Feelgood Solar

So we got solar panels.

I know, I know. It’s so 2009. But I’ve never been good at keeping up with fashion.

Granted, we missed the bumper feed in tariffs of yesteryear, now being paid a stipend for our power. But that was never our motivation. It makes us feel good.

I’m a researcher. I like to learn stuff. And when I say that, I mean, I like to have my head totally around stuff. No 80% for me. I need to know it all. And when this stuff was going gangbusters, we were knee deep in nappies and crying babies, and I didn’t have the physical or emotional strength to learn about feed in tariffs. Nothing like a nappy rash crisis to completely dampen the excitement around a good old feed in tariff.

So in a nutshell, here’s the deal with solar.

Way back in the day, when Kevin Rudd was still popular – I know, it seems a lifetime ago – Australian politicians still cared about the environment. It was a different time.

We were in the wake of the Labour Governments landslide victory of 2007. Kevin still smiled. People actually signed up to his Twitter account. He was reported to listen to people and other ideas. Pink batts were still just things you put in your roof, not shorthand for a policy of governmental ineptitude and the death of young men.

And the government still ostensibly cared about the environment. For an extraordinarily sunny two year period, it was legislated that you could get 60c per kilowatt hour you fed back into the grid. From 2009 to 2011, if you bought a solar panels system in Victoria, it was law that any excess energy you created that was then pumped back into circulation for others to use, was paid at a rate more than twice what it cost to suck it back out.

This was a boom time. It was like it was 1929 all over again. A solar system on your roof could be paid off in a few years, after which it became a money-making venture. With this came the inevitable dodgy dealers, the exponential rise in cheap Chinese panels, and the tarnishing of an industry by a whole lot of bad eggs.

Things cooled off through 2012 when the feed in tariff dropped to 25c per kilowatt hour, and if you bought one on or after New Years Day 2013, you were down to 8c per kilowatt hour. So every bit of unused energy we make goes to the good people at PowerCor, so they can mark it up and on-sell it for 25c themselves.

I guess they’re getting us back for 1929.

But that’s not why we did it. We did it because we live in a pretty, big old house, and we use energy to inhabit it. We feel bad about the fact that Tony Abbott is an idiot. We feel bad that he keeps announcing to the world that we love coal. We would also be keen for our own children to be able to visit the Great Barrier Reef one day, and live without the environmental ravages of a world that was four degrees warmer. And I can honestly say, I’ve never once had coal prepared in a way that didn’t taste awful.

So I looked into it. I researched. I found out all about it. And I discovered that, despite the fact that we no longer get a killer roaring twenties feed-in tariff – that solar system prices have plummeted. They are now about half the price they were six years ago, and expected to drop another third by 2017.

So we installed a whopping five kilowatt system. We used the services of BREAZE in Ballarat, a not-for-profit organisation. And they were brilliant. We took information from our smart meter, and placed two panels east, fourteen north and four west, to best mirror our usage profile through the day. We planned their placement to avoid the chimneys and trees and various other obstacles that were threatening to block our sun through its course in a day. And we have future planned for the day when we can put a bloody big battery on the roof and store it all, never having to draw on the grid.

Until that day? In summer, we make far more energy than we need in sunlight hours. And all of that excess goes back into the grid, each kilowatt hour displacing another kilowatt hours worth of energy, the majority of which has been made by burning coal.

Do you have solar? Have you thought about it? Have you been disheartened by missing out on the whopping feed in tariffs, unaware that you can get double the system for the price you would have got when they were at their height?

Let me know. I’m a curious kind of guy.

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  • Rebecca Jee says:

    Hey Mark! We got solar panels this year too, for much the same reason as you guys! Very happy with it. Haven’t got our electricity bill yet so don’t know exactly how much difference it’s going to make but expect it to be significant. Looking forward to getting the battery too.

  • Absolutely, Rebecca! They reckon it’s about 3-5 years until the price of batteries drops to the point that it becomes an economically wise decision. It’s so nice to know that the excess energy we are making is going back into general circulation, and decreasing our addiction to coal! So cool…

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