Going solar: Ravenswood and elsewhere

My wife has recently returned from a holiday in Europe (Germany, France, and northern Italy) and says that solar panels are all over the place there. She found the sight of centuries-old farm sheds with panels gleaming on their roofs quite amusing, and also noted that people were ‘not just putting up a few panels, as we do, but covering the whole roof.’ All good to hear.

While she was over there, I visited Ravenswood, which is quite a contrast. They do have solar power in common, though. Here’s a house in town, an older place (note the single-skin weatherboard construction) in a well kept garden:

House in Ravenswood with solar panels on roof
Old and new: the house is probably a century old.

Meanwhile, back here in Townsville, I’m still waiting on our first electricity bill since installation of our own system. When I get that, I will write up our experiences as a companion piece to David’s story.

Going Solar: David

There has been a lot of talk about domestic solar power systems in the last year or so but most of it seems to be coming from governments, suppliers and others who may have vested interests, so it’s understandable that we listen to it with a degree of scepticism.

I thought a real-life example or two may help to sort out the truth from the hype.   Sometime soon I’ll post my own story, of the installation on our own older high-set house in Mundingburra. Meanwhile, here are the experiences of David and Kate, a young professional couple living in a small modern house in the new suburb of Douglas. In David’s words (and with my thanks to him for allowing me to quote him):

Our 1.52 kW solar power system was installed by a specialist PV company in March 2011 and the entire process has been extremely smooth. The installation was performed amazingly quickly, with about six staff working together to place the panels on the roof, provide conduit from the panels to the solar inverter through our roof, and rewire our switchboard. The whole process took only a few hours to have everything in place and signed off.

After the installation, on an average sunny day, we would see generation of at least 7 kWh, even reaching 8.5 kWh on our best day. Through this, we were seeing our power usage at home more than negated, with our meter steadily going backwards. That said, we’re not a typical situation since we only have two of us at in the house, we work 9 to 5 on weekdays, have a two-storey, north-facing house with a perfectly angled roof and no trees nearby, and are extremely power efficient around the home with LED halogen-replacement lights and gas appliances in use.

After the installation, we applied to Ergon Energy for a new electricity meter so we could get the bonus feed-in tariff. Unfortunately, this process took nearly two months of waiting – but given the recent cyclone and number of people purchasing solar panel systems, that was understandable. In late May 2011, our new meter was installed and we’ve been able to watch how much we’re saving off our power bill. Because we use so little power during typical days, most of our generated power goes into the grid at 44 cents / kWh, and we’re therefore making a fair amount of money.

As a rough indication, our new meter has been in place for just over a month, we’ve pushed around 140 kWh into the grid at 44 c/kWh and we’ve only used 108 kWh at 22 c/kWh, giving us a credit of about $38 so far. This works out at around $2 per day in credit, after paying for power usage. So, since our previous year’s power bills were approximately $700, we should be looking at a net benefit of over $1200 per year (and that’s taking into account air conditioning during summer days). Our system cost was $3300, so it’ll pay for itself in no time, not to mention the value it has added to the house.

We’ve changed our lifestyle a little with the solar as we try to do washing, dishwashing and similar powered activities when the sun isn’t shining – either early in the morning or in the evening – to avoid using our solar power and losing out on the bonus. Aside from that, we just keep being electricity conscious and turning off everything we can when it’s not in use.

We’re still waiting to receive our first power bill after the new meter was installed but our previous bill (i.e. after the panels were installed but before we started getting the feed-in bonus) saw our power bill halved just by having the solar panels installed for a third of the billing period.

Kate and I are very thorough with planning so we made sure we knew what we were getting, and we made sure to have the panels in the right place, etc, etc. Aside from the slow Ergon hook-up, we’ve had no problems at all. Anything we didn’t expect? We didn’t really expect we would be saving so much!