Introduction to Plug-In Solar or Plug-PV

Electricity prices in Europe are rising. Many citizens also want to become more independent and help to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Many people are therefore considering generating their own electricity on the balcony, garden house, garden or terrace. This article is intended to provide an introduction to the topic.

It is very difficult to actually quantify the market size for plug-in solar in Germany or Europe, as we do not have any data on it. We can only tell you what we experience: The demand is huge, we are getting inquiries by large media every week, e-mails nearly every day and our seminars and workshops are booked out. 

Of course we can’t give specific advice on every kind of setup in every country. It’s best to use a search engine and research the topic and maybe ask an electrician.

Advice for consumers

Many consumers are therefore wondering what they can do. Large solar parks need many months until they are ready for operation, wind parks often years, until the permits are through. 

Even with homeowners‘ associations it often takes long discussions before roofs are rented out to generate solar energy, and contractors for roof systems are fully booked until next year. Plug-in balcony power plants, on the other hand, can be installed in just a few days and also allow low-income households to participate in and benefit from the energy transition.

Although this article is mainly about balcony solar, my first advice is:

Check where you use electricity and reduce this consumption. Significant savings can be achieved without major impact on your daily life. E.g. by using switchable power strips and turning off devices when not using them, instead of leaving them on stand-by. You’ll find many energy saving tips on the internet.

A good strategy is to first measure the consumption of your electric appliances at home.

Many switchable sockets commonly used in home automation systems, such as Shelly, can measure energy consumption as well. 

There are some devices that run all day and you don’t need them at all or only at a certain time. However, for the sake of convenience, you do not turn it off with a hard-to-reach plug. And then there are the devices that pretend to be off, but they still draw power. If you find such a device, you can invest in a cheap switchable socket and thus save money and energy.

It’s worth it.

Other tips would include changing traditional incandescent light bulbs to LED lamps

Plug in PV

But let us get back to plug-in solar systems. The crucial point is an outdoor socket.

If available, great, if not, the landlord will certainly be happy if this is retrofitted and the balcony becomes more attractive. Drilling through windows is not recommended, since the energetic heat losses are considerable. Some houses also have ventilation slits, you could also put a cable in here if necessary.

If not we will need an electrician anyway. Then we can install even larger systems. In Germany the limit is usually around 600 W, but if we have a dedicated circuit we can essentially put as much power on to it as we can. There are small inverters who can handle 1200 watts. And per watt these are cheaper than smaller ones.

In Germany we have a discussion about the proper VDE norm. However Standards in many other European countries allow much more power to be fed in via a normal socket that is common there, for example in Switzerland,  Austria, or the Netherlands.

In Ireland you need a specialist for the connection, but in a simplified way you can feed in up to 6 kW

This rule is particularly strict in Germany. Let’s hope we can change it in the future.

Because of the unfavorable German VDE standard, many people in Germany choose the „guerrilla“ way, where you don’t care so much about regulations or bureaucracy and, after considering the risks, plug it in anyway. 

The solar storage systems research group at HTW Berlin has developed a plug-in solar simulator. With this calculator you can roughly see how much electricity and money someone can save with a plug-in solar device on the balcony, on the wall of the house or on the roof. However, the results should only be regarded as estimates.

As a rule of thumb, I would say that the devices will pay for themselves after about 5 to 10 years, depending on household consumption, sun, orientation, acquisition costs, etc.

Buy a balcony solar device

The market situation can be tense and it makes sense to check with different suppliers and do your own market research – however its getting better!

With very cheap offers – which deviate greatly from the average on the market – caution is advised, you should check before ordering whether the devices comply with the VDE standard VDE-AR-N 4105:2018-11 „Generating systems on the low-voltage network“ and DIN VDE V 0124 -100 (VDE V 0124-100):2020-06 „Network integration of generating plants – low voltage“.

Reputable providers usually make these certificates available for download on their website, as they are later required for registration.

Attach the balcony solar device to your balcony or wherever you can place it

Many hang their balcony devices on the balcony. Most senders already have the brackets for this. Each vendor has developed their own bracket. For people who want to order these individually, I recommend the Solar-Hook brackets , these can easily be pushed into standard modules and attached themselves.

If the balconies do not have struts, but rather a closed plate, I recommend attaching Solar Peak. In its 15/2022 issue, c’t recommends so-called half couplers.

The system usually consists of one or two solar modules, suspension and a small inverter. The inverter is only as big as a box of chocolates and converts the direct current from the solar modules into alternating current for the power grid. In addition, they constantly determine the optimum power point (Maximum Power Point Tracking ) and thus always get the most out of it.

So you can easily attach the modules to most balconies. You should definitely contact the landlord or the homeowners association for this. If the attachment of objects to the balcony railing is not explicitly prohibited in the rental agreement or in the agreements (declaration of division or community regulations) of the apartment owners‘ association, there is no formal need for it. On rented areas such as balconies, terraces, gardens, etc., approval is not required anyway. For common areas such as facades, parapets or roofs, I recommend consulting the landlord or the community of owners.

If the landlord is fooling you, it helps to refer to large landlords who are in the public eye or who adorn themselves with “eco-projects”. Local newspapers like to take up such cases.

The c’t 15/2022 says: „Basically, if it is common in the house to decorate the railings without permission (e.g. with colorful privacy screens or satellite dishes), you can also set up a balcony power plant. If such decorations and satellite dishes require approval, this also applies to the PV module” and I agree with this statement.

c’T

But you can also set them up on the balcony, then you have the advantage that you don’t need the consent of the landlord or the community of owners (see)

Or you can build a table, there are instructions from Guido Burger,

Other people simply place the modules on their patio or flat roof. There are special attachments for this, but you can also build something yourself.

Most distributors selling to consumers, include quite good instructions in their packages and also have YouTube videos.

And this is where you decide whether you are a guerrilla or whether you act in accordance with the norm.

Just plug it in?

The Solar-Guriellero would simply plug it in with the help of the Schuko plug and do nothing more than be happy about a possibly lower electricity bill. It would of course be conceivable that the energy supplier – if it is a „modern measuring device“, you can usually tell from the fact that it has an LCD display – discovers that electricity has been fed in when reading it.

„Just plugging it in“ is harmless because the micro-inverters, which comply with the standard, switch off within milliseconds if they no longer see a network, so you cannot get an electric shock from the metal contacts of a normal Schuko plug. I have been running several balcony solar devices on the flat roof above my terrace since 2019 and everything is going well.

There are now further steps for citizens who act in accordance with the norm in Germany: You need to inform your Energy Grid Company and the federal regulation authority for electricity. 

Measuring production

As soon as a balcony solar device is present in the household, most people have a great need to measure the generation. There are different ways to do this. Either with the very simple measuring device mentioned above , or with a Fritz Dect 210 moisture-proof socket, however, requires a FritzBox or Shelly 1PM, either for installation in the socket or as a plug. Some manufacturers already offer something, such as Enverbridge, the Hoymiles DTU Waylight, the ECU-B from APSystems or the Growatt WiFi Stick.

Questions?

Please contact us at sm@balkon.solar 

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