5. Going solar and in-house monitors

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The first real step to reducing our emissions was installing solar panels. We’d been talking about this for a couple of years and I was very excited about actually doing it. After calculating our energy requirements, we decided on a 5 kW system, and after a bit of research on online forums to find out about different sorts of panels and inverters and which installers were supposed to be good or shonky, we were ready for quotes. We decided not to deal with our electricity supplier, as we wanted to get rid of them as soon as we could, and chose Solargain, who seemed to have a good reputation on the forums, and had a 5 kW system installed for just under $10,000 in mid-March 2015. Since then, some of our neighbours have signed onto a local council scheme and have been offered a cheaper deal. The technology is getting better and cheaper all the time.

Installation

Because of the shape of our roof, we couldn’t have all the panels in neat rows and needed the 20 panels split up into five different arrays with Enphase micro-inverters. The upside of this, however, is slightly higher power generation. We also needed scaffolding to fix the second-story guttering, so timed it all to happen at the same time. The installers, a company called Solar360 were great. The whole installation took less than a day and they clearly explained how it would all work, including the software and displays. The process of getting the billing changed to be two-way was a little slow on Origin’s part, but otherwise it’s all been very smooth. We’re now producing (some of) our own electricity! Yay!

Changes to bills, power use and grid supply – a bit disappointing so far

The change on our bills has been a bit disappointing so far. It was Autumn in Melbourne and heading into winter so not the best time of year for solar production, though there is still quite a lot generated on sunny days. We’ve had a slightly colder and more overcast winter this year so the heating has been on a bit more. Also, much of the savings from solar power come from changing habits of use – for example using appliances like the washing machine and dishwasher during the daylight hours when you’re generating power, rather than after dark when you’re drawing from the grid. During winter, that can be really hard, when you leave for work in the dark or get home after dark. We’ve been trying to change our habits though, and our first full bill (winter) showed that our power drawn from the grid was down by over a quarter! However, despite this, our three-month bill had gone up! Which was frustrating and very annoying. I guess if we didn’t have solar, the bill would have been even higher. Over the past few years, in addition to spiralling power costs, billing formulas have changed. Regardless of supplier, we all now pay a monthly grid supply charge that is a static amount (around $120pm), so even if you generate all your power from your roof, you can never completely get rid of the bills while you are connected to the grid. The exchange rate is terrible too. In Victoria, you get 6.25 cents kw for any excess solar power generated during the day, while it costs around 28-30 cents kw to buy power after dark. Hopefully, now the days are getting longer and a tad warmer and sunnier, our generation will increase. We’ll be able to do more during daylight hours and and grid use will go down. Longer term, we have discussed getting batteries, such as the Tesla or the new Australian AllGrid Energy batteries announced this month http://www.statedevelopment.sa.gov.au/news-releases/all-news-updates/indigenous-company-launches-solar-battery-system-in-sa. Enphase also says they will be offering battery storage very soon https://enphase.com/en-au/products-and-services/whats-next so it looks like there will be loads of different options in the next few months. The resident scientist tells me the technology is still too new and “not quite there yet” so we’ll look at it again next year.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 1.21.02 pmOur rooftop solar system came with an in-house display telling us when the panels come on line in the morning, how much energy is being produced and the running total. The Enphase Enlighten website gives much more detailed information about our energy IMG_3207generation – with hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and running totals of generation available in different graph and table formats.
Last year after our smart meter was installed, we took advantage of a free offer fIMG_3212or an in-house energy monitor which sits on the fridge and tells us what our
energy use is as it occurs. This is really useful and a little bit addictive. I check it whenever I turn an appliance on and have learnt which things use the most energy and how to stagger use so there’s not too much drain on power all at once, to make better use of our solar and draw less from the grid during the day. It’s certainly shown us where most of our power use is – during winter it’s for heating, which is old and inefficient central heating.  Some appliances use a lot for a short burst, like the microwave and jug, while the oven uses a lot over a longer period so is less efficient overall. I love it when the display goes into the negative, showing that our rooftop solar is supplying more than we need at that point of time and is feeding the excess back into the grid.

So, the count so far: 1. Rooftop solar, 2. In-house monitors. Two energy freedom steps done, seven to go. Just need to get better at managing our energy use so we benefit more from the solar. And we need to switch our grid power supplier to a company which supports renewables more than Origin does. I’ve been looking at Powershop http://www.powershop.com.au/  which has good reviews and claims to use 100% renewable energy, so that’s another thing to do.

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