All You Need to Know about Solar Home Systems
A Solar Home System (SHS) is a solar system mainly designed to provide power for lighting and phone charging as the base use for remote off-grid households.
Key components of a solar home system or an SHS kit are solar panel, battery box and lights. Other accessories include extension cables and appliances such as TV, radio and fan.
Normally Direct Current (DC) kits are common due to low power requirements or specifications. However, other advanced solar home systems can power television, radio, fan and in extreme cases small electrical appliances such as efficient fridges.
An SHS kit is normally provided or supplied together with appliances.
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Usually, an SHS kit can be installed easily to provide solar power even by a non-technical person by just following either a provided manual or common knowledge.
Solar panels are put outside or on top of a roof; battery box is put inside a house usually wall mount, light cables are run to respective rooms via extension cable and connected to light bulbs at the end and appliances are connected to the battery box.
While solar home systems are normally classified as addressing rural communities for the energy access challenge, they can be a vital tool in addressing the last mile connections in remote areas.
There are areas that are difficult for the grid to be extended to and in such areas solar systems especially solar home systems can be a lucrative idea to light up the communities.
Many solar home systems have been designed with the color orange, yellow, green or in some cases blue. The idea behind this is to pick colors purported to resemble either the sun, circular economy or green initiatives.
1. Uses of Solar Home Systems
SHS kits are generally used for lighting but advanced kits are nowadays available that can power entertainment, fan and other small appliances.
The challenge for SHS kits has been the fact that customer needs kept on increasing up to an extent that suppliers are beginning to see rising requests for affluent SHS needs.
Thus, those same people who were in energy poverty and used lighting SHS kits are now requesting to power more from SHS kits.
Hence the development of DC/AC SHS kits that are versatile and can power extra appliances such as efficient fridges.
The other advantage of DC/AC SHS kits is that customers can power their own appliances be it DC or AC appliances. This is typically good for small businesses like small grocery shops in developing countries where lighting can be put on DC and other AC appliances like efficient fridge can be put on the AC part of the SHS kit.
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Perhaps the commonest use case of a solar home system is for a rural or peri-urban household is for powering lighting and/or entertainment. Basically light cable will be run into different rooms for the house(s) where bulbs will be connected to provide light.
Entertainment and other appliances are usually connected in the bigger or sitting room where everyone has access to. The battery box is usually wall mount in this common room when everyone else can access it and see its status.
For an SHS kit, a radio will usually be detachable such that the father of the house can take it and move around with it without disturbing the other parts of the solar home system. Even though this usually undermines the rest of the family on radio entertainment.
Again small businesses in rural and peri-urban areas are good uses cases for solar home systems. A good example is an off-grid barber shop being powered by an SHS for lighting, entertainment and hair clipper.
Thus, a small investment into a good SHS system can be a good start to a barber shop enjoying free energy from the sun.
2. Distribution of Solar Home Systems
Effective distribution of SHS kits must include use of last mile agents. To be efficient on selecting agents, they must come from the targeted community or area. This is because when known people in a community become agents there is an instilled sense of ownership, confidence and trust.
People trust to deal and do business with the local agents because they know them and even know where they can be found in any case something goes wrong after purchasing the solar kits. It has been proven practically that use of local agents is the best when distributing solar home systems in remote areas.
Solar companies distributing solar kits know this and try by all means to maximize on it by incorporating known agents and influencers like village heads in local communities.
For example when a solar company wants to distribute solar kits in a community, they can simply install a free product at the village head’s compound.
This on its own is a cheat code for getting referral customers as rural customers believe and are loyal to community leaders.SolarEyes International, 2023
The other easier and similar way is to use existing structures that are already there. For example a solar company can request a small slot of time to present their products during a government funded function or community annual gathering.
Apart from instilling confidence and trust, this method allows quick penetration and guaranteed audience.
The other similar way is to use already established companies with shops or agents all over the country. For example using seed companies to distribute solar home systems targeting farmers all over the country.
3. Pay As You Go (PAYGO)
Pay as you go payment method is whereby an end customer pays an initial deposit and takes ownership of the solar home system while committed to paying the remaining amount on periodic intervals such as daily, weekly or monthly until completion.
When a periodic installment is done, normally a voucher code is generated and the code is either sent to the customer via phone SMS for the customer to punch it into the box or the box is unlocked remotely and automatically.
Failure to pay a periodic installment would mean no access to using the SHS kit as it will be disabled to provide power.
There are dedicated PAYGO platform or software providers whose work is just to provide a platform for billing, credit tracking, payment tracking and in some cases inventory management to both solar home system suppliers and solar companies.
It usually takes a significant amount of time in order to be able to transact PAYGO transactions via mobile money due to integrations between the solar home system supplier and telecom provider in that particular country.
To solve this long time process, some PAYGO software providers use aggregators who are basically companies who have already integrated with the targeted telecoms companies such that there will be no need to go through this long and tiresome process.
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PAYGO integration can be done in two ways either as software integration or hardware integration.
PAYGO Software integration just involves exchange of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) between solar home system supplier and PAYGO platform company or solar company if the solar company is using their own PAYGO software.
PAYGO Hardware integration involves the PAYGO software provider company installing or embedding a hardware circuit or chip in the SHS battery box. This hardware is the one that will manages the whole PAYGO system including locking and unlocking.
4. Warranty for Solar Home Systems
Warranty for SHS kits ranges from as low as 6 months to about 3 years or more. However there are other few suppliers who give a warranty of as high as 5 years for solar home systems.
The general logic behind warranty is that some technical and repetitive tests were conducted on the product and average lifetime of the product calculated based on targeted factors and conditions, from which warranty figures are obtained.
Perhaps there is a reason why a particular supplier offers a particular warranty and this cannot be random but rather dictates the supplier’s confidence in her/his product delivering beyond the stated warranty period.
Random buying wisdom scrutinizes the warranty to obtain a rough idea of when you are likely to be purchasing the same again.SolarEyes International, 2023
It is important to note that warranty counts from the time the SHS was purchased by the first purchaser (usually solar company) from the manufacturer. That is if an SHS kit was bought through a partner (solar company), the general warranty starts to count from the time the solar company purchased it from the manufacturer.
To curb for this some solar companies provide their own contracts with end customers with their own reduced warranty duration. And in this case the warranty will start to count from the time the end user purchased the SHS unit from the solar company.
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It is important to understand that in most cases the actual warranty only covers the solar panel, battery box, cables and/or in few cases light bulbs. Therefore it is of primordial importance to understand what the warranty of your solar home system covers.
The rest of accessories such as television, radio, lights and other appliances that the SHS might come with are given a lower warranty like 1 year or less as they can get damaged quickly
5. Good to know!
Tried and tested solar home systems are certified by Lighting Global (Verasol Certification), however this is only for DC kits. Lighting Global(Verasol) gives the standards of solar home systems by testing them against the specifications and providing a true performance report which end users can depend on.
6. Benefits of Solar Home Systems
• Easier to install and use
• Easier to decommission should there be need
• Cheaper and lower initial investment
• Highly suitable for last mile connections
7. Challenges of Solar Home Systems
• Lower energy and power supply
• Usually limited to DC appliances
• Suffer from intermittence like other solar systems
• Usually depend on GSM coverage for PAYGO locking and unlocking
• PAYGO integration takes a significant time frame to be achieved for new regions or countries
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A solar home system is a powerful solar kit targeted mainly for bottom of the pyramid market. It can provide lighting, phone charging, entertainment and in some cases comes with other appliances.
To ease the burden of upfront cost, solar home systems can be purchased on pay as you go model where the end user deposits an initial deposit and pays the remaining amount on periodic intervals until completion and failure to pay an installment would mean no access to using the SHS kit.
Frequently Asked Questions on Solar Home Systems
Question 1: Is a pico solar system the same as an SHS kit?
Answer 1: A pico solar systems is much smaller than a normal solar home system. A pico solar system is usually a single lamp generating just a few watts to power in most cases only lighting.
Question 2: How much does a solar home system cost? / What are the prices for solar home systems?
Answer 2: Solar home system prices range depending on supplier, country and the components of the SHS kit. Usually their prices range from USD $20 up to as high as USD $1000 for DC/AC SHS kits.
Question 3: Can a solar home system power a fridge?
Answer 3: DC/AC SHS kits coming up in the market can power efficient fridges be it DC or AC fridge. However, the key word to note is “efficient” as it cannot be an old model fridge that usually will have high starting current and thus a solar home system might not be able to power it.
Question 4: Are there solar home systems that uses lithium ion batteries?
Answer 4: Many batteries technologies are used in the SHS industry. And this includes lithium ion batteries.
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