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Living off the sun: 7 tips on using solar panels efficiently
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Living off the sun: 7 tips on using solar panels efficiently

15 mins 22 Feb 2021
For newcomers to solar energy it might appear that you just buy a solar installation and it pays for everything. While in the essence this idea is true, there are lots of tricks for managing a solar panel system in the most efficient way. Not only gaining the maximum amount of energy is important — finding ways to use it all is equally crucial. Here are 7 simple tips for those who wonder what to do with solar panels and all this sun.

1. Use energy-hungry appliances during the day

Normally, those who are connected to the commercial grid try to use their most energy-consuming appliances at night, when the electricity rate is the lowest. With solar panels you want to do the opposite: panels generate the maximum amount of energy at around noon, so this is the best time to turn on your washing machine or a dryer. At night solar panels become almost useless, and the light reflected from the moon will be hardly enough to keep your reading lamp on.

If you do most of your household chores early in the morning or late in the evening, you can adjust your solar panels so that they work alongside. In the USA, the best direction for solar panels is south. If you turn them slightly to the west, you'll get less energy overall, but more out of the evening sun. Likewise, turning your panels to the east will make them generate more electricity in the morning

2. Store unused energy for later

Solar panels provide you with a steady flow of electricity during the day, but usually you can't spend it all. Not all of us are home during the day, and we definitely don't use our devices all the time. This means that extra energy just goes to waste, while it could come in handy after dusk. To save the electricity you get, it's worth purchasing a battery which allows you to have a backup energy source. If you decide to stop paying electrical bills altogether and become independent of the commercial grid, a good battery is absolutely necessary.

Lead-acid deep-cycle batteries were a standard choice for solar panel systems for many years, but in the last few years lithium-ion batteries dropped in price and rose to glory. And for all the good reasons: they are sturdier, more efficient, live longer and occupy less space. Don't forget that you also need a charge controller to keep your battery safe from panels' high voltage and overcharging.

3. Make use of summer boost

Since spring and summer days are longer and the sun is higher, solar panels get more sunlight and give off more energy. On average, a solar panel system produces 40-50% more electricity in July-August than in November-December. You definitely can't lose that energy, so why not run an AC unit on it? With this seasonal boost you can often add a small air con to your house without worrying about installing new panels to support it.

4. Check your panels performance

Making sure your panels are working properly doesn't mean climbing up the roof every few months. While manufacturers recommend to perform a visual inspection of your solar array once a year, it's much easier to monitor its work via special devices: a charge controller and an inverter. Sometimes they can be paired with your smartphone via Bluetooth to help you monitor your solar PV system 24/7. If the performance of your panels suddenly decreases, you will be able to discover it fast and take appropriate measures. The simplest reason for decreased performance is dirt, which leads us to the next solar tip.

5. Clean your panels every once in a while

If your panels are installed on the ground, cleaning them two-three times a year is a must. A while ago Google engineers conducted an experiment on a solar farm in California: they left some panels to collect dust for 15 month and then came and washed them. The production doubled instantly. If your panels are placed on a tilted roof, you can let the rain take care of them, but not forever: eventually the dust on top of panels is going to turn to mud. The exact frequency of cleaning solar panels depends on the area you live in. To perform the cleaning you can call a special service or do it yourself. It's a lot like washing windows, just don't use soap: it leaves residue which reflects sunlight and collects dust and debris. Find more details in our article.

6. Consider energy-efficient upgrades

To use your solar energy more reasonably you can look for ways to decrease your energy spendings. Electric bills or power meters can help you to find the most costly appliances. Some of them are simply old and consume more electricity than they used to. Others can be replaced with much more energy-efficient devices. For example, LEDs need less electricity than traditional incandescent lamps, and an air conditioning system can be substituted with ceiling fans.

Home appliances also have a bad habit of using electricity even in standby mode. On average, idle devices stand for 23% of annual residential electricity consumption in the USA. It can be, however, annoying to plug them out all the time, so it's worth spending some money on smart plugs. Overall, regardless of whether you have a solar panel system or don't, making your home energy-efficient is a good idea — it saves your money and contributes to the fight against global warming.

7. Think of new ways to spend solar energy

Once you've replaced all energy-consuming appliances with modern ones, you might find yourself with more energy than you initially needed. Here are some ideas how to make good use of it:

1. Solar energy can come in handy in the garden. For example, you can run an automatic sprinkler system on solar energy to keep your plants watered.

2. Solar panel system pairs well with an electric vehicle. An electric car requires a lot of energy, so it's hardly possible to charge it with extras. But something small like a scooter might just fit right in.

3. Sell unused electricity into the commercial grid. A special net metering program allows grid-tie system owners to pump the extras back into the grid and receive bonuses, such as Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). These certificates can later be sold to utility companies.

4. Add another cold storage. If you have enough energy, it's possible to install a second fridge or freezer for supplies. You can also consider a heat storage: boiler or even a garden sauna.

Possibilities are endless and it becomes a real quest to come up with new ideas to use your extra solar energy.
Illustrations – Marina Fionova
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