Solar panels get their summer spruce-up

We’re great fans of our solar-powered electricity system. We can run our air conditioning all day without worrying about the next GESA electricity bill – although, of course, such a system does require a fairly hefty investment up-front, so it’s not (as some people suggest) really free power.

During the summer the system trundles along without too much input from us – correction, The Boss. Sure, he still disappears down to the dependencia (the building where batteries, invertor, and back-up generator are stored) every Monday, just to make sure there are no red warning lights flashing anywhere.

Hose at the ready

But during a long hot, extremely dry, and dusty summer, the solar panels do appreciate a little bit of TLC. Which is where The Boss, a ladder, a mop and bucket, and a hose come into play. This morning – just after 7am – he was up a ladder cleaning several months’ of dust and dirt off the panels, first mopping them with soapy water, then hosing off the suds. They’re gleaming clean now and probably soaking up lots more rays as a result.

If anything’s going to bring on the long-overdue and much-needed rain, this morning’s clean-up  should do it. Umbrellas at the ready, Mallorca?

A summer wash for our solar panels. Note the presence of Pip - always ready to assist.

A summer wash for our solar panels. Note the presence of Pip – always ready to assist.


 

 

 

 

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Why thunderstorms and solar power are not a good combination

Until this week, we were having a rather unsettled spell of weather on Mallorca, with some much-needed (unless you were holidaying here) rain and some thunderstorms. The Boss and I quite enjoy watching a dramatic storm – and we do get a few – but we are always  wary about the damage that an electrical storm can do to solar power equipment. We have bitter experience, having suffered an invertor failure a few years ago during a particularly bad storm. The invertor was only three weeks old – and had cost a huge amount of money – so we were relieved to learn that the (expensive) repair was covered by our household insurance. And that our solar power system engineer would lend us an invertor until the repair could be done.

When he came back with our fixed original invertor,  he recommended that we switch off all our system equipment during future storms. So we now keep a weather eye open (pardon the pun) for any thunderhead clouds on the horizon or distant rumbling, and switch everything off if the storm arrives.

A rude awakening

This is fine during the day but, at night, it means somebody (and it’s always The Boss, because he’s gentlemanly like that) has to get up, go outside and dash down the field to the dependencia, where all the equipment is housed, to switch everything off. So thunderclaps at night don’t only wake us up, they can get us up too.

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Hopefully last week’s overnight storm will be the last for a while. This week we’ve had temperatures in the low 30s (Celsius) and plenty of sunshine. Our cats disappear after breakfast to hide themselves from the heat – whereas, in stormy weather, they often like to gather together in the outside recess of our dining room window. As you can see, from a photo I took during last week’s bad weather, the pale ginger Peanut – the youngest of our adoptees – has been accepted by the rest of the family . . . even if it is only as a willing pillow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 things to know when buying a rural property in Mallorca (Part 3)

If you’re reading this blog for the first time, welcome. You’ll find the other three things to know about (water supply, waste water disposal, and disposal of rubbish) on the previous two posts. This last part focuses on electricity and gas – two essentials.  We lived for eight months with limited electricity: no usable plug sockets and only two hours of lighting a night (if the sun had shone), courtesy of a small rooftop solar panel. I’m not sorry we did it, as it has made us more careful about using electricity – and it was quite romantic in its own way. But I’ll always remember the day when the electrician who was completing the installation declared that we finally had power. So will he: I went up to him and gave him a big smacking kiss on the cheek . . .

You’ve got the power?

Our bank of solar panels – a sight that took some getting used to!

Rural properties are often too far from a GESA sub-station to make it viable to be connected to mains electricity. That was the case with our finca. So we had to seek an alternative. We decided against wind turbines (too noisy for our liking) and opted for solar power. After all, Mallorca has 300 days of sunshine a year, so it’s a plentiful resource here.

If you’re looking at a rural property with no existing power supply, the first step in deciding what type and size of solar power system you need is to make a list of everything electrical that you’re likely to use. Armed with this information, a specialist in solar power will be able to work out the specifications for a system tailored to your needs.  A system basically comprises solar panels, batteries (charged by the sun) and an invertor. You’ll also need a generator, for those occasions when the sun doesn’t contribute enough to keep it all going, and a tank to hold the diesel that fuels it. As you’ll have gathered by now, all of these things (except the panels) will need to be housed somewhere secure and weather-proof; in our case, it’s an outbuilding.

So, there is a considerable upfront outlay, but at least you won’t be receiving electricity bills from GESA. And if you’re careful with your electricity usage, you can keep generator running costs down.

My top tips:

  • Don’t underestimate your electricity requirements. It’s cheaper to have the correct sized system installed at the outset.
  • Buy the best panels and batteries you can afford.
  • Talk to at least two solar power companies and compare their prices and specifications. Ask about the life expectancy of the individual components. Our first invertor caught fire and had to be replaced.
  • If you have to build something in which to store the system components, make sure you have planning permission (one day I’ll tell you the sorry tale of our own building)
  • Be sure that you’ll be happy with the siting of the panels. Our engineer’s first suggestion would have completely blocked our view of the valley, so we opted for a different site. As it happens, we don’t think the first location would have been as good anyway.
  • If possible, spend some time with someone else who has a solar power system so you can learn from their experiences.
  • Once the system is installed and up and running, turn it all off in the event of a thunderstorm close by. Our second invertor was struck by lightning just a few weeks after it was installed!

Going for gas

A trip to the gas depot for refills

You won’t find mains gas in the Mallorcan countryside, but almost everyone uses butano to power their oven and hob, and water heaters (although solar-powered water heaters are increasingly popular). In towns and villages, you’ll often see the orange gas canisters being delivered by truck, but don’t expect that service to be available in rural areas. Instead, you’ll need to go to  the nearest Repsol butano depot with your empty canister(s), which will be exchanged for full ones at a cost (currently) of 16,50 euros a canister. If the property has no existing canisters (which should be left behind when the current occupiers leave), you’ll need to head to a Repsol office to get the necessary paperwork. You cannot just turn up empty-handed and buy a canister of gas.

It is possible in some circumstances to have a large butano tank installed on your property, but there are certain conditions that must be met for this service to be available. Speak to a Repsol office if you are interested. It certainly saves lugging the containers around (the standard size holds 12,5 kg of butano).

My top tips:

  • Check the rubber hoses that connect the gas to the appliances – they have a limited life (an expiry date is printed on the hose) and it can be dangerous not to replace them. The efficient householder will make a diary note so that replacing out-of-date hoses isn’t overlooked.
  • Get yourself a sack barrow to manouevre the canisters about. They’re pretty heavy.
  • Save the hassle, and find an alternative, eg solar-powered water heating and electric oven/hob.

I always cooked with gas in the UK, but my Smeg oven (bought here) is very unreliable temperature-wise. Could it be the gas, I wonder?