Solar Panel Installation

On Monday last week we were able to complete the first major piece of work on our journey to becoming carbon negative: our photovoltaic system was installed.

Solar panels on the roof

We have 10 panels on our north-facing roof for a combined capacity of 2.75kW. The power company estimates that we will generate an average of between 5.62 – 11.82kWh electricity per day, as per the table below:

System Performance Estimate

Based on our electricity bills, our daily generation will either cover or surpass our daily usage. This means that we will be either carbon neutral or carbon negative for our electricity consumption throughout the year. The electricity that we don’t use will be exported to the grid, which will help the it to reduce its emissions by a tiny amount too.

The electrical inspector came by on Tuesday this week and turned on the system for us. We still need to sort out the changes to our electricity plan so that we are paid for what we export to the grid, but from the environmental perspective we are done. We got dressed up, we went out, and we celebrated.

If you’re playing along at home…

…have you installed solar panels? Please share in the comments below how much of your electricity usage you were able to generate yourself.

Budget For Change

On the political scale, as soon as talk turns to climate action it quickly takes a detour through accounts. The general argument seems to be “we could do x things, but they cost $y, so that will never happen.” Happily, as a family, we have the ability to question our budget overall and not just individual line items.

We wanted to divert enough money in our budget to cover the cost of changing our emissions. We’ve got a long list of projects that we want to complete, and they all cost money. I have our budget in a fairly detailed spreadsheet, so I can make small changes and immediately see the impact on our bottom line. The most recent change was adding in the repayments for our Solar Victoria loan to buy our PV system:

3 Lines of Budget

At first, we weren’t sure where we were going to pull $556.20 per year from – that’s a lot of money. We started by looking at the electricity line – the feed in tariff on offer from our retailer is 11c/kW, and our system should produce a minimum of 5kW per day. If we feed in all of that energy, our daily cost drops from $2.10 to $1.55, for an annual reduction of $200.75. In reality we would be using some of that energy instead of exporting it, and generation will be higher in summer, so the practical savings should be higher. When we take that from the loan amount, the additional expense for the system drops to $355.45. Expressed as a weekly amount, the loan will cost us $6.84. We could cover that by working from home one day a week instead of taking the train, by walking to the supermarket instead of taking the car, or by borrowing a book from the library instead of buying something new.

The important thing to note with this change is that the loan will not be there for nearly as long as the panels will be. After four years we stop paying for that loan, so we’ll have those funds available in our budget for other projects, and $556.20 per year is still a lot of money.

If you’re playing along at home…

…how much could you divert in your budget towards actions that will reduce your footprint? Please share in the comments below what you’re budgeting to change.

Switching to Green Electricity

One of the fastest and easiest ways that we can reduce our emissions is by being aware of the electricity that we use and where it comes from. As a nation, Australia is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for electricity, which provided 83.7% of our electricity in 2016 compared to renewable sources at 16.3%. We live in Victoria, which isn’t exactly dazzling in converting to renewable energy; in 2016 only 16% of the state’s energy came from renewable sources. The state government has committed to increasing renewables to 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025 but, even if those targets are met, a lot of our electricity will still be coming from fossil fuels.

Even though the state grid has a limited amount of renewable energy being supplied to it, as a consumer we still have a degree of choice about how our power is produced. Electricity companies offer two types of electricity plans: green and default. The default plan that most homes sign up for allows the company to produce electricity from whatever source takes their fancy. The green plans require the company to produce a certain amount of your electricity from renewable sources. I’ve seen green plans range from 10% renewable all the way to 100% renewable.

Switching to a green energy plan can seem a bit superficial; the electricity that we actually use in our home is pooled, so just because we might pay for a green energy plan doesn’t mean that the specific electricity used in our home is green. The important thing here is the symbolism; companies like to follow dollars, and your dollars can speak louder than emails and phone calls will.

Finding a new electricity provider can involve a lot of research and ridiculous comparison websites. If you’re interested in shopping around, there’s a comparison page at the Green Electricity Guide that lists a lot of retailers I’ve never heard of before and a bit of information about their environmental credentials. It looks fancy and informative, but I’ve got a bit of a headache and I can’t be bothered, so I decided to just call our current company and switch with them. I signed up for a 100% green electricity plan, which took me 17 minutes on the phone, and I managed to negotiate a pay on time discount that fully offsets the slight increase in cost. Winning!

If you’re playing along at home…

If you aren’t already on a 100% green electricity plan, now is a great time to switch. With more and more companies realising the importance of offering green power to their customers, you might be able to save some money as well as the environment. Please share in the comments how much carbon you’ve been able to save and what sort of impact it had on your bill.