How to Buy (or Upgrade) an Off-Grid Solar System
Households that are not served by EFL must independently produce their own power if they want light after dark and to use modern electronics and appliances. Kerosene lamps and diesel fuel generators are dangerous and have several other disadvantages (loud, unhealthy, expensive and hard to find fuel, etc.) Capturing abundant, safe, and reliable sunshine to produce solar energy is a great alternative.
Off-grid solar systems with battery storage are ideal for locations without access to the electrical grid. However, compared to grid-connected systems, off-grid solar power systems are expensive. Therefore, system capacity sizing and choosing ideal system components are critical. For off-grid systems, every watt produced and stored for later matters!
Always seek out expert advice from a certified and experienced electrician or solar engineer to determine the optimal system design and components for your situation. If poor choices are made during the design and equipment purchasing stages, even the most qualified installer will face significant risks and challenges. Many customers find they invested a significant amount of time and money to purchase a system that never becomes operational.
Especially in remote locations, solar panels are not always installed by qualified professionals. In fact, it is hard to find professional engineers and solar technicians to provide a free consultation to optimally design a custom off-grid solar system. Residents in these areas are forced to purchase kits and attempt to assemble the complicated equipment and wiring themselves.
The do-it-yourself off-grid solar installation is risky for many reasons, including:
1. Installation and hook up is difficult, dangerous, and can fail.
2. If the system becomes operational, it may not perform properly long-term due to mismatched equipment, installation mistakes or lack of monitoring and maintenance.
3. Upgrading and fixing poorly designed and installed systems can cost as much as purchasing a new system, especially in remote off-grid locations.
Off-Grid Solar System Owners Are Often Frustrated
Our solar team hears similar stories from all of our off-grid customers. Here are some of the most common challenges they ask us to solve:
- “My lights and electronics do not always work when I need them most.”
- “The large appliances in my house are not operating correctly. I don’t know if they don’t get enough power, unstable power or if there is a solar system equipment problem?”
- “The batteries on my solar system are not charging properly.”
- “My backup battery does not store enough power to meet electricity needs when the sun isn’t shining.”
- “When my system was installed it worked great for a year and then it stopped working, so I disconnected it.”
- “The system I installed met our family’s needs for a while, but we now have more appliances and electronics and it’s not enough! I want to add more panels, but I don’t know what is compatible with my system or how much more it can handle.”
Common Areas of Stress when Buying (or Upgrading) a Solar System
VES has concluded that most customers wanting to fix, upgrade or buy a solar system are worried about one of more of the following:
- Not knowing who to trust for expert advice.
- Not knowing what to do to improve current system performance.
- Not knowing how to repair, upgrade or buy a system that meets their requirements within their budget.
Our advice is always the same, “Never buy (or add on to) an off-grid system without expert consultation. Poorly designed systems and mismatched equipment can create costly and dangerous challenges.”
Information Needed for a Comprehensive Off-Grid Solar Evaluation
Prior to scheduling a consultation with a solar expert, it is important to gather the information needed for a proper analysis. Without all of this information, it will be difficult for your solar consultant to make a recommendation that will optimally meet your needs.
- Make a list of appliances and electronics you wish to operate through your solar power system. Consider your future requirements also to ensure the system meets your needs for the next 15-20 years.
- Note the electrical specifications of the items listed above. i.e. nameplate information such as Wattage (W), Amperes (A), and Voltage (V). Usually, you can find the nameplate behind or bottom of the appliances. If that information is not available, search for the equipment brand and model number online. If that information is still not available, assumptions can be made based on similar products.
- Decide the usage time periods of each item. For example, your light bulbs may be turned on daily from 6.00 pm to 10.00 pm and 05.00 am to 6.30 am for a total of 5.5 hours in a 24 hour period. Your washing machine may operate 2 hours per week on Saturday mornings. Download our Off-Grid Demand Analysis Report to record your information for expert analysis.
- Determine the amount of time you want the solar system to provide power without actively charging the battery with the sun. This amount of time is called the “autonomy period” or “battery back-up time.” This metric determines the reliability of the system during an extended period of no sun or system breakdown, such as during a cyclone or other natural disaster. We can discuss and recommend what is most common in situations similar to yours.
When you have the above details gathered, find a qualified professional to do a thorough assessment, propose an optimal system capacity and design, and recommend compatible components. Good buying decisions can only be made with clear data, expert evaluation, and recommendations.
VES is here to make the buying decision easier by guiding you through the entire process. Your investment is secure because we will never sell or install a system that we do not believe will meet your unique needs.
VES Solar Engineers, Ernest Hickes, and Kini Koroi explain the features of a pre-designed off-grid solar system from their mobile display.
The VES Off-Grid Solar Consultation Process
Our goal is to become your trusted solar partner. In order to do that we need to understand your unique requirements to provide the best technical advice possible for your unique situation!
1. We review all information you provide to us and listen carefully to identify your current and future energy needs and system expectations. Only after a comprehensive evaluation can we determine your optimal off-grid system size (power capacity.)
2. Then we analyze your available roof space and structural strength to determine if it is sufficient to install the required number of solar panels to generate the amount of power, we calculated in step 1 above.
3. Off-grid systems require batteries to store power for use when the sun is not shining. This is how we determine your battery requirements:
- Select an ideal battery back-up time; the maximum time period you could use your battery storage system when solar power generation is not possible.
- Determine the optimum battery bank capacity.
- Chose the best battery technology based on the system complexity and your budget.
4. Generate and provide a project proposal outlining forecasted annual solar energy generation predictions for the system location, total project costs and timelines, and a project financial analysis.
5. Discuss financing options such as low-interest rate finance packages.
6. Sign project agreements and receive deposits.
7. Commence the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) phases in compliance with all regulations and standards established by the relevant authorities in Fiji.
8. After construction, the system is commissioned or “turned on.” Thorough testing is completed, and you will be trained on the operation of the system and receive a manual for future reference.
9. VES will conduct regular Operations and Maintenance (O&M) of the system to guarantee optimal performance if you choose to take advantage of those services.
Every project is unique. Complete our consultation request form with the information you would like us to review prior to scheduling your free solar consultation. We look forward to discussing your specific situation.