Sustainable Energy is one of those things that is attractive to almost everyone, but the first thing people ask is “Where do I start?”
There are plenty of expensive options out there and with governments offering rebates on solar systems, plenty of reputable and not so reputable providers have sprung up. Often the packaged deals are expensive and have a long payback time, usually several years.
The DIY market on the other hand allows you to start small. I started out with a couple of simple off-the-shelf solar lights. They charge up all day and shine all night. We have a bunch of colourful path lights in the back yard to allow safe access at night. Each light is a standalone unit with it’s own photovoltaic cell and battery. Many times I’ve looked out the window at 4 or 5am to see them still shining away. A subtle coloured light, alternating between red ,blue, orange and green, just enough to safely navigate the path. They were installed when we first moved in to the house over 5 years ago and the only one that no longer works is a result of the dog trying to eat it (he’s grown up now – it’s a puppy thing, not a problem that the lights are particularly tasty to dogs).
Our front door and front path need a bit more oomph, so they are lit with white light, which is much brighter and chews through the power a lot quicker. These lights are part of a more efficient system, with a larger photovoltaic panel and battery, they are wired in like any other household lights. The system is entirely 12 volt DC, meaning no expensive inverter. Coupled with a motion sensor to preserve the battery, we are assured of a friendly light to find our key by when arriving home. Our visitors are greeted with a safe path up the steps, even if we forget to put on a light for them.
Solar Christmas lights are a feature in our house every year, allowing us some festive cheer without the attendant increase in the power bill. Slowly increasing the amount of 12volt DC lighting in our house has reduced our bills slowly, but without the high capital cost of a major system. A few simple batteries and switches, a couple of solar panels and 12volt lights are all that is needed.
You don’t need to go all out and you don’t need to invert the power to AC on day one, or even ever, if you don’t want to or can’t afford it.