We’ve been resisting going solar for a while. It’s not that we don’t support the concept. It’s just that we’ve been to too many houses where solar panels are just an excuse to continue over-using energy. We figured first we needed to decrease our usage and then we would consider getting panels in.
Well we’ve decreased our usage to about about four and a half kilowatt hours a day, and after a bottle of wine and what can only be described as some fairly creative accounting we decided that now was the time. We shopped around a bit, well when I say we I actually mean Nikki. In the end we settled for the local provider after one company wasn’t interested in seeing the site and the other didn’t even bother sending us the quote.
We have no north facing aspect at all so we had to make a bit of a decision about what to do. The salesman came over and seemed quite happy to let us grill him for over an hour and a half with all our questions. I don’t know whether this is just because he’s pretty easy going, whether he was impressed that we had actually thought through some of the design possibilities and permutations or whether he pretty much knew when he walked through the door that we were likely to buy the biggest system that he had just because it was the right thing to do.
A couple of things came out of this for us. Number one was that it turns out that it’s good to be an energy company. You don’t have to pay people anywhere near what they pay you for electricity. This means that we had ended up putting a system that is about 5 times our usage just so that we could pay back for what we do use. This also lead us to having two banks of solar cells as it’s far more worthwhile to actually use what you generate when you generate it (because of the difference in tariffs). So we’ve got 8 panels on the east side that generate electricity for our morning peak (which we call coffee and breakfast) and 8 on the afternoon that cover our afternoon peak when the kids get home from school but we don’t generate as much in the middle of day which is fine since we don’t use as much.
I can’t say it was a fun activity since at the end of the day it actually came down to some elaborate guesswork as to which system is best since nothing is static or set in stone. In the end after all our attempts at modelling usage, tariffs and pay back time it actually became a question about why were we getting panels in the first place and if it was to decrease use of fossil fuels (with all the above things either being murky or equal) then you get the biggest system you can. I also didn’t like the people on the roof. I’m part of the state emergency service and have been to too many houses when it’s bucketting down and somebody is complaining that there is water leaking through the light fittings only to find a broken tile or two. The installers didn’t fill me full or confidence with their roof top style, nor did the huge amount of angle grinding help. It’s good that I’m a bit paranoid about this though since after they had finished I went up on the roof and replaced four tiles that they had missed.
But it’s done now and I’m really pleased we made the leap. I really like the look of the cells and the fact that people can see them sort of works like a ‘no junk mail’ sticker, it makes a statement that we think getting away from fossil fuel power is a good thing. I equally like the fact that we are not burning brown coal to generate electricity, this method being one of the least efficient, dirtiest generation methods around. But most of all I like the fact that despite all the efforts of an industry that will stop at nothing to maintain it’s polluting monopoly it is now economically cheaper to go solar and that every dollar we have spent will be a dollar we don’t give them.
I don’t think solar is the answer, I think behaviour change is the only way out of the binds we’re in but I do like not paying power companies to pollute.
I think one of the really interesting things in this is the fact that you’ve got your usage so low. As you say, that’s what it’s actually all about. So what did you do to achieve that? What are the main things left, that you think are worth powering? I’m interested in principle. And also, as a renter, the reduce option is the only one open to me, so I’m interested in practice.