DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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4 May 2011

Buying solar panels

I have been wanting solar panels for the longest time. In 1985 we moved into a house with solar hot water and used it happily for many years. When we moved into our current home in 1997, we had solar hot water installed, along with our first water tank, two skylights and whirlybirds and we put in a vegetable and fruit garden and bought another flock of hens. We dived head first into green living then but the one thing I wanted to add when we had the money was more solar power.  Finally, they're here. Seven panels were installed while I was staying at Tricia's. We are still connected to the grid and we're currently sending power we don't use to the grid that we are paid for.  The current rate for that is 44 cents to sell to the grid and 19 cents to buy back.

The solar panels on the roof.

I'm not sure how well our panels will work but I'm hopeful that we won't need to take any electricity from the grid from now on.  Our electricity consumption is pretty low and we already have solar hot water, so I hope that by working with the patterns of daylight here and slight modifications on how we work with electricity, we'll reach our goal.

We did a lot of research before we decided on which company to buy from. There are a lot of advertisements by companies we'd never heard of before promoting cheap prices but on investigation, there were added costs. It was important to us that we deal with an established company that would be around to service the 25 year warranty. We also wanted to deal with an experienced green business, who knew their product and provided excellent service.  We got that with Origin.  The panels they installed are Sharp from Japan and they were installed on our roof in a few short hours. Hanno watched them like a hawk and he said they did very well.

The meter box in the garage.

The price quoted on our panels after the government rebate was $3,240 and we were going to pay that from our savings, however, when we signed up, we found they had an interest-free loan so we decided to go that way instead and leave our money in the bank longer, earning interest.  We paid $180 on installation and pay the rest off over the next 12 months in $255 instalments.  The government rebate will decrease on June 30 this year so I encourage you to act now if you're thinking of installing the panels on your roof. Our experience with Origin has been very good and we're happy to recommend them to you. The more of us doing this, the better.

Do you have solar panels?  If so, I'd be very interested to know how well they've worked for you. Did you have to modify your housework to get the maximum efficiency?  What difference did they make to your electricity costs?  Whatever you can share with me about them, I'd love to know.  I wonder if other countries have their government's support to buy solar technology.

ADDITION:  Here is a booklet about the system we bought.    And for Iris, here is info about the feed in tariffs.  We sell our excess for 44 cents and buy it back if we need it at 19 cents.  These prices change all the time and I'm sure will eventually go down.

44 comments:

  1. I would love to have this done. Unfortunately our bank account is not quite that healthy.

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  2. I have solar panels and couldnt be more pleased. Unfortunately here in Tasmania we have NO competition regarding power companies so we have to take whatever rate they offer on buyback. Here the outgoing price is the same as the incoming price. Never mind, it has still saved us money on our bills and even though there was an initial set up cost, I know that we have done the right thing. There should be more of it on a commercial level providing more electricity for businesses etc. Luckily our power supply in Tassy is clean being from Hydro power but the fact that the sun is there, why not use it.

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  3. Congratulations on your solar panels Rhonda and excellent advice re: choosing a well established company. There are so many companies around it can be quite confusing. I'm sure many of these smaller outfits will disappear once the rebates go and then who services your system?
    We really wanted to have solar panels installed on our roof - there is plenty of space but we live on a forested property and were told by two separate companies that because of the shade from the trees that we would struggle to power our home on solar. The cost for the number of panels we would require was something we could not afford. People have said to us to take out some of our trees. Don't really want to do this unless they present a danger and then there is the cost of having them removed. We now regret not taking advantage of the rebate and only opting for the heat pump. Wish we had bought the start up kit and added panels as we could afford them. I would be interested to hear from others who are surrounded by bush who have installed solar panels when told they wouldn't receive enough sunlight. Did they remove trees? How many panels were required and does it provide enough power for a family home?

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  4. Hello ladies!

    Ann, you're right to consider the cost of tree removal. We had a large tallowwood removed a couple of years ago, right at the front of our house; it cost us $900 for one tree.

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  5. You've got exactly the same sort as we will have! Ours are being installed tomorrow. We won't cover all our electricity use (4 teenagers see to that!) but we'll certainly cut down on our bills.

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  6. our solar panels are on the way! They will be installed in the next few weeks. its so exciting we opted for the larger model as we have a few freezers that we use when we butcher a cow and a couple of sheep. but as they empty we hope to put more power into the grid. We saved our money and were able to pay for it without borrowings too. It took longer but its more satisfying.

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  7. COngratulations on your solar power decision.
    Living in Nova Scotia we have alot of wind. So DH and I have consider wind power. The cost may not be feasable though. Not really sure. We have been putting our money into renovating our land and making it more useful first. As well as getting the house up to par. One step at a time here.---Krystal(nova scotia)

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  8. I did finally get my husband over to look at a friend's system. She has solar electric, water, and a closed system for baseboard heat. Last year, hooked in to sell back excess energy, she paid one $5 utility bill.

    She says it has been a learning curve, changing the timing of when to do things to take advantage of the sun. For heating, instead of starting up the heat exchanger after sunset when the house starts getting cold, she's learned to start the heat in the afternoon so that the house is already warm by sunset. Instead of running the dishwasher after dinner, she waits and washes her dishes after breakfast.

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  9. Hi Rhonda,
    We do have the panels installed and have been a little disillusioned so far. A lot of promises unfulfilled. We have been told to hang in there because it is a new venture and not all the kinks have been ironed out. Electrical suppliers do not like solar and tend to penalise you for having them. We are not fighters by nature so are waiting for the kinks to iron themselves out which is probably not the right thing to do. We have a smart meter installed which does alter what times I do my house work chores ie washing ironing etc.
    Looking forward to hearing how you go with yours.

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  10. Well done Rhonda, this is a dream of mine also. However, the roof needs replacing (according to my FIL) so no use getting solar panels til the roof is done.
    I do remember reading an article on the Greening of Gavin about solar power and how to get the most from it. He also had some wise advice on how to get more money from the electric company by doing this: http://www.greeningofgavin.com/2010/10/getting-most-from-your-solar-pv.html

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  11. I would absolutely love to have solar panels! We always thought it would be something we couldn't afford. I have also been told that they wouldn't be strong enough to provide what we need....but I still think I want them! My husband and I definitely need to look into them!

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  12. We have lived with stand alone solar power for nearly 30 years now. I lovenot having to ever pay a power bill, or worry about power cuts, and I love the sense of empowerment it gives me - the changes we will have to make to get through climate change are not scary at all to me. We have a generator for backup, but try to avoid using it except for building projects that use high wattage tools. (We also have solar hot water, with backup from a wet-back slow combustion stove in winter.) It is a learning curve - after a little while you just get to know what things are big power consumers, and it's often a surprise. Vacuum cleaners, for example use a huge amount. We are about to buy a new fridge and we'll choose carefully to get maximum energy efficiency because fridges are big power consumers. Electronics though, like computer, music, radio use very little, and kitchen tools like food processors are on for such a short time, they hardly count. Our kids got into the habit of turning a light off when leaving the room. It just boils down to "waste not, want not" - what my nanna told me!

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  13. Rhonda that is amazing. I am so happy for you. I have solar panel envy ;) We looked into it a few years ago, but in the states it will run you between 18 and 25 thousand dollars to have them installed. You get a tax credit, but you still have to have that money up front. (Some states offer help paying for them if you hook up to the grid, but Tennessee, where I live, does not). Most of that cost is the installiation. It costs more than the actual panels. My husband is currently getting his degree in solar energy so hopefully when he graduates in two years, he can do it for us and it will be much more cost effective.

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  14. Well done Rhonda, it inspires me to keep thinking about solar.
    Linda I would love you to do a post on your blog all about solar power and how it was set up etc.I hadn't considered standalone solar viable with my need to use a hair straightener and a hair drier...but maybe it is viable after all. I think it really helps to know where to start with all these things, because sometimes we all need a bit of a shove in the right direction.

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  15. How exciting! Solar is one of my goals as well. We have been working on solar hot water, which we've been "tweaking" to get a system that works for us. I'll be interested to hear how it goes with you.

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  16. I am amazed at the price. We recently priced them here (OK in the states) and it was going to be around $29,000 (and our home is only 1260 sq feet). If we could get them for a similar price to yours we would already have them installed.

    Congratulations to you!

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  17. Congrats on the panels! I've been coveting some, but would need a roof to put them on, so that hasn't happened yet. That said, I'm looking into a baby portable system that could be used to power my laptop - it wouldn't be perfect, but I'll take what I can get for now, and it could be a good way to learn a bit more about the technology and what it can do.

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  18. What a coincidence, I had panels installed on 20 April, through Origin, the Sharp panels and using the interest free credit. You've done well getting connected to the grid already. We've been told 20 working days for Energex to come out and change the meter. We use quite a lot of electricity so will probably try and use most at night because that is the cheap electricity 19c, whereas we can earn the 44c for what we produce in the day. So use the washer, dishwasher etc after dusk.
    Sue

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  19. Welcome home Rhonda..loved the pictures of the kangas and that antique store oh my....would love to spend a day there! The solar panels are something we would like to do if the prices would come down a bit.( meaning a whole lot!) Blessings to you and your family, Carolyn Gilbert

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  20. This is so useful, Rhonda. We have a sales person coming to speak to use about this on Saturday.

    Also, little tip for Aussie's posting overseas in the dishcloth swap. If you keep the cloth flat and send it as a letter it's less than half price to post. I had one folded and it would've cost $10 to send.

    Jude :)

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  21. I would love to have solar panels and one day when I live in my own home, I will get them. In Germany the government supports them as well and as a result you see solar panels in almost every neighbourhood. I think this is a very important step in getting away from non renewable energies.

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  22. Hi Rhonda,
    we have solar hot water both at the old place and here (so probably 30 years) Our solar hotwater is connected to a wet-back slow combustion stove, so no need for any boosting. We also have a slow combustion wood heater.
    We have a 4.8 kwh solar power system installed about 3 1/2 weeks ago. This systyem is out in our yard. The installers were wonderful, everything was done very welland we have good back up service from them. the day it was connected to the grid we had our own power.
    We use quite a lot of power as all our water has to be pumped for the house, garden and the stock. I have 4 freezers of different sizes as we kill all our own meat and chickens and freeze loads of vegies.
    We also run a coolroom when we kill our stock or when we have extra family etc or parties (as on Easter Sunday with over 50 family and extended family here.

    We locked in on the 60c kwh here and it will be for 2 years before it drops. However I guess that that depends on the new State Govt.

    We put ours on our mortgage and just upped the payments a bit and will add in what we earn from the solarpower and hopefully the amount we would have had to pay.

    The future with solar power looks very interesting.

    Cheers
    Lorraine

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  23. If your solar is connected to the grid, I'm just wondering if you need to change how you use power during the day?

    Origin will calculate how much power is generated minus how much power is used, whether consumption is during the night or day.

    Susan also touched on something I was wondering - I always thought the power company, charges a cheaper rate for electricity at night.

    Worth looking into. :)

    I don't have solar power myself, so I don't know how it all works. I'm just assuming Origin's accounts would tally power generated, minus power consumed. They'd give you a credit or debit depending on household usage and (of all things *wink*) the weather.

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  24. My friend and I were taking about this last night. We both decided we didn't understand how it works, as in the whole power in/power out situation.

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  25. Hi Rhonda,
    Since we had solar connected (last year), we've been keeping a simple log of both the inverter readings and the meter readings - both daily and accumulative in a 'log book'with many columns.

    In the log I also mention how much rain fell (if any), and the type of day, and if we did something out of the ordinary which would use more electricity than usual. I do readings for - from '6am to 5pm'; then again just after 6am to check on usage overnight. Only takes a minute or two and has been very useful to us.

    We do things like washing at night at the cheaper (19c) rate. We run several pumps for our water - being out of towners,and not connected to town water, plus large chest freezer, couple of frigs etc.

    The Qld rebate is paid on every kw of power that our system exports to the grid - not one deducted from the other, so we've become even more aware of economical energy use.

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  26. Wow, congatulations on the solar panels! That is so exciting. You guys are living our dream lifestyle. So live simply and self sufficiently - how wonderful!

    Katie x

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  27. I was starting to look into the cost of putting panels on our roof in Tassie after being at my parents' place in northern NSW when they had their's installed at the beginning of last year. But just as I was about to start the ball rolling through the green loans scheme, the government decided to discontinue the scheme, so no panels in the foreseeable future for us, just can't afford the outlay :(
    Would love to end up like my parents' place, solar to grid to offset most of their bill, instant gas hot water for shower, gas stove (run off a 9kg bottle that they can switch to the bbq as needed) a small electric system for kitchen (that mum only has to turn on for an hour or so to heat enough for washing up), composting loo with its own solar powered exhaust fan (their mains power isn't too reliable sometimes), lovely tank water, a huge vegie garden, slow combustion heater for winter and whirly birds for heat extraction in summer.
    I always joke that if wind power were cheaper it would be the way to go for us, there always seems to be at least a breeze here, and more often than not it's a gusting wind! A pain for the poor vegie garden, but if could give me power I wouldn't mind so much ;)

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  28. Rhonda, could you add more information on the pricing for what you "sell back" to the power company? In the US, I'm told that most utilities use "net metering" which means they subtract what you send out from what you pull in, so your bill from them is reduced by what you send to them, and you essentially get the full retail price out of what you generate. Otherwise you need 2 meters, and what they pay for what you send back is much less than what you pay for what they send you, because they pay you at wholesale rates. The numbers you posted say that they pay you more for what you generate than for what they sell to you, or am I reading that wrong?

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  29. You are very lucky. Here there is only one company that does solar (but to their credit they have been doing it since the early 80's). The gentleman that owns it is very nice and when I told him I didn't know if we could even afford the panels he said he would come out and quote us anyway. The minimum panel package (that we could build on) would cost us $18,000 and that is including a Fed Rebate, the max was $40,000 The problem as he saw it was our roof faces East/West when it is ideal to have a South facing installation. We have south facing roof on the detached garage but that is heavily shaded by trees I have no control over. I will have solar and wind (where I live Solar Panels will only be effective for 4 months out of the year, the rest of the time it is to overcast) so wind is a better option but I can't find any residential wind turbines that are designed to be out in the country, we have an Urban lodge.

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  30. The sun is a great source of energy, just not consistent. Someday, we will have solar panels, esp if we live somewhere relatively sunny. Southern California, Arizona, and the rest of the southwest are excellent US locations for them, but too many cloudy days and they just can't pay their way. I'm excited for you, Rhonda, we know others who get paid for their excess energy via solar panels; its a sweet deal.

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  31. We would LOVE to get solar panels, however, for our tiny 2 bedroom house in Pennsylvania, the cost would be $15,000. We don't have that kind of money.


    Scrummy

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  32. Solar panels here are so expensive that most people can't afford them in the States..California does give rebates but as they are nearly in bankruptcy...no one is being paid....sadness..I have heard we could rent them..

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  33. Jesse and I have always said that when we are in a position to buy a house, we will definatly do our best to make it as green as possible. I'm moving at the end of the month to the southern part of our state and they are very big on windmills. They are ALL OVER! The town that I live in also has banned plastic shopping bags. Either you need to bring in reusuable or buy their paper bags for 10cents each! Which is super cool! If you reuse the paper bags on your next shopping trip you get a certain percentage off! Cool, cool, cool!
    Have a wonderful day!

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  34. Chris, the power company doesn't distinguish between day and night power, you're right in thinking it's just calculated on how much we use. However, if we have excess during the day - by not using it if we decide to use our washing machine at 7pm instead of 7am the electricity we'd use then would cost 19 cents per kVa. If we have excess power during the day because we use our appliances at night, we'd sell it for 44 cents. We don't have our system to make money from it, although it's a nice side benefit if it happens, it's purely for environmental reasons.

    Like anonymous, we'll be tracking the weather conditions and what we spend for a while to make sure we use it efficiently. That's a great suggestion, anon, thank you.

    I hope countries like the US, UK and Canada start a similar program to encourage people to generate their own electricity.

    Lorraine, I believe the rebate has for buying a system has stopped in NSW.

    Helen, have you looked into wind power? There might be a similar scheme.

    Katie, you'll get there too one day. All my best to you both.

    Kristin, the plastic bags is an excellent start. Many shops here now expect you to bring your own bag and charge if they give you one.

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  35. Thanks for the further comments Rhonda and Anonymous. It explains the buy back/rebate a little more.

    I figured your number one priority on the panels, Rhonda, was the environmental one. :)

    Doesn't hurt to reduce your electricity bills at the same time though. ;)

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  36. Hi Rhonda,
    I came back to check whether or not I'd added my name at the end of the Anon post, and I hadn't. My apologies.

    Maddie

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  37. We had a 2.3kwh solar system installed almost four years ago. Best thing we ever did. Have not spent one cent on power since. Prior to that for 13 years we had a stand alone power system that involved a large battery bank and a generator, and needed to buy diesel fuel and replacement batteries regularly. We kept the generator for backup but have only used it about 10 times in the four years, after several cloudy days. The cost was high - $33,000 but we got an $8,000 rebate from the NSW government at the time. We added that cost to our mortgage. It is now paid off, thanks to a pay rise for my husband.

    Our 12 solar panels are on the roof of our existing power shed. The large batteries were the most costly items.We have never been connected to the grid, so can't sell our excess power, and we have plenty.

    We have a slow combustion stove in the kitchen for cooking and it also supplies all our hot water; would like to get a solar hot water system integrated with it one day. Have a slow combustion heater in the lounge room and this warms the house very well since we had ceiling insulation installed a couple of years ago (free from the government!)

    Our heaviest power user is the pressure pump for all our water. In the middle of sunny days I can use an iron (though I rarely iron, and have cut the cord off an old electric iron which I then heat on the wood stove) and a breadmaker if I so choose. We have a composting toilet which uses an extractor fan constantly, have most household appliances like fridge, large freezer, blender, TV, DVD player, computer, lights, washing machine, power tools etc. I rarely vacuum, don't have carpets in the house. We were very conscious of what appliances we were using when the system was new. Now we are well trained and easily think about the load when we want to use two high wattage appliances together.

    Two of our neighbours have wind generators linked in with their solar power, and this would be an option for us, but we seem to get ample sun/light so it is not necessary.

    Lyn in northern New South Wales.

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  38. Hi Rhonda. Could you please let me know why you opted for the 'Sharp' panels. The warranty offered by origin is the same for either japanese or chinese panels.I know Sherp is more expensive and wonder if your reaearch showed the quality or performance is better.

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  39. Veronika, it was a preference to buy Japanese instead of Chinese. Sharp has been developing its solar technology for many years, we know the brand, so we went with them. Hanno might have found other reasons, I'll ask and add to this if he did.

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  40. Thank you, Rhonda. I will now go ahead with my order! If you have any more info about the sharp panels from Hanno I would love to hear.
    I noted Gavin (The greening of...) also opted for origin and you both influenced our choice. I also liked the 12 month interest free loan.
    It seems there has never been a better time to purchase a solar system since the government rebate is set to drop by $1200 come July. The quality and performance of solar panels is also constantly improving. Our main reason though has been concern for the environment, followed by cost efficiency.

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  41. Amy,

    Check again! A few years ago I was quoted a price between $17 and $25, but this year it was down to $10K.

    Rhonda, I dearly love and read your blog daily for the last two to three years, but have never commented. I just got solar too this past week, here in sunny San Diego, CA, after wanting to for years. It became more affordable, and I received a large tax credit (though these will expire soon in the states as well). Am still waiting for the electrical company to complete the hookup.

    Now to teach family not to leave lights on...

    Anne

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  42. We have solar panels here in Cornwall, England. Not as much sunshine as Australia, but worth the investment. Some of our winter days have provided more hot water than some of our summer days!
    Kay

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  43. Hi Rhonda , we also have solar panels they are great, first we had 6 installed, then last year we got another 24 installed,total of 30 now, we are now receiving cheques no bills at all which is great. We live in Western Australia we currently get 47 cents per kwh 40 cents from state government & 7 cents from synergy our power company here in the West.Here is a link to my blog all about our solar update. http://simpleliving-sherrie.blogspot.com/2011/01/our-solar-panel-update.html
    Sherrie from Simpleliving :)

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