Last edited: May 2019

Buying a Solar Power System in Zambia

Step 1 – Selecting the solar company

The first step for buying a solar power system is selecting a solar company. As you can see on this page, there are several companies in Zambia selling solar power systems. Make sure you are contacting a company which is providing the services you require. This is possible via this page, where you find the different types of solar systems.

In case you want SmartSolar Zambia to bring you into contact with a suitable supplier, please use this contact form.

Step 2 – Stating your preferences

When you are aware of your own expectations for a solar system, you will be able to formulate your questions towards the solar company in a better way. It would be good to talk about:

  • System performance – The performance of a systems depends on the hours you need power. If you want power 24/7, you need a system you can always rely on (even in times of lots of cloud cover). In other cases this might not be necessary.
  • Timeline – The timing of the installment might be important to you. When do you expect the system this to happen? Especially larger systems often require the import of components from outside the country, which increase the waiting time.
  • Budget – If you have a set budget, it is advisable to share this to ensure the company proposes a system which aligns with this budget. In case you share your budget, do ensure that you ask for multiple quotes from different companies.
  • Financing – There are options to finance your system. Some companies provide options themselves. The might pay for the system or for the electricity it produces over a set time period. If you are interested in a financed system it would be good to mention this to the companies you approach.
  • Time horizon – Do you want a system that lasts for the coming 2, 5 or 15 years?

Step 3 – Data collection for buying a solar power system

After your preferences are clear, the solar company should ensure they gather sufficient data and information. This way, they can start the design of a system that meets your requirements. Important data to provide the company with is existing data and data about future plans, maintenance and communication.

Existing data

  • Energy usage – For a proper system design the energy usage is the most important figure. In case you are grid connected you can use your utility bills. If you are using a diesel generator you can use the meter on the generator or base the energy usage on the diesel consumption. If this is not possible, the estimation is possible with a load analysis. In its simplest form, this analysis multiplies the power rating of each appliance used and multiplies it with the hours of use. The sum of all appliances provides you with your daily energy usage.
  • Time of use – Aside from the length of using your appliances, it is usually also relevant to know when you are using the appliances most. If most of your energy consumption occurs during the day, you will require a different system compared to a lot of nighttime use. Also, the seasons matter. If you use more energy during the rainy season you will need a system suited for this.
  • Location of components – Especially for larger systems the solar company should plan a site visit. During the site visit the technician determines which location/roof is best suitable for the modules. This goes along with deciding on the pitch and orientation of the system. Also, the location of the batteries and other equipment should be apparent. This way, they make proper estimates with regards to the cable length and diameter.
  • Existing infrastructure – Check what infrastructure is already available. For example the quality of the existing infrastructure, the presence of a backup generator or the possibility of using current wiring for a future new system.
  • Location – The solar company will need the exact location of the project in order to match it with local/regional weather and irradiation data.
Irradiation levels in Zambia needed for buying a solar power systems
Irradiation levels in Zambia

Thinking ahead

  • Future plans – Often it is much more expensive to upgrade a system in the future compared to building a slightly larger system from the get-go. Make sure that the solar company knows about any expansion plans you might have.
  • Maintenance – Are there normally technicians or people around already performing maintenance on other equipment?
  • Communication – In order to include remote monitoring, you will either need to provide an internet connection (wifi/LAN) or have a GPRS signal from a telecom operator.

Step 4 – System design

Based on all the gathered input it is now up to the solar company to come up with a solid system design. The system design also provides the input for the quotation.

A (slightly outdated) overview of the steps taken in designing an off-grid system can be found in this guide from African Energy here.

Step 5 – Comparing quotations for buying a solar power systems

Now you are in the phase were you finish the ‘buying’ part of a solar power system. Please be aware that comparing different quotations can be tricky. Depending on your own level of expertise and the total order value, consider getting assistance in reviewing the quotations. SmartSolar Zambia (contact us) has been reviewing quotations for many years. We can provide you with the necessary insight to be able to make an informed decision.

Step 6 – Installation

Normally the solar company will start preparations for the installation after receiving a down payment, which means you are done with buying a solar power system. However, this does not mean you are done with the whole process. Please note that not all materials are in stock at the solar companies in Zambia. It can especially take a long time for a larger battery bank to arrive as they are normally only produced after the order has been received. After installation, ensure a proper explanation of the whole system. Furthermore, make sure the relevant people are training in the daily operation and maintenance of the system.

Step 6 – Remote monitoring

For larger systems and for systems which have a critical function there is a strong recommendation to ensure that at least the inverter connects to the internet. This ensures that both you and the solar company which installed the system can regularly check whether the system is behaving according to expectation. If there is no internet, you can often still monitor the system locally by using a monitoring device. With monitoring it is possible to:

  • Remotely identify (and sometimes fix) current or potential issues with the system
  • Plan the use of appliances with the remaining battery capacity
  • Get automatic messages in case your batteries are running low
  • A history of high-quality data to see whether it is necessary to expand the system

Step 7 – Service and maintenance

Lifetime of a solar power system

The lifetime of your solar power system very much depends on the use of the system, the brands used and the settings of the different components. Generally speaking, you should be able to expect the following lifetime if you are using high-quality brands and are performing occasional maintenance:
Solar Panels: 25 years, all Tier-1 solar panels are made to last a long time
Batteries: 3-8 years for Lead-Acid and 8-15 years for Li-Ion
Inverter/charger: 5-10 years
Charge Controller: 5-10 years

Service and maintenance of off-grid solar power systems

With Gel batteries or Li-Ion batteries a solar power system would not require much maintenance. It would be good to clean the solar modules once in a while. Do this with a soft cloth and, ideally, demineralized water. Aside from that, it would be advisable to have a solar company come by to check all the connections and check the voltages of the batteries. In case of flooded lead-acid batteries it would be required to perform equalisation charges at regular intervals and to top up the battery water. If you do not do this yourself it is good to have the solar company come by at more regular intervals.

In case a generator is integrated into the solar power system, this part of the system would require more maintenance. Aside from the daily checks, it would be required to change the oil and filters at regular intervals. Generally, every 250-500 running hours.

Service and maintenance of a grid-connected solar power systems

Aside from cleaning the solar modules (in case this is necessary), a grid-connected solar power system without batteries does not require any regular service or maintenance.