There’s a lot of talk at the moment about Solar Power and Sun Energy! But what does it look like, and how efficient is it really? Can we trust the hype?
Well, it was something we wanted to explore for many years but the cost was exorbitant and so we shelved any Sun Projects. Yet we are Sun-Loving Beings. I am not a winter person, suffering the 6 or so cold months of New Zealand with the glimmer of hope that that sun will come shining through, eventually, in the Land of the Long White Cloud/Aotearoa/New Zealand! And indeed it does, NZ has plenty sunshine hours that make Sun Energy Harvesting such a sensible idea. And with Climate Change, governments the world over should be encouraging people to give energy sustainability a go!
Our latest project though, a year ago, was the investment in a Solar Tube. A bubble-like spaceship-looking dome on our roof, to afford us natural light in our once-was-dark kitchen. At NZ $1500.00, we hummed and haa-ed for some time, before biting the bullet and giving the installer the thumbs up. And we love it! I don’t need to switch on electrical lighting when I am working in the kitchen in the day. Hooray! Revolutionising the way we work!
When the installer arrived, he discovered that he needed to provide a bend through our upstairs bedroom, down into the kitchen below. The result: silver tubing zooming through our bedroom upstairs! I kind of like the industrial look, as if a spaceship crashed through the roof of our bedroom! The installer suggested boxing it in with panels to hide it – but as I said, I like the industrial look!
The upside too, is that we will use less energy, as I never have to have my kitchen lights burning through the day in the kitchen. While I was up on the roof spying on the finished solar tube, I took the chance to also photograph our Photo-voltaic panels which work hard every day to harvest sun energy for us. They too, are groovy-looking! Like having your own electricity company on your roof! Now, a similar system costs between $7 – NZ$9000.00. Costs are coming down with increasing demand, almost halving every year! Our 4 year old system cost us $32 000.00 for a 3kW system. We have no electricity bills to pay in the warmer months, and in winter, we pay a maximum of $180 for the coldest month, as opposed to the $350 we paid before solar! And energy costs continue to rise every year!
We have learned a bit about Solar power in the last year. Because we do not store our energy in batteries (which are expensive, weren’t fully recyclable when we were looking to install, and only have a 10-15yr life-span), we feed our energy back into the national grid. Our company, Meridian Energy, pay us a lesser amount per unit of energy we feed into the system (about 7c) and charge us a higher amount per unit we use (about 12c). To offset this, it is advised to use energy while the panels are harvesting energy. That means, run all electrical appliances while the sun is shining, if possible! So it is better to use the washing machine or tumble drier in the day when we are generating energy, rather than at night when we are consumers of Meridian energy. We try to dehydrate our fruit in daylight hours, not overnight as I used to, else the dried snacks will cost more!! Sun-Savvy!
Before we installed our PV panels, we already had two solar panels to heat the water, a very big part of one’s energy bill! If we have a couple of days that are dull and cloudy, we may need to boost our hot water supply with additional power before nightfall, but again, better done during daylight hours so that power coming in = power going out. The solar water heating panels are entirely different to those generating energy. In order to understand the PV (photovoltaic) system, a normal household uses an average of about 26kW per day, during summer months we can generate up to 29kW. During winter we may generate an average of only 14kW. We use less than we generate in summer, and more than we generate in winter. It’s kind of like a banking account, you draw out and go into debit when you have none of your own, and deposit more when you are able to save/generate in summer.
So at the end of the day, a Sun Smart system costs you money to set up, but in the long run, should save you money! Don’t have the money to invest in a full-price system for your home? I have recently found a company called Solar City who have a system called SolarZero. They install and maintain a PV system which costs you zero dollars. Then you pay a monthly fee of $79 for your power. Your power bill is SET for 20 years ahead, no nasty surprise rise of power bills. Sounds incredible!! Check it out…..