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Solar energy use in home design

‘The sun is a constant source of energy. Everyday it provides us with 5000 times as much energy as the whole world needs.’ (Unknown)

In the 1950s and '60s efficient energy use was often neglected in constructing buildings and houses, but the high energy prices of the 1970s changed that. Some  buildings built in the 80’s use only about 20% of the energy used in buildings constructed just ten years earlier. Techniques to save energy include designing and siting buildings to use passive solar heat, avoiding overlighting, and using better insulation. A “life-cycle” approach, which takes into account the total costs over the entire life of the building, rather than simply the initial construction cost or sales price, is encouraging greater efficiency.



South Africa is one of the areas in the world with the highest count of sunny days per year in the world therefore making it also one of the most appropriate places in the world to use solar power energy should that be the only reason for using them.

A photovoltaic sell uses the sun’s light to create an electric current and not the heat of the sun as is commonly thought. A photovoltaic sell actually decreases in efficiency when the sell is heated extremely because of the resistance building up in the material. Because of the above fact, one can see that these photovoltaic panels is actually less efficient in very warm climates. South Africa, in summertime, can be extremely hot and could cause a photovoltaic panel on certain summer days to work less efficient although not as significantly as 25% less efficient as it is said can be lost in desert-type climates.

Cost efficiency & economy

Eskom South Africa provides our country with some of the cheapest conventional unsustainable electricity costs in the world, and that is the main reason for solar energy technology not taking off in South Africa. Although a number of solar thermal panels is in operation, even in residential buildings in the country, photovoltaic panels was up to date just not cost effective enough to justify the money saved using conventional electricity for manufacturers making them available on a large scale. Because of the uncommonness and unavailability of these panels the prices of theses panels has not significantly decreased in South Africa as it has in other more technologically advanced and environmentally aware countries.

Also, because the electricity has been so inexpensive in SA, the cost of paying off a solar electricity system that provides the same amount (or sufficient amount) of electricity as a conventional system, will take an extremely long time to pay off with the money saved without using conventional electricity, and most home owners in South Africa doesn’t stay long enough in one home to justify the cost saving.

Another factor is that the technology is becoming more advanced day by day, and one might purchase a system today which will reach the end of it’s life before the system has paid for itself with money saved from not using conventional electricity is over.

Sustainability & the environment

Eskom might well be one of the cheapest electricity providers in the world, but it is also a fact that eskom releases some of the most pollution in the atmosphere by burning coal to generate electricity. Although air pollution doesn’t seem to be that big a problem here than in other countries where acid rain etc. is huge concerns for the community, it would be wise to sooner rather than later start to concentrate on the environment in South Africa and that is when solar power could start playing a big role as an energy provider.

Appropriate for us?

Solar panels can be used very effectively and appropriately in the remote areas around the country because the cost of connecting to the conventional power grid by laying cables might be even more expensive and once a solar PV system is installed one does not need any tools or technicians to maintain a PV panel regularly.

There are a number of places in our environment where solar power could be (and are already) used very effectively for example water pumps to dams in nature reserves. PV panels have also been used to power electric fencing in game reserves very successfully for interruptions in electricity is eliminated and big mammals like elephants has no chance of breaking through a fence as could be the case in an normal power interruption.

In conclusion, the use of solar power in South Africa isn’t that far fetched when one look at the very appropriate weather conditions and the need to look at a more sustainable and renewable energy source for the future.