Monday 17 April 2023

More more solar panels. Do we now have enough energy for a gas free home?

We now have four solar panels on our garage roof. They're at an angle so that they face exactly toward the south.

Today with help from a friend we installed two more solar panels on our garage roof. This means we have four 400 W panels on the garage roof to work alongside the sixteen 235 W panels which are on the roof of our home.

The original two garage mounted panels were in the shade until about 9 am so you can see from this graph that they suddenly "wake up" at that time. The new panels placed today do better a few minutes earlier as they'll be earlier out of the shade.

The roof of our home is oriented south west, while the panels on the garage are oriented directly toward the south so as discussed a few days ago they compliment each other. The garage is shaded by our neighbour's home early in the morning but as the new panels are further to the south and will be shaded less (even though to arrange this we had to push the older pair slightly further north) we're hoping that we see a little bit more electricity early in the morning than was previously the case.

The new set of panels, closer to the camera, are mounted at just 12 degrees, vs. the 24 degrees of the set which we put up last year. This will mean they have slightly lower output overall, but they will shade the older set behind them less often due to being lower at the back and they will catch the morning sun from the east a bit better due to their lower angle creating less of a self-shadow.
The usual "back of an envelope" design process

Last time I couldn't get commercially made hooks as everything seemed to be sold out everywhere. This time I used commercially made hooks to hold the solar panels in place as they were available inexpensively. Otherwise the frame which these panels are mounted on is very similar to that of the last pair of solar panels except that they're at 12 degrees from horizontal this time instead of 24 degrees. This is to decrease the chance of the new set of panels putting the slightly older set behind them in shade and to hopefully increase their output early in the morning when the sun comes from the east. We'll see if that works out.

So far as possible I collected the parts required for this job by bike. Three meter long pieces of wood do make for a slightly unusual sight on the cycle-path.

In total the bill for the two new panels, all the parts required to make the brackets and all the parts required to make a safe connection to our electricity supply added up to about €550.

Helping a friend with his installation a few days ago. He then helped me today. Doing things for each other certainly helps to keep costs down !

We now should have enough energy

Our gas supply was removed last week so we need to have a heating solution for next winter which does not involve gas. As discussed a couple of weeks ago, we actually didn't use much gas at all, so replacing it shouldn't require too much electricity. Added to the overproduction of electricity which we already had before they were installed, the new panels ought to be enough to make our net electricity consumption very close to zero for the year.

As it stands right now, our energy company is asking us to pay €5 a month for energy, with an expectation that we will have overpaid by €290 at the end of the year. That seems to be working out quite well !

Over the summer we installed the heating system which the two extra solar panels will supply, a poor man's heatpump. This was too inexpensive to attract a subsidy but it should be enough for us.

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Eleven years of rooftop solar power - and it's a new record year

Our rooftop solar panels have been in place for eleven years, and the highest output year was the most recent. In total the rooftop panels have delivered 37591 kWh to date.

When we had our rooftop solar panel system installed in April 2012 we were told to expect an output of no more than 3150 kWh per year due to the angle of the panels and the direction they face on our roof. We were also warned that output would drop slowly over time. In practice we actually saw an average of 3357 kWh over the first ten years. Until now the highest output year was the second year after they were installed with 3516 kWh, but that record was broken in this last year, 2022-2023, which is year eleven for our system. No less than 3614 kWh of electricity came from our panels last year, which is nearly 3% more than the previous record.

We actually generated a little more than this because we added a couple of extra panels in September. But because these have only been operating through the darker months until now, they've only added slightly to the total, bringing it to 3780 kWh.

The new peak output wasn't the result of a particularly sunny winter. March, was particularly cold and dark, with snow and hail and produced the third lowest amount of solar power from our roof top panels since they were installed. Luckily, April has brought far more pleasant weather so far.

March 2023 was one of the darkest ever and even the extra panels didn't bring our total for the month to a total which was as high as the average over the ten previous years

The effect of panels facing in different directions

The extra panels on the garage face are installed facing directly south while those on the top of the house face south-west as that's how our house is built. This means that the sun hits the extra panels on the garage earlier than those on top of the house and that we have significantly more solar power earlier in the day now than was the case when we only had the panels on the top of the house.

Proportion of theoretical maximum output achieved by the solar panels on our house roof and those on the garage roof on the day of writing. Having panels facing in different directions flattens out the production curve meaning that we can cover our own usage for a larger proportion of the day.

Early in the morning all our solar panels are in shade, only receiving indirect light. The output of the panels on the garage suddenly come out of the shade of our neighbour's home at about 9:15, giving a rapid rise in output, today seen as a rise from from 5% to 22% of their potential. On the other hand, the panels on the roof of the house don't see a sharp rise due to an obvious shadow, but because of the angle of the roof they don't reach 22% of their potential on the same day until more than an hour later, around 10:30. This difference means that while on a day like this the output of the roof top system alone wouldn't reach 1 kW until nearly 10:45, adding two extra panels on the garage have brought that forward by more than half an hour.

Our garage roof at just after 09:00 this morning. These panels are at a 45 degree angle because that means they face directly toward the south. The sharp shadow line is due to our neighbour's home. The sun has melted the ice off of most of one panel and output is increasing rapidly as the panels receive direct sunlight. When we install two extra panels these two will be pulled back by about half the width of a panel and the two new panels will see the sun slightly earlier each morning than these do.

Doubling the size of the installation on the garage should mean on a day like this we can reach an output level of 1 kW by about 9:45 and 2 kW by just after 10:30. As such, two extra panels will address a source of slight annoyance - ever since the roof top system was installed we've observed that turning on appliances like our washing machine in the morning meant that we drew energy predominantly from the grid instead of from our solar panels, but with four panels facing south on the garage to take up the slack while the larger array on the roof "wakes up" this will no longer be the case - at least in summer.

No more gas so we will probably need more electricity than before

Our gas supply is being removed next week. We've already not used it for some time. In the future we'll probably need a bit more electricity than now so extra capacity is of course helpful.

Effect on a possible future battery installation

If we install a battery in the future, which we are considering in the future, it will have less to do because we will already have improved our autonomy by covering more of our morning electricity usage directly with solar power, thus reducing stress on a battery as it won't have to cover such a large proportion of our energy usage during mornings. I had hoped to have figures for the year so far showing improved autonomy compared with last year, but due to the very dark winter it hasn't been possible to produce those, so that's something for a future blog post.