Turn your home or office into its own power station with these smart moneysaving solar ideas.
When we consider using solar energy to slash our energy bills, most of us think of solar panels on the roof. But there are a host of other solar usages to cut power bills and reduce your carbon footprint.
Solar power systems can be connected to the electricity grid, to batteries or both – known as a hybrid solar power system. Most homes with solar power systems are connected to the electricity grid and any excess solar electricity not used in the home at that time is sent to the grid.
There are a number of purchasing options for powering your home with solar – you can buy the system upfront, through a financing arrangement, or lease a system to enjoy the benefits without the upfront cost or risk.
Your solar options
Solar panels: these are a lot cheaper than they used to be, making the payback period quicker so they pay for themselves sooner, and then you’ll start saving on your bills. Typically this would cost about $4,500 for an average 3kW system after rebates.
Solar hot water: those of us with electric hot water heaters will find it can account for between a third and a half of your energy bill. By installing a solar hot water system on the roof, your energy bill could be slashed by hundreds of dollars a year. The average cost of a solar hot water system is around $4,000 for a good quality evacuated tube split system. Remember you’ll need a backup system for long rainy spells though, with instant gas or electricity.
Passive solar design: this means making smart design decisions when building a home or renovating your property, whether it’s a house, flat, office or shop. These decisions don’t have to cost a lot – the key is placing windows and eaves so they accept sunlight in winter but not in summer when the sun is higher in the sky. Consider also windows that take up less than 30 per cent of wall space; brick or masonry walls that absorb heat during the day and release it into the house at night, good draft sealing and insulation and double glazing. Go to www.myhome.gov.au for more.
Batteries: any solar generation that’s not used by your house immediately will be exported to the grid, earning around 6 cents per kWh from your electricity retailer while the energy you import from the grid will cost you about 27 cents. A battery can store this excess solar generation, saving an extra few hundred dollars per year. Battery prices are dropping but are still expensive, so they’re not yet worth it for most households. If you require protection from blackouts, check that the system will actually meet your requirements.
Going off-grid: it’s possible to fully sever your connection to the electricity grid, but this requires many solar panels, big batteries and probably a generator too. This free article discusses off-grid possibilities: http://www.sanctuarymagazine.org.au/ideas-advice/quit-grid.
For more information on all the above options go to the Alternative Technology Association www.ata.org.au or the Clean Energy Council: www.cleanenergrycouncil.org.au
The environmental imperatives are just as compelling as money-saving incentives when it comes to solar. “The electricity industry still pumps out more than a third of our national emissions,” says Dr Mark Byrne, an energy market advocate at the Total Environment Centre.
“Since the end of the carbon price in June 2014 national emissions have actually risen 5.5 per cent in spite of the boom in solar energy. The government’s Direct Action policy has been ineffective and has no pathway to implement even our paltry 26 to 28 per cent target for reducing national emissions by 2030 over 2005 levels.
“Only time will tell whether we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels in time to stave off the impacts of catastrophic climate change. The early warning signs are evident all the time – from coral bleaching off Cape York to the drought that has emptied Tasmania’s hydro dams.”
Rent a power-saver kit
Hornsby and Ku ring gai Councils will loan residents Save Power Kits and energy meters. The Hornsby kit contains an energy meter to help you measure the power used by appliances, find out how much they cost to run and the carbon pollution they create; two thermometers, one so you can find out where your home lets in the cold in winter or heat in summer, and the other to check your room and fridge temperatures; a stopwatch to measure how long you’re in the shower and how much hot water you use, a compass to see which direction your windows face so you can make the most of the sun in winter and use shading to best advantage in summer, and a User Guide with worksheets and action plan.
Did you know?
For between $100 and $200, you can hook your rooftop solar to your existing electric hot water tank with a simple wiring change and a time to heat during the day when the sun is shining as an alternative, to solar thermal hot water. Any licensed plumber should be able to do this easily.