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Dealing with solar products: 5 tips for user training

Dust, heat, and improper treatment afflict solar products. In places where external conditions are extreme, solar facilities and equipment require particular care. Certain products can be adapted technically to meet these demands, others cannot, or only at extremely high additional costs. Careful treatment and maintenance is therefore demanded, which, unfortunately, too many users are far too little aware of.

1. New frontiers
For most people in rural areas, solar technology is an entirely new technology. Also, the discrepancy to other technologies is often quite great. The clearest example is certainly the difference between a traditional kerosene lamp and a modern LED lamp. The purchase of a solar facility is expensive and often linked with a microcredit. Thus, a careful and clear introduction to the product becomes that much more important. Printed instructions do not really help much. Since most people have some experience with standard technical equipment, such as radios, tape recorders, and mobile phones, that is a possible starting point for training.

2. Balance
Solar energy is based on a natural resource. In solar technology, natural factors, such as changing radiation, must be taken into consideration, while, on the other hand, nature regulates the length of use of attached lamps and other equipment. The sun does not shine with the same duration or intensity every day, and during the rainy period, it sometimes lacks the power to entirely recharge the energy used. Knowledge of this balance of electricity consumption and recharg-ing is important for the optimal use of a solar system. According to experience, users quickly discover an optimal mix. Nonetheless, they must be informed about it beforehand.

3. Care
Every piece of technical equipment requires cautious and constant care for long-term, optimal functioning. Unfortunately, many users have no understanding of this. Whether due to a lack of experience or simply a lack of concern, many use equipment until it breaks. Then, it is either repaired or thrown away. Often, it is difficult to mediate to them that an equipment’s lifetime is significantly lengthened through care and maintenance. Sometimes a service contract with the user helps to guarantee such care. However, the assumption here is that the solar firm also has technicians in rural areas. Should this not be the case, it would be helpful to show users at least how a module can be cleaned, or a LED lamp freed of dust and soot.

4. Diligence
With sufficient quality, solar technology itself (module, battery, charger, cable, LED) can be manufactured robustly enough for use in rural regions. For Solar Home Systems (SHS), battery and charger are carefully stored in a stable box; and nowadays, modern solar lamps, such as the ST2 by SunTransfer, have high standards with regard to water, dust, and shock resistance (IP65). Yet this does not apply to a lot of instruments that are run with SHS, such as TVs, refrigerators, DVD and media players. Also, such equipment cannot be manufactured with a standard IP65. It is neither economical nor sensi-ble to equip a television with high shock resistance. Users in rural regions do not require any special configuration, but they must be better instructed by installation firms about proper treatment of solar technology and modern technical equipment.

5. Exchange of ideas
With its famous Tupperware parties, the eponymous U. S. plastic kitchenware manufacturer successfully paved a way that might also be interesting for solar technology: at these parties, (mainly) women meet to exchange their experiences and ideas about use of the products. The idea came about because plastic containers were, at the time, a new technology. Transferred to solar technology, that means: not only the use of Solar Home Systems, but also experiences in dealing with mobile solar lamps could be discussed at such meetings. In the Philippines, this is successfully practiced, whereby in addition, a competition is called every so often for the most intelligent and best ideas for the use of solar products. And quite a few manufacturers would be surprised to learn of all the things their small, mobile solar lamps are used for. Such meetings have the advantage that the users mutually support one another and exchange tips for taking care of minor problems—and solar companies have the opportunity to point out the proper way of dealing with the products based on concrete examples.  (hs) 

Source: sun-connect 5 | April 2011 (p. 13)