Why off-grid photovoltaics (PV)systems?

How has solar PV technology advanced?

off grid solar

With the decreasing cost of photovoltaics (PV), going solar is becoming more cost-effective and adoption rates continue to increase for both on-grid and off-grid applications. The solar PV technology continues to advance to provide power solutions for both businesses and individuals. From a very massive utility-scale power plant providing over 2GW (2000 MW) of generating capacity to a 4 or 5-watt panel for charging your cellphone or mp3 player, it is proof that solar PV technology has advanced and has very many applications. Research and development (R&D) efforts for photovoltaics continue with the aim of determining the right combination of materials to enhance or increase solar panel efficiency to generate more electricity per unit area of the solar panel.

When it comes to off-grid solar, more solar applications are developed with the aim of powering rural areas. Rural electrification, especially in developing countries, has been made more cost-effective since grid extension is still very expensive in rural areas. Scattered households and lack of a critical mass of households to make grid extension more cost-effective are one of the major reasons why the private sector does not find incentive in developing many rural grid electrification projects without subsidies from the government.

Many rural electrification projects using grid extension has remained a project for governments and non-governmental organizations. However, because of the reducing solar panel cost, the private sector is increasingly getting involved in many rural electrification projects that use innovative business models such as pay-as-you-go (PAYGO)  and other off-grid solar projects to provide electricity to rural communities in developing countries.off-grid solar

Solar PV and rural electrification

With the right mix of technologies, off-grid solar PV systems can help to overcome the barrier to rural electrification without grid-extension. This can also take the form of off-grid solar PV combined with other sources of energy including, but not limited to wind power, bioenergy, geothermal, and small hydro resources. However, apart from solar energy, many of these other forms of renewable energy resources are site-specific and would work well where such resources are available and from a sustainable source.

Off-grid solar has numerous applications and solar is in abundance in most rural areas where it is needed because of its wider applications. A lot of food is grown in rural areas and off-grid solar would play a vital role in providing water from the wells through solar water pumping irrigation as well as other productive uses, especially in agriculture. Also, since many people have cellphones today, charging cellphones using solar power would be ideal, especially in areas not connected to the grid.

Off-grid solar also means portable solar solutions providing emergency power or standby power where there are many power outages. Some of these portable solar solutions include solar generators, solar battery chargers, and other portable solar gadgets. Solar lighting options for homes or street lighting are also applicable in rural areas.

Of all the above off-grid solar applications, solar water pumping for irrigation would provide many sustainability benefits in both short-term and long-term, creating jobs in the agricultural sector, especially in dry areas that can be transformed for growing food crops. On the other hand, off-grid solar would also provide a huge sustainability impact for homes through improving livelihoods with solar electrification.

Off-grid solar water pumping for irrigation:

For dry off-grid areas, solar photovoltaics can provide water for irrigation using solar water pumps and is more cost-effective compared to diesel-powered water pumps considering the long-term costs. The life-cycle cost of a solar water pump used for irrigation will be lower because once the solar water pump has been bought, there will be no lifetime fuel costs associated with the solar water pump.

solar irrigation

However, a diesel-powered solar water pump will continue to rely on diesel over its lifespan. The solar water pump to be used will depend on many factors including the size of the farm, power rating (voltage rating), flow rates, and so on. There are two major types of solar water pumps: surface and submersible solar water pumps. Learn more about solar water pumps in this article.

Off-grid solar for rural electrification:

Rural electrification comes in many ways including, but not limited to grid extension, microgrids powered with renewable energy, or powered with fossil fuels. Powering rural areas using solar is increasingly being applied in many developing countries because of the reducing cost of solar panels. As such, solar PV is used as a clean technology to mitigate climate change with the right combination of technologies and with the right financial instruments.

Looking into the future, the centralized grid power system in rural areas will not be common as many investments will be used to develop decentralized power systems because of economics and the need to mitigate climate change using decentralized renewable energy systems. Also, solar packaged systems, as well as innovative business models such as pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) models, will continue to penetrate in rural areas of developing countries helping to provide affordable power to rural communities while mitigating climate change.

Renewable energy micro-grids such as off-grid solar PV systems with battery storage will overcome the high costs of grid extension. Standalone off-grid solar systems will be more ideal for rural electrification in areas where grid extension is expensive, and households not concentrated in one area, but scattered over a large area where grid extension could be expensive. Learn more about solar packaged solutions and rural electrification.

Solar Charger, Portable Panel Charger

Whether you are a fun of off-grid travels or camping with your friends or family, having charged electronic devices is essential, especially for emergency situations and navigation and enjoying your trip.

In case you are planning to make one of those off-grid trips, a solar phone charger comes in handy, especially if you intend to extend your trip in areas not connected to the grid. Hence, along with your other traveling plans, you would want to ensure you have a reliable source of portable power to charge your electronic gadgets.

One of the gadgets that almost everyone has nowadays is a cellphone and using a cell phone solar charger can help to keep it fully charged, despite your location.

When it comes to buying some of the best solar chargers today, Amazon provides a great place to start with because of a wealth of information it provides its customers. Amazon reviews its prices regularly and has numerous customer reviews for most products and before you buy any product you can review what other customers are saying about the product.

For instance one of the solar phone chargers that is highly rated on Amazon and a #1 best seller on Amazon is the: Solar Charger, 25000mAh Battery Solar Power Bank Portable Panel Charger with 36 LEDs and 3 USB Output Ports External Backup Battery for Camping Outdoor for iOS Android (Black)

This solar charger is a portable power bank for all kinds of digital devices like smartphones, tablet PC, MP3/MP4, hand-held games console, etc

The solar phone charger has three(3) USB ports suitable to help you charge your cellphone and tablet at the same time and is powered by solar energy, it is ideal for outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing, camping or for off-grid areas that may not have an AC power outlet. 

The solar charger has a built-in 25000mAh Li-polymer battery that is larger enough to charge an iPhone XS for 7.4 times, a Galaxy S9 Plus for 5.7 times, an iPad Pro for 1.6 times! 

It has two charging methods one for charging with an electric outlet (5V/2A) adapter and when charging through the solar panel. The blue indicator light is on when charging with the adapter, and the green indicator light is on when charging with a solar panel.

As of February 2nd, 2020, this solar phone charger had about 2,269 customer ratings making it one of the most reviewed solar phone charger on Amazon. It scored 4.5 out of 5 star rating and hence being one of the best rated solar phone chargers on Amazon. 

Out of the 4.5 the following is a breakdown that helps to understand the star ratings each of the 2269 ratings provided from 5 star all the way to 1 star. 77% of the customer ratings were 5 stars, 11% (4 stars), 4%(3 stars), 2% (2 stars) and 1% (1 star).  And by feature, customer ratings were 4.8, 4.7, 4.5 , 4.5 4.5 and 4.5 as shown  below: 

  1. Built in light (4.8)
  2. Brighteness (4.7)
  3. Water resistance (4.5)
  4. Battery life (4.5)
  5. Charging power (4.5)
  6. For traveling (4.5)

Based on the above customer ratings, this solar phone charger is rated as #1 best seller on Amazon.  It has about 246 answered questions regarding the performance and use of the Solar Charger, 25000mAh Battery Solar Power Bank Portable Panel Charger with 36 LEDs and 3 USB Output Ports External Backup Battery for Camping Outdoor for iOS Android (Black)

Mobile-phone based off-grid solar is powering many rural homes in Africa.

off-grid solar
Many countries in Africa remain not connected to the main grid, and they never will be. Why do I say this? These countries may leapfrog from using power from the main grid to the use of decentralized renewable energy.

Just the same way Africa leapfrogged from using grid-type connected telephone lines to cellphones — Africa is doing the same thing with grid power to off-grid solar.

There is vast potential, and the market for off-grid solar remains untapped for most regions in Africa. The technology for a more significant part includes packaged solar PV solutions coupled with smart grids, smart meters, financing, services, warranties, etc.

With electricity, children would not have to gather wood to boil water – a simple electric stove could do that. A light could be turned on at night so that they could read before bed. And the aged grandparents or infant sibling could enjoy the breeze from a simple fan on sweltering, 40+ degree Celsius days – it could make a difference between life and death.

Offering decentralized energy solutions to these homes will help to solve the problem while the government alone cannot solve this problem, because it is about 600 million people without electricity, and this translates to $19 billion a year in energy investments. This vast population of Africans without electricity is almost twice the population of the USA.

Creating decentralized renewable energy solutions rather than constructing massive power plants or grid extension may help to solve time constraint issues or huge investment issues.

Off-grid solar or decentralized renewable energy concept has failed in the past because of the mode of delivery or approach. Many donors used this approach to deliver “free technology” but because of lack of maintenance, training, and lack of after-sales service, this mode of technology transfer failed to deliver.

Nowadays, a private sector-driven approach called the “Pay as you go (PAYGO)” – a mobile phone-based payment plan has revolutionized the off-grid solar market.

Widespread uptake of mobile phone payment systems such as MPESA has helped off-grid solar firms to thrive in under-served areas where most people lack collateral. Also, the decreasing cost of solar panels over the last decade helped the private sector to offer affordable off-grid solar.