State ranked first in 2010 amongst all states in solar panel installations and has some of the toughest laws on the books regarding environmental causes. This week, the state assembly approved a measure that mandates utilities to increase the percentage of electricity derived from clean sources.

The bill would make utilities to provide 33 percent of their power from renewable sourced by 2020 and awaits approval from the governor. Currently, laws require utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from clean sources by 2020. However, critics of the bill say the mandate is unreasonable considering all of California's utilities failed to meet goals stipulating that 20 percent of their electricity come from clean sources by 2010.

Supporters of the bill, on the other hand, assert that in the aftermath of the nuclear crisis in Japan, the U.S. should be more focused on weaning itself off fossil fuels and other energy sources aside from wind and solar power. Moreover, environmentalists claim the mandate could create as many as 10,000 jobs in the state over the course of the next 10 years.

Governor Jerry Brown ran on a platform of increasing the renewable energy mandate, but it is unknown whether he will veto or sign the bill into law.

Read the original article on GetSolar.Com
By GetSolar Staff.
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