Solar Panel Ingredients

What makes a good quality solar panel?

What makes a high quality solar panel? Aren’t all solar panels the same? They all look pretty similar if you‘re on the ground looking up at panels on a roof and even close up it can be difficult to tell the difference. We thought we’d take a closer look and provide a few tips, if you’re looking to buy a good quality solar panel.

If you ask a chef what the key is to making a great meal, they’re going to tell you that it starts with the quality of the ingredients. It’s the same with solar panels, if you cut costs on the inputs, the end product will probably be compromised. Whether this results in a shortened life, lower performance, safety concerns or aesthetic issues, there are good reasons to be careful about the solar panel that you select to put on your roof.

When you first start looking at solar panels it can be pretty mind boggling. There are over 20,000 solar panels accredited for use in Australia, and every solar company is going to tell you that their panels are the best. So how can you tell the difference? Here’s a bit of an overview of what ingredients go into a solar panel, a few things to look for and some questions to ask when purchasing a solar system.

Solar panels are made up of a number of different materials and components. Below, Yingli Solar have provided a great breakdown of a solar panel’s different parts.

 

Yingli Anatomy of a solar panel

 

 

Yingli also have a more detailed overview of what goes into their panels here – yingli-solar-components.

Some of the Tier 1 panel manufacturers are now becoming more transparent and providing information about what ingredients go into their panels, innovative Australian panel manufacturer Tindo solar have provided also provided details here.

Some examples of problems that can arise from inferior quality components include:

  • Panel delamination

This can happen if an inferior quality of EVA laminate is used or if the wrong curing times or temperatures have been used in the manufacturing process. Delamination can lead to corrosion, moisture ingress and loss of performance.

  • EVA discolouration or browning

Again if the EVA laminate is inferior or the wrong manufacturing processes are followed, the panels can take on a yellow or brown colour, this can lead to a loss of output and aesthetic issues.

  • Defective or mismatched connectors

Multi Contact AG is a Swiss company that pioneered the current MC4 connector type used on most solar panels in Australia. Many cheaper solar panels are using “MC4 compatible” connectors, which are copies of the original. The Australian standards now require connectors to be the same make and model. If there is a bad or loose connection between connectors this can lead to DC arcing and burning resulting in a serious safety issue.

  • Micro-cracks in cells

Silicon solar cells are very thin and fragile. If the cell or the panel is not handled carefully in the manufacturing or installation process, it can result in micro cracking of the cells. Micro-cracks are hard to see with the naked eye and lead to a loss in power output.

  • Hotspots

On a solar cell, there are solder joints where the busbars are connected. If the quality of this connection is not good, it can lead to a high resistance in that spot, heating up and causing a “hot spot”. This generally will show as a discoloured yellow or brown spot and can potentially be a fire hazard. An inferior quality or scratched panel back sheet can also lead to resistance and heat causing hot spots.

An issue that Green Energy Options has become aware of recently is that some solar panels on the Australian market appear to be underperforming. For example, when a 250 Watt panel is tested in a flash test, to determine its rated output, normally the panel manufacturer will have an expected tolerance. High quality panels tend to have a positive tolerance stating the panel will perform at say 0/+5W, meaning that you get a panel rated at 250-255W. Some cheaper modules might have a -5/+5% tolerance meaning that they may produce less than their nameplate rating. An issue that appears to be coming up is that some panels are performing below their tolerance range.

Green Energy Options recommend sticking with well-known solar brands that are using high quality components and are transparent about the components and processes they use. We look at a number of other factors when selecting a panel manufacturer:

  • Build quality of the panel
  • Independent performance results in the field
  • Business’s financial position
  • Manufacturer’s track record
  • Highly automated manufacturing process
  • Technical specifications
  • Australian support
  • Warranty conditions

When we supply a solar system we aim to give you a great product, minimising the chances of having problems. Hopefully this gives a good insight in what to look for in a solar panel and some questions to ask if you are comparing different options. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about solar panels 1300 931 929.

Protect the RET

The Renewable Energy Target (RET) has been the major driver of renewable energy investment in Australia since 2001 when the Howard government introduced the scheme. But with the announcement last month by the Abbott Government, to appoint “man made climate change denier”, Dick Warburton to head the review, sends a worrying message about where support for renewable energy in Australia might be heading. Particularly because there is strong support from the Australian public who prefer Wind & Solar technologies over Fossil Fuels, as a recent Climate Institute poll shows.

Public support for different energy technologies

Public support for different energy technologies

 

The RET currently mandates that 20% of Australia’s energy needs to come from renewable energy by 2020. We are currently on track to exceed that target, largely due to an unexpected reduction in demand, which an increased uptake of rooftop solar PV and energy efficiency measures is partly responsible for. Origin Energy and Energy Australia have been calling for a reduction in the fixed target of 48,150GWh. This has been backed up by words from the prime minister Tony Abbott and some media suggesting that the RET is responsible for an increase in the cost of electricity bills.

The Australian Energy Market Commission, recently found that the RET costs just 3-5% of power bills, with that percentage projected to further decline in coming years. By 2015 it is estimated that the RET would cost the average household around $1 a week. When this is compared to other pressures pushing the price of electricity up, it’s the thin edge of the wedge. If we are really serious about trying to keep the cost of electricity for consumers down, we’d be looking at wholesale and retail costs, which make up around 52% of the average household bills, or network costs, like poles and wires, which account for about 40%.

This isn’t the whole story when you look at the cost of the RET though. Some commentators who are pointing out the cost of the RET on electricity bills, are forgetting to look at the benefits that having more renewables on the grid brings. Having more wind and solar generation is actually helping to drive down wholesale electricity costs. A recent study shows that over a 7 day period, wind power helped to reduce wholesale prices in South Australia and Victoria by 40%. Solar PV is another example of this, where solar production often correlates to times of peak demand from air conditioners, helping to cut out expensive spikes in electricity demand and costly blackouts on hot days. If these benefits are taken into account the cost of the RET is reduced even further.

Beyond the benefits the RET brings to the electricity network, there have been new industries created along with tens of thousands of jobs. There’s been a huge economic injection of billions of dollars of private investment, it’s helping to reduce the health impact of air pollution (just think about the recent fires in the Hazelwood mine). Then there’s the general long term climate benefits of less CO2 in the atmosphere that having more renewables contributes towards, including the protection of biodiversity, a reduction in the risk of severe weather events and the reduced insurance premiums and higher clean-up costs that come with it. There are also the long lasting mental health impacts of people affected by increased drought and bushfire, the higher number of climate refugees seeking a new place to live due to sea level rise, drought and wars over natural resources.

Between now and 2031 the RET is expected to cost an average of $15 a year on your electricity bill. Given the benefits that renewable energy can bring us, you’d think we are getting good value for money. What do you think, is this really too much to pay?

 

To find out more on how you can support keeping the Renewable Energy Target check out

http://yes2renewables.org  #ProtectThe RET

or to donate to supporting the Small Scale RET go to the Australian Solar Council’s Website (they’ve also got some great infographics below).

http://solar.org.au/renewable-energy-targets-ret-review

Australian Solar Council - RET Jobs Infographic

Australian Solar Council – RET Jobs Infographic

Australian Solar Council Infographic - Solar Saves Money

Australian Solar Council Infographic – Solar Saves Money

Introduction to microinverters

Here’s our first attempt at a video blog. Click play to get an introduction to solar microinverters and their benefits.

Solar System Maintenance

Grid connect solar power systems are generally very low maintenance, however we do recommend that they are not ‘set and forget’ and some solar system maintenance, servicing and checks will be required over the system’s lifetime.

Remember that solar system components have been designed to operate for years, in harsh environments with minimal servicing required. We recommend sticking with high quality components from leading brands to minimise the potential for problems, or breakdowns in the future.

Solar panels normally come with a 10 year product warranty and  a 25 year performance guarantee (predicting that the system will still produce 80% of it’s initial power after 25 years). While your inverter will normally have a 5-10 year warranty as standard, with extensions possible at an additional cost. Note that a central string inverter will probably need to be replaced at some stage during the life of your solar panels. Green Energy Options also provide a five year workmanship warranty with all our solar installations and a free 12 month maintenance check on all our premium solar systems.

SMA STP7000TL-20

Solar system maintenance starts with keeping an eye on your system’s performance

 

As far as maintaining your system goes there are a few things that we recommend:

  • Check the system performance on a regular basis. (we suggest at least every 1-2 weeks) You can compare the daily system output with the monthly output figures provided to you in your user manual, or divide the total energy produced by the number of days in operation to give an average kWh/day figure. Most issues that can arise with your solar system will manifest with a loss of production, so this is the best thing that you can do to avoid loosing solar generation and alert you to the fact your system may need further checking.
  • Panel cleaning. most manufacturers recommend that if panels are installed on a 10 degree pitch or greater, rain should wash most of the dirt and dust off. Depending on your situation your panels may need cleaning every 6 months or up to 3 years.
  • Visual inspection of the solar array. (Every 1-3 years) A visual inspection of your solar array includes checking the panels for cracked glass, discolouration, spots or trails on the cells and corrosion. Make sure mounting hardware is secure and free from corrosion. Check for loose cables and roof penetrations are secure and not leaking. Isolators and cabling should also be checked for signs of UV degradation, corrosion or water ingress.
  • Check the array Voltages. This can normally be done by reading information displayed on your inverter. The string voltage should equal the MppV of a panel multiplied by the number of panels in a string, then adjusted for temperature.
  • Ensure shading of your solar array is kept to a minimum. Trimming of trees and vegetation that may shade your solar array is recommended to ensure the optimal performance of your solar system.

Please Note: Green Energy Options recommends that only qualified professionals should attempt to access your roof to maintain your solar system and that unqualified persons should not attempt to touch or service any electrical components associated with your solar system.

Green Energy Options provides maintenance checks and cleaning for solar systems, please contact us for further information. 1300 931 929 or info@greenenergyoptions.com.au

 

 

Solar Grid Battery Storage Systems

Lately there have been lots of people in the solar industry getting excited about batteries. We’ve also seen an increased number of enquiries about solar battery storage options. With solar feed in tariffs around 8c/kWh in most Australian states, selling power back to the grid is no longer the flavour of the month. Self-consumption is now where it’s at. If you can use solar to offset the cost of paying 32c/kWh for electricity from your retailer, it’s worth four times as much to you as selling it to the grid. Enter battery storage. What if you could store excess energy in batteries rather than exporting it at a low rate?

Solar Battery Backup

The theory goes, shift as much of your electricity consumption as possible to during the day and use solar to power it. Install a battery bank to store any excess solar energy, which can then be drawn on during the evening and at times during the day when the solar isn’t providing enough grunt.

You’re benefitting on a number of levels:

  1. Saving yourself from selling your valuable, clean, green, sunshine power to the wicked electricity company.
  2. Reducing the need to buy dirty, expensive, coal fired brown power from the electricity retailer when the sun goes down.
  3. You are also blackout proofing your home, by providing a uninterruptable power supply (UPS)
  4. You also get a fuzzy feeling by becoming more independent from the power company and doing your bit for the environment as well as helping Australia speed up the process of moving away from fossil fuels.

It all sounds great doesn’t it?

Certainly there are a lot of benefits that battery technology can provide, but you need to weigh it all up and ask yourself “why do I want batteries?” If you want batteries solely to try and save money by reducing your solar energy export and reducing what you are buying from the grid, unfortunately, at this point in time,  in most cases that’s probably not going to happen. The upfront cost of putting in a battery storage system for most people is generally cost prohibitive. Let’s say you’ve already got a solar system and you want to tack on a small battery bank and inverter/charger to manage the batteries and supply of power to your home, for a decent small system you’re probably looking at around $17,000 as a minimum outlay. Without doing the sums it’s going to take a long time to recoup that outlay through savings on your electricity bill and you’ll need to take into account the 7-15 year life expectancy of the batteries.

Batteries

So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, first of all electricity prices have been going up, and probably aren’t going down, so that will help to make the battery option look more attractive in the future. Battery technology is also improving rapidly, with more electric cars it is expected that new technologies such as Lithium alternatives will soon be cheaper per/kWh of storage provided. There are many that are predicting the cost- benefit tables will turn over the next few years and place battery storage as a game changer for the renewable energy industry. If battery storage becomes more cost competitive, it should enable more solar to be rolled out on a larger scale by helping to smooth out the intermittency and variability of renewable energy generation.

So even though the price can put some off, there are other reasons that people want to move towards battery storage. Particularly if your property is prone to blackouts, having an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) can be a huge benefit, the value of a battery system can then take on whole new value, particularly in the case of say a cool room with valuable perishable products. Other people are just getting sick of being treated badly by their electricity company and want more independence, with some going to the extreme of disconnecting and going totally off grid just to get away from ‘the system’.

There are also potentially some benefits for the electricity grid if more storage capacity is integrated. It can enable the peak load demand to be shifted and smoothed out, for example on a hot day when everyone turns their air conditioning on, the storage could be drawn on by the home owner rather than placing that demand on the grid. There is even talk of a system where electricity companies could draw on your dispatchable storage (and pay you for it) to help supply demand when it’s needed. In fact Vector, a NZ based electricity provider has actually opted to invest in subsidised solar battery storage units for homes over upgrading the network infrastructure, as a cost effective alternative. California is also looking to install 1.325GW of energy storage by 2020 across a range of storage mediums. They obviously see the benefits that storage can provide, decentralising the network and helping to integrate more renewables are just a couple.

For more info on Solar Grid Battery Storage Systems or Off-grid Solar please give us a call on 1300 931 929 or for more info click here.

 

 

Solar Finance – Leasing, Interest free and Low interest

New solar finance options are now making owning your own solar power system more accessible. With over 1 million solar systems installed across Australia, a large number of people and businesses are looking at how they can go solar. Green Energy Options has just launched a couple of exciting new solar finance solutions, so we thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at some of the different options available to you, if you’re thinking about installing some solar panels . Why rent your power supply when you can now take ownership through solar? Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.

Pay for you solar upfront

One option is to pay cash for your solar system. Most solar businesses will require an upfront deposit, with the balance payable on installation, normally with the STC’s (Small-scale Technology Certificates) given as a point of sale discount. Green Energy Options require a 10% deposit with balance due on installation. We would suggest being wary of solar companies asking you to pay everything upfront or large deposit amounts, as this can leave you exposed if something goes wrong.

Financing solar through your home loan

One popular and generally low interest way to pay for a solar system is to finance it through your home loan. In some cases the additional repayments on a home loan are outweighed by the electricity bill savings received from the solar system. Adding the solar system onto your home loan can be a great way to start saving money with solar, while preserving your month to month cash flow. *The information provided above should be considered general in nature and should not be considered personal advice. Green Energy Options recommends seeking professional financial advice before making any decisions around financing your solar system.

Interest Free Solar

Interest free payment plan

Green Energy Options can now offer a 6 month interest free payment plan for those wanting to install a solar power system on their home. With $0 upfront and a quick online approval process, most applications are confirmed within minutes. This can be a great way to buy some time while organising finance through your home loan or to spread the initial cost of the solar system across a six month period, helping with your week to week cash flow. Green Energy Options has partnered with ASM Money and GEM Visa to provide this interest free option. Contact us on 1300 931 929 for more info. *Available for approved applicants only, conditions apply, $99 annual fee.

Commercial solar lease

Another exciting new finance option Green Energy Options can now offer to business is a commercial solar lease.  In 2012, in California, a recent study showed that 75% of all residential solar systems installed were leased. The leasing model helps to lower the barrier to adopting solar, making the process fast, simple and takes away the hurdle of a large upfront payment. Leasing has a number of advantages for business, the lease payments are often 100% tax deductible** cash flow can be conserved and maintenance responsibilities outsourced. With $0 upfront, up to a five year lease, next day approvals and with end of term options including; buy the system for a small amount, continue to rent, or upgrade, leasing provides flexibility. The commercial lease is provided through ASM money and Thorn Equipment Finance. Contact us on 1300 931 929 for more info. **The information provided above should be considered general in nature and should not be considered personal advice. Green Energy Options recommends seeking professional financial advice before making any decisions around financing your solar system.

Solar Lease

Finance options coming soon

Green Energy Options expect to be able to provide a couple of other finance options towards the end of 2013. We are currently exploring a residential leasing product as well as a 24 month interest free option for homeowners. Keep your eyes peeled for more info.

Other Green Loans

Although the federal government low interest Green loans program is no longer available, there are a number of banks and financial institutions that are now offering low interest green loans, which are available to those installing solar power systems.  Below are a rundown of some of the options that are around at the moment:

Bendigo Bank’s Generation Green loans provide a discount off their standard interest rates for those making green improvements to their home. They offer both personal loan and home loan options.

BankMECU are also offering different home loan options if you are financing a home with sustainability features like solar panels. Check out their GoGreen and Energy Smart home loans for more info.

Hunter United have a green personal loan option for between $2,000 and $20,000 for up to five years, they also provide a green home loan option.

Community First Credit Union also has an attractive green loan option, you can find out more details here.

Victoria Teachers Mutual Bank offers a Green personal loan.

Some other institutions offering green loans include

Laboratories Credit Union

Manly Credit Union

Queensland Country Credit Union

PLEASE NOTE: The information included in this article is provided as a starting point when considering how to pay for a solar power system, it does not take into account your personal circumstances and Green Energy Options strongly recommends seeking professional financial advice and reading the associated terms and conditions before making any decisions on financing your solar system.

To find out more about our solar finance opportunities or for any solar power questions please contact Green Energy Options on 1300 931 929 or info@greenenergyoptions.com.au

Energy Efficient, Solar Home for under $250,000

Holly and I have been keen to open our house for Sustainable House Day the last couple of years, but we’ve always had some excuses, a new baby, a lack of landscaping, too busy….. This year we bit the bullet and said yes. Our house in Torquay is a passive solar, solar powered energy efficient partly sustainable design. Four years ago we were first home buyers and we wanted to have a house that was comfortable, functional and cheap to run, but we, like many other first home buyers were on a budget. I wanted to be able to prove that it was possible to build an energy efficient home on a budget, and not have to make compromises on our lifestyle or comfort. After all the majority of Australian homes are not grand designed, architectural masterpieces. In the end our budget ran out around $230,000 for the house, although we have still a little work to do around the garden, we thought that this was pretty reasonable, and an achievable option for many Australians wanting to build a new home. I probably should give you the heads up now, that this is a longish article.

Solar House

We’ve been in the house now for a little over three years, there are always new things that we would like to do and there are some things that if I had my time again I would do differently, but on the whole we’re very happy with it. We were in the house for a few months’ pre-solar power system and pre-baby and our electricity consumption sat around 4kWhs/day (Kilowatt Hours). Since then we installed a 2.47kW solar system, which generates an average of 11kWh/day. Since we’ve had Ruby our consumption has gone up 1-2kWhs/day, mainly due to more washing and my wife, Holly, being home some days (doing more baking). So our current electricity consumption is about 5-6kWh day, 2kWh of which is being supplied from our 2.5kW solar system, the other 9kWh/day of solar energy that’s generated goes into the grid at 70 cents. Our electricity retailer has been depositing about $1500 a year into our bank account for the electricity we are exporting from the solar system. Any energy we purchase from the retailer is 100% Greenpower too, so although this doesn’t directly power our home it does go towards supporting renewable energy sources. We also have mains gas connected to our Solar Hot Water boost, cooktop and Rinnai Energysaver space heater. Our gas consumption varies quite a bit, from 5-25MJ/day (MegaJoules) during the spring, summer and autumn months through to 40-100MJ/day during winter (the 100MJ bill was the first winter with a newborn). Our bimonthly gas bills range from $30 in summer to $90 in winter.

We built our home through Pivot Homes in Geelong and I think in the end we got a 6.8 star rating for energy efficiency. Pivot were patient with us on the many sustainable design requests that we had and although some of these things were new concepts for them and we had to push them in some areas, we were very pleased with the final outcome. Our home is about 16 squares (150m2) plus the double garage, we found that looking at display homes and talking to a number of builders that the “McMansion” is alive and well in Australia and it was uncommon to find plans for houses under 20 squares. Sizing the house to our needs was important and by keeping a smaller floor space, it allowed us to spend money on other features. It’s basically a three bedroom home with one large open plan living and kitchen area on the north side, two bathrooms, a laundry and a double garage. I work from home and use one of the bedrooms as an office space. Now that Ruby is approaching 18 months, I’m being told that if we have another baby I might need to look for a new office, but at the moment space wise things are still good, the only thing we may be wishing in a few years is that we had built in a study, only time will tell.

Photovoltaic Solar Power System

Because I’m in the solar industry, and I am passionate about renewable energy, a photovoltaic (PV) solar system was always going to be a feature of the house. We installed a 2.47kW CIS (Copper, Indium, Selenium) thin film system, composed of 30 x 82.5W smaller than average modules on our north facing 20 degree pitched roof. The panels were manufactured by Japanese company Solar Frontier and our inverter is a Sunny Boy SB3800 from the trusted German manufacturer SMA. We got a pretty good price for a premium system at the time of about $9,000 (solar system costs have roughly halved since then) and we’re very happy with the system’s performance, pumping out an average of 10.86kWh/day at an efficiency of 4.397kWh/kW. The CIS panels have a special light soaking feature, where they are flash tested off the production line at 82.5W each, but once exposed to sunlight the actual power rating will increase, exceeding the panel’s badge plate rating. Even after nearly three years on the roof, our system on sunny days quite often produces over 3000W of power, I’ve even seen it up as high as 3300W, from a system rated at 2470W it is a great result. So the system is going great guns, but one thing I should mention is that things have changed a bit in the solar industry. The huge reductions seen in the price of crystalline modules over the last couple of years, in combination with the larger number of panels and surface area that thin film systems require mean that it is getting harder for some thin film technologies to compete. Extra costs for panels, racking, installation and fuses come into play. You can now install a larger crystalline system to improve your system’s output at a lower cost than going down the thin film path in most residential scenarios.

26 04 12 001

Solar Hot Water

As well as installing a solar power system we also installed a gas boosted solar hot water system (SHW). We chose an evacuated tube system from AAE, 30 tubes tilted up to 60 degrees to optimise the system for winter sun; generally you will get plenty of heating in the summer months, but require boosting from the gas in the winter months. We went with a gas booster and a 315L stainless steel tank for longevity.

Passive Solar Principles

Passive solar design can play a huge role in the thermal performance of your home, orientation, window positioning, shading, ventilation, insulation and thermal mass all are important things to consider. Although our place isn’t perfect we think we got a few of these things right. I found that the www.yourhome.gov.au website and Renew magazine from the Alternative Technology Association were both fantastic resources for doing research into what things we needed to consider as well as getting inspiration and ideas. We put our living area on the north side of the house and tried to include as many north facing, big double glazed windows as we could to let the winter sun in. We also included one meter eaves on the north side to block out the hot summer sun. This keeps the sun from coming in the windows or hitting our slab in the hottest summer months, but allows the low winter sun through to heat the home when it’s cooler. We also went with a concrete slab for the whole house to help include thermal mass in the design. The concrete is good because it is generally cooler than the air temperature in summer helping to cool the house, and warmer than the air temperature in winter (especially the polished parts exposed to direct sunlight) helping to heat the house. For the outside walls we opted for rendered foam cladding, which has a high insulation value; on top of this we used R2.5 insulation in the walls and R3.5 insulation in the ceiling. The insulation is great as it helps us to contain any heat in the house in the winter as well as insulate ourselves from the outside summer heat.

Heating & Cooling

We didn’t include an air conditioner in the house to begin with, because I expected that we wouldn’t need one, I’m also aware of the large cost that air conditioners place on the electricity grid by increasing peak demand on hot days, this is one of the reasons for much complained about increasing electricity bills. So far weave lasted two summers with minimal discomfort and I’m feeling vindicated. Temperature wise our home normally sits between 17-23 degrees with the highest and lowest temperatures I’ve seen registering at 27 and 14 degrees respectively. We only have one gas space heater in our living area; it’s not really used for eight months of the year, but takes the edge off the winter chill for us when needed, which is usually only winter mornings and evenings as the sun generally heats the house enough during the day. The space heater actually works well enough for us to provide some heat to the bedrooms before we go to bed by opening the hall door and letting the heat travel down the hall. There are also two ceiling fans in the living area and one in the main bedroom; these are helpful mainly on hot days to make us feel cooler.

The positioning of the double garage on the south-west corner of the house was done on purpose to help insulate us against the hot summer afternoon sun; there are also no windows on the west side of the house for the same reason. We do have some cross ventilation from north to south, which we sometimes use to flush out the heat on summer evenings, we just have to make sure the hallway door is chocked, because otherwise you will hear a big BANG as the wind slams the door shut.

Energy Efficient Appliances

Appliances were one of the other things that we had to consider and on moving into our new house we purchased a new fridge and washing machine. The Electrolux fridge was the most energy efficient one that I could find at the time, with an estimated usage of 349kWh/yr it is probably our largest electricity consumer in the house. Our Bosch washing machine was also selected with energy/water efficiency and longevity in mind. When picking lighting for the house I was on a mission not to include any dreaded halogen down lights in our home, a lot of houses that I’ve seen have over 30, 50W down lights installed, which as well as being inefficient, often comes with the added handicap of having square meters of uninsulated ceiling area for heat to escape. We went with good old baton holders and to begin with we opted for compact florescent lamps (CFL) for most of the fittings, however we did also install a few LED lights in the kitchen and bathrooms, which on the most part have been great, although one of them gives off a slightly yellow light. My aim would be to replace these all with LED’s as time goes on, recent technology improvements and price decreases have made this a much more viable option.

Edible Garden

The garden and landscaping has been a constant work in progress for us, sometimes I wish that we had just borrowed some extra money and finished it off to begin with. Before moving into this house I’d had limited experience and success with growing my own food, but food can be a large part of our environmental footprint that we leave on the planet and local food production, I believe, is an important part of the puzzle. We started out with four vege boxes which we rotate with different vegetables across the seasons. Although there have been times when our vege boxes have been neglected, we have had some wins. Tomatoes, strawberries, broad beans, snow peas, spring onions, potatoes, basil, parsley, kale, leeks, mint, oregano, rosemary, corn, chives, cucumbers, chillies, capsicum, eggplant, carrots, beetroot, spinach, lettuce, broccoli and pak-choy have all had a run in our vege boxes, some with more luck than others. An honorable mention goes to the zucchini plague of 2012, where we were inundated with zucchini’s for weeks on end, we couldn’t eat them quick enough or give them away fast enough, by the end of it Holly was sick of cooking them and wrote a great blog post called zucchinis 7 ways in 7 days, on some of the recipes we used.

Zucchini Plague

Along with the vege boxes, we’ve planted a few fruit trees, we had about 100 Gala apples off our dwarf apple tree this year and our lots o’ lemons tree is currently living up to its name, the lime and nectarine tree have been more reserved in their offerings and more recently I’ve purchased a blood orange, lemonade and mandarin, which upon writing are yet to go in the ground.

As far as dealing with food waste, we have got two worm farms going that eat up most of our vegetable scraps, turning them into rich usable compost for the garden. We’ve also experimented with a Bokashi bin, which allows you to include meat scraps for composting as well, but this is currently not in rotation due to us running out of the sprinkly stuff you put in it to help the bacteria “pickle” the contents. We have also installed a 5000 Litre water tank which helps us water the garden as well as supplying water for the toilet and laundry.

As I mentioned at the start there a few things that we would probably do differently next time and a number of things on the to-do list. Grey water is an area we have yet to delve into, chickens will still require a bit of convincing for my wife (although I think I’m nearly there). Wooden window and door frames next time, instead of aluminium due to the high conductivity of the aluminium, the double glazing is doing its job, but is being partly undermined by the heat let into the house through the frames in Summer, more LED lighting and more time in the garden are also on the list. One major thing that I feel was a mistake and I would change if I had my time again is the gas, I’m saying this because I’d like others to consider this when building. The heating itself and the costs are great, but on a larger level the idea that gas should be used as a transition fuel I think is flawed. I agree with Beyond Zero Emissions argument that we need to make a rapid move towards a renewable energy and energy efficient future by electrifying our buildings, and instead of wasting money on gas that will need to be transitioned away from at some time in the near future, we should be spending this on moving towards renewable energy sources to start with. If I had the choice I would put an energy efficient reverse cycle air conditioner in, to be used solely for heating.

I guess that covers a large part of what we’ve been trying to do around the house to live a more thoughtful and environmentally conscious life. The benefits have been great, reduced costs on our electricity, gas, water and food bills and an insight into living a less wasteful life a little closer to nature. Come along on Sustainable House Day, Sunday September 8th 2013 to check it out, the Surf Coast Energy Group and Geelong Sustainability Group have houses open across the greater Geelong region.

 

Aaron Lewtas

Director

Green Energy Options

Solar Panels and Shade

Shading can have a big effect on the performance of your solar power system. The amount of shading and the time of day may determine whether it is worthwhile putting solar panels on at all. Small amounts of shading at the start and end of the day may have minimal effects on output due to the losses being imposed on a reduced initial output. Ideally you want to have clear access to sunlight during the middle of the day between 9am to 5pm. Clouds will reduce the output of your solar system, but the panels will still receive dispersed light, its direct shading from trees, vent pipes and other objects that are of most concern.

Below is an example of electricity flow in a solar panel affected by shading.

The best way to assess the impact of solar on your rooftop is to have a shade analysis done. Green Energy Options use a SunEye to assess the impact of shade on your rooftop. The SunEye is a professional tool that takes a photograph of the surrounding objects through a fish eye lens, it then lays a sun path chart across the image showing the time of day and time of year that shading affects the location being assessed. The impact of shading for each month of the year is then calculated. We include the shading report in our estimates on your solar system’s output giving you an indication on how we expect your system to perform. Generally once you get above 10-20% of shading you need to consider if the solar system is going to have the effect that you intended, our aim is to put you in a position where you can make an informed decision.

 

SunEye Shade analysis

SunEye Shade analysis

It is important to be aware that in a standard solar system with a string inverter and 10 panels, shading on one panel can have a “weakest link” effect on the rest of the array, reducing the output of the whole string of 10. One option for reducing the impact of shading is to use micro-inverters. Micro-inverters individually optimise the output of each solar panel, so that shading on one panel doesn’t affect the output of its neighbors.

 

Shading micro-inverter vs string inverter

Shading micro-inverter vs string inverter

Image courtesy of Greenstar Micro-inverters

Green Energy Options can provide a detailed shade analysis of your site as well as options for both string and micro inverters. Give us a call to find out how you can go solar 1300 931 929.

 

2013 Sustainable House Day

Green Energy Options is supporting the Sustainable House Day again this year.

Coming up on Sunday September 8th, it is a fantastic day where people across the country open their homes to share their ideas on sustainable living.

We are sponsoring both the Geelong Sustanability Group and Surf Coast Energy Group who do a great job running the day. I’ll actually be opening up my home in Torquay as an example of a low cost energy efficient home, with solar power, solar hot water, double glazing and water tank just to name a few of it’s features.

It’s certainly a great chance to see what people are up to in the sustainable living space, so lock September 8th in your diary and get along to Sustainable House Day 2013.

Geelong Sustainable House Day Poster

Geelong Sustainable House Day Poster

Keeping in the solar loop

Solar power and renewable energy industries have been growing quickly over the last few years. With this fast growth comes fast change and it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with the improvements in technology, price variations, government policy shifts and industry news.

Looking at solar photovoltaics (PV) pricing in particular, it’s been dropping so quickly that if you looked at it three months ago, your information is probably out of date. Even the most optimistic forecasts for solar module prices haven’t predicted the rate at which they have decreased over the last few years. Many of the price decreases have been caused by an oversupply of panels worldwide, with many new manufacturers coming online in China and some companies having to sell their product at less than cost to be competitive. Now with the Australian dollar dropping and panel manufacturers trying to build back profit into their businesses, we are expecting panel prices in the short term could go up.

Anglesea Solar system

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