After I presented details for selected days, I am going to review overall performance in the first year. From June 2015 to May 2016 …
- … we needed 6.600 kWh of electrical energy in total.
- The heat pump consumed about 3.600 kWh of that …
- … in order to ‘pump it up to’ 16.800 kWh of heating energy (incl. hot tap water heating). This was a mild season! .
- The remaining 3.000kWh were used by household and office appliances, control, and circulation pumps.
(Disclaimer: I am from Austria –> decimal commas and dot thousands separator 🙂
The photovoltaic generator …
- … harvested about 5.600kWh / year – not too bad for our 4,8kW system with panels oriented partly south-east and partly south-west.
- 2.000 kWh of that were used directly and the rest was fed into the grid.
- So 30% of our consumption was provided directly by the PV generator (self-sufficiency quota) and
- 35% of PV energy produced was utilized immediately (self-consumption quota).
Monthly energy balances show the striking difference between summer and winter: In summer the small energy needed to heat hot water can easily be provided by solar power. But in winter only a fraction of the energy needed can be harvested, even on perfectly sunny days.
Figures below show…
- … the total energy consumed in the house as the sum of the energy for the heat pump and the rest used by appliances …
- … and as the sum of energy consumed immediately and the rest provided by the utility.
- The total energy ‘generated’ by the solar panels, as a sum of the energy consumed directly (same aqua bar as in the sum of consumption) and the rest fed into the grid.
In June we needed only 300kWh (10kWh per day). The PV total output was more then 700kWh, and 200kW of that was directly delivered by the PV system – so the PV generator covered 65%. It would be rather easy to become autonomous by using a small, <10kWh battery and ‘shifting’ the missing 3,3kWh per day from sunny to dark hours.
But in January we needed 1100kWh and PV provided less than 200kWh in total. So a battery would not help as there is no energy left to be ‘shifted’.
Daily PV energy balances show that this is true for every single day in January:
We harvest typically less than 10 kWh per day, but we need more than 30kWh. On the coldest days in January, the heat pump needed about 33kWh – thus heating energy was about 130kWh:
Our house’s heat consumption is typical for a well-renovated old building. If we would re-build our house from scratch, according to low energy standards, we might need only 50-60% energy at best. Then heat pump’s input energy could be cut in half (violet bar). But even then, daily total energy consumption would exceed PV production.
I have covered economics of the system without battery here and our system has lived up to the expectations: Profits were € 575, the sum of energy sales at market price (€ 0,06 / kWh) and by not having to pay € 0,18 for power consumed directly.
In Austria turn-key PV systems (without batteries) cost about € 2.000 / kW rated power – so we earned about 6% of the costs. Not bad – given political discussions about negative interest rates. (All numbers are market prices, no subsidies included.)
But it is also interesting to compare profits to heating costs: In this season electrical energy needed for the heat pump translates to € 650. So our profits from the PV generator nearly amounts to the total heating costs.
Economics of batteries
Last year’s assessment of the economics of a system with battery is still valid: We could increase self-sufficiency from 30% to 55% using a battery and ‘shift’ additional 2.000 kWh to the dark hours. This would result in additional € 240 profits of per year.
If a battery has a life time of 20 years (optimistic estimate!) it must not cost more than € 5.000 to ever pay itself off. This is less than prices I have seen in quotes so far.
Off-grid living and autonomy
Energy autonomy might be valued more than economical profits. Some things to consider:
Planning a true off-grid system is planning for a few days in a row without sunshine. Increasing the size of the battery would not help: The larger the battery the larger the losses, and in winter the battery would never be full. It is hard to store thermal energy for another season, but it is even harder to store electrical energy. Theoretically, the area of panels could be massively oversized (by a factor – not a small investment), but then even more surplus has to be ‘wasted’ in summer.
The system has to provide enough energy per day and required peak load in every moment (see spikes in the previous post), but power needs also to be distributed to the 3 phases of electrical power in the right proportion: In Austria energy meters calculate a sum over 3 phases: A system might seem ‘autonomous’ when connected to the grid, but it would not be able to operate off-grid. Example: The PV generator produces 1kW per phase = 3kW in total, while 2kW are used by a water cooker on phase 1. The meter says you feed in 1kW to the grid, but technically you need 1kW extra from the grid for the water cooker and feed in 1kW on phase 2 and 3 each; so there is a surplus of 1kW in total. Disconnected from the grid, the water cooker would not work as 1kW is missing.
A battery does not provide off-grid capabilities automatically, nor do PV panels provide backup power when the sun is shining but the grid is down: During a power outage the PV system’s inverter has to turn off the whole system – otherwise people working on the power lines outside could be hurt by the power fed into the grid. True backup systems need to disconnect from the power grid safely first. Backup capabilities need to be compliant with local safety regulations and come with additional (potentially clunky / expensive) gadgets.