Solar vs Diesel: Which Option Should You Choose?

Over Reliance on Solar Could Lead to Reliability Concerns

Solar innovations are revolutionising areas of power generation. But they have their shortcomings, and a diesel backup should not be discarded.

Over the recent decades, there have been numerous advances in energy production, both in traditional fossil-fuelled sources and in alternative renewable methods. All of these have brought cost savings and environmental benefits.

As far as the former is concerned, modern diesel engines, used in both motor vehicles and in the power generators you rent from a generator hire company have resulted in lower emissions, reduced carbon deposits and improved fuel efficiency. And with alternative fuels, especially solar, the technology has improved beyond all recognition. Power output has increased dramatically, while costs has steadily reduced.

All these advances result in a win/win for those who need power on the go, or in remote locations. However, the key to getting the best out of these resources is to take a blended approach to their usage. Anyone who thinks solar generators are about to replace diesel entirely needs to think again.

The case for solar

A recent innovation from an Australian manufacturer has made the brave claim that “pop up” solar systems will be able to replace diesel generators. The Container Roll Out Solar System (CROSS) has been developed by ECLIPS Engineering, a company based in Fyshwick, just outside Canberra. The company was recently awarded a grant by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for further testing and development of the product.

On the face of it, the CROSS has impressive credentials. It comes in two configurations, 20ft and 40ft, which deliver 2,175W and 4,350W of power respectively. That’s roughly equivalent to the outputs of a 25 kVA or a 50 kVA diesel generator.

The company envisages that the units could meet the needs of the Australian Army in its forward operating bases, where currently, electricity generation accounts for almost three quarters of their overall diesel usage.

Clearly, the generators could also have commercial applications, particularly in rural locations. No fuel requirements, minimal maintenance and silent running – these units have plenty going for them.

What’s the problem?

The fact that this innovation is one that is coming from one of the sunniest locations on the planet, right in the middle of the Australian desert, give a clue as to the one major drawback. A solar generator needs direct sunlight, and plenty of it, to keep the cells charged.

Provided it gets what it needs during the day, the generator will hold sufficient energy to keep running all night, and as soon as the sun rises again in the morning, those cells can start recharging again. No problem at all in the blazing Australian outback, but a major constraint on a gloomy October in Chelmsford!

And therein lies the problem with solar. When we need portable power generation, we really need it, and we have to be able to rely on it being there whatever the conditions. Often it is used as an emergency backup, and typically, that will be called into action at exactly the times when solar will not be working at its best – in the middle of winter when we are battling against some extreme weather conditions and the sun is a long-forgotten memory.

Solar certainly has its place in power generation, and its uses are expanding as the technology continues to improve. But it will not be replacing diesel any time soon.

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