Self-sustainable

Switching to Solar Energy

Our Solar Panels. During summer they are in this flat position. In the winter they are tilted to a 30-degree angle. 

Switching to Solar Energy

Many people are wondering how our family can survive on one salary. (Even though most people are not asking, I know they are thinking it! ?).  Switching to solar energy has been one of the major steps we took to make this possible. It has also been one of the best decisions we have made so far!

In this post, I will share with you how we have done it and how it has changed our lives… for the better!

Disclaimer

Before you continue reading, please note that we are not experts on installing solar systems. Even though we have a small system installed, it is sufficient for our household and is working great for us. Switching to solar energy on our homestead has been and still is one big experiment for us and a learning journey. Please do your own research if ever you want to install your own solar system or call an expert.

Coco our mini horse uses this for shade
Coco our mini horse uses this for shade during summer?

How we got started

Measuring energy consumption

First of all, we started by measuring our household’s energy consumption on any given day. We did this by making use of a kWh meter and recorded all our consumption over a period of a month. This equaled 4,4 kW per day. (Unfortunately, I had to make peace with the fact that the dishwasher was OUT! ? ) Then we made a list of all electrical equipment that we use during the day and what the starting current for each is as well as how much kW it uses. Then we had to decide what household appliances are really necessary and what is a luxury.

Switching to energy sufficient appliances

Refrigerator and freezer

Of course in our warm sunny climate one cannot do without a proper refrigerator and freezer. We decided to buy a Bosch Model combo for this. The reason for this is that (apart from being more energy sufficient), the Bosch refrigerators are far better insulated than the refrigerator we had at the time, so it keeps cooler for longer.  This is important because we switch all electrical appliances off after a certain time: In summer at about 5 o’clock and in winter at about 4 o’clock. (This is only done to prolong the life of the batteries we are using. We try not to take out more than 10 percent out of the batteries.) Then this refrigerator needs to keep its cold temperature locked inside until midnight when it is switched on again for an hour just to make sure everything stays cold. For this we use a timer that automatically switches on and off again after an hour. Just by using the new Bosch refrigerator and freezer we were already saving on our Eskom account.

Solar heating

After switching refrigerators you will need to change the electrical geyser to solar heating. Luckily we were already using a homemade do-it-yourself solar system for heating our water that my father built, using copper plates that he cut out of old copper geysers and copper pipes. So we did not need to spend any money there.

Stove

After the refrigerators and water heating was sorted out we switched from an electric stove to gas. I was also lucky enough to get an Ellis de Luxe wood stove that we love to use during winter or any other rainy day! 

Lights

All that was left was the lights in the house. In the beginning, we used small 12 V batteries connected to LED lights that we carried around and placed in the house wherever we needed them.

12VAC 3W LED light with 12V battery
12VAC 3W LED light with 12V battery

During the day I would recharge the batteries so they can be ready again for the night ahead. When you want something bad enough you do not mind making small sacrifices. And we badly wanted to get away from Eskom and their deteriorating service! Since then my husband started changing the lights in the house and at least nowadays we can use the normal lights and switches again!

Buying and setting up the solar equipment

What you will need:

  • Solar panels
  • Batteries
  • Inverter
  • Charge controller
  • Cables
  • LED lights

At first, we were only using six 240 W solar panels with four 105 a/h batteries. This was enough for running the refrigerators, but not for the borehole pump. Therefore my husband had to put up three more 240 W solar panels. They are connected in three sets of 3 panels each in series. We changed borehole pumps from a 1,5 kW to a 750 W. You will also need an inverter and charge controller.

Johan installing the new Mecer inverter charger.
Johan installing the new Mecer inverter charger. In the beginning, we used a separate inverter and charge controller. We find the above Mecer to be more sufficient.

We make use of a meter that measures the amount of electricity we are using at any given time.

Energy consumption meter
Energy consumption meter

The white meter on the left works with a sensor and can be moved around in the house. It shows the energy consumption at 1,322kW for that specific moment. The meter on the right is on the inverter and measures how much energy is coming in from the solar panels as well as the volts of the batteries. What is important here is that the volts of the batteries do not go below 49 Volts. If it does, the batteries are working too hard and are running empty, which shortens the life of the batteries. When on 55 Volts the batteries are fully charged. Of course, this all depends on the type of batteries you have.

4 x 105ah batteries
4 x 105 a/h 12 V batteries in series giving us 48 Volts

In case of emergency

It is a good idea to have an extra inverter charger on standby. We lost one that was hit by lightning in December. What a struggle to find a supplier willing to help you during the holidays… In the end, we had to borrow an inverter from my father who is also completely running their homestead on solar energy. Luckily he had a spare.

Another good thing to have is a generator for those long rainy and cloudy days. Most of the time we get by using only the solar system. But there is the occasional accident where a water pipe pops out and the tank runs empty. This always happens after sunset. Then it is good to know you can use the generator to pump water.

We have done away with Eskom and have been using solar energy for our entire household since June 2015. We have NO REGRETS! Solar energy in our sunny country is definitely the way to go!

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