I am well aware my esteemed colleague has already written a guide on solar power. This guide is different, penned with dummies in mind by a man who is also, when it comes to solar power and electricity in general, a dummy, who has taken a journey in the solar world. It is not a treatise on Solar Power nor is it a physics paper on the subject but may the knowledgeable feel free to show off their knowledge in the comments section.
Last night I made a startling discovery, despite what I had intended in the beginning, my two solar panels and one 100AH Exide battery are not my backup source of electricity at all; ZESA mains is the actual back up source!
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Owing to a series of misfortunes I have barely had electricity for more than two days at a time for the past two months including the current month. In fact I have never had electricity for 24 consecutive hours in the same period but instead I spent half of Christmas without power, the New Year’s week without power, the week after that also was spent in the dark after an intermittent period of power that barely lasted 3 hours, this last weekend was in the dark and then last night the transformer exploded for the second time this year.
The ZESA folks always have a reason for these outages: most of the time in summer it is due to rain (we haven’t had thunderstorms this year so this is just plain ordinary rain) in fact the local substation (rumor has it that is was built using Chinese parts) is so hydrophobic you can knock it out using a cup of water. It failed a record 10 times one day a couple of weeks ago during a drizzle.
Then in winter it’s always the “all the electricity is going towards winter wheat crop”, then in spring its the statutory mandatory maintenance and my neighborhood is in a nice little group of suburbs that are subjected to 16 hours/day of load shedding because they are low priority areas (which some say is code for no-big-chef-lives-there.) Then there is the Ocean’s 11 heists of cables and transformer oil in between. All these things require regular home contribution that easily exceeds $10 000/year to get the ZESA engineers to come and fix.
Long story short no one who cares for his internet and electrical gadgets the way I do would be satisfied by the ZESA service. For me like most people having a backup power source is not an option, it is a requirement.
Solar is Ideal
It is true there a number of options like battery packs which are charged when there is mains power and utilised during black outs but the unpredictable nature of the black outs experienced by most people make the use of these difficult especially when there is an extended blackout, as I have recounted sometimes these last an entire week.
One could also use a generator. These have the advantage that they are not typically affected by weather but most backup generators struggle when used for an inordinately long amount of time. This can be fixed by purchasing “primary source” generators but these are significantly much more costly. There is also the issue of fuel costs. Despite what the chirpy anchors at CNN like to say every morning the benefits in the drop in Crude Oil prices has not reached Zimbabwe at all partly because the government decided to Tax fuel!
Solar equipment is increasingly becoming affordable and the technology is improving on a regular basis making it a viable choice for those seeking backup power sources, or those who are in remote areas far away from the cursed grid. Most ICT equipment can be run using Solar power. A VSAT station and WiFi router plus a tablet and a laptop can be run using a well below $1000 DIY domestic solar plant at no additional costs. True power can be patchy during the rainy months when there is extensive cloud cover but Zimbabwe is a sunshine country most of the year even in winter. Besides even during this summer season my solar power is more reliable than ZESA’s.
I am no Solar maestro but I have the experience of changing over a 100 light bulbs, over 50 plugs and switches in addition to completely ruining a couple of phones and radios. That should count for something right? I mean you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette right? I kinda of slept through half of the physics lessons during High school so you should take whatever I say with a pinch of salt and rely on the wisdom of the community to moderate my claims.
That said, I grew up on Solar Power. My father had Solar Mutare ( I don’t know whether they are still in business) install our first Solar Panel in the summer of 1993 and I tinkered with the system well enough to know the basics. I jumped into the ZESA boat when I became of age but over the course of last year, beginning during the World Cup, I gradually came back to the fold.
Over the next couple of articles we will examine what, you as a dummy need to do to built your own little plant, it will not be as neat and professional as the Solar company installed units but it will work well enough and cost you a lot less if you live through the inevitable nasty electric shocks you will receive in the process.