Green Living

Sunny days are here again

The solar system continues to charge even on grey, overcast days. Photo: Anamika Mukherjee  

Long before we started to build our house, my husband and I started to talk about solar power. As with so many other things, the ambition to have a house that ran solely on solar energy was driven by the worsening power crisis, especially in summer. At its worst, load shedding in Bangalore could last five hours a day. Commercial establishments cranked up diesel generators, contributing generously to noise, air pollution and greenhouse gases. Residences invested in inverters. Both solutions had drawbacks. Diesel generators needed diesel and inverters ran only for short durations and even less, if you used a few fans, TVs and computers.

Solar power looked like an obvious solution. There was only one problem — it was expensive. Apart from the high initial cost of setting it up, it takes several years to recoup your investment by way of savings on electricity bills. It was still worth doing, if only for the luxury of having a plentiful supply of a scarce commodity at the peak of scarcity. But it wasn’t worth doing in a rented accommodation. Especially, since we were planning to move into our own home soon. So we waited, and planned for it at our new home.

Installing a solar power system is not very complex. It’s similar to adding an inverter to your house, with the extra step of setting up photovoltaic cells in a nice sunny spot and cabling them to the inverter. In our house, the system is wired so that the batteries charge from the photovoltaic cells, and these cells also provide electricity to run lights, fans and light electrical appliances during the day. At night, the batteries provide electricity. If, at any time, the batteries begin to run low, the system switches to charging from the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM).

We started with a 1KW installation. With this, we found that we used BESCOM power every three or four days. We added two photovoltaic plates to the two we already had, giving us a 2KW installation. Now, we rarely use BESCOM power to charge our solar system. Our BESCOM bill is low but it’s not zero. We still use it to run heavy equipment such as the mixer, water pump, iron, fridge, and washing machine. Most of these appliances are used for short periods in a day; only the fridge runs 24x7.

To keep our energy requirements down, the entire house is fitted with LED bulbs and everyone in the family is very conscious of turning off lights and fans when not used. Our house has also been planned to maximise natural light and ventilation. There are plenty of well-aligned windows that allow air to flow through the house. Light enters through windows and skylights, ensuring that we never need electric lights during the day. Hot water is provided by a solar heater that is effective even after a stretch of cloudy days.

So far, the system has worked well for us. The solar panels take up a significant amount of space on the terrace, and we have to go up and wipe them clean regularly. The batteries are quite big and take up a significant amount of space indoors, close to the BESCOM fuse box and we have to top up the water from time to time. The inverter makes a soft hiss, a slightly louder beeping, and has a glowing LED display. All of these minor inconveniences seem like a small price to pay for the convenience of a certain, uninterrupted power supply dependent on nothing and no one. Except the sun, you’re thinking. However, the solar system does in fact continue to charge even on grey, overcast days.

Power cuts have become a thing of the past. Occasionally, our entire locality will be plunged into darkness for hours on end. Many residences still have a few lights on until their inverters dry up. In our house, the fridge turns off, but the lights, fans, computers, internet, and TV continue to work. And we go to bed at night knowing that when morning dawns, our solar system will wake itself up and get right back to work.

This is the third of a five-part series about the green initiatives the writer has used for her home in Bangalore

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 8:01:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/green-living/gree-initiative-sunny-days-are-here-again/article6748514.ece

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