From 0 to 3 Megawatt Hours of Solar Electricity - Part 1

This is a story of how I became carbon neutral in my electricity usage and have over 80% of my electricity consumption in the last 5 years supplied by renewable energy from solar

How it Started

I have always been interested in solar energy. If you like me live in a country where electricity from the grid is unstable (at best) and can be completely unavailable for long stretch of days weeks or even months. The idea of a system that allows you generate electricity from the sun would always be fascinating. What tipped the bucket for me was a series of severe energy shortage in Nigeria. The grid was at its worse and Nigeria was also hit but fuel scarcity which just made the alternative of running fuel powered generators challenging and very expensive.

The Planing
If you think the idea of converting sunlight to electricity seems too good to be true.. It is because it probably is. There is of catch to get a working system.

  • First off is the cost. Solar (even with prices falling) remains one of the most expensive source of electricity generation. The trips with solar is that it pays itself off over a long period of time. This flows into the next challenge which is
  • Design: It requires careful planning and design. I decided to go DIY because I could not trust any of the system integrators I spoke to. Hence I took almost a year reading up on solar and different way to design an offgrid system.

Energy Audit
The first activity (and the most important) I carried out in my journey towards energy independence was to carry out an audit of my energy usage patterns. This included:

  • Energy profile - power consumption - of all my electrical appliances. This include, noting down devices that requires surge in power when they start (for a few seconds) but then drop to a much lower constant power profile (mostly fridge and freezers)
  • Energy usage pattern: This took a log of how I use elecricity. Peak period and off peak periods. E.g I noted that electiricty usage during the week was low between 9-5 (when I am at work) and 12am - 8am (when I am asleep) and very high between 6pm - 11pm (when I am home from work) On weekends, energy usage was consistently quite high from 7am - 11pm.

The energy audit would later help when designing the solar setup and it helped to identify areas that needs optimization.

Within the space of 2 years, before I generated the first watt of electricity from solar, I made to phase out all incandescent light bulb (at about 60w) for the more efficient LED lights of not more than 5w hence I was abut to light up the house with what it would take to power 1 incandescent light bulb.

Energy Audit happens to be the most important activity (and the cheapest) I carried out before going solar. It also helps to reduce the overall cost of the solar project because as a rule with solar. It is much easier to conserve energy than to generate it.

The Benefits of Energy Audit -

  • The result of the energy audit give me the energy target I needed to achieve with solar generation. This in turn allowed me to predict how much the project would cost.
  • It also allowed me to identify ways to cut waste. I was house searching during this period so I focused on apartments with google air ventilation and natural lights. This helped to cut the amount of elecricity I spent on lighting and cooling.
  • I also identified inefficient appliances especially my LCD TV which required 80w of power. I replaced it with a bigger led which could be set to use just 20w of power.

This would be the first in a series of blog post on how I came to achieve energy independent and enjoy 24 hours elecricity in a country where the average electricity supply is less than 10 hours and with an electricity per capital of 20w per person.

The next post would be focused on the design aspect of the system.

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