Making the most of your solar panels

We have had our solar panels for just over 6 months now. So far solar power has provided around 3/4 of our demand for electricity, and we have been exporting well over half of what we generate back to the grid for others to use.  Of course it has been summer.

Solar Panles - image from: Photovoltaik_Dachanlage_Hannover_-_Schwarze_Heide_-_1_MW
Solar Panles – image from: Photovoltaik_Dachanlage_Hannover_-_Schwarze_Heide_-_1_MW

So, how can we make the most of the energy we produce as we move into winter?

The first and most obvious thing is to match up electricity use to the time the sun is out as much as you can.  To do this best you need to start by understanding how much electricity different applicances use, and how much you can expect to generate at different times of the day which will vary according to the orientation of your panels.  A monitoring device is a great way of doing this.  There are several different ones out there  – such as the Owl Intuition  – which is cloud based and can be viewed using an app (but requires a constant internet connection), and the Wattson which provides a real time display of your generation/consumption and stores data for up to 30 days for uploading to your computer to build up a longer term analysis.  We have the Wattson simply as I like to see what  we are generating without needing to connect to net/turn on an app.

Once you have an idea of what your energy hungry devices are, use them at the times you are generating most electricity, but not all at the same time.  If you are out at work this can be done using timers, staggering when different appliances are on so they do not all reach their peak demand at once.  When using the washing machine or dishwasher make sure you run full loads – putting them on half full just because it’s sunny won’t end up saving you anything as you’ll be using more water and detergent.  We tend to find that starting one or other around 10am ( earlier in summer) means we are generating enough  for our fairly efficient models but this will vary.

This may involve a change to your routine but it is one that is worth making where you can.

I noticed that one of our real power hungry devices was our electric shower, so on the days I don’t go into the office I simply take my shower later in the day, after the school run and a few other chores, when the sun has had a chance to get going.

Another high energy user is the oven.   If you happen to be at home during the day it is worth switching your main meal to lunchtime.  Alternatively you can use a slow cooker to cook your dinner during the day – most have a fairly low consumption, although on my wish list is the Wonderbag which does most of the cooking with no power at all – you get the food to boiling on the stove, and then pop your casserole into this mega-insulated bag which keeps in the heat to cook the rest.  Alternatively, if you need to eat after sunset, which we do most days, make use of the microwave – cook up bigger batches when you can during the day to freeze and then reheat when needed in the microwave which will use relatively less energy because of the faster cooking time.

We also use a bread maker ( as we are trying to reduce our plastic waste) which works well on a timer – the highest consumption, as you would expect, is the bake part at the end, and when we have surplus crops an electric dehydrator to dry out foods for winter use.

Use your monitor to gauge when you are generating more than you are using – the Wattson glows green at such times – and use the spare capacity for charging phones/tablets/batteries etc.

When we next replace our car we might look at the electric options – although at the moment the car that gets most use is not here at the time we are generating.

We are still learning so if anyone has other ideas please do comment.  In time hopefully there will be affordable batteries to store the surplus energy for use in evening.

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