down to earth: Solar Power

Showing posts with label Solar Power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Solar Power. Show all posts

Checking our electricity usage

17 July 2017
We've been busy here the past week or so. We had plumbers in looking at an ongoing problem, which they finally fixed. A few visitors dropped by and Hanno and I had lunch with the lovely Nannachel  and her son last Thursday. I took advantage of the Down to Earth get-together at Caloundra on Saturday to declutter and sent some of my knitting, crochet and simple living books on to people who would use them. On Friday we found a worker on Airtasker to help us in the garden and clean up the mess after Hanno pulled down the wisteria arbour. The garden is looking good now and in a couple of months time, I'll take a photo of what they did.  At the moment it's very small tube stock, pine bark mulch and little else.

 This was my favourite little knitting book which is now in someone else's library.

Yesterday we met some of our family for lunch at the Cooroy Hotel, about an hour north of here, to  celebrate Shane and Alex's birthdays. Jens and Cathy have just returned from two months in Europe so I enjoyed seeing everyone and catching up with the news. Jamie had a wonderful time with his cousins and I was reminded, again, of how fast they're all growing up.

I gave Gracie a bone to chew on while we were away. She loves bones and protects them like a baby, even when all the meat has been eaten.  She sometimes buries them or hides them in her little outdoor house. But when we came home yesterday after our lunch, the picture below will tell the story.

And the culprit was ...

Now we have a few weeks ahead with no appointments or visitors so the gate will remain shut for a while. Hanno and I will be actively relaxing, gardening and wandering slowly around our yard, while we carry on with getting the garden how we want it, before the hot weather starts again.  I have a few plants to pot up and some to repot, as well as mulching and tidying the bush house. There is still a bit of not so heavy work in the vegetable garden and I'm looking forward to that.  I'm pleased to tell you I picked the first of our large tomatoes on Saturday.  They're still green but starting to turn pink and they'll continue to ripen in the kitchen.

Last week in the comments, Dollie White asked if our electricity usage had increased since we bought our dishwasher two years ago.  I didn't know and had to look it up. Generally our electricity usage is below average. In the year before we installed the dishwasher, and since, we registered:
  • June 2014 - 6.2 kW
  • Sept 2014 - 8.8 kW
  • March 2015 - 8.2 kW
  • June 2015 - 7.7 kW
New dishwasher in July 2015
  • Sept 2015 - 10.21 kW
  • Nov 2015  - 8.81 kW
  • Feb 2016 - 8.22 kW
  • June 2016 - 6.77 kW
  • Nov 2016 - 7.89 kW
  • Feb 2017 - 10.72 kW
  • June 2017 - 8.08 kW
Dollie, as you can see, we had a slight spike when we changed service providers and again at the beginning of this year when we had a long hot summer, but otherwise our usage remained the same.

We have a solar hot water unit and solar panels which earn us between $70 and $80 per quarter. We use our washing machine and dishwasher at night when the rate is cheaper and we always turn off lights and appliances we're not using.

I think we spent wisely buying an energy efficient Miele dishwasher.  I'm glad we invested our money that way because even though electricity costs have risen quite a lot in the past couple of years, the two of us (and many visitors) are still consuming less that the average for one person, which is 10 kW in this area.

What is your power bill like?  


Saving electricity, money and greenhouse gasses

15 December 2014
The end of the year is a good time to think about electricity, gas and water usage and how you can manage your usage. Work out what you pay, on average, see if you improved your usage figures during the year, or if they still need work. We're a mixed bag here. We are really good with electricity and gas but we struggle with keeping the water usage down. We're still under the local average for water usage, but I want to be better than that.

The spike in our usage during the August period was when our inverter broke down and we had no solar power to use.

Don't think about your electricity as one single block. Divide it up into hot water, lights, cooking etc, depending on what your appliances are, and it should be easier to manage it.

  • Turn off electricity when you leave the room. It will soon become a habit. Yes, it's only saving a fraction but if it becomes a habit and you do it for the rest of your life, the savings, in dollars and green house gases, will add up. 
  • Buy energy rated when upgrading appliances. 
  • Have groups of appliances on a power board and turn the board off at the wall at night. 
  • Electric ovens - bake more than one thing at a time, turn power off a few minutes before the food is cooked and allow it to finish cooking in residual heat. 
  • Use a slow cooker in the winter.
We have a solar hot water system and seven solar panels and our last bill was $26.32 in credit. Our bills have been up and down lately, due to a broken solar inverter, so I find it easier and more accurate to go on the average usage figures instead of the amount. Currently we use 5.9 kWh, which is half the average of one person in our area. If we were using what most people use, we'd be on 13.8 kWh.  We're not experts but we always seem to be very frugal in our usage or electricity, so let me share a few thoughts with you. 

If you're going to invest in solar power, buy a solar hot water system first. Hot water uses about thirty percent of our total energy. A solar hot water system is a smaller investment than electricity photovoltaic panels so you'll be able to save that thirty percent without such a large investment. When you have enough money for panels, your hot water is already catered for, so all the energy you produce can go towards your electrical appliances and you probably won't need to install as many panels.

Think about home insulation. I have to confess, we're a bit obsessive about it. We have good insulation through the house and roof and a few years ago, Hanno painted our steel roof with solar-reflective paint. That made a big difference. Now it's consistently six degrees cooler inside the house, without turning on even one fan or the air conditioner.

We have two internal rooms - a bathroom and the laundry - with no windows, so we installed skylights in those rooms. We also have one in the kitchen because after we added the front and back verandahs, we found the kitchen was too dark, unless we had a light turned on during the day. The skylights provide daylight into those dark rooms and after the cost of installation, there are no further charges.

Think about the kind of light you're using. If you can change your ordinary light bulbs to LEDs, it will cut your costs.  These are an improvement on the compact fluros many of us installed a few years ago. According to Beacon Lighting website:

LED lights are super energy efficient, using approximately 85% less energy than halogen or incandescent lighting – meaning significant savings on your power bills. LED lights also have a much longer lifespan than other types of lighting - see the table below.

Lighting technologyEstimated lifespan
LED30,000-50,000 hours
CFL8,000-15,000 hours
Halogen1,000-5,000 hours
Incandescent1,000 hours

Security lights outside - LED on movement sensors.
If you're watching TV at night, try it without the light.
Turn off the Christmas lights when the children go to bed.

Water heating - if you have a regular water heater, reduce the temperature so that the water isn't on the verge of boiling all the time. According to Smart Blocks website
Storage hot water systems
To save energy it is recommended that the temperature of the storage tank is set at 60 degrees Celsius
A minimum of 60 degrees Celsius should be maintained to avoid the growth of harmful bacteria.

Instantaneous hot water systems

Domestic hot water should be supplied at a temperature lower than 50 degrees Celsius to avoid accidental scalding

This will lower running costs and extend the life of the tank

Unless there is something in particular that needs a warmer wash, wash with cold water.
Buy the best quality washing machine you can afford and make sure it has an energy-saving high rating

I'm not going to preach to you and say you should only use your airconditioning when absolutely necessary. What you do is your own decision. We have airconditioning here - the energy efficient and rated kind - but we never automatically turn it on when it's hot. When I get up in the morning, I open the front and back doors to let in the fresh air. Later, when the air coming in is warm, I close the doors and because the house is so well insulated, if I can keep the cool air in, the house is noticably cooler if kept like this for a few hours. But there comes a time when I have to cook something or the air feels stale and I turn on the air con. I have it set at 24C and on an average day in the middle of summer, I'd have it on while I cook lunch and wash up. I turn it off around 3pm, depending on that days temperature. If it's very hot, the air conditioning stays on until later in the afternoon.

I encourage you to think about your usage and try to work our a routine for using your air conditioner that keeps you and your family comfortable, without using too much electricity and without you feeling guilty for using it. The decision to use it and how long you use it for is yours, don't let anyone tell you you're not doing it right. Just be prudent and turn it off when you can.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket - don't be an all-electric house. Mixing it up with a small amount of gas and solar will probably serve you better. Of course this may not be relevant in your region so please do your research before you invest your hard earned money. Overall though, if you can get yourself and the kids into the habit of turning the switches off, you'll reap the rewards. It just comes down to common sense.

I should add that we've been living here for 18 years. All the above didn't happen straight away. We added what we could as we could afford it. And it's fine to do that. Just reduce what you can in the meantime and change what you can to improve the future when you have the cash for it.  What changes have you made in your home that have made a difference to your electricity consumption?


Saving electricity - what I know works

29 November 2012
Our electricity bill came last week. It's something that many of us fear now because, in Australia, and possibly in many other parts of the world, electricity prices are skyrocketing. It was good news for us though, we're in credit and have been since our solar panels were installed 18 months ago. But I know how tough it can be when you're faced with a bill that you know you'll struggle to pay. I thought it would be worthwhile to consolidate our ideas on reducing electricity consumption. One thing is for sure, the rate we pay for the electricity we use is not going down any time soon. Let's be proactive and work to reduce the amount of energy we use in our homes. This is really small steps stuff - there are no big savers, unless you install solar panels or go off the grid. You will save electricity by doing a lot of small saving steps. I'm not going to recommend a whole list of things that might work. What I'm suggesting is what we do here and what I know works.

The power bill we received last week showed a very interesting statistic. See below, our average daily usage in this billing period is 6.1 kWh (kilowatt hours). That is less than half the average for a two person household and 4 kWh less than a one person household. That is nothing to do with solar panels - it is simply us not using the amount of electricity that most people use.

Let me qualify this a bit so you get a full and clear picture. We get the government pension rebate of $50 per bill. We have solar hot water and solar panels. We've had solar hot water for about 30 years but it was only when we had our panels installed 18 months ago that we ever had a credit on our bill. We have the smallest solar panel unit you can buy. It's 1.6 kVa (Kilo Volt Amperes). We saved up to have that unit installed, we got a rebate from the government that helped with the purchase and got in on the deal to sell our excess electricity to the grid at 44 cents, we buy it at 19 cents. With that smallest unit and the small steps we take every day, we have not paid for electricity for 18 months, even though the rates have risen so much.

But let me say again, all that has nothing to do with the amount of electricity we use. We use less than most people, not because of the solar panels, but because of the four steps we take.

I'm not going to say you'll be in the same position we're in. We don't have to monitor any one else's usage, our kids have left home and it's just us two. I know how difficult it is with others in the home, especially when they're teenagers. Just a little tip if you do have teens or young adults still living at home. Our sons only became more frugal with the electricity usage and more mindful of turning things off, when we made them pay the electricity bill. It wasn't much back then, and they were working, but that sharpened them up quick smart. We tried to reason with them about energy conservation until the cows came home but nothing worked like paying the bill themselves. We do have a lot of visitors now, we have four extra people staying with us at the moment. We often have our kids and their families, or my sister here. So these figures are not really just for Hanno and I. It's us, plus.

This is important: Find out about your peak and off-peak times for electricity usage. You need to understand this because it could be your biggest saver. Either go to your electricity supplier's website or phone them. Most of the time you use electricity will be during peak times. You need to know when peak time starts and stops, when off-peak starts and stops, and how much you pay for your electricity during those two times. Off-peak will be cheaper but it will also be at night when most people aren't using electricity - that is why it's cheaper.

So what do we do? There are our four main things.

Use electricity when it's cheaper to buy
If you use appliances with high energy needs - washing machine, dishwasher, dryer, vacuum etc, do that work at night during your off-peak time, or if you have solar panels, when it's dark. Often it's just a matter of turning on the machine, letting it do its thing, and finishing off in the morning. It takes a bit of reorganisation, but it's worth it. Using high energy appliances during your off-peak time works if you're using grid electricity because you'll pay less for the electricity you use then. If you've got solar panels and you sell your excess to the grid use your high energy consumption appliances when it's dark and your panels aren't generating any power. When we have to buy energy, we pay 19 cents for it, we sell it for 44 cents. It's better for us to sell the power we generate during the day for 44 cents and to use it at night when we pay 19 cents for it. If you sell your excess to the grid and have a similar deal, that will work for you too.

Compact fluros
We are not wealthy people but slowly over the years, we replaced every ordinary light bulb with energy-saving compact fluros.  We buy them when we see them on sale and have a small stash for replacements.

Energy efficient appliances
We do our research when we have to replace appliances and white goods and we always buy the energy efficient model of whatever we need. Even if it's more expensive, it's worth it. You'll probably pay for the difference in price in two or three energy bills.

Turn off at the wall
Turn off lights and appliances when you're not using them. Having appliances on stand by, even when they're turned off, still uses electricity. Turn off at the wall.

And that's it. Four tried and tested steps that work for us. What are you doing to save on your power bills?



Solar power and eggs

6 June 2012
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.