Solar Power Systems

Solar Power Systems

Residential and Business Solar Power Myths

  1. Solar is too expensive.” the opposite is now true – millions of South Africans can actually save money by getting most of their energy from solar power systems.
  2. The only way to go solar is to sign a 15 or 20 year lease.” The best way is to obtain own financing through government backed home improvement loans and payback is now less than 7 years.
  3. Solar is not efficient enough or the technology is not ready for mass adoption.” Now is the time to go solar!! Solar cell technology has been capable of supplying enough energy for the average homeowner for decades now.
  4. It will be more difficult to sell my home with a solar power system on it.” Again the opposite is true. If you own your system, it will add value to your property and actually make it easier to sell your home.
  5. Maintenance must be a hassle.” There is virtually no maintenance involved with the ongoing use of a solar power system.
  6. The most common myth about solar power is that it is too expensive. This may have been true 10 years ago, but not anymore. The cost of solar power today is easily less than what electric utilities charge. As displayed by the Cost of Electricity chart, a homeowner will pay off his solar system in 7 years or less by the gains he makes year on year over electricity bill from ESKOM.


SA Solar Systems PV cash flow / ROI chart

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While the numbers in the chart are approximations, they display fairly accurate differences in the cost of electricity between purchased solar and relying solely on the utility. This is actually an extremely conservative estimate concerning the cost of utility electricity, assumed to increase by 10% pa only and in practice we have seen increases of 25% and 16% and who knows where it will stop.

It’s time that home owners and businesses take control of their power bills.

Net Metering

Net Metering allows a homeowner who has a solar power system installed on their roof to benefit from any extra electricity that is generated. Most municipalities now allow this credit conditional to certain criteria.

So in addition to not needing to rely on your local municipality while the sun is shining, your electricity bill is further reduced through this set up.

SA Solar Systems Net Meter

How It Works

It’s fairly simple. During the times of the day that your PV system generates more power than you use, your electricity meter will run backwards. This process automatically keeps track of how much energy you have contributed to the grid. Your municipal statement will show this credit.

PV system owners are basically only charged the “net” energy that they use.

A great way to look at this is that in addition to your PV system providing most of the energy you require, net metering also enables you to turn your home into a small power plant.

Consider how powerful this is – you can also be a producer for the grid, instead of only being a customer.


Residential Solar Energy System

Also known as a grid-connected photovoltaic system, a typical residential solar energy system

One of the great things about PV systems is how simple they actually are. There are only a few components involved and the system is basically maintenance-free once it is installed.

While there are many different types and brands of products that are available that solar contractors use in their installations, the basic idea remains the same.

Basic Residential PV System Set Up

  1. A PV system starts with solar panels that are mounted to a roof using stainless steel mounting hardware and racks. The panels use the suns light to create DC (direct current) energy.
  2. Wiring takes the DC electricity to an inverter placed on the side of the house. The inverter converts the DC electricity to AC (alternating current) electricity that homes are wired to use.
  3. From the inverter, electricity is sent to the main breaker box. Energy is then sent to both your smart meter and the appliances in your home.
  4. Excess energy is sent to the grid. This energy powers homes nearby. The owner of the PV system gets credit for this extra energy through net metering.
SA Solar Systems PV Module

Solar Panels

Solar Panels is Photovoltaics (PV)

Photovoltaics – this is where alternative energy starts. Let’s look at a brief, summarized history…

This technology, commonly shortened to PV, has its roots in 19th Century France. Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. This effect is simply the production of electricity from sunlight.

Although some improvements were made in solar cell technology since the mid-19th century, it wasn’t until the late 1950’s that the first conventional solar cell was produced by Bell Laboratories. This major development occurred when they created a diffused silicon p-n junction. This increased the efficiency of the cell from 0.5% to 6%. By 1960, cells were developed that achieved 14% efficiency.

PV technology has since been used to power everything from calculators to satellites. Improvements in PV technology (and the industry) continues to drive down prices and increase overall solar cell efficiency percentages.

A simple solar cell has five parts (see diagram below); anti-reflection coating, front contact, emitter (n-type semiconductor), base (p-type semiconductor), and the rear contact

SA Solar Systems Simple Solar Cell

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Electricity is generated in a three step process;

  1. Sunlight hits the cell creating an electron-hole pair.
  2. The electron moves from the emitter through the external circuit – passing on its energy.
  3. Completing the circuit, the electron reconnects with the hole in the base.


Solar Panels components

When most of us think about how solar power works, one of the first things that comes to mind are solar panels.

On this page we’ll discuss what makes up a typical panel and the different types that are available.

SA Solar Systems | Solar Panel Components

It all starts with a solar cell. Cells are interconnected (usually in series) to form a module. Modules typically contain 60 to 72 solar cells. Panels are then constructed by connecting multiple modules. The final product that you’ll see on roof tops are a series of connected panels called an array.

There are five different components that make up a solar panel. The first, and serving as the protective layer, is typically tempered glass. Next is an anti-reflective sheet, then the solar cell. A thin polymer sheet then makes up the rear surface. Finally, a frame is required to hold it all together.

Types of Solar Panels

  1. Monocrystalline Solar Panels.

Otherwise known as Single Crystal, this is the original photovoltaic technology. Like the name implies, this crystal is cut from a single, continuous solid cylinder of crystal. The cylinder is then sliced into thin wafers to create solar cells. This PV technology has been more efficient, yet more expensive to produce.

SA Solar Systems | Monocrystalline Solar Panels
  1. Polycrystalline Solar Panels.

This silicon material is melted and poured into a mold. After the mold cools, the slabs of silicon are cut into bricks, then once more into square wafers. This process creates less waste than with Monocrystalline tech. It is also less expensive, however it is not quite as efficient. This is due to energy that is lost at grain boundaries between different crystal grains.

SA Solar Systems | Polycrystalline Solar Panels

3.Thin Film Photovoltaics

Like the name suggests, this PV tech involves the depositing of ultra-thin layers of semiconducting materials on glass or stainless-steel. This technology  is also called “amorphous”, as it can also be made with non-silicon materials like Cadmium Telluride. Although this Thin Film offers much promise for the future of PV, it has so far shown lower efficiency and durability levels.
SA Solar Systems | Thin Film Photovoltaics

Environmental Benefits Of Solar

There are numerous environmental benefits of solar energy. Electricity from solar energy can be generated via thermal applications or photovoltaics (solar panels). The benefits of solar panels, in particular, is what will be highlighted on this page.


Solar energy has long been known as a large-scale potential solution to the dirty and inherently finite sources of energy that society has been reliant on for many decades. In fact, for more than a century, we’ve known about the possibility of transforming sunlight into electricity.

What has taken decades to fully grasp is the devastation that traditional energy sources have had on our environment. For too long now the burning of fossil fuels has led to polluted air, waterways, and significantly increased the acidification of the ocean. Long term and potentially calamitous effects on our climate have been largely attributed to energy industry emissions.

SA Solar Systems | Solar Panels

The many ways in which solar panels will improve the world we live in are truly astounding. Utilizing solar power will allow for the eventual ending of fossil fuel emissions. The avoidance of power plant emissions has numerous and widespread ecological advantages. The following information will delve into solar’s abundant environmental strengths, but first let’s consider the problem that must be solved.

The Problem

According to the EPA, the total U.S. greenhouse emissions for 2013 was 6,673 million metric tons. It can be difficult to picture the enormity of that number, especially considering that we’re talking about something gaseous and not always visible in every American town. However, those that have lived in smog filled cities know all too well the size of this problem.

Another noteworthy item about the statistic just mentioned is that it does include transportation based pollution. Vehicle exhaust contributes just more than 25 percent of all emissions. An explanation of how solar power can also help solve this problem will be mentioned in the advantages of solar further down this page.

Here is a breakdown of the different gases involved and their various effects –

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)– Representing more than 80 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, CO2 is the most familiar pollutant. Carbon dioxide emissions occur from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. Trees and other wood products contribute to the CO2 concentrations in the air when burned. Once realized into the atmosphere, CO2 can lead to effects lasting thousands of years.
  • Methane (CH4)– Coal, natural gas, and oil also contribute to the amount of methane in the atmosphere, currently about 10 percent of total emissions. Livestock and other agricultural processes also contribute to methane emissions. While methane is considered a much more potent greenhouse gas, its life cycle is much shorter at close to 100 years.
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O)– This gas is also emitted through fossil fuel use, industrial, and agricultural activities. While a much smaller percentage of total emissions at 5 percent, this is a very potent greenhouse gas that typically lasts for at least 100 years.
  • Fluorinated gases– Include nitrogen trifluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and perfluorocarbons. These synthetic greenhouse gases represent just 3 percent of all totals yet these are extremely potent gases. They are released through industrial processes.
SA Solar Systems | Pollution can be reduced

The Damage Done

We are just now beginning to realize the effects of these greenhouse gas emissions. The scientific community has arrived at an overwhelming consensus that these emissions are altering our climate. World leaders know they must transition to clean energy and are beginning to take steps in that direction. Word is starting to spread about how solar helps the environment and can eventually become a major part of our energy solution.

In the meantime, the burning of millions of tons of coal have polluted the air worldwide. Locally, America’s fracking boom has contributed to unsafe drinking water conditions. Industrial pollution due to the use of fossil fuels have also polluted waterways with wastewater across the country. The world’s oceans have taken the largest impact. Approximately one third of all emissions are eventually absorbed the ocean, increasing acidification levels and threatening sea life of all kinds.

Health Effects Of Air Pollution

The health effects of these greenhouse gas pollutants are far reaching. According to a 2013 MIT study, approximately 200,000 people die prematurely every year in the United States due to air pollution. These individuals would have lived another decade longer had they not been exposed to pollution.

Worldwide, the situation is considerably worse. More than 3 million people die prematurely from outdoor air pollution. Astonishingly, the same amount of people die prematurely every year due to the effects of indoor air pollution. Millions of those who live third world nations use wood and other biofuels for indoor cooking.

Let’s look into the specific pollutants and their respective effects on health.

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx)– Affects the lining deep within lungs. Linked to asthma and lung cancer.
  • Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)– Affects the upper region of lungs. Linked to respiratory symptoms, disease, and cancer. It is also a precursor to acid rain.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)– combines with NOx to create ozone. Ozone also affects deep regions in the lungs causing many respiratory illnesses and also believed linked to increase cancer risks.
SA Solar Systems | Health benefits of solar power

The Solution

Solar power can, and will, eventually become the solution to all of our many air pollution problems. The benefits of solar energy completely dwarfs any other source of energy in terms of its untapped potential, environmental advantages, and versatility.

The environmental advantages of solar energy are considerable. While not yet a perfected technology, overall solar panel benefits are enormous. Total lifetime CO2 emissions related to the construction and the eventual recycling of solar panels is minuscule compared to fossil fuels. In fact, a solar panel’s energy payback time period is now much less than a year – meaning that the energy it took to create the panel can be produced by the panel in that short time period.

Solar panels create no emissions during use. This fact alone makes them a far better environmental choice than any fossil fuel. Here are the key advantages of solar –

SA Solar Systems | Solar panels are the solution

Advantages Of Solar

  • Emission Free– Solar creates no emissions during use – completely avoiding additional CO2, NOx, SO2, CH4, and VOCs associated with fossil fuels.
  • Abundant Energy– Every year, the amount of solar energy that hits the Earth is more than a 1,000 times the amount that the world uses. If we could capture the total solar energy that hits the planet’s surface over the period of one hour, that would be enough energy to power the world for one year.
  • Minimal Land Use– It would take less than 1 percent of the total available land in the United States for solar to provide all of the power the country requires.
  • Easily Scalable– Solar pv can be utilized at all scales – from pocket calculators to very large utility scale installations.
  • No Water Use– After initial production, there is no water use required for solar panels, unlike all other forms of energy production.
  • Power Vehicles– As more and more electric vehicles are produced, overall emissions from vehicles will greatly be reduced and solar power can become the primary source of fuel for these vehicles.
  • 5kw System Benefits– The average solar panel system of 5,000 watts can; prevent the emission of more than 300,000 lbs of CO2, prevent the burning of 27,000 lbs of coal, prevents the use of 180,000 gallons of water, is the equivalent of almost 400,000 miles driven, and is the equivalent of almost 3 acres of trees planted.


To summarize, the environmental benefits of solar energy are truly remarkable. We are just now starting to utilize and realize the benefits of solar panels. It is truly amazing to realize that one form of energy has the potential to improve our environment, protect the health of people everywhere, and provide us with more than enough energy.

We can all look forward to clearer skies, cleaner waterways, and abundant energy for all in the coming years.

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About Post Author

With more than 30 years experience in engineering and project management, Steph Van Jaarsveld a registered Pr.Eng, decided to start SA Solar Systems. With a passion for high quality products, fitting your pocket and loving the concept of free energy from nature! ”It’s amazing how we have the technology to turn the sun rays into usable electricity! It’s like a miracle from nature.”