The “Solar or Generator?” question is one each of us (those in Zimbabwe at least) has asked ourselves a number of times these past few weeks. So we decided to compile a simple to digest list of things that you should consider when you make this decision:
1. The cost
First things first. Generators are cheaper to buy but only in the short term. The low price of a generator – below US $100 in some cases – will eventually not mean much in savings once you start spending money on fuel each week to keep it running. Depending on your usage, ensure that you are clear about how much your generator consumes when it runs so that you understand the long term cost.
Solar Panels on the other hand are more expensive initially but some good solar panels can last up to 25 years. No generator run everyday will last that long. Of course you will need to replace the batteries for your solar every 7 or 8 years depending on the quality you bought.
2. Not all Solar Panels are made equal. Quality matters
A guy once said: “You can often get by with a cheap generator but you will always regret a cheap solar power system”
Not all solar panels are made equal. You have to ensure that you’re buying good quality solar panels. Unfortunately, quality also comes with a price. You may need to spend as much as $3,000 to install a good solar system that caters for your fridge, TV, laptops, decoder etc…
3. Generators are big wasters of fuel
One big disadvantage of generators is that they are not efficient. Depending on the size of the generator you bought, it will just pump out power whether you’re using the power or not. So for example if you are only using one electronic gadget in the house but your generator has the capacity for 15, it means the generator is still consuming fuel to power many gadgets and that power is just being wasted. Unless you charge some Deep Cycle batteries but then batteries are another cost altogether which defeats the point.
4. How reliable is the weather
If you’re in a hot region of Zimbabwe like Hwange, Kariba, Chiredzi etc… You’re ok throughout the year because you will have adequate sunshine to charge your batteries. If however you’re in a rainy place like Nyanga, you might find that at certain times of the year, your solar system doesn’t operate to optimum capacity.
This is where generators beat solar hands down; generators don’t care about the weather!
5. Solar Panels are getting more powerful, take a second look
You may have considered Solar in the past but considered too expensive and not as efficient on your dollar compared to generators. Check again. According to world leading solar company called SunEdison (they have installed some 2 Gigawatts worth of solar power in the world so far)
today’s solar panels are 50% more powerful than those made just 8 years ago
You may be surprised that things have changed since you last checked!
6. It is not “Or”, it is “And”
There’s no bylaw that says you can’t have the other if you have chosen one. You may actually find that a hybrid solution would serve you well depending on your budget. You can have:
- Zesa as the main power supply, and when they load shed,
- You use solar for your lights and small gadgets like laptops, TV and Fridge
- And rely on LP Gas for cooking and then finally when
- When you need to run heavy things like ironing, more laptops at a time etc… you switch on your generator for a short time.
What has been your power solution in these tough load shedding times?