How to get solar energy!
The big picture for Living Solar is the reputation and perceived viability of off grid and hybrid energy in Southern Africa. Our view is that an industry that adopts best practices and acts with integrity will thrive; and everyone in the solar industry will benefit. So my comments here should be read with this in mind.
With the current landscape of over night players in the solar industry, things have gotten very complicated for the customer to get reliable advice from actual experts. We have a industry plagued with pseudo self proclaimed experts. So proceed with caution and ask lots of questions.
There are a worryingly large number of companies and people that are installing/offering solar equipment and designing solar systems that lack the understanding, expertise and experience to be doing so. There is a lack of holistic understanding which is vital to the success of any battery based energy system.
Even solar companies that have obtained a “PV green card” via SAPVIA (a private entity), does not arm them with experience nor the holistic understanding I mentioned earlier. We do applaud SAPVIA’s efforts to try educate the new comers and improve thier skill set. It all helps us move toward a industry that adopts best practices.
Lets distinguish between an installer and an energy system designer. They are not the same thing!
A good handyman/electrician can install a solar system, and we always advise that your system is installed by a qualified person who carries a wireman’s licence and is familiar with and works to NRS standards.
However, to competently design and spec a battery based solar system, requires another skill set and understanding all together. A skill set gained from years of hands on experience and study.
Bad practices in battery based solar energy are rampant in South Africa. There are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration when designing a battery based system (i.e. off grid or hybrid type systems) and a lot of companies we see are not adhering to best practices or using quality components.
Components refers to the inverters, chargers and batteries used. Often these are (but not limited to) cheaply made Chinese brand’s with no local support or proper warranties and incorrect batteries types (see our post – http://livingsolar.co.za/renewable-energy-storage-and-you/ for more info on batteries), as there is sometimes more profit on these items to the seller, but also makes the upfront purchase costs lower, so the retailer/installer sells more.
On the installation side of things; a solar company starting out will look at another company’s practices and installation techniques and copy them assuming they know what they are doing; then this action is repeated again and again and again until the wrong way of doing things becomes the norm.
How competently your system is designed and the components that are used will directly impact its reliability, longevity and return on your investment.
I am not here to discredit anyone or cast dispersion on legitimate solar energy providers. I am trying to educate the customer to the fact that there are many in the industry who simply are not experienced to be doing what they are doing, and it is the customer who pays the price, and battery based solar energy gets a bad rap.
To make things even more difficult, a badly designed system with poor components can work for many months without any “notable” problems. But as time goes on, the short comings start to appear in very obvious ways. By then it is too late, and a costly “upgrade” will be needed.
These failures are typically due to incorrect design and poor quality components and batteries.
Seek out an actual legitimate professional who understand’s the pitfalls and will design the system correctly to your needs, you will benefit in spades in the long run.
So, lets wrap this up.
- Be sure to get your system designed by a competent person with experience and credentials you can verify based on your specific geographical location and electrical loads.
- Ensure that your installer (who is usually a separate person to the designer) has a wireman’s license and works to NRS standards, and is able to install the system neatly.
- When you do compare quotes, ensure you are comparing apple to apples as there are many ways in which to cut costs on a solar energy system, but none of them are good for the customer in the long run, they usually only benefit the installers/retailers profits and result in more sales due to decreased up front costs, but this practice is far more expensive and inconvenient in the long run for you.
Follow these few simple steps and you will be just fine.