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6 June 2012

Solar power and eggs

We just got another electricity bill and so I would like to talk about solar panels again. When we moved here 15 years ago, we had a solar hot water system installed. We had already been using a solar system to heat water in our previous home and knew the benefits. Just over a year ago, we had the smallest solar panel system installed here on our roof. Here is the post from that time. I want to encourage you to look at the small units, 1.6 Kw, especially if you're single or it's just the two of you.  If you're prudent with your electricity usuage, you'll get by with the small unit. We've just received our third bill with the panels, and we're $122 in credit. We have not paid for electricity since we had the panels installed.

Here you can see the solar panels as well as the solar hot water system on the left.

 This part of the system is installed in our garage and on here we can see how much electricity is being generated.

There are a few things you can do to help save with the panels. It's mainly the usual things like turning off appliances at the wall,  cutting down on the hot water if you have an electrical hot water system and being careful with heating now that winter is here. In our contract with the electricity company, we buy electricity for 19 cents per kilowatt hour and we sell the excess from our panels for 44 cents per kilowatt hour. So we try to use power-hungry appliances, like the washing machine and vacuum cleaner, at night so they run on the energy we buy from the grid for 19 cents per kilowatt hour. That leaves us clear to sell the electricity the panels generate when the sun is shining for 44 cents per kilowatt hour. Our clothes washing is the main thing we modified - instead of doing a wash in the morning as I used to do, we now put on a wash at night, and hang it on the line in the morning. It's not much of a change but it helps us save.

I was talking to a woman the other day and she mentioned that she didn't have solar panels installed when they were heavily subsidised by the government because she could only afford a small unit and she didn't think it would make any difference. It has been our experience that even the smallest unit will make a difference and if you manage it well, you might not have to pay to electricity again. Hot water generally uses about 30 percent of the average household electricity. If you have the option to buy a solar hot water system that has a government subsidy, take it, because that will reduce your electricity bill by about 30 percent. After that, if you have the opportunity to buy the panels, and there is a subsidy, go for it. We paid our panels off on an interest-free loan and that worked really well for us. The details of that are in the post linked above.

Here is some information about electricity costs in Australia - these are Victorian costs but the other states would be similar.
This is information about solar hot water system government rebates.

Now our chooks are laying again, we have an over-abundance of eggs, including Fiona's beautiful pale blue eggs. A great way of using eggs is to make custard. This one is a baked egg custard and it uses four eggs, but you could easily double it.

The dark brown egg above is a Barnevelder egg and the blue eggs are from our Araucana, Fiona.

Break four whole eggs into a mixing bowl or jug, add ½ cup cream, 1 cup of milk, a splash of good vanilla extract and two tablespoons of sugar. Mix everything well so the egg whites are broken up and everything is well combined.

Pour into an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with nutmeg. Place the oven-proof dish in a water bath/bain marie so the boiling water comes up to cover the bottom half of the over-proof dish, and bake at 170C/340F for about 30 minutes. Make sure the water is boiling. You need this gentle method of heating, not straight oven baking, for this recipe. The custard will be done when it's still slightly wobbly in the centre. This is delicious served warm or cold with stewed or fresh fruit. It is also a great filling for a sweet pie - either with a fruit base and topped with the custard or all custard and served with fruit on the side.

This is a very easy recipe, even for first time cooks. The only thing you have to be careful of is to not over cook it. If you don't eat all of it when it's freshly made,  it will keep in the fridge for two days.


  1. Hello Rhonda,
    Here in Ontario, Canada we pay 6 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the time of day. It's interesting to see how rates vary. I do all my housework involving electricity during off-peak times (7pm to 7 am). I'm not very fond of hanging laundry to dry at night after using the washing machine but I shall survive . :-)

    We don't have solar but we do have a tankless water heater and it has proven to be very efficient with the energy resources.

    On the topic of solar, more and more companies are now renting panels as well as selling them. Bea at Zero Waste Home is doing this and it has already benefited her financially (in just a few months of use).

    The new blog design looks fab!

  2. Hi Rhonda,
    It looks like you got a good deal on your solar panels. People here do have them but I think they are very expensive, - I have seen quotes of £6000 (more than 9000AUS$) per panel :-0

    Wind power is also gaining in popularity here, mainly thru wind farms, but I also know of someone who installed a small wind turbine on the roof of their house.

    Anna (England, UK)

  3. We have solar panels for electricity too, I never realised the night time electricity useage thing. I will have to try it and see if it makes a difference. We are well and truely in credit with ours as well, and with a family of 5 it is a hige help, even with the initial outlay, I have predicted we will pay that off within 3 to 4 years (by having no electricity bills). Maybe even sooner with your suggestion!

  4. One of my greatest regrets is that I was too scared to outlay the money when the subsidies were available. With the power of hindsight a bad decision and our bills are large on our rural property with all it's water pumps etc. oh well, lesson learned! Now I'm off to make some vanilla essence, yummy.

  5. Oh yum! I've been wanting to make custard again for ages! Wish we had room for chickens :).

    We installed solar hot water a few years ago and it cut our overall electricity by around 50% - well worth the investment, particulary because at the time, the old service blew up and we were in the market for a new one anyway.

    An interesting fact: the average kWh consumption in Aust. is around 20 kWh per day.

  6. I looked into this recently and unfortunately now in NSW you are paid next to nothing for the electricity you generate from your own panels, therefore it only would be worthwhile if you are home most of the day and can use most of the power you are generating yourself during the day, otherwise all the electricity you generate just goes back to the grid and you get no benefit. Just something to consider, as the monetary benefits will vary from state to state. Regards, Miki

  7. What, oh no vacuums use a lot of energy?

  8. Those panels are impressive! It must feel great to have a credit and to be able to sell your electricity. I'm going to have to research this in Southern California. I may have the money to invest in this next year. My hot water heater is gas, and is only about four years old, but I'll definitely go solar with the next one. I find the sun heats up my hot water as it is. I keep the temp low, but in the summer, the water still is hot during the day. Those eggs look lovely! I love having custard in a fruit tart.


  9. Eileen, no, they use about 20 cents an hour but I included the vacuum cleaner because it's one of the things you can easily use at any time. Unlike a fridge or stove.

    I'll add some info about costs in the post.

  10. Hi Rhonda,
    Just wanted to let you know that I'm locked out of the forum for some reason. I can't log in or make any posts. Everything comes up "private." I made four attempts and was unsuccessful. This has never happened before.



  11. I so want to get panels and think we missed the interest free loan opportunity. It just seemed for a large home and family the 10K outlay was impossible at the time but the $900 quarterly bills are a bit soul destroying too! I am overwhelmed by choice and information though and scare stories of poor operators so appreciate any more info you can share

  12. I'll check it out for you now, awakenedsoul

  13. Hello, I very much agree with your advocacy for solar panels. A few months ago, we did a pretty large solar installation in Seattle, WA, USA. Yes, Seattle has a reputation for being a bit drippy and dreary, but solar can be quite effective here. With government incentives, this system will entirely pay for itself in 9 years and we will have the benefits of solar power for years to come. If it is possible to take advantage of government incentives, I highly encourage folks to do so!

  14. Yes Sandy, the new panels are surprisingly effective in generating power, even when the weather is not so kind. I've been surprised with ours on cloudy days. They did much better than expected.

  15. We live in a house belonging to my husband's boss (who thinks anything even slightly tinted "green" a load of rubbish but I am doggedly bugging him to get panels or even replace the old hot water heater with a solar one. We don't get a great deal of sun here, it must be admitted, but it does make a difference. He pays the power bill so I'm going to check out your links to present him with some financial evidence, as that is the language he speaks. Thanks for sharing :)

  16. milkcan, here are the details of the government rebates in some australian states. Give this to the boss.

  17. We have a 10K system installed for our farm. Rural electricity rates are much higher that city rate. We pay 28 cents kilowatt. Rural properties use lots of pumps in everyday situations. Everytime you turn on a tap or flush the tiolet a pump is activated. Our power bills were high. The 10K system was a big outlay at the time but have never regretted our decision.

    There are two types of meters for solar panels Net and Gross. Net meter is your type Rhonda were you get paid for excess kilowatts. Gross meter were the owner is paid for every kilowatt produced. We get 60.8 cents per kilowatt. Our system will pay for itself in 4 years. We will never have to pay for power even when the subsidy finishes in 7 years.

  18. Hi Rhonda

    Thanks for this post. Love to hear about people generating their own power and trying to become self-sufficient as far as possible. I've worked in the energy sector for a while, and solar has never been as cheap as it is now (and it's getting cheaper!).

    Just a quick caution for readers. In Queensland, the government guarantees that you are paid at least 44c for the electricity you send back to the grid. In other states (and in other countries), this may not be the case. When you're thinking of buying solar, and doing the sums, make sure you check out what you will get for the electricity you send back to the grid. You can do this by calling your electricity distributor (eg, in Queensland this is Energex or Ergon). If you're using most of the electricity you generate at home, then it won't make as much difference. But if you're 'exporting' a lot of it back to the grid, it might.

    That said, whacking a couple of panels on your roof means more renewable energy in the system regardless. Which is great! And over the life of the system, there's no doubt you'll be saving money. Beaut!

    All the best to you and Hanno!
    Eli (Melb)

  19. Eli! It's so good to see you commenting here. Thanks for the heads up on the other states. That will make a difference for some folk.

  20. Thanks for the custard recipe, I always thought of custard as a tricky thing to cook, but that looks very manageable!

  21. Hi Rhonda,
    We got our solar hot water system back in March and we love it! It was reduced our bills so much!! I've written about it on my blog today following you post.
    Going to be keeping an eye out for good incentives in solar panels - one day one day :)

  22. We took the plunge last month and got a 2.35 solar system. We're in north Queensland. I must admit I read my meter every day and sometimes go out and see what the inverter is saying. It was a big decision but I think it was the right one lol. It's so funny because I came to find your original post about putting in your solar system and you have written an update. What timing!

  23. Hi - we took advantage of the deal, and only had the smallest unit installed,1.5 or 1.6kw. My FIL is a fanatical researcher, and worked it all out on one of his special spreadsheet creations. He worked out this size was the most cost effective for size of house/family size/outlay/rebate etc. It cost around $1500 to begin with, then a $300-$400 fee to have it connected to ETSA (SA) - so around $1900 all up.

    We are a family of four, 4 bed house, 2 living room etc.

    The last 3 bills we have gotten have all been around $75.00 and each had credits of over $170.00 (our bills before solar power were only around $300 as we are already very conservative with power use, turning off lights, washing at night etc). We have been really happy with them, and even though the unit is small - every bit helps, and we are doing what we can to live a bit more of a simple life.
    PS... we made your soap recipe the other day and it is curing in the cupboard... the kids are excited to use it - so thanks!!

  24. that's excellant to know regarding energy and energy hungry appliances. We use grid and have cut back as much as we can. We turn off as many powerpoints as we can in order to save and don't leave things on standby. We are still struggling though to keep the bill down

  25. I have heard the 44c payback is possibly being reduced? We considered putting in solar panels about a year ago with the subsidy but my husband thought that prices would decrease once the subsidy had finished and he just commented the other day at how surprised he was at how much they have reduced! Apparently in NSW there are so many panels now that the payback isn't great which is unfortunate! We live in QLD so we still might consider it....

  26. What a timely post Rhonda - we just signed up and paid our deposit today for solar panels!

    We have just moved to our current house within the past 6 months, and got our first full 3 month electricity bill 2 weeks ago - and it was $650! I was very shocked, as our bills were never more than $400 (family of 4 in QLD) And we had solar panels at our old house, so had been recieiving credits rather than paying bills for the past year or two.

    So, although we cant quite really afford it at the moment, we have decided to borrow some money from family and get solar - and figure the savings we make will pay for the solar panels within 2 years maximum.

    We have ordered our solar just in time before 1 July when the QLD government cuts the guaranteed 44c buy back amount.

    So now its time to be extra frugal with everything so I can pay back the loan for the solar panels as quickly as possible!
    So I will be reading back through lots of your old blogs to get more ideas and inspiration to cut costs further and save money!

    Thanks for providing such motivating ideas constantly Rhonda!

    Sarah from Jimboomba

  27. Here in Tasmania we have to pay 19c per KwH and that is the same what they pay us with the power we generate so we are never going to become remotely rich from having my own power company however I think it's really important for us to have our big system as our bills are reduced and seeing that pensionable age is creeping up, any way to save the big bills is a bonus.

  28. should i ever have a house, solar panels will be the way i go, absolutely! i live in the northwest, so we don't get a lot of sun, but right down the street from me is one of (or the) largest living buildings, currently under construction ( if they can do it, so can i!

  29. Hi Rhonda,

    Did you know that in Qld Origin Energy pay 50c/kwh?

    Depending on the other offers available, it might we worth considering changing to them.

    Kind regards, Lee.

  30. Hi Rhonda,
    We are also in South East Qld. We have a 6 kw solar system and AGL pays us an extra 8c on top of the 44c government rate (total of 52c per kwh). We use tariff 33 off peak power for boosting our solar hot water when needed and running the pool pump, which costs about 12c per kwh. We were surprised to realise that we receive 52c per kwh for ALL the power we generate. The power we use is subtracted from this, charged at the cheaper rate (around 22c peak/12c tariff 33). We are receiving between $600 and $900 for our excess power each quarter. I know the incentives in Qld will be reducing at the end of June, but unsure to what extent. We are glad we made the initial investment, even though the cost at the time (Nov 2010)was about a third more expensive than the systems currently on offer.
    Warmest regards,

  31. Hi, In today's (26/06/12) Courier Mail it had a report that the solar feed-in tarif will be reduced to 0.08c from July. People already on a contract till 2028 will still recieve 0.44c but if you sell your house then the new contract will be 0.08c. I would have hoped that it would have been equal say 0.22c in and out but 0.08c is somewhat pathetic really. Don't know if it would be worth the efford to install a new system. Christeen


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