I have been fascinated with solar technology for over two decades, explored the different technologies in the space in the last 10 years and started working actively in the newest sector of the Solar industry since 2012. At this point, I can categorically state that there is a solar solution for every one regardless of their level on the social ladder. Talk about solar portable lanterns (SPLs) for people without access to the grid, SPLs with phone charging capabilities, small home systems, medium sized plug and play systems and large home systems, which require installation of multiple solar panels and a battery bank.
It is so refreshing to learn that just like phones, everyone now has the ability to be able to purchase a solar device that can provide the level of power they need. This article is about exposing our readers to those different options and empowering them to make the choice that best suits their needs, or give them out as gifts to those in need. For some folks, their solar home system will be able to provide plain old electricity while for others, it will just be something to light up the home and keep their phone batteries charged. Though, you will be amazed to learn that simply “lighting up” and getting their “phones charged at will” is a big step change in their life.
Interestingly, the whining is same across the social strata: “Solar is expensive” they all say. I like to say it is not. Initial set up costs are pretty high, but it requires no additional cost after installation and results in long term cost savings, regardless of whether you are rich or poor. Above all, it benefits to the environment and contributes to a healthy energy mix, which is required for a sustainable future. Now, lets take a look at the different solar options mentioned above.
Solar Home Systems
Most people are aware of the standard solar home system in which you install solar panels on the roof and it generates electricity for your home needs. Drive through San Francisco in California and you will find several roofs dotted with solar electricity and water heating systems. I like to refer to California as the “Solar capital of America”. Globally, Germany holds the record of the country with the greatest installed solar capacity. I am also proud to state that Nigeria is not completely left out and we are catching up. At least, you can find high quality solar systems at work at one street in Surulere and Lekki, both in Lagos, Nigeria.
Solar Portable Lights (SPL)
With regard to alleviating energy poverty, I believe that SPLs are the solar devices that have created the greatest impact for people at the bottom of the pyramid in the last few years. With prices ranging between 10 – 40 dollars per piece, over 1 billion people in the world who rely on kerosene for lighting or have no access to the electricity grid now have a safe and reliable option to light up their homes at night. Some of these solar lanterns also double as phone chargers.
Interestingly, these devices are being used not only in the rural areas, but in the peri-urban and urban areas as a supplement to the unreliable power situation; especially across East African countries where awareness of solar technology is much higher relative to West Africa.
Plug and Play Solar Systems
I like to refer to the plug and play systems as the mid-range options. Here, you have systems that can range from 10 Watts to 1,000 Watts, capable of lighting the bulbs in your home, powering your fans, television, laptop and small refrigerators in some cases. They are very common in countries like India and Pat-as-You-Go (PAYG) innovations make these systems affordable and popular in those regions.
They are referred to as “plug and play” because they do not require installation, unlike the regular solar home systems. You just place the solar panel on the roof facing the best direction in your locale and plus the associated wires to the power box. This power box then delivers the electricity or power needs in line with its rating.
Like we say, there is so much to learn in the space. We will continue to bring useful, practical and relevant renewable energy information to you in manageable pieces.