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Solar PV stand-alone systems – challenges and solutions

A stand-alone solar PV system for a home or office works independent from the public electricity grid and this is an advantage for areas where the grid is not available or not reliable. The disadvantages of a stand-alone system are that batteries typically last only five years and that the overall system efficiency is low compared with a grid-interactive system. Another challenge with stand-alone systems is that there may be under-utilisation of the available solar energy when the batteries are full and there is insufficient load or there may be shortage of energy during cloudy days. In the case of grid-interactive systems surplus energy can be exported to the grid while a shortfall in energy can be drawn from the grid.

The WattMon comes in handy here. The information that the WattMon system gives helps us to improve system configuration and system usage. When the WattMon relay system is released in the near future, loads can be switched on or off based on the charging state of the battery and loads can be added to absorb surplus solar energy that is available. In stand-alone systems that are located in buildings with grid supply, the WattMon can trigger a grid charge of the batteries to complement solar energy charging on cloudy days or on days with higher than average consumption.

I have been using the WattMon system in our stand-alone home solar system and find it extremely useful. Based on the data we got from the WattMon system we decided to provide the refrigerator with an automatic change-over switch that connects the refrigerator to the stand-alone system only when there is no grid supply so that we spare the battery from deep discharges. We also understand now that there are many days on which the battery is already fully charged by early afternoon and that there is surplus solar energy available for usage during the remaining part of the day. Thanks to WattMon we know now what is happening behind the scenes.

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Addicted To Energy

There are many obvious things most of us are addicted to in some degree or the other: caffeine, food, the Internet... The list goes on.  But one thing often immediately overlooked is energy - depending on where in the world you live, you may not even know it since you take it for granted.  We require energy in the form of fuel for transportation, oil for heating, and electricity to run our lifestyles.
I live in a region where brown outs and load shedding are a daily part of life, and it definitely gets you thinking about our energy dependence. Those who can afford it have battery banks and inverters to bridge the power outages, and some have solar panels in hybrid setups or completely off grid setups.

The moment the grid power goes off, everyone automatically becomes aware of their usage and switches off non-essential loads to conserve power. So you could almost say that we are energy conscious by necessity and not by choice - but that does not change the fact that it affects our awareness about energy. It makes the impending energy crisis a hard reality, and although it is currently just one region of one country, it becomes much easier to envision how this will affect us all sooner or later.

So how do we tackle the problem?

I believe that the best way is to reduce our footprint and strive to become energy-independent or at least less dependent.  You could do this by

  • Switching over to energy efficient lighting such as LED bulbs
  • Monitoring your consumption regularly and thereby becoming aware of wasted energy in non-essential loads
  • Adding a renewable source such as solar or wind either into a battery bank or directly into the grid

And that's just a start on the electricity front - many things can be done on the transportation and heating side as well.

As the saying goes: "necessity is the mother of invention". I think that this decade will bring about a host of grassroots efforts and solutions as we all wake up to the needs of the day. The Wattmon energy monitor I spent the last year developing is my personal contribution and just a tiny but hopefully not insignificant part of the solution. I look forward to hearing about your thoughts and innovations.

[Image courtesy of cooldesign /]

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Recent comments

  • Just ran across your site and found a like mind for sure. I manage a very small rural electric cooperative here in the US and created a vision back in 2007 around your 3 points. It is our 25x25 vision to cut outside energy purchases by 25% by 2025. The three legs of the vision are 1.Monitoring, Meas...
  • Hi Akash, Your thoughts and outlook exhibit a maturity that is way beyond your age. Those who grow up in first world countries take power for granted and are oblivious to what it is like to live without it. I have been in the rechargeable battery business for more than 15 years and after being bas...
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Thinking Outside The Box

What makes something original? Is it because you haven't seen or thought about it before? Is it because the idea or product is radically different from anything like it?
I suppose we had better start with what the dictionary has to say:

    1. Preceding all others in time; first.
    2. a. Not derived from something else; fresh and unusual: an original play, not an adaptation.
      b. Showing a marked departure from previous practice; new: a truly original approach. See Synonyms at new.
    3. Productive of new things or new ideas; inventive: an original mind.
    4. Being the source from which a copy, reproduction, or translation is made.
    5. I attended a workshop on creative entrepreneurship a few years ago conducted by Gunther Faltin, a professor of economics from Germany, and he had some very interesting tips for starting your own business. His motto was Rediscover something existing. He and several of his students have gone on to start highly successful businesses using those three words as guidance.

For example, the professor himself decided that the best way to show his students how it worked was to start a company together with his class. When he presented the idea, everyone was skeptical - so he decided to go it alone to prove his point.
He took a look at the market and tried to find something that he could improve. He noticed (even though he wasn't a tea drinker) that tea was sold in very small packets of a few grams, usually in gift packs with several varieties together, and at exorbitant prices. He then came up with his business model: to import only one brand of high quality organic tea and sell it at decent prices in large packs (1 kg) and only over the Internet. He had to invest a little for the first container but his business was successful almost overnight! Today he is the largest exporter of organic tea from India. You can read about his philosophy on his site here:
Not only is he more affordable than the competition, but he actually breaks down his margins and costs for you on his website!

Is selling tea new? No, it is thousands of years old. Is selling over the Internet new! Nope. What is original however is the way in which he combined various ideas to come up with a successful business.

I think there are many ways to show originality even if what you do isn't entirely your own idea, and a little thinking outside the box is sure to kick off a stream of creativity.  Personally I found Gunther Faltin's approach to business is highly original and inspiring and I hope it helps you. I'd like to hear what you have to say on the subject.

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Blogging and Burnout Syndrome

It's been a while since you have heard from me, I know... This is due to a couple of things, but mainly because I think I started off on the wrong foot.
Blogging is new for me, and I now know that I hadn't taken the time required to understand how to go about reaching you and giving you interesting content that isn't too dry - I was a little to focused on  giving you the info textbook style.

Let's try again, shall we?

When you work alone on anything for extended periods, you have to figure out how to pace yourself to not burn out. I think you must all understand that particular feeling, or the hints of burn out syndrome.  Couldn't be bothered answering your mail? Not interested in reaching your users? Don't even want to think about all those new features you were so excited about just a short while ago? That's classic signs of impending burn out syndrome!

Anyone is susceptible to this dreaded disease, but some are more likely to catch it than others. If you are a one person show, and you rely on yourself for everything - and more importantly you are the one investing in yourself to start your own successful business, meaning you are essentially working for free - then you are at high risk!

I won't go so far as to say that I reached that state but I have learned over the past years to acknowledge the signs and take measures to not cross the point of no return!  My method is to work on something different for a bit, learn something new, or take a short break. This can be very tough if you are a highly mental person with self imposed deadlines and stresses, but once you step back things always take on a different perspective, and seem more colorful and interesting again.  I know that not everyone enjoys the freedom I have by being self employed, but I do hope that if you are feeling stressed and approaching burn out you will take the steps needed to avoid it!

I would be happy to hear your comments if you have gone through similar experiences.

[Image courtesy of Master isolated images /]

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