Sunday, 8 February 2009

Clean Renewable Energy - My Story

by Gavin. Greening of Gavin.

I thought I would post a how I did it, than more of a how to, so here goes. I had been a fan of renewable energy for many, many years, but it wasn't until I had my green epiphany, that I took the plunge and purchased my own renewable energy system. Our family made the decision to go down this path in May 2007.

Before I began investigating what I required in respect to sizing the system, I learnt that it is cheaper to save electricity than to make it. So from May to about July, 2007, we had a concerted effort to become more energy efficient around our home. During this time we managed to reduce our electricity consumption from about 35 kWh per day to just under 14 kWh per day. This was a reduction of 60%, and we were amazed that a simple change in behaviours could achieve so much. You can read about it in these two posts titled Eco House Challenge Electricity 1 and Eco House Challenge Electricity 2. We also reduced our power bill substantially.

So, not being happy with still using coal fired electricity, and being very dubious about GreenPower at the time (I still signed up for it), I began to investigate how much electricity we needed to generate to be about 65% self sufficient and what type of renewable energy would suit the area I live in. I knew that as my children grew older and left home that generation target would get higher with less people living in the home. My research revealed that Solar Photovoltaic's would generate the most electricity, as we did not have a steady source of wind, and had no stream on my suburban block. Solar PV it was. I calculated that to produce an average of about 9 kWh, needed to install a 2.8 kW system, which meant I need a space big enough to place 16 PV panels, and somewhere close by to locate the inverter which converts DC to AC. The total cost was a large sum of cash to outlay on a single item, and the quotes I received ranged from A$28,000 to A$40,000. I chose a reputable installer, and went to visit their office to have a chat about system size and to haggle about the price. We settled on a princely sum of A$30,000. I then applied for the Solar PV rebate of $8000 being offered at the time by the Commonwealth Government. I was also eligible to sell my Renewable Energy Certificates for about $1400, so this meant that I would be out of pocket for around $20500. I could live with that. I then sought a personal loan to pay for it all.

Everything came to a screaming halt, as the installers would not proceed until the rebate was approved. Seven long weeks later we set an installation date of August 25th 2007.

Neighbours 047The big day arrived, and I took the day off of work so that I would watch the installation. It was a very cool and windy day and the wind grew stronger as the day went on. The three installers decided to postpone putting up the panels until later on in the week and we all agreed that this was for the best as I didn't want any of the guys flying off of the garage roof like a kite holding on to a panel. However, they worked tirelessly to ensure that all of the frames for the panels and all of the electrical work was completed on the first day. This included the installation of the Fronius IG 30 grid connected inverter. After they finished for the day, I discovered that the next window of opportunity to complete the installation was the 4th of September. They had everything ready to go and I even stored the 175 Watt Sharp Solar panels in the shed for a week.

The final day arrived and it was a wonderful sunny day. Two installers returned as promised with it taking them most of the day to fit the 16 panels and to wire them up to the junction box on the roof. At about 3pm, the system was installed in its entirety, and I had the gracious honour of throwing the main breaker. It was a wonderful feeling to watch the inverter start up and then synchronise with the power grid. It began to generate 1850 watts at that time of afternoon. We all ran over to the electricity meter in the main switchboard, and sure enough the meter was spinning backwards as we were not utilising that amount of power at the time. I was elated!

Neighbours 058

Since the installation, the Solar PV system has generated 6060 kWh of green clean electricity. At our current electricity tariff that equates to $1284 of Green Power. Seeing that we draw a negligible amount from the power grid, at this rate the system will pay for itself in 18 years time. This is the time it will take the system to generate the value in dollars that I paid for it. Of course I don't look at it this way. When I tell people that I have Solar power at home, the first question they are is how long will it take to pay itself off. I bet they don't ask the same question of themselves when they buy a shiny new SUV or Plasma TV. Those types of goods only depreciate in value. Solar PV will only add value to my home. Also, I only look at the "greenness" of it all, in the knowledge that I am helping to reduce carbon emissions and in a small way, attempting to avert climate chaos!

Another bonus of having renewable energy is that everyone at home becomes so conscious of electricity consumption. The habit has now formed in all family members, whereby if you are not in the room, you turn it off. With this simple philosophy, we now have our daily average down to around 11 kWh. The two biggest consumers are the refrigerator and the pool pump with those being about as energy efficient as I can get them.

So as you can see, I have a passion for renewable energy. I know the cost is prohibitive for so many people, and I certainly do not expect everyone to rush out and install a renewable energy system. I just believe that if you have the money and the inclination, you couldn't go past investing in clean, green electricity for your home.

I like it so much, I made a short home movie about it and here it is. Certainly no steady cam in my kit!


I hope you enjoyed my little sojourn into renewable energy. If you have any questions, please feel free to post it via a comment. I will answer as many as I can.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gavin,
Thanks for such an interesting post. My goal for 2009 is to install solar panels and like you were our family is currently using 36kWh average. We are making a conscious effort and are making good headway although with three young adults it is hard to convince them the world won't end if they turn off their computer :-)
I have decided to return to work full-time to subsidise the cost of solar power and your post has given me some idea of how much I will need to earn before I can cut back to part-time again.
I enjoy reading about your progress although usually lurk rather than comment :-)

willywagtail said...

Hi, I am so jealous because solar power is one of my dream possesions. Unfortunately I rent so will probably never have it. I wouldn't look at the outlay cost either, rather I would appreciate how much it was saving and the privilige of having it. Cherrie

The Awakened Heart said...

Hi - love your blog. I have just nominated you for an award. Please skip over to my blog to pick it up. Hopefully it will make you smile. Keep up the sterling work guys!

Gavin said...

Glenda. Great to hear that you are saving up for a system. You will never regret it. Oh, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

Cherrie. I reckon that landlords should get some kind of incentive to install renewable energy on their investment properties. That would solve everyone's problems.

Awakened Heart. Thanks for the award. I believe that I speak for all of the co-op's writers, so a big thank you!

silversewer said...

I was very interested in your article, we live in a sheltered community in a City which proclaims itself to be green. The roof over each 'block' of the building hase a good sloope on it and most , if not all of them get a good deal of sun, ideal for solar panels which would reduce our electricity bills greatly. This could easily be a sample project for the counil of the way to go, but when I asked about putting solar panels on the roof I was told it was too my opinion a very negative attitude to take. They should be looking at using anything available to lessen the carbon footprint of our city.

We do havea house in the city which has solar panels a composting loo etc which was converted by Environ to demonstratethe different ways that can be used to save energy, it is very popular, open to the public and each year a new tenant is chosen to live in it for a weekends they are avaiable to speak to the general public about the house and how they find living in it.

There is also a house in Nottingham which has been adapted by the owner they have a tank to reuse rain water and a huge boiler which is run on waste wood and supplies heating and hot water.

If you do an internet serch on Penny Poyser you will find out about her.

They did the work on their house as they were renovating it, its a victorian terrace property and they have had Governemt Officials visit to see what they have done.

Penny has also written to books. I met her last year at a seminar I attended. She is a very interesting person to talk to and I have a feeling also has a website.

Willo said...

This is so helpful! I am hoping that when our roof needs to be replaced in abut 5 years, we will be ready for solar panels and there will be more rebates and less expensive technology. Our house would be perfect for it as it utilizes passive solar heating already. Hopefully we will begin to see this type of energy as the norm.

livinginalocalzone said...

That was a really eye-opening and learning post for me. Thanks for that. I wish I could go more energy-renewable. Sadly my new home is in a homeowner's development where that is not possible.... I love it in every way except for things like this. Your post is inspiring for the possibilities.

Chiot's Run said...

Great article. Even if we can't afford or are unable to install solar panels, if we do the preliminary reductions that will make a huge impact in not only our utility bills but the amount of electric we use. If everyone concentrated on reducing their load that would be a fantastic thing and it would make a huge difference.

We try to use as little electric as possible in our home (even with running 2 businesses from home) and we use less electric than our friends that both work out of the home. They don't understand why we do it because "we can afford to use it". It's not about what you can afford it's about what future generations can afford.

ChristyACB said...

While full PV systems here would make my house impossible to sell in a few years (yeah, moving to the country!), I'm installing a solar hot water heater this spring!

For those who can't afford a full PV system but want to get going, solar hot water may just be your ticket. At about 1/8th the cost of PV, it will also take care of about 30% of the typical homes electric bill (typical hot water heater is that percentage).

That is a big return and a huge step in the right direction.

Carol said...

Since we are thinking about selling our passive solar home with lots of acreage in east central Oklahoma, we are only adding solar to the pool this year. But our new home will be as green as our retirement checks will allow. Thanks for your informative post.

Darren (Green Change) said...

Note for anyone looking for info on "Penny Poyser" mentioned in comments above: it's actually spelt "Penney Poyzer".

Just before Christmas we ordered a 1 kW solar power unit. I found a really good 1-week special at $2500 fully installed. Not bad! I think the company was suffering lack of demand due to the combined effects of the means testing, dismal economic news, and Christmas distractions.

Since Rudd just announced a change to the solar hot water rebate system (adding an extra $600), we decided to add that to the order as well this week. The company even gave us another $100 off for getting a "package deal".

We're still waiting on approval for the rebate before the solar power goes in, but the solar hot water should go in this month. I can't wait!

Our current off-peak electric hot water system uses about 8 kWh/day, but costs very little to run due to the very low off-peak rate (but it still generates the same amount of CO2/kWh!). Since it was still in perfect working condition, we were hesitant to junk it and get a new solar system (how green is it to do that?!). With Rudd's latest rebates, we had the incentive we needed to act now.

Darren (Green Change) said...

Forgot to mention the 300L solar hot water unit is under $1200 fully installed, after rebates. Not bad!

Gavin said...

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. Just to set the record straight, I also have solar hotwater installed on my house. In fact, it was the first technology solution I chose to help reduce my carbon emissions from natural gas. This technology pays for itself much quicker than Solar PV does.

To amplify on Darren's point of rebates for solar hot water. These are only available if you are replacing an electric hot water service. Mine was natural gas, so I was not eligible. I simply bolted on the solar HW system as a pre heater for the natural gas HW storage tank. I use far less natural gas in the warmer months, but still have to turn up the thermostat in the winter.

Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife said...

Thanks for sharing this. Right now we are seriously looking into a dual solar installation - both PV and passive solar thermal for heating. We're waiting on the estimate for installation and logistics of site layout. If the cost is right, we'll pay cash for the whole shebang.

We'd like to aim for an array that can provide a minimum of 10-12 kWh in winter. That would just about cover all our needs on an "average" winter day, and about half our draw on days that I bake. We're not sure yet how our summer usage will compare to our winter usage, but we heat with heating oil, while air conditioning (which we use very sparingly in summer) is electrical. We assume that an array that can provide 10-12 kWh per day in winter will give us more over the summer months.

So much to think about!