Posts Tagged ‘solar power’

A Year of Solar Energy

November 8, 2021

Friends, it’s just coming up to the anniversary of the installation of solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels at Podesta Towers in Teddington. So I thought it might be interesting to see what a year of generation has brought.

First I’ll describe the installation; then explain what I expected (or at least hoped for); and then outline what has actually happened together with a discussion of the role of our domestic battery.

And finally I’ll remind you – and myself – of how solar panels fit into to my efforts to reduce carbon dioxide.

But in case you’re short of time, here are the salient points.

  • 12 solar panels generated just over 3500 kWh of electricity which is close to last year’s total domestic consumption ~3700 kWh.
  • This will have avoided emission of ~0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide this year.
  • On the sunniest days the system generated ~25 kWh/day and in mid-winter average generation was ~ 2kWh/day which compares with around 10 kWh/day of non-heating electrical use.
  • When used with a battery, we were substantially off-grid for around 4 months.

1. The Installation

I described the installation in some detail here, but briefly it consists of 12 panels from Q-Cells, each 1.0 m x 1.7 m in size with a nominal generating power of around 340 W. I think this year’s versions are already more powerful!

Click for a larger image. Google Maps view of my home showing the shape and orientation of the available roofs. And photographs before and after the installation.

The installation cost £4,230 pounds which did not include the cost of scaffolding which was already up on the house at that point.

I chose Q-cells panels because I liked their completely black appearance; they seemed adequately specified; they were readily available; and they were cheap – around £130/panel if I recall correctly.

I later found out that they have pleasingly low embodied carbon dioxide, less than 1.6 tonnes for this installation, and so the embodied carbon dioxide payback time will be around 2 years. Q-cells also score highly for the not producing toxic waste.

2. What did I hope for?

The quotation from local installer GreenCap Energy included an estimate of the expected output – 3780 kWh/year.

But rather than trust the installer I downloaded data from an EU project that cleverly allows one to estimate how a particular solar installation with an arbitrary location and orientation would have performed hour-by-hour over the entire period from 2005 to 2016. This data suggested I might reasonably expect 3847 ± 173 kWh/year.

Click for a larger image. Estimates from an EU re-analysis project of what my solar panels WOULD have generated over the years 2005 to 2016. Year-to-Year variability appears to be about 5%.

I then averaged these 11 years of hour-by-hour data to yield my estimate for the expected monthly performance. They are shown as yellow dots on the graph below.

Click for a larger image. Expected generation in kWh per day. The yellow dots are the monthly averages of the estimated generation from 2005 to 2016. The green dotted line is a crude guess based on a ‘sine-squared’ function. The red dotted line shows our typical average daily electricity consumption ~10.5 kWh/day.

One feature of the simulated data is that the peak generation is expected to occur from April to July – a range which is not centrally arranged around the longest day (June 21st).

3. What happened?

Solar generation was broadly in line – but a little lower – than expectations. But the day-to-day and week-to-week variability was much greater than I had appreciated.

This variability makes it hard to plot readable graphs because they look chaotic! So let me introduce the data one stage at a time.

Looking at the monthly averages (below) we see that most months were close to expectations, but April was especially sunny, and August was a bit disappointing. So far, November has been a brighter than normal. Please note, the December data is from December 2020, because the data from December 2021 is not yet available.

Click for a larger image. Comparison of monthly averages of actual solar generation (green dots) with expected generation in kWh per day. (yellow dots). The black error bars show the standard deviation of that months daily data.

Now let’s additionally plot the daily data.

Click for a larger image. Similar to the graph above but now additionally showing the actual daily solar generation (kWh/day)

A few features of the daily data are really quite remarkable.

  • Firstly, the day-to-day variability is large. This means that the solar generation on a given day is almost no indication of the likely generation on the next day.
  • Secondly, the peak generation of around 25 kWh/day can occur in either April or July despite the substantial differences in day length and solar path.
  • Thirdly, even in mid-summer there can be runs of several utterly miserable days with very little solar generation.

If we average the daily data over a week, (see below) then we still see variability – deviations from the nominally-expected generation – which deviate from the expected generation consistently over periods of up to 3 weeks

Click for a larger image. Similar to the graph above but now additionally showing the ±3 day average of the generation as pink or purple lines.

Another way to look at the data which emphasises the trend more strongly than the variability, is to show cumulative generation through the year.

Click for a larger image. Cumulative generation (kWh) shown as a blue line against nominal expected generation.

Actual generation (just over 3500 kWh) is about 8% lower than I expected, but I am not especially surprised.

It could be that 2021 was a ‘a bit dull’ over the summer months when most generation takes place, or because I had incorrectly allowed for losses at the inverter – which converts DC electricity into AC mains electricity.

Battery

The PV panels were installed in November last year and to our surprise they immediately made a measurable difference – reducing our use of electricity from the grid by around 2 units per day.

Click image for a larger version. Daily electricity usage (from a smart meter) before and after solar panel installation.

However, it was not till our battery was installed in March 2021 that the transformational power of solar became apparent. Within a couple of days, the household went ‘off-grid’ and remained off-grid for around 80 days.

Click image for a larger version. Daily electricity usage (from a smart meter) since solar panel installation. Install the panels led to a small reduction in grid use. Consumption rose over Christmas. Consumption began to fall as we entered spring, and then fell to zero once we installed the battery. As we enter Autumn and Winter grid consumption is rising because since July we are using electricity to power a heat pump which heats the house and provides hot water. The bold green line shows the daily consumption averaged over ± 1 week.

As we enter autumn and winter, the solar cells still contribute significantly – 48% of our electricity in October was solar. But generation will be just around 2 kWh/day through November, December and January.

Since July, the ASHP installation has been using ~1.5 kWh of electricity a day to provide ~4 kWh of domestic hot water.

Now (November) the ASHP is providing space heating within the house, and in the coldest weather (~0°C) I expect  this will require an additional 15 kWh/day of electricity to provide ~50 kWh/day of heating. Most of this electrical energy will be downloaded at cheap rates overnight.

Summary

The PV and battery system has been installed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the house. They are the part of a suite of measures to reduce heating demand, eliminate gas use, electrify heating and increase the use of renewable energy.

Together they have dramatically reduced the running costs of the house.

The graph below shows expected household carbon dioxide emissions (not including consumption or travel) over the period up to 2040.

Click image for a larger version. Anticipated household carbon dioxide emissions (not including consumption or travel) over the period up to 2040. The red line shows what would have happened if I had made no changes. The green line shows the expected outcome.

In the short term, all the actions I have taken have made things worse!

The embodied carbon dioxide in the solar panels, insulation, batteries, and heat pump amounts to ~11.5 tonnes, and this ‘debt’ will not be re-paid until the end of 2023.

I would love to add more solar panels, but I am resolved to hold off until my existing carbon dioxide debt is re-paid.

Overall, I hope you can see that the solar panels are central to the plan to reduce anticipated emissions by 60 tonnes by 2040

 

Floating

June 16, 2021

Friends, I am experiencing a sensation akin to weightlessness.

It is the feeling of living a good life without consuming electricity or gas from the grid.

Electricity

The combination of 12 solar panels and a Tesla Powerwall battery has been sufficient for us to be practically off-grid for the last 3 months. And that will probably continue for another 3 months.

Click for a larger version. The graph shows daily electricity drawn from the grid (kWh) since November last year. After the battery installation, this fell to almost zero. Also shown is daily electricity used from the battery and solar panels (kWh). This has risen recently because electricity is now being used for air conditioning, cooking and domestic hot water.

Household use of electricity has gone up in recent days as we have used electricity for water heating and air conditioning. But we have plenty to spare at the moment.

We have exported around 580 kWh so far this year, displacing mainly gas-powered generation. So in addition to not emitting any carbon dioxide from our own home, we have reduced emissions from other people’s homes by around 200 kg.

Gas

Last week we had the gas boiler removed and so since then we have only been using gas for cooking.

But on some days, the cooking load has been light and all we need to do is cook a bit of rice which can be done easily on a single ring induction heater (similar to this).

And so on those days, we have drawn no gas from the network.

Floating

At the moment it is just for a few days at a time. But it feels astonishing to be sustaining a good quality of life powered entirely by the Sun.

In fact, because of the air conditioning, I am probably cooler (thermally, not style-wise) than you.

As we approach the summer solstice, I feel like I have reached apogee in a solar-powered rocket, and I am briefly floating weightless.


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