The Solar Panel Project: Update: One Year On


Well, it's a year to the day since my solar panel was bolted to my house. Time to review what worked and what didn't.

Generally, a lot of things didn't which was rather disappointing.

First to go were the 12V CFL lamps. They were too power hungry. The standard lamp in the living room was converted back to mains usage two months after installation. Another standard lamp earmarked for conversion remained unchanged but the desk lamp I featured on the conversion page does still use the 12V CFL bulb because it is used so infrequently (and generally only for short bursts). The bulbs themselves were rubbish as within six months one started illuminating at only half brightness and another died altogether which is pretty bad seeing as they had such low use. I won't be buying more of them.

The UPS converted into an inverter was, I admit, more a proof of concept than an actual practical resolution to getting mains Voltage out of my battery. Although it works, it's neither efficient nor elegant and I haven't really found the need to use it as most of the things I want to charge from the battery can be charged though the automotive chargers I tend to have. I did impulse buy a small inverter for £15 from Woolworths last December but I haven't ever found the need to use that either.

The shelf lights featured on the conversion page are back on the mains – partly because I was reluctant to use them off the battery as they're a bit thirsty in comparison to LED lighting, but mainly because the shelves were moved this month to a different room where there was no solar cabling. The 'mood lights' I mentioned briefly on the same page were also switched back to mains use.

I also had to recharge the battery from the mains twice. The hot bright summers of recent years have been replaced with the damp reality of the 2007/2008 rain-a-thon whereby day in, day out, there are dark grey skies and no flimmin' sunshine. Even when there is the odd bright day, I'm sure I'm getting short changed when it comes to power output from my panel as the sort of readings I was seeing a year ago just aren't showing up any more making me wonder if the panel I bought off eBay is a bit too cheap and nasty and isn't up to the job. The trickle of milliamps I'm getting coupled with the red battery health indicator on the solar regulator are an indication that within days or weeks I'm going to be reaching for the battery charger again.


It's not all bad though. There is a short list of things that are working well....

The LED porch lights detailed on the conversion page are happily running and are saving me a fair few Amps off the mains every day. They do a good job on their timer and long may they continue to do so. The projector alarm clock is also chugging away on solar goodness.

Similarly the LED nightlights I made for the kids bedrooms are also knocking down the nightly Watts. These three changes contribute directly to a decrease in the nightly power consumption of my home which is down by 27kWh on the same period of summer last year.

Also running off the battery is one smoke alarm (see conversion page), the aquarium bubble light, some LED cupboard illumination and two sets of LED accent lighting. My (little-used) iPod also gets it's charge from the solar battery when needed.


All my solar installation is doing for the most part then is running LED based lights. It is capable of more but the poor UK weather of 2007/2008 means there isn't enough strong sunlight to keep the battery topped up for higher loads. Unless solar technology improves so that you can get a high output from cloud covered daylight then it just isn't worth the investment in somewhere like the UK (at least, not in this form).

There are other lifestyle changes we have made which are far more effective to reducing our carbon footprint. We have increased recycling (thanks to Warwick District Councils excellent kerbside collection scheme), actively buy fewer overpackaged products, have put some decent lagging in the loft and have replaced inefficient lighting (the hall is down from 130 Watts to 44, kids bedroom down from 100 Watts to 22, bathroom down from 100 Watts to 43).

We're also installing switched mains points to replace the old unswitched sockets allowing appliances to be shut off completely when not in use and we have installed occupancy switches in the bathroom and downstairs toilet to turn off the lights when nobody is in there (stops the kids leaving them on all the time).

There's still plenty on our to-do list with cavity wall insulation and some replacement double glazing to name two expensive projects for reducing the energy bills.

Next years power consumption will be reduced again – I'm on a mission!

 

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