Last edited: August 2018
Buying a Solar Power System in Zambia
Step 1 - Selecting the solar company
As you can see on this page, there are many companies in Zambia which are selling solar power systems. The first step is to ensure you are contacting a company which is providing the services you require. Check this page for the different types of 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
In order for the solar company to be able to ask you the right questions later, it is important for them to know about your expectations. It would be good to talk about:
- Performance of the system - When do you need power, and if you want power 24/7, how critical is it that you can always rely on the system (even in times of lots of cloud cover).
- Timeline - When do you expect the system to be installed? Especially for larger systems it is often required to import components from outside the country.
- Budget - If you have a set budget, it could be good to share this to ensure the company proposes a system which is aligned with what you can pay. In case you share your budget, do ensure that you ask for multiple quotes from different companies.
- Financing - Some companies provide options to finance your system and 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.
- Time horizon - Do you want a system that lasts for the coming 2, 5 or 15 years?
Step 3 - Data collection
After your preferences have been stated the solar company should ensure they gather sufficient data and information to start the design of a system that meets your requirements. Important data to provide the company with is:
- Energy usage - For a proper system design the energy usage is the most important figure. The best way to determine energy usage is always to measure it! In case you are grid connected you can use your utility bills, in case 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, you can estimate the energy usage by performing a load analysis. In its simplest form, a load analysis multiplies the power rating of each appliance you use and multiplies it with the amount of hours it is used. 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.
- 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.
- Location of components - Especially for larger systems the solar company should plan a site visit. During the site visit the technician can determine which location/roof is best suitable for the solar modules (along with pitch & orientation). Also it should be determined where the batteries and other equipment will be located in order to make proper estimates with regards to the cable length and diameter.
- 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.
- Existing infrastructure - What is the quality of the existing infrastructure? Is there already a backup generator present? Can the current wiring be used for a future new system?
- Maintenance - Are there normally technicians or people around already performing maintenance on other equipment?
- Location - The solar company will need the exact location of the project in order to match it with local/regional weather and <irradiation data>.
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
Comparing different quotations can be tricky. Depending on your own level of expertise and the total order value you could consider getting assistance in reviewing the quotations. SmartSolar Zambia (contact us) has been reviewing quotations for many years and 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. Please note that not all materials are stocked by 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 that you are given a proper explanation of the whole system and that 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 it is strongly recommended to ensure that at least the inverter is connected 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 (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. In case 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.