Storage from the Sun

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When I wrote this post last month, I mentioned that we were getting a battery system for our solar panels.

Well, the installation was completed on Tuesday afternoon and since then all of our electricity consumption has been independent of the grid.

As well as the battery system we also have more panels.

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This is the cabinet which holds the batteries.

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Inside, it looks like this.

003The interesting thing about the system which we have is that it is a hybrid system.  In fact, we really have 2 banks of solar panels – the original ones which we have had for 5 years remain connected to the grid and any power generated is fed back to the grid with a monetary return to us.  The only things that we have connected to this system are the oven and a single outdoor power point.

Everything else is powered by the solar panels of other system during the day and at night by the excess which is stored in the batteries.

This also means that we can power our home from the batteries (except for the oven) during any periods of power outage.

Following the completion of the battery installation on Tuesday, we have had four brilliant, sunny days.  The screen shot below shows our generation and use and tells the story clearly and simply.

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This shows the last month and each bar is one day.  The yellow bar shows the solar generation, the green line is power exported to the grid, the red line is our consumption and the black bar is power drawn from the grid.  The last 4 days are since the battery system has been operational.  Our solar generation is higher (we now have more panels), 100% of what we generated from the grid-connected panels was exported to the grid and most importantly, we have not used any power from the grid.

I know that every day will not be clear and sunny nor will we have as many hours of daylight as we are getting at the moment as we head towards the summer solstice.  However, we are confident that we will continue to be able to supply our power needs independently of the grid.

There are numerous new technologies available for battery storage systems so it would pay to very carefully consider your circumstances before rushing into a decision like this.  However, if you live in Australia and are interested in more details about our system please email me and I can get some information for you.

A Gadget

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Tonight I want to share a small gadget that we have had for a couple of years.  I don’t even know what you call it.

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This small device plugs into a standard power point and then you can plug any appliance or powerboard into it.  It comes with a remote control which you can use to turn the power on and off at the switch without actually having to manually reach the switch.  We have two of these.  One is in the lounge room and has a powerboard plugged into it.  We have the television, DVD player and hard drive plugged in so that with a single press of the remote control everything is turned off at the power point.  It is completely turned off – not on standby.  Did you know that any appliance where there is an illuminated light glowing is only on standby and is continuing to draw power even when it is not in use?

The other device was in the office where we had the computer and associated peripherals plugged into a powerboard. Both devices are programmed to the one remote control.

We realised recently that we had not been utilising the remote control to turn these devices off as the computer has some serious issues when you turn it off and try to turn it back on again.  The problem may be terminal but we have solved it for the time being by leaving it turned on at the power point.  So we removed the remote control device so that we could continue to turn the television off when not in use.  The question then arose as to where we could use the spare device.  We routinely turn all of the appliances off when not in use so it seems superfluous.

Last weekend when we cleaned out the top of the cupboard in the office I found this powerboard but did not have a use for it so put it downstairs in the workshop.

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This morning I worked out a way that I could put both of these items to good use.  I have a long sewing table in the spare room, however, the power point is under the table which necessitates me clambering under the table every time I want to plug in the sewing machine or iron.

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So, I plugged the gadget in and then the powerboard into it.

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The powerboard sits on the tables where it is an easy matter to plug in the sewing machine, iron or anything else.

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The individual power outlets on the board have their own switches so even if the main switch is turned on due to the remote control the individual outlets can remain turned off unless they are being used.

I am so glad that I came up with this solution as it is infinitely easier than crawling under the table to turn the power on and off.

Prepared

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The wild weather we experienced 3 weeks ago is back, although not quite so dramatic.  Parts of the Sunshine Coast and hinterland, where I live, have received well in excess of 200mm since the rain began on Thursday.  The majority of it fell overnight on Sunday and all day yesterday.

2013-02-19 01The rain has eased for the moment and the forecast is that we have seen the worst of it so any flooding should only be minor to moderate.  The lake in our backyard is nowhere near as extensive as it was last month or on many other occasions.

2013-02-19 02Gale force winds are being forecast for the next 2 to 3 days and of all the extreme weather conditions, it is wind that actually poses the greatest risk to us and therefore the need to be prepared.  While there is a small chance of structural damage, either directly or from falling trees, loss of power is our major potential problem.

2013-02-19 03Electricity is integral to almost everything we do in the 21st century so we have done all that we can to make sure that we can function for up to 3 days without it.  Before I left for work today I made put containers of water in the portable fridge/freezer (set to ‘freeze’) so that we will have plenty of ice available to keep foodstuffs cool if we lose power for more than 24 hours.  We also have 20 litres of drinking water immediately available.  The cooktop is gas and we have solar hot water (if the sun happens to be shining!)

2013-02-19 04A less obvious piece of planning was my choice of clothes to wear to work.  I had previously decided to wear a skirt, blouse, stockings and heels but instead opted for lightweight jeans, fitted ¾ sleeve top and lace-up shoes and socks.  If we arrive home this evening (after dark) and there is no power I do not need to be stumbling around in my fancy work clothes.

I hope my preparation is not required, however, since it is only 3 weeks since we lost power for more than 3 days the inconvenience is very fresh in my memory.  I wonder if others have taken heed as a result of the previous storm or if they have quickly slipped back to the complacent attitude of expecting that there will always be power whenever they flick a switch?

No Power – No Worries

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As many of you would be aware, a large portion of the eastern part of Queensland has endured some pretty wild weather over the past week or so.  Ex Cyclone Oswald (hurricane) has wreaked havoc over a large area.  Because the system was moving quite slowly we had plenty of time to prepare for the bad weather.

Flooding in the backyard

‘Prepare’ is the key word here and I think I did a reasonable job.  As usual, there are things that we did well and some that could be improved.  In the interests of creating a reference for the future I thought I would share what I discovered.

Firstly, here is a bit of background.  Our household consists of 2 adults in a 3 bedroom, high-set timber-framed home on a small acreage.  We are totally reliant on our tank water and have solar hot water as well as grid-connected solar panels.  We live about 8km from the nearest town and there is no public transport.  We have 2 vehicles.  Strong coastal winds do affect our property.

Apart from the risk of structural damage to our home, my main concern was losing power.  Without electricity we are unable to run the pump to get water to the house so we boiled water so that it was ready to drink.  We prepared 40 litres which we stored in a 20 litre drum from our camping equipment and the Duke’s 20 litre home brew kit.  We have a refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen as well as a small upright freezer in the study.  I filled several ice-cream containers with water to freeze in an attempt to keep the frozen goods OK for as long as possible.

Home brew

Once we lost power we were still able to access water from a tap on the tank to fill buckets.  However, it is about a 400 metre round trip to the tank.

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Because we are connected to the grid we cannot access power directly from our solar panels.  I have heard that this can now be done so I will be investigating this possibility with the company that installed the panels.

Cooking was not a problem as we have a gas cooktop and we also had the wood-heater blazing in an attempt to keep the humidity down.  We had 2 billies of water on the heater at all times so there was plenty of warm water for a ‘shower’ using buckets of warm water.  I also cooked soup and bolognaise sauce on the heater .

Bolognaise sauce
The biggest challenge was keeping food cold.  Since the refrigerator/freezer was in the same zone of the house as the wood heater it did not stay cool for long.  The small freezer fared better as it was in another part of the house.  I ended up using it like an ice-chest.  It was lucky that we did not have a lot of meat on hand so I was able to cook and use all of it without any loss.  I did throw out a few things  but the total value would have been less than $30.  That is a small price to pay rather than getting sick from eating food that has not been stored safely.

We were without power for a total of 59 hours and in that time we had to work hard just to ensure that we had food and drink as well as water for washing dishes and bathing.  I did not even contemplate washing clothes as I knew that we had enough to last until the immediate crisis was over.

THINGS I DID WELL

Prepared plenty of drinking water
Cooked nutritious meals using ingredients we had available
Made sure that the perishable foodstuffs were used first
Wasted a minimal amount of food
Bought a lighter for the gas stove/fire when we realised that the humidity meant the matchbox was damp and striking a match was almost impossible
Having the house decluttered and organised meant that we knew where things were and they were easy to access with minimal light

THINGS I COULD DO BETTER

Start freezing water earlier to ensure that it is completely frozen before the power is lost
Consider buying a small generator
Set the camp fridge to ‘freeze’ before power is lost and fill it with frozen goods that will not need to be accessed during power outage.  This would be especially useful if I had a lot of meat.
Move the small freezer downstairs (the coolest part of the house) and use like an ice-chest
Follow up on our plans to install a rainwater tank close to the house so that water is easier to access

I also gave some thought to what we would take if the house were damaged substantially.  I had sturdy shoes and socks and a torch as well as my essential medications ready to grab if we needed to seek shelter downstairs.  This seems very minimal and I need to give a lot more thought to what we would need to take if we had to leave in a hurry for any reason.  I would love to hear if you have a ‘grab-bag’, what is in it and where you store it.

We survived quite well and were certainly not tested to the limit but the last week has given us several things to think about and priorities to consider.

Silent Green Giants – An Update

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In March last year, during the first couple of weeks of this blog, I posted this entry about our ‘big 3’ – the solar panels, solar hot water and rainwater tanks.

Today I finally received our statement from our electricity company for the meter reading which was done back at the end of November.  This means that we now have the statistics for a full 12 month period of having solar panels and exporting generated power, which is excess to our requirements, back to the grid.

In one year of having our solar panels connected to the grid we will receive a refund of $1,244.33 as well as having $0 in power bills.  This represents a total turnaround of costs over 12 months of $2,392.17.  I am really pleased with the result as it was achieved despite one of the wettest summers on record (and next to no sunshine) in the first 3 months after the installation of the panels.

We have a 3.7kW system which cost nearly $14,000 after the rebates.  We anticipated that we would recover our costs (in refunds and no bills) within about 5 years.  We will go close to achieving this and my goal for the next year is to reduce our electricity consumption even further by being more vigilant in monitoring our usage.  I will also endeavour to make sure that more of our necessary consumption is at night, thereby maximising the power being exported to the grid.

I am pleased that we can minimise our costs as well as making a positive contribution to reducing our carbon footprint.

3 Months On….

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It is now a little over 3 months since the details of the carbon tax were released and now the proposed legislation has been passed in the House of Representatives.  It is almost certain to to passed by the Senate and will become law in July 2012.

I am very pleased to see that something is finally being done to ensure that the biggest emitters of carbon in this country will be held responsible for their emissions.  This may mean that some of us end up paying more for some goods and services.

If you want to offset any perceived or actual increase in costs, now is the time to change your habits and consume less goods and services.  If you consume less you will pay less – it is that simple.

Things that you might consider include:

Drive less – plan your trips and combine errands.

Buy local products where possible – save on transport costs.

Reduce electricity use – dry clothes on the clothesline, do not leave appliances on standby when not in use.

Then there are bigger changes that will make a difference in the long-term.  A perfect example of this is the solar PV panels which we had installed nearly 12 months ago.  We are a household of 2 adults and we chose to install 20 panels on our north-facing roof.  Since they were connected to the grid we have had 3 credit statements from our electricity provider.  As well as paying $0.00 for our electricity we are on track to receive about $1,000 credit in the first 12 months of exporting electricity to the grid.

This has required us to make some changes to our habits.  We try to minimise our use of electricity during daylight hours so that we maximise the amount of power which goes to the grid at the feed-in tariff versus what we use at night which is billed at the standard tariff.  I have never made a habit of washing at night but that has now become my routine because it saves us more money.

Change of habit is what is at the heart of the carbon tax.  As a nation and as individuals we have to stand up and be prepared to make some changes.  Those politicians, individuals and businesses who refuse to change and are determined to selfishly continue on the same course are giving no consideration to the future generations.  I hope they will show some generosity of spirit before it is too late.

Meanwhile, I will continue to do everything I can to reduce my personal carbon footprint and encourage others to do the same.  Time to hang the washing out.  There is enough moonlight not to turn on the outdoor light.

What changes have you/will you make?  Are you interested in reducing your carbon footprint or just offsetting any extra cost?

Exciting Electricity News

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We have finally received our refund from Origin Energy for the electricity we fed into the grid from the first 6 months of our solar panels.  This has taken 8 weeks from when our meter was read, so I am not happy with the tardiness of Origin but I am happy with the result.

Just over $600 for 6 months!  This is in addition to $0 electricity bills.  I am sure that we will be able to improve on that, especially since we had a very wet and cloudy summer .

The last few weeks of clear, cloudless days have been perfect for generating power so the next account may be even better.  This is what the sky looks like on these endless, clear, winter days.

We are saving money and making a positive contribution to the environment so I am really pleased.

I plan to make a complaint to the Energy Ombudsman regarding the time taken to receive the refund and the convoluted process.  I rang Origin to find out why I had not received my account 3 weeks after the meter was read and I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer to that question.  This is in direct contrast to receiving the bill within 3 working days for all of the years that we paid electricity bills.

If I want my refund more than once per year I have to specifically request it.  I cannot have the payment credited directly to an account.  I cannot make a standing request for any credit to be paid each quarter.  I have to ring up each time and spend 30 – 45 minutes on hold before I even get to speak to someone.  You would think that they would welcome the opportunity to streamline the process and reduce call volumes, wouln’t you?   After all that, it took 4 weeks for my request to be actioned, processed and sent.

I guess Origin have enjoyed the free use of my money in the interim.  It is a pity that they are not willing for me to take 8 weeks to organise payment of bills when I owe them money.

What are your experiences with electricity and other utility providers?