|Comparing solar systems and generators
With our unreliable and expensive electricity, many South Africans have begun making use of alternative power options. One of the most common questions that arises during this process is whether it’s better to invest in a solar power system, or whether it would be better to make use of diesel generators. This question is quite complex, as it depends on a number of different factors, and therefore doesn’t have a single simple answer. Factors such as the type of solar power system required, future fuel prices, the annual Eskom price hike as well as the Rand/Dollar or Rand/Euro currency exchange all play a part.
Diesel generators have a low up-front cost, with even a modestly sized unit being able to provide enough power for most of the important appliances in the average home. Installation is relatively easy, although maintenance and constant refuelling can become tedious.
Solar power systems, in comparison, are relatively expensive up-front, but once installed, require virtually no maintenance. Most good solar panels will last between 25-30 years, making them a great long-term alternative power solution.
When comparing the cost a of solar power system to the purchase of a generator, it is important to remember that the diesel generator price does not include the fuel. Because of this, it may initially seem logical to choose the generator option, but when you sit back and calculate the amount that will be spent on fuel and maintenance over the equivalent design life of the solar system, the prices become much more comparable.
While solar is a bit more expensive in the short term, by taking the ever-increasing price of fuel into account, the cost of purchasing and running a generator is about the same as a solar system in the medium term. The long lifespan of solar power systems make them a perfect long-term alternative power investment, especially with South Africa’s unstable power situation.
When it comes to beating load shedding, it is also important to remember that solar doesn’t provide direct power like the generator does. Because of this, you will need an inverter and batteries to store the DC power produced, allowing you to continue powering your home or business when Eskom implements load shedding.
Solar power South Africa has some of the highest solar potential worldwide, with more than 2,500 hours of sunshine averaged a year. This makes it possible for your solar power system to reach its full potential.
Solar batteries are fast-acting, taking about 8 milliseconds for your home to switch over to battery power once the grid has gone down. This makes the transitional period virtually instant.
Most generators, on the other hand, have to be started manually, making the crossover period less fluid. If the generator runs out of fuel, it takes time and effort to refuel and start it up again. This process can quickly become tiresome, especially during peak load shedding times.
Whether we’re referring to atmospheric pollution or sound pollution, solar power systems are undoubtedly the greener option. Typical standby diesel generators produce 11-14 kilograms of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per megawatt hour of power generated. Prolonged exposure to this can lead to health hazards.
While the upfront costs of a solar power system may be higher than simply purchasing a generator, the long-term advantages, both financially as well as environmentally, push solar power ahead.
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