A Frugal Mindset – 1

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As promised yesterday, I plan to address the points from the link I posted one by one.

The first point is:

1. Frugal people plan ahead. Planning ahead may not, at first, seem like it has anything to do with money, but it really does. Frugal people plan ahead in many ways. They do things like plan out their meals for the week to save money at the grocery store, or more long term planning like knowing that they’ll need a new roof on the house in several years, and to begin saving for this expense now.

Frugal people live by the mantra that failure to plan is planning to fail. They’ve learned that taking steps now for anticipated future events helps make those future events easier to deal with. And typically those plans make it both easier in both time spent, and in money saved.

Question to ask yourself: What can I do today to make tomorrow and the future easier to deal with?

If you really want use this strategy to its fullest potential don’t just make those plans in your mind. Write them down!

I regard planning as one of my strengths and there is no doubt in my mind that it saves money.  It also saves time and my sanity which are equally important to me.

I plan our meals, plan to combine errands in a single trip, plan what I will wear to work, plan what to pack for a holiday, plan future projects at home – there is no end to what we plan.

An example of long-term planning was when we began looking for our current home.  This was over 10 years ago and I was still in my forties but one of the things that we considered was that it would have to have at least one point of ground-level access or be able to be relatively easily adapted to meet this requirement.  Although we have numerous stairs to reach the verandah we know that this can be altered if required – we have a plan.

We are also changing and adapting our large garden to reduce the level of maintenance which will be required as we age.  Putting in the effort now will reap rewards in years to come.

As a result of ensuring that we have sufficient rainwater storage as well as the installation of solar panels means that we are pretty well self-sufficient for water and electricity which minimises the ongoing costs of running our home.

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As GMan regularly quotes from Baldrick in Blackadder, “I have a cunning plan”.  The difference between Baldrick’s plans and ours is that ours are realistic and generally achievable.  Even if things do not go quite according to plan you have a framework with which to start again.

 

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.

No Thanks, Mr Newman

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Yesterday was a clear, sunny day with not a hint of the political storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

2012-08-05 02Our household has now been identified as one of the 180,000 households in Queensland who are the culprits responsible for soaring electricity costs.

“Roughly 180,000 households are benefiting with low power prices or getting cheques and well over 1.5 million are paying for that benefit to those people.”  The Courier-Mail understands 92,600 Queensland households pay nothing for power or get money back as a result of the generous solar feed-in tariff introduced by the previous Labor government.

Our house has a perfectly angled, north-facing roof with virtually no obstructions (trees, buildings) to the sunlight.

We have 20 solar panels (3.7kW system) which were installed in November 2010.  We chose this system because our research and modelling indicated that this would be more than enough to cover our current and future electricity requirements.  It also means that by being judicious in our power usage, we are able to export a significant portion of the power generated by our system back to the grid.

According to Mr Newman and his government, we are making money at the expense of others.  Rich greenies are wreaking havoc on the budgets of the poor people who are struggling to make ends meet.

  1. I believe that climate change is real and acknowledge that we all need to make an active contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. I have a long-standing commitment to reducing our carbon footprint and do so by a variety of means.  Installing solar panels is just one of them.
  3. We funded the purchase of the grid-connected solar panels through a bank loan.
  4. The feed-in tariff was set by government to encourage people to invest in renewable energy sources.
  5. We chose a grid-connected system and pay all of the associated service charges to enable us to access power at any time of the day or night from the electricity grid.
  6. The feed-in tariff is contracted for 20 years (ending in 2028).

We will reconsider our position if any attempt is made to penalise those who have chosen to install grid-connected solar panels.  Our preferred option will be to move off-grid and we will invest in batteries to enable us to do this.  Therefore, the power generated by our solar panels will be used only by our household and none will be exported to the grid, resulting in a net loss to the electricity grid.

I do not deny that we do receive a monetary gain from the excess power that is generated and exported to the grid, however, all of the households who do this are providing a net gain of green power to the grid.  This is then ‘sold’ to other consumers who choose ‘green power’ with a premium cost, so it is only reasonable that we (the producers) should be paid a premium price (feed-in tariff) for our product.

The following information has been taken from here.  I cannot articulate these thoughts any more succinctly.

The market fails to take into account the true value and many benefits to the electricity network which arise from the adoption of renewable energy technologies embedded within the electricity grid. 

Solar PV, like other renewable energy sources, provide environmental benefits through reduced atmospheric pollution, and social benefits through industry development and job creation – for example through the installation of grid-connected solar systems, each with related economic benefit. 

When electricity is transmitted over a distance, some is lost through what is known as line loss. By installing rooftop solar arrays on houses, the electricity can supply not only the house on which it’s installed, but the surplus can feed other houses close by. 

Centralised power generation facilities also provide a relatively easy target for hostile parties and can be destroyed in natural disasters such as cyclones or fires. A decentralised network or grid connected systems allows for better energy security as it’s much cheaper and faster to repair a sub-station than it is to replace an entire plant.

It’s in the interests of our national security to decentralise power generation. 

During the summer months, it’s becoming increasingly common for blackouts to occur due to an overload of the mains grid.  It’s during these months that solar power installations can make their greatest contribution. 

A feed-in tariff for grid connected systems redresses these systemic market failures and threats and rewards solar electricity generation for its true value to the electricity market and wider society, by providing a financial incentive for the adoption of renewable energy.

So, to sum up I would like to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to Mr Newman.  Try to penalise me for choosing to make a positive contribution to the environmental footprint of this state and I will take my bat and ball (and solar panels) and go off-grid.  I am sure I will not be the only one.

Maintaining The Castle

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There are always regular maintenance jobs to do around the house and some get done more regularly than others.

One of the things we had neglected was the solar panels on the roof.

2012-08-05 01Today was a glorious late winter day here so The Duke decided to get stuck into some outside jobs.

The solar panels were installed about 20 months ago and they had not been cleaned.  The information on the website indicated that they should be cleaned with water and a soft cloth.  The Duke bought a squeegee mop since we have 2 rows of 10 panels it can be a bit difficult to reach some of them.

2012-08-05 02If the colour of the water in the bucket is any indication they should operate more efficiently now.  The plan is to make this job a 6 monthly routine.

Next was the solar HWS.  It is awful to admit but this had not been cleaned since it was installed, nearly 6 years ago.  The bottom edge was caked with accumulated mud but now it is sparkling again.

2012-08-05 03Since these things are on the roof it can be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ but we will definitely add these to the routine maintenance schedule.

Name & Shame

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I have been busy with work recently and so not much time for my creative pursuits – gardening, cooking and sewing.  However, I have been making an effort to finish off some jobs that have hanging around.

Many have been things that I keep meaning to do such as reviewing our phone and internet plans with the current providers.  I wrote about this project a couple of days ago and you can read it here.  I have decided that the exit fees for our mobile phone contract are too high so we will stick with what we have for the moment and be more vigilant about reviewing the SMS messages that we receive advising that we have used 60% and then 80% of our data quota.  I did discover that we can negotiate a new plan once we are within 3 months of the end of our current contract.  I have made a note in my diary for the end of December to do this.

Despite not getting quite the outcome I had hoped for, I am certainly not naming and shaming our telephone or internet providers.  I am saving that for our electricity company!!

I have written several posts about my battles with Origin Energy since I began this blog in March 2011.  I will not bore you with links to them all here but if you put ‘electricity’ or ‘Origin Energy’ into the search function on the right-hand side of the page you will find most of them.

2012-07-26 01Yesterday, I made yet another phone call to Origin regarding the non-appearance of our latest bill/statement.  The meter was read on 28th May which is almost 2 months ago.  This has happened every quarter since we had the solar panels installed in November 2010.  Despite numerous assurances about ‘the system’, ‘a block on your bill’ and other nonsense being sorted out it never happens and I am just about about breaking point.

As usual, the people who answer the phone copped my wrath, always prefaced with “I know it is not your fault directly”.  This time I have the name of the person who took my call initially as well as the contact in the Solar Billing Department.  I have advised that I will be sending a letter to the General Manager with a copy to both of the people with whom I spoke directly yesterday.

We have been receiving electricity bills for over 30 years and they have arrived in the mail, as regular as clockwork, within 3-5 working days of the meter being read.  This has been the case year in, year out without fail until we had the solar panels installed.

Suddenly, when we are in credit rather than having a bill to pay, we do not receive any notification until I ring up and beg/plead/argue/debate the issue every 3 months.  Initially, we were advised that credit would only be paid every 12 months or if we wanted it more often it was up to us to ring Origin and request the payment. Previously, I had an automatic direct debit set up to pay our electricity bill.  It is clearly far too difficult for Origin to set up a simple direct credit to my bank account every 3 months when my electricity account is in credit!

I have to battle to even find out how much credit is owing to us while Origin get interest-free use of money which is rightfully ours.  Shame on you, Origin!!

Things have improved marginally in the past 18 months.  I discovered yesterday that I can now make an online request for payment of any credit balance into my nominated bank account.  All I need now is to receive the statements for our electricity account in a timely manner so that we can use the money which we have accrued through the purchase of solar panels and judicious use of electricity.

Origin Energy – lift your game and get this sorted out – NOW!!

I suspect that I am not the only person with billing issues since installing solar panels and I am very keen to hear if anyone else has a similar story to tell.  Please leave a comment at the bottom of this page or on my Facebook page.  Alternatively, you can email me.  The email address is at the foot of this page.

I am particularly in the experiences of other Origin customers, but please feel free to comment, regardless of which provider you have.

To my overseas readers – do you have similar problems?

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.

5,000……….and counting

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Today the inverter for our solar panels recorded that we have now generated over 5,000kWh since the system was installed 12 months ago.  Ours is a 3.7kW system made up of 20 panels.  The upfront cost was substantial and the calculations were that, based on our usage, we would wipe out our electricity bills and receive a credit of around $2,000 per year.

Our savings are difficult to calculate due to the continuing tardiness of Origin – we have yet to receive our statement from the meter reading at the end of August!!  I have given up stressing about that because I am secure in the knowledge that we are in credit.  I do not think our credit will be much more than $1,500 this year due to the very wet and cloudy summer at the beginning of the year.

While I was doing some paperwork today, I had occasion to write the byline for this blog – “An organised, sustainable life”.  I started thinking about what this means and how the two facets are inextricably linked.  Once you start looking critically at your organisation and how you are living sustainably there are many, many examples.  I will discuss more of these in future posts but for tonight let us consider the electricity.

During the day the generated power goes firstly to our usage and then the excess is exported to the grid.  The tariff we are paid for this is 50c/kWh but what we draw from the grid at night is charged at 19.4c/kWh.  Therefore, there is a 30c/kWh benefit if we use the power at night.  This has necessitated some changes but being organised means that I have been able to change and do the washing, vacuuming and most of the ironing in evenings rather than on the weekend.  This saves us money and exports the maximum amount of power to the grid.

What examples do you have of being organised contributing to a sustainable lifestyle?