‘Unconventional’ installation paradigm for solar panels

‘Unconventional’ installation paradigm for solar panels

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By Jack Ward, CEO of Soltra Energy

The past year witnessed a sharp uptick in interest in South Africa for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) power for a wide range of domestic, commercial and industrial applications. This was bolstered by an increasing determination on the part of many consumers to reduce their reliance on Eskom.

This is the view of Bevan Jones, technical director at Soltra Energy, who says solar power – nature’s free alternative – will increasingly be seen as a cost-effective, ‘green’ solution in SA.

Against this backdrop, Jones says one of the advances in the power provisioning field in 2015 was the development of a new installation paradigm for solar PV panels.

“Conventional wisdom maintains that solar PV panels should be orientated towards north in the southern hemisphere to allow for the most efficient power generation, he notes. “The result, from a power production standpoint, is a ‘bell curve’ reflecting power increases throughout the day peaking at midday and gradually falling again to zero at sunset.

“However, in a grid-linked hybrid solar PV application in Johannesburg, an east-west orientation was proposed by Soltra Energy, tested and found to be more advantageous in a business environment where maximum power is required in the morning to power air conditioning systems and cater for the arrival of staff and their electrical demands.”

Jones says this solution provides the customer, a property management company, with more effective energy returns from a standard rooftop solar PV installation, while boosting the often limited availability of Eskom power.

“The motivation for the experiment was an Eskom electrical power supply unable to meet the business’ full demand. A complementary challenge was to reduce the aggregate electricity cost for the facility,” explains Jones.

“We initially evaluated power production from traditionally north-facing panels. Subsequently, various directions were tried culminating in a convention-breaking, east-west configuration which, in this application, provided significant cost advantages over a north facing system.”


He says one of the keys to the success of the installation lies with its management. Sophisticated ‘smart’ power management solutions designed by Soltra Energy can now be installed and tailored to users’ needs.

“Throughout the day excess solar power will be diverted to battery storage for later or after-hours use as appropriate, or an optional generator can be called upon to integrate seamlessly into the power supply grid should battery storage become depleted.”

Jones adds demand for solar solutions is expected to break all records in SA 2016, particularly in the light of Eskom’s proposed tariff hikes. “We have proven that unconventionally-designed solar PV systems will be able to complement grid power when really necessary – at peak times – and provide a solution robust enough to meet business as well as domestic requirements.”