HOW TO BENEFIT FROM SOLAR ENERGY
Despite the variable weather conditions in the UK, we still receive enough solar radiation from the sun to make practical use of solar energy regularly in our every day lives. Solar photovoltaic panels come in all shapes and sizes and can be applied to the benefit of us and the environment in many day to day situations.
Our rough guide below should hopefully inform and, who knows, maybe even inspire you to make better use of solar power yourself. It really does have many practical applications in everyday situations even if you are not an ecofreak!
1. SOLAR CHARGERS FOR YOUR MOBILE PHONE
Typical Product Cost : £30 to £60
There are various solar chargers available that are capable of charging small electronic devices such as mobile phones with energy gleaned from the sun. Most of these work using a small solar panel or panels to charge an internal battery. The energy stored in this battery is then transferred to your phone (or similar device) when you plug it in. In direct, bright sunshine some of theses chargers are even capable of charging device batteries directly.
Once you have purchased the solar charger you can charge your phone for free. These chargers are also very good when travelling, whether it be commuting to work, trekking through the mountains or lazing on the beach. Obviously when abroad, they can negate the need to take mains powered chargers and socket adapters.
2. SOLAR CHARGERS FOR HOUSEHOLD BATTERIES
Typical Product Cost : £15 to £30
Using rechargeable batteries instead of the single use alkaline type is a great way to save money and help the environment. Even better, rather than using a mains powered rechargable battery charger, solar power can be used as a carbon free alternative.
3. SOLAR CHARGERS FOR SMALL ELECTRICAL GADGETS
Typical Product Cost : £25 - £100
Some small rechargeable electrical products now come with solar panels built in. Typically, but not always, these are used in conjunction with other methods of charging such as a winding handle. These products usually have a relatively small power requirement such as a handheld torch or radio. They have the benefit of being totally portable and independant of mains power - great for holidaying, camping, in the garden or allotment.
4. 12V SOLAR CHARGERS FOR CAR, BOAT AND CARAVAN BATTERIES
Typical Product Cost : £25 - £160+
Solar panels are ideal for keeping 12 volt vehicle and leisure batteries topped up and ready for duty. Solar power has the benefits of being totally silent, highly portable, virtually maintenance free and it can be used anywhere that the sunshines. In addition to this, once installed it doesn't cost a penny to run.
12V solar chargers are ideal for trickle charging batteries on infrequently used vehicles such as vintage cars, sports cars, motorbikes, mowers, tractors and boats. With the help of a solar trickle charger you can return to your machine with the peace of mind that the battery will be charged and ready for starting duties.
Vehicles such as camper vans, boats and caravans which require power for running services such as bilge pumps, lighting and refrigerators can also benefit from a solar battery charger. Solar power is, for most, a far more attractive option than starting the diesel engine or running a generator.
5. OUTDOOR SOLAR GARDEN LIGHTS
Typical Product Cost : £20 to £50
Solar power is great for providing power in places where it would otherwise be difficult or expensive to install mains power. It is ideal for outdoor solar garden lighting as it is highly mobile, simple to install (most outdoor solar garden lights simply push into the ground), safe (no buried cables) and cost effective (particularly when compared to the cost of getting an electrician in). A solar panel charges a small battery during the day to power the light (often automatically) at night.
Outdoor Solar garden lighting can be used to good effect to highlight specimen plants, provide guidance down paths or safe passage down steps and through gateways at night. Performance can vary greatly depending on the quality of the product, it's position in the garden (i.e unshaded) and the time of year.
Simplify the installation of garden fairy lights by installing solar garden fairy lights - great as outdoor solar christmas lights and for adding a bit of magic to summer garden parties and weddings!
6. SOLAR SECURITY LIGHTS AND SOLAR SHED LIGHTS
Typical Product Cost : £25 - £80
Solar power can be used very effectively to provide light in places where there is no mains power available.
It is often very cost effective when compared to the cost of getting an electrician to install a mains powered alternative. Lights are available for simple DIY installation that can be used to light driveways and small garden buildings. These are often controlled by movement sensors. Great for lighting driveways on your return to home at night, also good for pathways, safety and security measures.
Ideal for sheds, stables, pub smoking shelters, kennels, childrens play houses, paths, gateways, steps... the list is endless!
7. SOLAR POWERED LIGHTING FOR LARGER SHEDS AND STABLES ETC
Typical Product Cost : £80 - £2000+
In addition to the smaller stand alone lighting systems, there are larger DIY kits available for bringing light to larger buildings such as stables, sheds, garden houses, farm buildings etc. These are an ideal solution for buildings which may be some distance from a mains energy supply, but need the convenience of a good quality light at the flick of switch. These kits offer the benefits of a mains powered lighting system without the hassle or expense of getting a mains connection.
They work by charging a 12V battery (information on batteries for solar lighting kits here) during the day time which in turn powers a light or lights at night time. Most of these systems run a 12V lighting system as this is the most efficient way to utilise the power from the solar panel(s).
If you keep animals such as pets, horses or farm animals, it can be essential to have a few hours of light per day in the winter months to carry out routine tasks and check animal health. These systems also usually have enough power stored in the battery to run the lights for an extended period in the case of an emergency, for example if an animal is ill or injured and requires veterinary attention.
8. SOLAR POWER FOR YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS
Typical Product Cost : £1000+
It is quite possible to provide some or all of a home or business' power requirements from solar power. The extent to which this can be achieved and the type of system depends largely on the site of the building, the proximity and availability of mains power and the objectives of the owner.
In situations where mains power is unaivalable, for example in remote locations, the cost of installing a solar powered electrical system can compare favourably with the cost of installing mains electric. These systems usually rely on storing energy from the solar array in batteries which then supply electricity to the building. It is common for solar panels to be used in conjunction with other sources of renewable power in this situation such as a wind or water turbines. Wind and solar power compliment each other very well as we tend to get duller, windier conditions in the winter and brighter, clamer conditions in the summer.
In situations where mains power is readily available, it is unlikely that it will be economic to provide for peak power requirements from solar power alone. In this case a "grid-tied" system is normally used to allow electricity to be exported to, and imported from the national grid according to supply and demand.
Many home owners and business are attracted by the prospect of "free" power from the sun, particularly in light of rising electricity and fuel costs. In addition there is a growing awareness of the need to reduce the carbon footprint of our activities and our buildings. In this case it can be attractive to offset just a proportion of total electricity costs with power from a stand alone or grid tied solar array.