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!



2 responses

29 06 2013

Solar panels are quite common here but nothing of any size. There are a few wind turbines that are for personal use (not a part of a large “wind farm”) but the maintenance $$$ is still high enough that it takes tones of years to pay it off and make it worthwhile to have. It’s coming but the “not in my backyard” mentality has yet to be overcome (people think the turbines are a great source of green energy but don’t want the large turbines in their sight!!!!). Am happy you have been able to start the process. Hugs……

30 08 2013
Solar panels are up! | Rhonda Bracey: At Random

[…] took two months from signing the contract to getting our solar panels installed. A lot of stuff happened in between, so it’s not like anyone was slacking off in that time […]

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