Sick of load-shedding and inflated electricity bills, and curious about alternative power solutions, I decided to invest in a solar powered set up. There are two options available in the market: either one large solar panel that can generate all the power required for a household, or one small solar panel for each light or fan. The cost of the former is quite prohibitive and it is easy to see why most people prefer buying smaller solar panels. I purchased three small solar panels to power three of our garden lights. At a total cost of around Rs12,000 (Rs4,000 per panel, including the battery) the panels come with attached batteries which have to be charged eight to 10 hours daily. They also doesn’t take up much space as the panels are small and thus adjustable.
Along with these panels, energy-saver bulbs had to be bought, which was another addition to the total cost. Apart from that there was no other hidden or additional cost except for the new wiring. This small investment merely made me more enthusiastic about the wonders of solar power and I expanded my solar set up to 10 more panels. The new setup has met our electrical needs for three bed rooms. The most advantageous factor is the constant supply of energy to our fans and lights — which mean no more sleepless nights!
The light from the energy-savers was muted compared to the radiance of tube lights, but they were certainly sufficient to brighten the room. For reading, I still needed an arrangement of high voltage lamps. Nevertheless, the sheer thrill of harnessing the sun’s energy instilled the feeling of being a responsible and eco-friendly citizen in me. After all, I was generating clean energy with zero noise pollution and emissions.
The most noticeable difference was seen after a month when our electricity bill dropped by almost 50 per cent, from Rs9,000 to Rs4,500 in the winter season. Yes, the panels were costly, but the savings each month easily recovered the money that was spent in the first phase. One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘how do the batteries charge on rainy days?’ In our part of the world the sun is hardly covered by clouds for the whole day but if you are worried about that, you can invest in a hybrid system which enables you to use the electricity from the national grid in case the panels cannot get enough sunlight.
The use of solar panels, especially smaller ones, is economical enough that most people would not think twice before switching over. It is cheaper than spending on a UPS or a generator. I am also looking into installing a large panel in the future to completely switch over to solar power. In the span of seven months, using these panels gave me new insight into their reliability and productive use. With the increasing prices of fuel, worsening energy crisis and alarming rate of environmental degradation, the generation of solar power is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2011.