Solar Energy — A viable venture into the unknown

BY: R.K. Agbanu
Solar panels being installed
Solar panels being installed

At the time of writing this article, there was reportedly a power deficit of about 650MW confronting the country.

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And as the government and its agencies explore every conceivable way of addressing these shortfalls, private organisations and individuals have to try to navigate through the debilitating situation to keep businesses running and the lights on.

Solar as a Solution

It is in light (no pun intended) of this that the  Energy Commission and other industry players have advocated for investments in alternative renewable energy sources such as solar and wind to reduce the ever-increasing pressure on the country’s electricity grid.


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Solar energy is one of the most efficient means of generating power in a modern but smart, safe and reliable way, especially in our part of the world (tropics). It is not as environmentally-invasive such as hydro, coal and other alternatives, however, a smart and cheaper technology that can go a long way to address the country’s and indeed the continent’s energy needs with consistent increase in population growth, deepened commercialisation and a maturing industrial sector. 

One then wonders why with all these positives, solar energy is not as commonplace as it should be, especially against the backdrop of the energy crisis. The answer is that it is not well known. Although solar technology is not old, one could argue that  it is comparatively new to the Ghanaian society and every “new” technology is met with a degree of hesitation and trepidation from a very cautious public. 

Everything of an unknown or mysterious nature normally comes along with myths and the ensuing section will try to demystify some of these to settle any lingering doubts about this very wonderful technology.

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Reliability

To settle this, one must first understand how the technology works. Solar power systems consist of panels, inverters/controllers, batteries and other ancillary equipment. The panels are installed, preferably on a roof or on a mounted platform with maximum exposure to direct sunlight. Upon sunlight striking the surface, photovoltaic cells are activated to produce electrical current which is then transmitted to the inverter and then converted into usable electricity. Excess electricity is stored in the batteries for use during night time and overcast days. Even on cloudy days and in the rainy season, sunlight still cut through the sky to be accessed by the panels. The best installers will carefully analyse your situation (whether home, business or industry) and provide you with a variety of options including hybrid, battery bank, or off-grid. Solar technology therefore, highly dependable; even Germany, Europe’s biggest economy notwithstanding Brexit already gets about 25 per cent of its electricity from renewables with plans for further expansion.

Cost

One other misconception about the technology is its seemingly expensive nature, making it only accessible to the wealthy. It is actually cheaper compared to other sources. One reality is that  its initial cost can be quite prohibitive. But if carefully measured against its durability (life span of 25 years) and performance in the long term, then a simple cost analysis will simply dispel this notion. Additionally, with solar, there are no input costs, one does not go out to buy sunlight to feed onto the panels for generation to begin. 

They are self-sustaining and independent power generation systems that pay for themselves over time. They also do not have any moving parts to require regular maintenance. 

Professional installers will always put in a maintenance plan/schedule to check on the system every now and then to forestall any disruptions in its operations. Looking at the medium to long-term operations of solar technology, therefore, it can safely be  concluded that they are indeed some of the cheapest energy sourcing options available. Moreover, modern financing options will make it possible for clients to pay for the system over time while maintaining, repairing and replacing old and worn-out parts over the years. 

Others 

Solar technology is environmentally-friendly and arguably the cleanest means of generating electricity in modern times. They are aesthetic in nature and come in different shades and patterns. Components can be upgraded over time as and when needed without completely overhauling the whole system.

Conclusively, solar technology does work, it is not a foray into the unknown and the performance is manifest. Quack installers have to be shunned and the general public are implored to visit the Energy Commission for a list of qualified and certified solar firms who are supervised to ensure professional standards are met in the installment and servicing of solar power systems. 

Let us do all we can to achieve the government’s target of 10 per cent  renewable energy generation by 2020 by ensuring power generation is enough to meet the country’s needs to improve the quality and standard of living and for the progress of the economy as a whole.