Solar power. Our experience


I have always been interested in solar power from the day I saw my first solar cell. The best time to install a system was when the Government was offering 60cents per Kilowatt hour feed in tariff. I was actually quoted $10,000 for a 4 kilowatt system and $1700 for a 1.5 kilowatt system, installed. I should have jumped at the 1.5 from purely a financial point of view. Feed in tariffs (what you get paid for feeding electricity into the grid) were subsequently dropped to 25 cents then 8 cents and the price of solar systems also dropped at the same time.

Replacing Incandescent Globes

In the meantime I changed all the light globes in our house to LED and a few low energy Flouros. Our family room had two par 38 - 150 watt globes in it, anything else would not have provided enough light. I replaced them with 15 watt LED stage lights ($30 each on Ebay) which produce as much light as the par 38's. I progressively replaced the outside Par 38 flood lights with LED's We have 16 of these around the property, 8 sensor lights with 2 globes per light. I replaced them with 10 watt LED's for $10 each on Ebay. The inside of the house had some 16 Halogen downlights. I replaced them with LED's from ebay at about $5 each. These were either 4 watts where a not so bright light was needed or 9 watts which are brighter than 50 watt halogen globes. You have to be a little careful, I would order one globe and if it fitted and worked I ordered more. At least one type of LED failed quickly. On the whole they have been very reliable. I like LED's as they are on instantly. I the replaced most of the compact Flouros' in the house with LED's then fitted a LED lighting system in my workshop with 100 watts of LED's then I set up LED garden lights (12 volt) in our front yard. Over our Car park I added a 50 watt LED flood light to one of the sensor lights. The car park is not quite like daylight when it comes on, but is close. All this dropped my electricity bill from over $180 to under $160 a month. However then we were hit with price rises and it went back to $180.

The Solar Plunge

In November 2012 We decided to make the Solar plunge. Electricity prices had risen suddenly as the result of the Carbon tax and other reasons I am not sure of. We were paying a bit under 18 cents inc GST for electricity when it suddenly rose to 22 cents, this wiped out the reduction in the bill I had achieved by changing all the light globes. I figured the only way to beat the electricity companies was to generate my own. A subsequent rise to 24 cents was then advised by my Electricity Company.

I looked at systems on the web, and finally decided to spend $10,000 which would get a 6.5 Kilowatt system from Solarlink Australia. Their salesman Adam was to me most on the ball and he did not try to Guild the Lily (tell fibs) like I felt some of the others seemed to. He sent me to in dependant web sites where you could decide the merits for yourself. They do not come to your house to quote, but look at the house through google maps, I presume. We paid the deposit in late november and about 3 weeks later the system was in and operating. I was very happy with Solarlink. The solar spun the electricity meter backwards. The inverter has a readout so I could instantly see how much electricity the system was generating. The maximum output on a sunny day with the sun in the right direction was a bit over 6 kilowatts.

One of the most critical things with solar is alignment of the cells. Unfortunately our roof is not ideally aligned. The cells should point due North, but ours are NorthEast. It was the only place on the roof that was ideal to fit them. As the year has progresses and the sun changes its alignment the maximum output has dropped to 4 kilowatts. On a cloudy day in summer the system produces 2 kilowatts, on a rainy day in Autumn it produces half a kilowatt. As long as there is light it produces something.

Inverter is located in my workshop so I can easily check the output from the Liquid crystal display.

26 Solar panels photographed on a dreary Melbourne Autumn day.

Smart meter. By pressing one of the buttons you can read how much power you have taken from the grid and how much you have fed into the grid, since the metre was fitted.

In January we had our old Meter replaced with a Smart Meter. This enabled me to tell how much power I was sending back to the grid and how much we were taking from the grid. I summer we were feeding into the grid about 120% (averaged over a month) of what we were using. as the season progressed and the sun got lower on the horizon that figure has dropped so we were using more than we feed back. I have kept pretty thorough records and at the time of writing this (late May 2013) we have used 1506 Kilowatt hours and fed in 1562 kilowatt hours.

Electricity Companies are Rogues.

The one thing I soon discovered you cannot trust anything the electricity retailers say. Our existing supplier offered us verbally a feed in tariff of 14 cents per kilowatt hour, 8 from the distributor and 6 from them. I spoke to 2 different sources about it and they both confirmed the price. I was also promised a 20% discount for paying on time by one source. I should have recorded them. The last bill I received with the old meter reflected it running in reverse, the amount of the bill was tiny. The next bill I got was for the 10 days from when the Smart Meter was installed until when the feed in to the grid was activated. It was also a small bill. This was the 17th of January. I did not receive another bill until early May when three young representatives of another electricity company knocked on my door and offered a deal I could not refuse, similar electricity rates but a feed in of 32 cents. I was dubious but decided to take it. I asked them to put it in writing, they said that head office would do it. I never got that letter, but my existing supplier was soon on the phone offering much better usage rates (19cents a KWH) but only 8 cents feed in. I said but you are paying me 14 now and they said no they were not. I asked the company with the door knockers to put their 32 cents feed in tariff in writing, they said they would, but when I received the letter it was only a pro forma thing with nothing to do with my particular case. Sick of the run around I decided to take up the new rates my existing company was offering. Suddenly they were no longer available. I had to settle for 24 cents a KWH and 11 cents of a weekend and after hours. They flatly denied I was ever going to get 14 cents feed in. I had had enough as I was organizing a long overdue holiday and trying to finish all the work I had accepted before departing, so decided to pause for awhile but it is not over. In future I will record all future negotiations. I asked my existing supplier for a bill and I got one with no feed in whatsoever. They verbally told me to deduct an amount when paying corresponding to 8 cents a KWH and sent me a form to fill out applying for 8 cents which they claim they are paying. From all this I find they are as slippery as eels and next time I negotiate, and it is when I return from a holidays I will purchase a small recorder and record all dealings and if they tell lies and I catch them out I will pass the recordings onto the Authorities. I advise anyone else to do the same.

The Return on Investment.

One of the reasons that makes Solar attractive is I use a lot of power for wood working equipment during the day when the cells are generating. This is free power. The last full bill we received before the solar went in was $5.96 per day. The bill for the first period solar was active for a 72 day period up until the 31st March was $3.50 per day not including any feed in which at 8 cents a KWH (a bit over a Dollar per day), so we are saving about $3.50 per day in the late summer months. This will reduce over winter. In reality we are possibly saving about $1200 per year and it will take a bit over 8 years to break even. When I decided to install the solar I based it on a 5 year break even which was optimistic. Assuming electricity prices will continue to rise the payback may be a little better than 8 years . The system is supposed to be good for 20 years or more and getting a good feeling about reducing emissions all help to make it worthwhile.

After 12 months. - January 1014

The power consumed was 3854 Kilowatts, the power returned to the grid was 3894 kilowatts.As the bills were all stuffed up it is probably not right to add them up, but if you say out average cost was about 20 cents a kilowatt hour plus $400 distribution cost was $1100 less $311 for the feedback tariff. Total cost of electricity approximately $770. Prior to solar our bill for the year was going to be around $2160 ($180 per month and possibly would be more now) so we are in front by around $1000 per year. Payback time 10 years. In the meantime electricity costs rise. I was just hit by a small rise in the tariff and a 14% rise in the distribution fees. The feed in Tariff remained unchanged.

Is solar worth it? In my opinion only if you plan on staying in your home forever and have money to spare. In most cases I would say , do not bother.