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What to Expect

From Your RE Dealer

Richard Perez

Every renewable energy (RE) system begins its working life as a pile of equipment. Preparation,

planning, and proper installation are all essential if the system is to be a success. You can do it yourself or you can get help from an installing dealer. Here is what to expect from your dealer. And here is what you may miss if you decide to do it yourself.

It’s often said that good advice deserves to be repeated. This article was first published in 1997, in HP61. We’re publishing it again because this needs to be said again.

Load Analysis

Every renewable energy system should begin with a complete, accurate, and thorough analysis of the appliances to be used in the system. If the load analysis is not properly done, the system is bound to disappoint its users. If the system’s energy consumption is estimated too low, power shortages and dead batteries will soon follow. If the estimate is too high, the user will be wasting money on unneeded equipment.

Who does this load analysis—the system’s user or the person who sells the RE equipment? In most cases, both contribute information. The user lists and gathers data about each appliance (don’t leave out even the smallest one, and don’t forget to plan for future appliances). How much and what type of electrical energy does the appliance consume? How long will the appliance run? The dealer usually enters the appliance data into a computer and generates an estimate of daily energy consumption. A good dealer will also recommend appliance changes to reduce the system’s energy use.

The golden rule is: Every buck spent on an efficient appliance saves three to five bucks in system components. A good dealer knows this and will suggest replacing inefficient appliances (such as incandescent lighting and self-defrosting refrigerators that spit ice cubes out the door) with the most efficient types available. Listen to your dealer. He’s not trying to sell

©2001 Richard Perez

you an expensive refrigerator. He’s trying to save you three to five times the cost of that fridge in solar-electric modules, controls, batteries, wiring, and inverters.

Sad to say, many systems are purchased without ever doing a load analysis. Anyone who does this is wasting money, and is apt to be disappointed with the system. A good renewable energy system dealer will insist that a load analysis be done before selling you a system. If you haven’t done the analysis, your dealer will nag you into it, or visit you and do the analysis with you. The dealer deserves to be paid for this generously because he or she is really doing your homework.

A Budget Is Not a Load Analysis

Don’t buy a packaged system just because it’s within your preferred budget. Do the load analysis, and if the system needed to power these loads is too expensive, modify the loads. Replace inefficient appliances, and, if need be, eliminate appliances until the system is affordable.

It is not unusual to go through the load analysis and system design phases three or four times before the right system is found. A properly designed system costs what the user can afford to spend on the system, and the load analysis details the energy consumption of each appliance.

If you don’t know how to do a load analysis, see Ben Root’s article in HP58, page 38. If you are hiring a dealer to do the load analysis, make sure all the criteria shown in Ben’s article are taken into account.

Site Survey

A site survey is an analysis of a specific location for its renewable energy potential. Every place is different, but your system is going to be installed in a specific location. You need to determine what types and amounts of energy are available to you. Site surveys vary from simple to complicated. Let’s first look at surveying a site for photovoltaic potential.

Sunlight is the fuel used by PV modules to make electricity. The PV array needs to be located where it will receive the maximum amount of sunlight. With seasonal variations in the sun’s declination, daily constant changes in the sun’s azimuth, and possible shading from hills, trees, and buildings, finding the best spot for the PV array can be difficult. What is needed here is an instrument such as the Solar Pathfinder.

84 Home Power #81 • February / March 2001

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