Mevrouw T and I decided to do the right thing by the planet. It’s cost us a certain sum of money; that was expected. What I wasn’t prepared for was the tax on my time.
Monitoring the performance of our shiny new solar panels is taking over my life. Here’s why…
We’ve had solar hot water installed for many years. It makes good sense in sunny Sydney. It saves power bills and though water here is at a premium in drought years, we don’t need to feel guilty about taking as many showers as we like when the dams are full.
We have a gas range, gas heaters and a gas booster on the hot water system, so our electricity bills were already relatively low. I hoped that a few solar panels would get rid of them completely.
Companies were very keen to quote for the job, though it was difficult to compare like with like. I’m not an expert, and everyone was talking up the reliability of their company and the quality of the panels they’d install. A little googling told me that German panels were considered better than Chinese panels; a little more googling told me that even German panels are made in China these days.
The other problem was selecting the site for them on our roof. The roof on the old part of our house faces east and west, on the extension it’s north-facing, which is ideal for Australia. The sun and just about everything else except New Zealand is north of us.
Opinions varied about how many panels we’d need to knock off our bill. Eventually we settled on 12, to be distributed on different parts of the roof. The company to do the job was chosen, a price was agreed and the boys came around to do the job.
Within a few minutes their feet had gone through a number of the nearly 100-year-old terracotta tiles on the old roof and they declared that it was impossible to work on that part of the house. Okay, we had enough spare tiles to fill the holes, and we agreed just eight panels on the new roof over the extension would do.
Everything went fine after that. Panels installed, looking fine. Sun being converted to lovely clean electricity.
What I wasn’t prepared for was that the system is connected to the internet. Every fifteen minutes I can check in to the website and get an update on what’s happening on my roof through a snapshot like this:
You can see from this that Tue, Feb 9 was a sunny day. The nice blue hump is caused by the panels doing their thing. The orange bits pointing down show the consumption. Those downward spikes are first the washing machine turning on (using water we collected ourselves in our rain tank) and later the tv being watched in the evening. Why the tv should use more electricity for a 45 minute period is a mystery. I can only hope that it was a particularly exciting show.
Now this obsession of mine…
Because I can check the graphs every 15 minutes, I do just that. I just flicked away from writing this post to do it again. Excuse me a moment while I go and look at the panels again…
Uh-oh! See that shadow creeping across from the bottom left corner?
I feverishly monitor the energy efficiency of our dishwasher, fridge (do we really need it on all night?) and dryer (a greedy, power-guzzling machine that should never be used except in dire emergencies!)
On my next routine 15-minutely check I see the dreaded orange line has spiked sharply down. I rush through the house looking for an explanation. Mevrouw T is baking tomatoes in the oven! In the electric oven!! What’s wrong with cold tomatoes anyway? Do they have to be baked??
Thank heavens our house doesn’t have air conditioning. Ceiling fans are far more energy efficient and do the job of keeping our house bearable most days…
Bottom line, though, on a sunny day we’re collecting nearly twice as much power as we’re using. We’re able to feed it back into the grid and be paid for it, though admittedly at a much lower rate than it costs us to draw from the grid on a cloudy day. Or at night. Or possibly in winter when there are less sunny hours in the day.
It will take a few years before the savings pay back our initial investment, but I have faith that eventually it will happen. In the meantime, we’ll see how it’s all working, and consider installing a battery so we can cut the cable and go completely off grid.
Oops, excuse me again…back soon…
I’d really like to hear about others’ experiences with installing solar, but don’t ask me about the best panels, best prices or most reliable installation companies. I have no idea. For an expert, independent opinion on what suits your needs I recommend the advice of my friend Michael Mobbs, through his website www.sustainablehouse.com.au.