What Are The Advantages Of Solar Energy Compared To Other Renewable Energy Solutions

There has been an increase in uptake of renewable energy sources for home and business use in South Africa, especially with the continuous rolling blackouts that have hindered business productivity and ultimately the economy since 2008. In 2019 alone, load shedding is estimated to have cost the South African economy between R59-billion and R118-billion, according to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

What is renewable energy?

With all the havoc brought about by loadshedding, most South Africans know what renewable energy sources are but, for those that don’t, renewable energy is power that is generated from natural elements such as the sun, wind, biomass and water. These energy sources are renewable because they can be naturally replenished.

What are the available energy sources for homes and businesses in South Africa?

There are a variety of sources of renewable energy available to the South African home and business market, with Solar being the option that holds the most potential of all due to the high UV exposure that South Africa has year-round. 

Majority of renewable solutions are not ideal, or completely impossible for suburban homes and businesses to implement however, some of these solutions can be implemented in rural businesses and homes such as those on farms and homesteads.

Some of the available renewable energy resources are:

Wind

This might not be the first option for most homes and businesses in suburban areas but is a great source of energy for larger homesteads and rural homes that have land-space for wind-turbines, especially in Cape Town which ranks high on the international scale for having fair to reasonable wind resources. 

Wind turbines require winds of between 13 and 90km/h to produce power. 

Hydroelectric Power

Hydropower requires flowing water that gets turned into energy and most commonly, hydroelectric dams are used for this. Water released from the dams then generates electricity. Our country doesn’t have a very high rainfall rate at around 500mm, so this power source is potentially limited, however, in places like the Easter Cape, this is a good region for hydroelectric power. Homes and small businesses can benefit from hydropower through a micro hydropower solution.

The other sources of renewable energy, being biomass and geothermal energy are larger-scale solutions that the South African government are investigating as alternatives to our current coal and nuclear energy sources.

Realistically, this leaves the majority of South Africa with a single choice for personal generation of power – solar energy. This isn’t a bad thing though because the sun is the largest source of free energy with enough power in one minute to power up the world’s electricity needs for a year. With South Africa’s annual UV exposure, it is the ideal place for solar energy as a solution because it is a source of energy readily available throughout the year, even on those cloudy days.

So, what are the benefits of solar energy?

It doesn’t require too much space

Unlike the other renewable energy sources, wind, hydro and biomass that require relatively large space to be implemented, solar energy does not require much space to generate enough electricity for your home or business. A simple rooftop installation can generate enough electricity to power you entire home’s electricity requirement.

Reduced electricity bills

You will be meeting some of your energy needs with the electricity your solar system has generated, your energy bills will naturally drop, as you rely less on the grid. 

Solar can generate enough electricity for your home or business and be stored in a battery for later use making it possible to replace your grid usage and make you completely independent of the national-grid. 

Low maintenance cost

Solar energy systems generally don’t require a lot of maintenance compared to other sources like wind turbines. With solar energy systems, you only need to keep them relatively clean, so cleaning them a couple of times per year will do the job where wind turbines require much more maintenance than photovoltaic systems.

Diverse applications

Solar energy can be used for diverse purposes. You can generate electricity through photovoltaics or heat, through solar thermal. Solar can be used to produce electricity in areas where there is no access to the energy grid, to distil water in regions with limited clean water supplies and even to power satellites in space. Solar can also be integrated into building materials with companies like Sharp creating transparent solar energy windows. 

Environmentally friendlier option 

Even if Hydroelectricity is an option for your home or business, though effective, it is generally supplied through the use of large dams. Hydro plants often change the natural flow of the waterways, installations can also affect wildlife in the area. Similarly the wind turbines also disrupt nature and its ecosystems with the amount of noise they produce. Photovoltaic panels, on the other hand, do not affect surrounding ecosystems much.  

With its versatility you can easily achieve land or roof mounting of panels without affecting surroundings that much. As a renewable CO2-free power source, it is also vital to remember the environmental impact of solar power is significantly smaller than other power generation methods