Sunday, January 23, 2011

Using solar in rural areas is cost efficient and sustainable

Devices that create electricity from the sun are known as photovoltaic panels and are available in a variety of sizes and for different uses. They do not create pollution. They do not cost the owner any fuel charges.  They do not make any noise.  There is no residual product that has to be disposed.  Most importantly, once installed, they cost nothing to run except for maintenance.

 However, the cost to purchase the equipment is not any less than the cost to buy electricity from a local electrical company.  As a matter of fact, it can cost much more upfront and take 15-20 years to realize a return in investment, especially if the original cost was financed.

For me, the goal of sustainability is to be self-sufficient and that means reducing costs where possible.  If I could afford it, I would mount solar photovoltaic cells across my entire roof and generate all the free, clean, and green electricity I want to run my household.  Unfortunately, the cost for that implementation is prohibitive for people in my socio-economic class. 

However, there are many uses for small-scale implementations, especially in rural areas where the cost is actually less than using conventional electrical sources.  In some rural areas, the cost to run a line from “the grid” can be very costly. 

In the hill country, there’s a lot of sunshine even during the winter.  A lot of folks use solar panels for a variety of purposes. 

One of the most common uses is the solar powered yard light.  These range in price and quality, but can commonly be found for $10 a light.  We bought a set of four 8 years ago for our front yard.  They are simple to install, just stick them in the ground. They collect sunlight during the day and provide light at night.  These are perfect for lighting a patio area, walkway, or a driveway.

For more robust use, we often see one solar panel (approximately one foot square size) along with one or two car batteries.  This kind of system is perfect for powering electronic gates, water pumps for irrigation and stock tanks, barn lights and fans, green house fans, and many more.  These systems will run independently for many years and only cost a couple hundred bucks. 

So for those projects far away from the electrical system, instead of thinking about how to run an electrical line, look for ways to use the sun’s power.