Future-Proofing

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Well, it is 3 days since my last post in which I shared our concern for the residents of north Queensland who were in the path of Cyclone Debbie.  What a 3 days it has been!

In 72 hours Cyclone Debbie has flattened the island resorts of the Whitsunday Islands and the adjacent mainland towns of Airlie Beach and Prosperine as a Category 4 cyclone before being downgraded as it moved inland.  Most of these areas are still without power or water and this situation is likely to continue for several more days, at least.

As predicted, the system then turned south east and headed towards the densely populated south-east corner of Queensland, including Brisbane.  For almost 24 hours we experienced substantial rainfall and some high winds – but of course, nothing like the conditions endured by those who were in the direct path of the cyclone.

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This is a view of part of our backyard this morning during a break in the rain.  The water in the background is not normally part of the landscape.  The ‘lake’ develops as the run-off from the mountain behind us pools in the low-lying part of our property.  It is not as extensive as some other occasions and will drain over the next few days.

The area where we live lost power about 2pm today and do not expect it to be restored until at least midday tomorrow.  There are currently thousands of consumers in Brisbane and the surrounding areas without power.  We are fortunate to be reaping the benefit of our decision to install a grid-connected battery system almost 18 months ago.  You can read about it here.

While it is great to be able to use our stored power each evening, the real benefit of the system is that it provides us with a power source in the event of a power failure from the grid.  Whether it is extreme weather or any other reason it is reassuring to know that we are not reliant on the grid for power.  This experience has confirmed the importance of a degree of self-reliance and we are extremely glad to be in this position.

 

A New Tank

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Our property is in a semi-rural area and we do not have access to town water.  This is not a problem as we have 2 large rainwater tanks.  The combined capacity is almost 100,000 litres and since we live in a high rainfall area we have never even gone close to running out of water.  However, we have also lived in a low rainfall area as well as in the city when there was a significant drought so we know what it is like to be careful with every precious drop of water.

Well, you can never have too much rainwater storage so today we bought another tank.  I discovered that a work colleague wanted to sell a rainwater tank due to new landscaping plans.  I checked out the details and found that it would be perfect for our plan to have another small tank under the verandah.  We will use this for watering out vegetable garden which is close by.  This will be much easier than dragging the hose all the way from the main tap which is at the other end of the house.  Additionally, a tank which is close to the house will give us the option of being able to access water relatively easily if we are without power.

It is unlikely that we will be completely without power now that we have the battery system for our solar panels but is will be good to have a back up just in case.

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Without power for the pump or a tank close to the house, it is a long trek to the main tanks to get water.  You can read about it in an old post from 2013.

Back to the new tank.  We collected it today and it was loaded into the ute with the help of the seller and a couple of his mates.  After a reasonably cautious drive home it was time to unload.

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This is the area we had chosen to position the tank.  In fact, the concreting was only done about 6 months ago with a view to getting the tank this year.

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With a bit of careful planning GMan and I were able to manoeuvre it into position.

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The next step will be to organise the plumber and electrician to get it all set up.  In the interests of efficiency we need to plan several plumbing and electrical jobs all to be done at the same time.

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.

Sustainable House Day 2013

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Sustainable House Day 2013 is an opportunity to check out a variety of dwellings in your area with sustainable features.  You can check out the website here.

We have chosen to be involved and are included in this list.  If you are in the area and would like to see ‘The Castle’ in real life please come and say hello.

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I am looking forward to being able to show people some of the features of our house and garden which reduce our impact on the environment and invariably save us money at the same time.

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.

Follow The Sun

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Generally our winter months are drier and mostly sunny but we have had a couple of weeks of quite cool, wet weather.  This has meant that we have not generated much solar power from our panels and have also had to turn the booster on the solar hot water on every couple of days.  I also used the drier once or twice to finish drying clothes.  They would at least partially dry on the airer indoors.

However, today is a return to the winter weather that I love.  Sunny with a cold breeze – perfect weather in my opinion.

2012-06-14 01I am making the most of this sunny corner of the verandah in the early morning.  The portable clothes airer which was indoors has been wheeled out  to finish drying the clothes in sun and wind.  The hanging frame with pegs has socks, underwear and plastic bags hanging out to dry as well as 2 woollen sweaters on hangers out to air.  The doormat was washed the other day and is draped over the railing to dry.

I have a rotary clothesline in the backyard which I rarely use and my everyday clothesline is at the other end of the verandah under cover.  That is great for wet weather and also in the summer to help prevent the clothes from fading but at this time of the year I definitely follow the sun.

Meanwhile, the solar panels are generating power which is being exported to the grid as we are using very little power here at the moment.  The only things that are turned on are the computer, refrigerator, small freezer and the bedside clock radio.  The hot water is heating up thanks to the solar hot water system.

The sun is beginning to stream in the windows and warm the house, the winter vegetables are thriving because of it and the chickens are out in the yard searching for their breakfast in the sunshine.  And all of this for free!