Life from an outsider's perspective…

When is the right time to go solar?

Alternative energy cartoon. Solar or thermal powerGetting into alternative energy these days has become more feasible than ever before. By that I mean that it is both more affordable (cheaper), you get more value (performance per dollar) and it’s easier to set up (modular construction). Not just have solar cells improved in their efficiency, but there are a whole host of low-power devices (LED lighting the first one that comes to mind) to get the most out of this technology. Of course, photovoltaic cells are improving of all the time by increasing their efficiency – even so, that thought alone shouldn’t postpone you from investing in this wonderful technology now. Otherwise, it’d be like not owning a computer because you know their are going to be faster computers built in the future. Well no one I know does that (sure they may hold off an intended upgrade pending the release of a new architecture next season, but they already own a computer).

In the case of solar cells or other alternative energy products, by purchasing them in the present, you are essentially investing in the future of that company (i.e. you’re supporting the industry). Even if you bought them at a distributor, a portion of the profits obviously go back to the original solar cell manufacturer. They are then more likely to invent better, more efficient solar cells in the future and hence bring the overall price down. This mass-scale price reduction isn’t automatic. It doesn’t simply happen on it’s own with the passing of time if nobody spends any money on it. There is no use “waiting for other people to spend their money first and make this more viable”. I know, I said that three times for a reason. Sure, the first consumers (the uptakers) initially have to trust & have confidence in the product. Absolutely! But that kind of argument held true for people in the 1980 to 2000 epoch – we’re well beyond that stage now. Besides, government rebates are fast dwindling to zero in many countries.

I am yet to see solar cells sprawling over all those sunny rooftops I see, so I often wonder who or what we are waiting for? Citizens of the poorest African nations need solar cells more than anyone, but they have even less money than you. Did people wait for governments to subsidise the first B&W television sets in the 1950s? No, because the demand was there. B&W colour TVs came and went. CRTs came and went. Thanks to mass production, we now we have flat screen televisions everywhere. And now we are withnessing yet another change from plasma, to LCD and LED technologies. At the time of writing, Amazon.com is selling a 24″ HD TV for US$199. My point is, not just the rich or well-off have TVs (they just have more).

I suppose I myself have been very slow to start using alternative energy. I don’t own my own home – in fact I don’t even have a mortgage! That probably has something to do with it. But that still doesn’t stop me from going solar (albeit mobile solar). Let’s not forget all those recent hikes in our power bills, So without further delay, I have recently purchased a modest solar powered setup. I tend to think of this as an evaluation study – if it works as planned, we can invest more in other alternative energies (sooner rather than later – I speak in terms of months here, not years or decades). Keep in mind there are no government subsidies that I know of in Spain, this is coming straight out of my pocket. More about what we have pointed up at the sun:

Between 70-80W will be installed on the roof of our new delivery van (one of the only big horizontal spaces available to me at this time, because it looks like we’re about to move into a unit). We also have several additional solar powered chargers & devices (more on that to come), bringing the total energy harnessed by the sun closer to 100W. Half the panels are sitting here already, patiently waiting for the van to arrive. It’s been tested with our charge controller, 12V battery and 300W inverter. Everything works like a charm. The principle aim of this project is to be able to power the following equipment:

  • a fluorescent or LED light in the back of our van to enable us to see when there are no street lights
  • recharge the laptop or operate it directly from the solar panels
  • recharge 2 or more mobile phones simultaneously
  • power other small electrical devices not used often, such as

    • soldering iron
    • dremel tool
    • recharge AAA and AA batteries
    • cordless mice
  • recharge any other device in the house or workshop with rechargeable batteries, such as:

    • eftpos terminal
    • cordless drill
    • digital camera

One Response to “When is the right time to go solar?”

  1. UPDATE: I am yet to install the solar panels on the roof of our van. For starters, I am not sure whether it would pass the strict ITV laws here. Not only that, but the roof of the van isn’t totally flat; it’s grooved, making installation a nightmare. So I’m considering mounting the solar panels on our rooftop instead. The good news is that we have purchased another 14W flexible solar panel made by flexcell. With a slight modification of the wiring, this sits nicely on the dashboard, although there is some unwanted reflection which I guess I’ll just have to get accustomed to… The other bit of good news is that I’m typing this on a solar powered keyboard, the Logitech cordless one. It works like a charm!

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