Green: Guide to going Solar

In 2012, young entrepreneur and green energy advocate Giancarlo Capco established Calriger Technologies with the vision of bringing innovation and advancement to Filipino families, communities, and businesses.

A commerce graduate with a major in business management from the Far Eastern University, Gian was an Outstanding YMCA Student Leader in 2005. In 2006, he represented the country in a World Business Plan Competition sponsored by the Harvard Business School where he garnered international recognition and multiple awards for his invention: the Sanitary Aqua Vendo Water Vending Machine for Public Toilets.

Gian is also co-founder of Global Advocacies Towards Empowered Societies International Missions (GATES IM), a non-profit comprised of about 50 young business professionals worldwide who are passionate about the sustainable development of communities.

Calriger’s products and services include solar and wind technology, defense system technologies, survival gear and emergency tools, and website development and graphic design.

For more information, visit www.calriger.com.

Whether you’re an environmentalist concerned about clean, renewable energy or someone looking to lower electricity costs in your home or business, solar power is a sustainable and exciting solution. This is especially relevant for countries like the Philippines that enjoy many hours of sunshine almost all throughout the year. And with solar panels and their installation becoming less expensive and more accessible in recent years, there is no reason why ordinary homeowners—the low to middle income earners—can’t tap into this awesome energy source.

Here’s what you need to know before investing in and putting up your own solar energy system.

Do your homework
Not all solar energy systems are the same, and the cost varies greatly depending on the size and specifications of the set up. Make a list of the items and appliances that you plan to use solar energy for. Solar power works well for most appliances except for those that use an electric heat element such as a water heater or electric stove. From there, work backwards to compute your energy requirements and get an idea of the size of the set up you will need: too small and you may not have enough power for your needs, too big and you may be spending money needlessly. In order to be cost-effective, make sure you invest in a set up that fits your purpose.

Find a solar panel pro
Talk to a few solar providers before you commit to a panel installation. You may find that pricing is similar, so you will have to base your final decision on other equally important things such as reputation and willingness of the supplier to discuss solar set-up options with you in detail. From here you can already gauge the kind of after sales support you are likely to get.

Know how your chosen set up works
Arming yourself with knowledge will help you maximize efficiency and troubleshoot simple problems that may be encountered after installation. Avail of any training that your solar provider
can give you.

The basic components include the solar panel, charge controller, battery, inverter, alternating
current (AC) line, and direct current (DC) line.

1. Solar panel
A solar panel is made of the natural element, silicon, which becomes electrically charged when exposed to sunlight. The output of a solar panel is usually stated in watts. The wattage you will need depends on how much power you intend to produce. A basic set up (non-commercial, non-industrial) will usually require a minimum 100-watt solar panel. A mono crystalline panel (usually dark blue in color) is preferred over a poly crystalline one because it captures sunlight more efficiently.

Choose a high quality solar panel with a warranty of at least five years.

2. Charge controller
A charge controller (or charge regulator) is directly connected to the solar panel to regulate the transfer of power from the panel to a battery. It also monitors the state-of-charge of the battery, and allows the current to enter the battery as it is charging while ensuring that the battery is not overcharged. Connecting a solar panel directly to a battery without a charge controller risks damaging the battery and may cause potential hazards. Charge controllers are rated based on the amount of amperage. The amperage you will need depends on the wattage of the solar panels you are installing. A basic set up will usually require a minimum 20 amp controller. A digital controller is preferred over analogue as the former tends to be more accurate.

3. Battery
The battery is where the electrical energy produced by the solar panels is stored and released. Batteries are rated in amp hours (ah), which refers to the amount of current (in amps) which can be supplied by the battery over the period of hours. The battery should have sufficient amp hour capacity to supply the needed power during the longest expected period of “no sun” or extremely cloudy conditions. Deep cycle, lead acid batteries are the most commonly used because of their wide availability and lower initial cost; they can also be discharged and re-charged hundreds or even thousands of times. Choose a sealed, no-maintenance version over a wet cell battery.

4. Inverter
An inverter is a device that changes the direct current (DC) power stored in the battery to a standard 220-volt alternative current (AC) electricity. Nearly all lighting and appliances are designed to use AC power, so it takes an inverter to make the switch from AC to DC. The size of the inverter should be at least double that of your energy requirement. A basic set up usually requires a minimum 500 to 1000 watts inverter. Choose an inverter with an external fuse for added safety.

5. AC line
The AC line is connected to the inverter and supplies standard 220V AC power. You can plug in your standard items and appliances here. Just bear in mind that the wattage of each item or appliance you use will determine how much power is consumed or how long the power stored in the battery will last especially during periods of “no sun” (like at night) when the solar panel and battery are not charging. That’s why planning ahead is very important to make sure your set up is of the correct size and specifications to meet your energy needs. Add a fuse and switch in every AC line that you will
create for added safety.

6. DC line
The DC line is connected directly to the battery (again, integrate special fuses and circuit breakers specifically designed for DC power line for that added safety) and does not go through the inverter.
It supplies 12V DC power which can be used for DC or solar compatible appliances. The advantage of adding a DC line is that it makes your set-up more energy efficient. For example, a DC solar compatible electric fan consumes around 15 watts per hour while a standard 220V electric fan consumes around 65-80 watts per hour. While not all appliances have a DC compatible counterpart, investing in those that do can make your solar energy system more
cost-efficient in the long run. Aside from electric fans, DC solar compatible lighting, television, refrigerators and air conditioners are slowly making their way into the market.

Conserve energy
Do this even before or while you are thinking about installing a solar energy system. We need to consume with our children in mind—this goes for food, water, energy, and everything else on this planet.

Worldwide, solar technology is advancing as more people recognize the need for solutions that are better for the environment. Imagine a world powered by the sun and be part of the solution.

The authors, pictured here with their beautiful mom, recently installed a basic solar energy system at their family farm in Botolan, Zambales. Their PHP 25,000 investment includes a 100 watt solar panel, 24 amp solar master 12V battery, 30 amp charger controller and 1000 watt inverter–plus a few solar-ready bulbs, wires and even a solar fan. Supplies, training, and excellent after sales support provided by Calriger!

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE November 2015 issue.

Words by Fatima Alba and Sef Alba Carandang

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