Which Technologies Can Achieve Synergy with Solar Power?

12 Sep 2020

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Solar power systems by themselves offer an excellent financial return. High-quality solar panels can last over 25 years, and they can achieve a payback period of less than three years in Australia. However, there are other energy technologies that can be combined with solar power to achieve greater results.

The main benefit of solar panels is delivering clean electricity by using a resource that reaches them for free – sunlight. However, they cannot increase production on demand, and they cannot store energy for later. Also, while solar power systems produce clean energy, they do not improve energy efficiency in buildings strictly speaking. They simply offset part of the power bill with local generation, but the building may still be wasting power.

This article will provide an overview of four technologies that can achieve synergy with solar panels: battery systems, LED lighting, heat pumps and building automation systems (BAS).

Combining Solar Panels with Battery Systems

Solar panels and batteries are a promising combination. Batteries can power electrical devices on their own, which is not possible with solar panels only. While solar panels produce clean and low cost electricity, batteries can store it for cloudy days and nighttime.

Another aspect that makes solar panels and batteries compatible is their design. Both technologies are modular, and they can be scaled up or down based on the needs of each project. A few solar panels and batteries can power a home, or larger arrays can be deployed for an industrial microgrid.

The main limitation of batteries is their high initial cost, but the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts a cost reduction of over 60% before 2030. In places with expensive electricity like Australia, the potential savings of batteries are already making them cost-effective even with current prices.

How LED Lighting and Solar Power Are Similar

LEDs and solar panels are similar technologies, in spite of their different functions. An LED lamp uses semiconductor materials to convert electricity into light efficiently, and a solar panel does exactly the opposite. The technical advantages of solar panels and LED lamps are also similar:

  • Both technologies achieve a quick payback period, which can be less than 3 years under favorable conditions. 
  • Both technologies have simple maintenance needs and a long service life. There are no moving parts involved, which means there is no mechanical wear.
  • If you purchase from trusted brands, both solar panels and LED light fixtures are covered by solid warranties.

Solar panels and LED lighting also complement each other. While solar panels offer their savings during the day, LED lamps can save energy at night, when solar generation stops. There are many other energy efficiency measures and renewable generation systems, but few offer the simplicity of these two technologies.

Low-Cost Heating with Heat Pumps and Solar Panels

When a building uses hot water, the combination of solar panels and heat pumps is a clean and cost-effective option. A heat pump uses the same physical principles as a refrigerator, but the operation is reversed to deliver heating instead of cooling. Depending on the model, heat pumps can deliver between 2 and 6 kilowatt-hours of heat for every kWh of electricity consumed.

  • When solar panels are used along with a heat pump, each kWh of surplus generation can yield 2-6 kWh of clean heating.
  • Homes and businesses can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, while cutting energy expenses.

Surplus electricity from solar panels can also be exported to the local grid, in exchange for a feed-in tariff. However, these tariffs are usually much lower than the kWh price, while a heat pump stores several kWh of heat for each kWh of electricity consumed.

Building Automation Systems and Solar Power

When building automation is used, solar panels represent an additional resource to work with. The BAS can adjust the operating schedules of electrical devices whenever possible, to use more electricity when solar panels are productive. At the same time, consumption can be reduced when solar panels are unproductive and the building depends on the local grid.

A building automation system can also control batteries, LED lighting and heat pumps to maximise their electricity savings. Many opportunities can be missed when manual controls are used for these devices, or when they operate independently from each other.

Building automation can also be deployed for many buildings that share energy resources, creating a microgrid. This concept is promising for industrial facilities in remote places with a deficient electric service.

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