Pietermaritzburg - Solar photo-voltaic panels capture the sun’s energy and turn it into electricity that we can use in our homes.For maximum efficiency, they should be perpendicular to the sun’s rays, and track the sun as it moves from east to west. In practice, this is difficult and expensive for the average homeowner, so we place the panels at about 30 degrees, facing due north.So, why deliberately orient your PV panels due west, or east for that matter?It’s because your electricity usage is greatest in the early morning and late afternoon. That’s when the kettle goes on for that first cup of coffee, and the oven for the roast chicken.For some of the big energy users in your home, plan to use them in the middle of the day when the sunshine is at its peak. For example, you can run the dishwasher in the late morning and use the electric lawnmower after lunch. But some items demand off-peak use — enter the east and west-facing PV panels. Their total energy production will be less than if we had them facing due north, but they produce the electricity when we need it most. What came as a great surprise is that our three new west-facing panels started producing 100 watts of electricity by 8 am, peaking at about 3 pm, but continuing to function long after the north-facing panels were going off.The other big plus is that often around midday, clouds start to drift across the sky. Previously, I had to scamper to turn the pool pump off, but now, with the extra energy provided by the new panels, it’s sufficient for our basic needs.One uses a changeover switch, like the one used for a generator, to toggle back and forth from Eskom to solar. Incidentally, purchase only the best as the cheaper switches don’t last. We are not tied to the grid, so I cannot comment on that; it’s a thought for the future. We certainly have excess, unused energy now in the middle of the day after the bread maker and dishwasher have finished their cycles. It’s the same amount of work to erect a 310 W panel (the largest I’ve seen) as a 100 W panel, and the price per watt comes down the larger the panel, so I wouldn’t use less than 300 W PV panels.We use very little Eskom electricity now, but stay connected to the grid for the misty weather that covers Hilton periodically.Going solar isn’t cheap, but with the price of electricity increasing by 16% annually on average over the past 10 years, while inflation was only 6,1%, we are happy with the situation. Add to that the fact that we’ve had no damaged electronic equipment from surges, and we are certainly getting our money’s worth. Note that small shadows across a panel are not a problem, but should one panel be completely blocked out, none of the string will produce any electricity. Do plenty of planning before you go solar as it’s a big decision. Putting up a Mickey Mouse system has little merit and I know of so many folks who have been disappointed. I would go for a 48 V system, the maximum, with no less than a two KW inverter.