Moving into the solar age

29 06 2013

When we purchased the block of land down south back in 2005 or thereabouts, one of the things that we thought we’d have on the house we built on it was a solar photovoltaic (PV) system. At the time, they were very rare for domestic purposes — and VERY expensive.

As it happened, we didn’t build on the block — the GFC followed by a close encounter with bushfires meant that we moved from that town back in 2010. When we first moved into the house we’re now in, we got a quote on a 5 kW solar PV system. The quote was for about $25,000 and the sales rep said if we wanted the panels on the shed and the inverter in the shed (our preference, particularly after she said the inverter was noisy), then we’d have to dig up the driveway/concrete pad between the shed and the house or have an overhead wire between them, all for extra cost. We decided to hold off as there was no way we were going to pull up hardstand to get electrical conduit to the house. And $25K was a LOT of money already, with the unknown added cost of digging up and replacing the hardstand.

Three and a bit years on, and with the sale of an investment property we’ve had for 18 years, suddenly a solar PV system was back in the frame. Since our quote for $25K some three years ago, the price has come down a lot, and the technology has improved and become far more common than it was when we bought the land back in 2005. And in my investigations over the past few years, battery storage/backup is now a possibility.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been talking to a solar company and last week we signed an application to Western Power for a 5 kW system. It’s not the cheapest system available, but all the panels are made in Germany, not China, by a big name German company. Likewise the inverter.

We now have to wait to see if Western Power will approve our application, or if they will reject it and only allow us to have a smaller system (e.g. 3 kW or 3.5 kW).

Some of the things I’ve learned this time round:

  • The Western Power transformers in our area are the determining factor for what size kW system they will allow. While I’d like to have a 10 kW system, that’s not going to happen any time soon. In fact, we may not even get the 5 kW system we’ve applied for.
  • It is illegal to have battery storage/backup on a solar PV system in Western Australia, though this may change in the near future. It seems Western Power are testing permanent battery storage/backup units that are wired into the fuse box and that act as a UPS for the entire house. These battery units are independent of solar PV systems.
  • We *can* have the panels on the shed and the inverter in the shed and feed into the house *without* having to dig up anything or without stringing overhead power lines.
  • I learned this last time, but figured it’s worth mentioning again — heat is irrelevant for efficiency of solar panels. In fact, they aren’t anywhere near as efficient in very hot weather as they are when it’s about 25C. It’s the amount of light they receive, not the amount of heat.

So now it’s a waiting game. The first step after signing the application and the contract with the solar people is waiting for Western Power’s approval. Once that’s through, Western Power have to change out our meter to one that is suitable for feeding into the grid as well as taking from the grid (normal meter). Once the meter is changed, then the solar PV system installation can happen. The guy from the solar company thought it would be at least six weeks before we had an installation date.

At least we’ve started…

And when battery storage/backup systems for residences are approved by Western Power, we’ll be getting one of those too. I don’t want to be without power for 31 hours like we were last June. And I don’t want to be continually resetting clocks every time we have short brownouts too (we get a lot of those…). While a battery system may not ‘save’ us for 31 hours, with judicious usage in a power outage, I expect we would get several hours of backup. Most power outages here are less than two hours’ duration.

While we can’t be totally off-grid, at least we can reduce our reliance on an aging network and its fluctuating power. And reduce our continually escalating power bills (domestic power in Western Australia has risen by about 60% over the past couple of years).

Update 20 August 2013: Since I wrote this post, the installers came out and measured up everything for submission to Western Power, Western Power has approved us for a 5 kW system and has already swapped out the meter. I got a phone call today to set the installation date — the panels and inverter are being installed next Friday, some two months since we committed to buy.

The panels are going on to the shed roof, and on the eastern side, which is closest to a raised garden area, so I should be able to get some good shots of all 20 of them!

Blog post about the installation — with photos! https://rhondabracey.com/2013/08/30/solar-panels-are-up/





Community Quilt 90

24 06 2013

Well, I don’t think I’ll get to 100 quilts in 12 months, though I’m close with 90 (I started quilting Community Quilts at the end of June 2012). This one is #90 and was originally going to be quilted by a friend of mine, but she’s sold her house and is in the process of packing and moving. I know what that’s like, so I offered to do it instead.

This was a nice little eye-spy quilt, with lots of bright colours that went well together. I decided to do an all-over design — my ‘squared off’ open headband motif. In keeping with the bright colours in the coloured blocks, I used a variegated thread I’ve had forever, in the red, blue, yellow, and green.

Even though the quilting is quite dominant, I quite liked how it turned out and how the thread choice complements the coloured blocks.

(Click a photo to view it larger)

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Threads used:

  • Top: I have no idea! It was a thread I’ve had for a long time and any identification on the spool has long gone.
  • Bobbin: Wonderfil Invisifil (red, 100 wt, colour IF 202)

Photos of all the Community Quilts I’ve quilted are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157630291250200/





Reusing quilt batting in the garage

24 06 2013

Well, necessity is the mother of invention 😉 I was concerned that one day I’d knock the car door against the brick pillar in the garage. I’m always very careful not to, but you never know… So I wondered what I could put on the pillar and how I could make it stick to the rough bricks.

And then it came to me — quilt batting! It has really good adherence to any rough surface, so I got some batting cut-offs that I was saving for some other yet-to-be-decided purpose, stitched them together, then pressed the batting wad onto the bricks. I did this about two weeks ago, and it hasn’t fallen off yet 😉

I’m also not quite as concerned about opening the car door just that little bit much anymore. So it works well, but I think I’ll make another one that’s longer so it can cover the entire width of the pillar.

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Update: I made a bigger one and it’s MUCH better. Gives better coverage to the whole car door now.

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The bees are loving it!

24 06 2013

The banksia that self-seeded a while back has heaps of flowers on it at the moment, and some of them are just FULL of bees, with their whole bodies submerged in the flower head trying to get nectar and/or pollen. They sure weren’t interested in what I was doing!

I did notice that they didn’t seem interested in the flowers that were still in perfect condition — only those that had started to die off. Maybe that’s when the nectar is the sweetest? Or has fermented and the bees become drunk? (I used to have grape vines at a house I owned a long time ago, and the bees would get very drunk when supping on the fermenting bunches of grapes — they were really funny to watch.

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Winter sunset at Bunbury’s Back Beach

21 06 2013

Some photos I took recently above the basalt rock area at Bunbury’s Back Beach. It was wild and woolly, with a cold biting wind — but invigorating!

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More Westpac stuff-ups

21 06 2013

I’m convinced that Westpac has it in for us… or they are just bloody incompetent. Thanks goodness for our contact at Westpac otherwise I would’ve have torn my hair out in sheer frustration trying to get this mess sorted.

See these blog posts for how they’ve stuffed up previous house/land purchases/sales:

And they’ve done it again.

We recently sold an investment property we’ve had for 18 years. It settled (closed) yesterday (Thursday). In the documentation I’d given to the bank and the settlement agent, the instructions were clear:

  1. Pay out and close a small loan with a line of credit facility (balance owing was less than $5000); let’s call this Account A (#285 below)
  2. Put the remainder into our savings account; let’s call this Account B (#286 below).
  3. Decrease the line of credit limits against two other loans; I’ll call them Accounts C (#969) and D (#332).

Simple, right? Not so much…

I logged into the Westpac online banking system this morning and this is what I saw:

westpac

Instead of paying out the Account A loan and putting the remainder into Account B, they paid out Account A and put the balance as a credit in Account A! Account A is a loan/mortgage account, not a savings account, and as the bank has our money for three business days before releasing it, I won’t be able to access it until probably next Tuesday. Even then, I don’t know how hard it will be to get the money out of that account in full as it’s not a savings account.

Meantime, the lines of credit on ALL the loans are zero balance. WTF? That means I can’t access any of those funds. Normally I wouldn’t want to, but as we’ve sold that house and as capital gains tax will be incurred on the sale this financial year and as the financial year ends on June 30, and as our accountant and financial adviser both advised putting the maximum allowable ($25,000) into my husband’s Superannuation account THIS financial year to minimise his capital gains tax, and as I have very few business days in which I can do that, AND as I have to travel 50 km to the bank to make this transfer because I can’t do it electronically owing to the bank’s electronic withdrawal limits, and as I can only do this on a Friday or Monday, and as next Friday is too late to meet the end of this financial year, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I didn’t transfer that money from one of the line of credit loans prior to settlement, just in case anything went wrong and the sale fell through. And now that settlement has occurred later than planned, and the bank has frozen the lines of credit for at least three business days while they adjust the limit, I can’t access the $25K and get it into his Super on time.

I emailed and called my banking contact person first thing this morning to find out what was going on and why I couldn’t access the lines of credit (I knew I couldn’t access the sale funds for three business days). She was brilliant as usual, and has been on the phone to the head office several times today to get an escalation happening.

The bottom line is that the bank freezes the lines of credit on the loans for THREE business days while they adjust the limit downwards. WTF? THREE business days???? To change a figure electronically? Come on!

So my bank contact — who doesn’t trust that it will all happen in time either (and she works for them!) — is currently arranging a temporary overdraft on our savings account so that I can transfer $25K into my husband’s Super account on Monday, and then pay it back once the sale funds become available. She said she will make sure the bank refunds any overdraft charges we incur as a result, so we shouldn’t be out of pocket.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time and worry on this, and she’s spent at least as much. All because someone somewhere didn’t read the instructions, and, if they weren’t sure about those instructions, didn’t make a phone call to me to check where I wanted the funds to go. My name and phone number is on ALL this documentation, so picking up the phone and making a call would’ve saved us all several hours of chasing up the bank — time that my bank lady and I would rather have spent today doing something else that was far more productive.

Sheer bloody incompetence, in my opinion. And it’s not an isolated instance either.

Update Monday 24 June 2013: Still no funds through, not even the ‘expedited’ overdraft facility. So I emailed my bank contact at 8:15 am, not expecting an answer from her until the bank opened at 9:30. However, she was on the phone to me within two minutes, and had just then transferred $25K into our savings account and will deal with any consequences with her bosses later. THANK YOU Tracy!

Update later Monday 24 June 2013: I went into town to a Westpac branch, where I handed over all the details to transfer the money into my husband’s Super fund account at BankWest. I knew there would be a charge ($25?), and the teller said it would take up to 48 hours. 48 hours to do an electronic bank to bank transfer??? WTF? What games do these guys play with our money in the interim??

Anyhoo… she tried to enter his code but their system only accepts up to seven numbers, not the 12 digit alphanumeric code for my husband’s account. WTF? So she suggested a brilliant strategy. How about she gave me the $25K in cash, and I walked next door to the BankWest branch and deposited it directly? No fee, no 48-hour transfer delay. Sounded like a good plan to me 😉 So she gave me five bundles of 100x $50 notes (no, I’ve never handled so much cash in my life before either) in a calico bag, and I walked out of the branch and literally next door to BankWest, where they happily accepted my money and were able to key in the alphanumeric code without a problem.

 





Community Quilt 89

17 06 2013

This was a very old-fashioned quilt top — an old-fashioned block, old fabrics, and all the star blocks were hand-sewn. How to quilt it?

I started by stitching in the ditch ESS (‘every stinking seam’) — well, not quite every seam, but almost!

Next, were the white spaces. The area where the points all met in the middle was very bumpy for each block, so I needed something to flatten it. I decided to do a stylised flower, using a fairly close spiral for the centre, then radiating out following the shape of the white space for the petals, with a centre vein (these blocks were puffy too), and a couple of swirly bits on the side, followed by an echo line around the outside of the petals. I used a matching 80 wt thread for these as I didn’t want them to stand out too much.

But what to do about those 8-pointed stars? First I stitched in the ditch with an invisible thread through each one to reduce the puffiness and to stabilise them for the big spiral centre — I’ve done big spirals before without stabilising the layers first and ended up with weird effects, a bit like the ‘pointy bras’ of yesteryear that my Mum used to wear ;-). Next, I used the top off a container as my circle to mark the outer line with chalk. Then I stitched around the circle with a variegated mauve/purple/lemon/tan thread, then stitched another ring about 1/4″ from the outer ring, then I spiralled in to the centre and out again. Once I was back on the outer ring of the circle, I stitched flame-style ‘petals’ around the circle with the points almost touching the edges of the start. I thought they looked a bit like sunflowers when I was finished, and I was pleased with how they turned out.

Click on a photo to view it larger.

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Threads used:

  • Top: Wonderfil Deco-Bob (beige, 80 wt, colour DB 112); Wonderfil Mirage (30 wt, colour SD 32)
  • Bobbin: Wonderfil Invisifil (lime green, 100 wt, colour IF 702)

Photos of all the Community Quilts I’ve quilted are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157630291250200/