Going Solar: is it the best thing for me right now?

Not necessarily.

A solar photo-voltaic system is a big non-portable investment with a multi-year payback time, and it is not equally suitable for all homes or parts of the country. It is not usually a possibility if you’re renting, either, although you could talk to your landlord about it if you know him/her well enough. And it may not be the cheapest way of reducing your electricity bill, if that is important to you.

As you can see from the chart …

  • If you have a standard electric hot water system, it is responsible for a large part of your electricity bill. Replacing it with a solar HWS or one of the new ‘heat pump’ systems may give you more bang for the buck than a PV array, especially since they will attract a federal government subsidy.
  • The second big energy gobbler (it may use more than water heating, depending on where you live) is heating and cooling, and small changes in thermostat settings can make big changes in power bills. For every 1 degree you increase your air-con thermostat by, you can save around 10% on running costs, so setting your it at 25C instead of 20C and spending the savings on caviar and French champagne is a distinct possibility.
  • The same thing, in reverse, applies to central heating if you have it.
  • If you have a swimming pool you should make sure it’s on an off-peak tariff. A high-efficiency pump would be a good idea too. (Ergon is currently encouraging those changes with cash offers.)
  • If you routinely use a clothes dryer instead of an outdoor clothes-line, change  now and save lots of dollars and CO2.
  • After that, look at the little energy-wasters – the appliances left on standby, the lights left on when they don’t need to be, and so on.

There’s plenty of advice here (Victorian government), here (which is where I found the graphic above; it’s a commercial site but their information is good) and here (CSIRO); or you could go for a home energy audit, e.g. climatesmart.

Finally, remember that all of these ideas are 100% compatible with going solar some time in the future. Or now, if that’s possible.

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