Reporter- Lovemore Lubinda

Solar power is one source of clean energy that is expected to power tomorrow’s homes and industries, with other forms being either exhaustive or agents of pollution, energy from the sun is believed to be one of the solution in the equation.

Be that as it may, we have decided to unpack this complex resource basing on a study carried out by renewable energy experts, and we hope this piece will help you the readers to understand the solar energy dynamics better.

The essential issues to consider are the sunlight levels in the area i.e. (insolation) and the total power requirement.  The optimum performance of a photovoltaic panel is obtained when it’s correctly aligned to the sun i.e. when the sun is directly overhead. This usually equates, as a fixed mounting, to an alignment of around latitude ±15 degrees[1].

There may only be around eight hours of full sun, due to reflection off the panel and the amount of atmosphere the light has to pass through.  This will naturally be least when the sun is directly overhead which is often termed solar noon.  

When selecting the site for the PV array, a spot should be considered, that is un-shaded between the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the hemisphere’s shortest day since the seemingly inconsequential shading from a tree branch can cause a substantial reduction in generated power.  

To offset the effects of low insolation, additional panels or  larger panels with a higher output or panels designed to track the sun’s passage across the sky may be installed, this helps in  maximizing on correct orientation (although the depth of the atmosphere cannot be overcome). Concentrator panels, with a lens arrangement designed to better concentrate weak sunlight onto the cells are another alternative option.

Unfortunately these options introduce one of the biggest constraints on a system’s size that is system costs. Solar panel output is measured in watts and is usually supplied at a nominal 12V although this may well be up to 17V effective output.  Panels can be wired in series (+-+-) to increase voltage, parallel (++–) to increase amperage.

A series/parallel wiring, where sets of panels already wired together in series are wired together in parallel may also serve to increase both voltage and amperage.

The distance between the various components of the system should also be considered when choosing the nominal DC voltage. The greater the distance, the greater the voltage drop and a higher voltage will travel further than a low one around the same cabling.  

24V or 48V nominal systems will avoid having to use more efficient cabling, especially if the batteries are a considerable distance from the solar panels.   

System description, solar home system is generally designed and sized to supply DC and/or AC electrical appliances. This consists of PV solar module connected to solar charge controller, inverter and a battery/ or battery bank.

The generated DC power is stored into batteries through a charge controller and converted to AC power by the inverter for supplying AC loads. The renewable electricity is produced as Direct Current (DC). The DC electricity from the panels passes through a grid-interactive inverter, which converts the DC electricity into Alternating Current (AC). The AC electricity is then used by the appliances operating in the house. If more electricity is produced than the house needs then the excess will be fed into the main electricity grid.

Conversely, when the renewable system isn’t generating enough electricity to power the house, the house will draw power from the grid. Grid interactive systems eliminate the need for a battery backup for when the sun doesn’t shine.  In effect, the grid serves as your battery. The major components are briefly described below.  

The PV modules Solar panels generate free power from the sun by converting sunlight to electricity with no moving parts, zero emissions, and no maintenance. The solar panel, the first component of an electric solar energy system, is a collection of individual silicon cells that generate electricity from sunlight. The photons produce an electrical current as they strike the surface of the thin silicon wafer.

The most efficient and expensive solar panels are made with Mono-crystalline cells. These solar cells use very pure silicon and involve a complicated crystal growth process. Polycrystalline cells are a little less expensive and slightly less efficient than Monocrystalline cells because the cells are not grown in single crystals but in a large block of many crystals.  

The batteries are rated by the amount of current they can supply over a period of hours i.e. in ampere hours (Ah).  The design should ensure enough Ampere-hour capacity to take account of any bad weather periods.  An additional one-fifth capacity is thought to be sufficient to cover this eventuality.   

The inverter should be capable of coping with the power surges caused when starting certain appliances, especially those incorporating high-power.  The minimum surge rating will be roughly twice that of the continual wattage the system should be calculated.    

Methodology the study carried out by experts, involved field visits to the sites (Selbourne) Brooke residential area (low density) and Emganwini residential area (high density)). Three households were selected randomly for the energy audit. The most common household appliances were listed together with their power ratings. Interviews were conducted to establish the number of hours the different appliances were most likely to be kept on.

A desk study was also carried out in Zimbabwe to obtain technical information from the utility company (ZESA) related to the generation and distribution of electricity to consumers in different residential zones in the city of Bulawayo. Using data from both the technical visits and the desk study, a generalized list of household appliances was drawn. The list was then used to come up with a general charge utilization table which was then used for system sizing.   

System sizing the first step to sizing a solar electric system is to determine the average daily energy consumption.  The average daily energy consumption should be as accurate as possible, and ways to conserve power should be considered as well because the total energy consumption will determine the size of the system.   

The PV Solar Array Sizing two important factors in solar array sizing are the sunlight levels (i.e. insolation values) of the area and the daily power consumption of your electrical loads.  

Inverter sizing, inverters are rated in continuous wattage and surge watts.  To properly determine inverter size, the power requirements of the appliances that will run at the same time are summed up and 25% – 30% of the sum is added for safety reasons.   

Battery sizing, the size of the battery bank required will depend on the storage capacity required, the maximum discharge rate, the maximum charge rate, and the minimum temperature at which the batteries will be used.    

The battery should supply the required load plus the distribution losses.  It should also supply the load for 3 days of autonomy in the absence of the sun. Therefore, the required battery Ampere-hour was also evaluated.  

Therefore the batteries ampere-hour required and total voltage they must supply to the inverter including the total power rating was determined. Charge utilization table, charge utilization table was used to keep track of each appliance to be powered by the system and the amount of time it will be in use.    

Conclusion, the study has presented the components required for the design of a stand-alone photovoltaic system that will power all electric appliances at a medium-energy-consumption residence in Selbourne Brooks in Bulawayo. The factors that affect the design and sizing of every piece of equipment used in the system have also been presented. Over and under-sizing have also been avoided to ensure adequate, reliable, and economic system design. A cost estimate for the whole system was also provided.

The capital cost of such systems is relatively high and the payback periods are more than 10 years, however, the benefits and the environmental impact should not be underestimated.  

The recommendations were that, the governmental role has to be present and influential in encouraging people to turn to such alternative energy systems. This role should encourage and support renewable energy research and should provide technical assistance to potential users.  

In addition, policies that allow utility-interactive systems are needed to enable the purchase of surplus solar energy from users. The national utility company should adopt the smart grid technology and publish feed-in tariffs which will encourage the adoption of the solar home

Source: DESIGN OF PV SOLAR HOME SYSTEM FOR USE IN URBAN ZIMBABWE: J Gwamuri and S Mhlanga; Applied Physics and Radiography Department, Faculty of Applied Sciences, National University of Science and Technology, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.