In Part 1 we covered the solar panel installation. In this post we will cover the rest of the installation and components of a general home solar setup.
Below is a overall picture of all the solar components, excluding the solar panels which are on the roof and which were covered in Part 1. The primary components consist of: the large blue Victron Inverter, the small blue Victron charge controller, and the 4 large batteries. All components are covered in more detail below.
This space used to be a storage cupboard in the passageway, but was ideal for the solar system as it was centrally located inside the house, is safe from moisture and high heat fluctuation, and is easily accessible but also lockable.
Looking at the picture below, the large blue box is the Inverter which, effectively converts the 48 volt DC battery power into 220 volt AC power. This particular inverter is a 48V 5kVA system, meaning that it requires a 48 volt input (4 x 12 volt batteries connected in series), and can supply a maximum of 5kVA power, which is generally sufficient to power a small home. More information about this excellent inverter can be found here. These inverters come in 12v, 24v, and 48v versions. The higher the input voltage of the inverter, the more batteries you need to get up to 48 volts, however a higher input voltage means better efficiency in converting the power to AC power..
The entire electrical system in the main house and cottage has been totally rewired, as the exiting wiring was not only very old, but with the house previously being multi tenanted with multiple submeters, the previous electrical setup was a complex mess. This also gave us the option of moving the main distribution board, which was great because we could house it with the solar system as can be seen in the pic below. This was quite a major expense, but it was worth it!
The large black power cord on the left of the pic is the Eskom power supply cable. This is used as a backup should the batteries run out of power. The inverter automatically switches to the Eskom supply should the batteries run low. The smaller square white box under the main distribution box is a change over switch. What this allows me to do is to switch between Eskom as my primary power supply, or the inverter as my primary power supply. This can be used if the solar system requires maintenance for example. So effectively the Solar can be bypassed to allow the the solar components to be removed and serviced etc without affecting power supply to the house.
The small blue box is a Victron BlueSolar charge controller. More information can be found here. Effectively this component handles the charging of the batteries from the power received from the solar panels, and ensures the the batteries are not over charged etc.
And finally we have the 4 Ritar 12v 260AH batteries. These obviously hold all the power which is supplied to the Inverter, and which are charger by the solar panels via the Charge Controller.
As with any solar system, there is a limit to the amount of power the inverter can supply, and it is very important to size the inverter according to your needs, which requires a full investigation of what lighting and appliances etc will run off the solar system. There are various sources on the internet than can assist with this.
With this solar system, i am hoping to run the following:
- All the lighting in the house. I have only installed LED lights.
- A small TV
- A smallish fridge
- Washing machine
- Kettle and toaster etc
- Computer and notebook
- Routers and network switches etc
- Gate motors anelectric fence energiser
- And other general home appliances and tools.
Everything else will either use gas, or will connect directly to the Eskom power supply.
Another important aspect of a solar system, is that they do not deal very well with high power items, e,g, stoves, geysers, pool pumps, electric lawnmovers etc. Because of this, either you need to run these items using normal Eskom power, or convert to gas based appliances, e.g. gas stoves and ovens, gas geysers etc.
For this reason, i have a full gas oven, and eventually i will be converting to a gas geyser. Currently i still have an electric geyser which is connected directly to the Eskom power source. For the pool pump and other pumps and power tools etc that are power hungry, i have installed both Eskom power and Solar power plugs in my workshop area. The workshop area houses the pool pumps and other pumps, and most of the power tools will run from there. Having both Eskom and Solar plugs allows me to choose which power source to use and better manage the power consumption from the Solar system . Obviously i want to run as much as possible off the solar and i will try and run everything off the solar, but if i run into capacity problems, i can then switch an high power items (e.g. the pool pump) to the Eskom power supply.
As with anything of this nature, i lot of investigation, planning and prepping is required to get everything working properly and efficiently. The initial outlay of installing a solar system is quite high, and its probably best to include the costs in a bond application process when buying a new house, which is generally easier and more affordable than laying out the cash to upgrade an existing home to Solar.
The cost of all the solar equipment, excluding electrician charges and installation costs etc, was approximately R120 000.
All solar equipment was supplied by Current Automation.
All electrical work was done by Michael from GreenLine Electrical