Looking at getting Solar Power in 2011

Part of a solar arrayWe have been looking into getting solar power to reduce our carbon footprint here in our suburban home. We have a West/East facing roof and we expect to extend our house in maybe three or four years and gain some North facing roof, so we’d been leaving solar panels on the back burner thinking we’d worry about them then.

But. At the moment where we live in Australia there is a very good feed-in tariff, set for 20 years from the time you sign up, and also a good (federally provided) subsidy for installation. And both of those things are set to go down this July. The feed-in tariff has already been reduced once, and is set to do so every year for the next few years.

So we’ve been considering whether it would be more cost effective to buy now, even if only a small set up, and get hooked into the grid, and then add more later when we have a North facing roof. There are brackets you can use to lift up the panels on the West facing roof, to get better efficiencies. Of course, that costs more and also takes more space, since you need to have them further apart to ensure one panel is shadowing the next one. However, to be locked into a better feed-in tariff rate for the next 20 years, not to mention having and extra three or four years of solar power, it’s probably worth it from a cost perspective.

At the moment the federal subsidy works about to be about $6200 in Canberra for a 1.5 kw system or bigger (how much it is depends on where you live, as it is based on the energy produced by your system). Also this year the ACT conservation council has organised a discount for people booking through them with a particular installer – how much depends on your system size, but it’s $150 for a 1.5 kw system. Not a huge amount when you are talking several thousand dollars, but better than nothing. Maybe it will cover the cost of one of those brackets. So for the minimum sized system we’d be paying less than $4000, plus whatever extra it costs to install with the brackets.

To get a slightly bigger system the price goes up significantly, since $6200 is the maximum subsidy. But then I have a friend who is getting a solar system installed who has managed to swing an interest free loan (through the installer I think) to be paid back over three years. By her calculations the system will have completely paid for itself in five years, so basically she’ll have a small extra expense for the next three years and then it’s all roses from there. It’s looking rather attractive really.

Of course, the cost of residential solar power systems keeps going down – which is the justification for the government reducing their subsidies – so maybe the cost difference won’t be that great whether we do it now or later. But in that case, why not get the extra few years of green energy? We’ll be calling to get some quotes this week.

Living more sustainably, bit by bit

I’m falling behind in my NaBloPoMo commitment and we’re not even half way through the month yet. Who knew it would be so hard? It’s not for lack of thinking of posts though!

I am happy to say however, that exactly what I’d hoped would happen with starting this blog, is happening, namely that the more I research and write about sustainable living, the more motivated I am to put the concepts into place myself. So, having written a post yesterday about easy ways to save money on electricity, I’ve realised how far we’ve back slid over the past year or two.

Sure, we turn off our monitor when it’s not in use and have changed the light bulbs over for CFLs, but we’re falling down on getting the kids to turn things off when they’re finished – and in doing it ourselves in all honesty. And, we’ve gotten in the habit of leaving the phone charger plugged in when it’s not in use, and because it’s on the same power board as our clock radio, it doesn’t get turned off at the power point. So the first step for us now is to switch out that power board with one with individual switches.

But the big thing I’m going to do next is to involve the children more. We’re going to have a family meeting (which we haven’t had since Babe Number Three was born), and it’s going to be all about energy savings. I’m going to do a simple energy audit, checking our & gas use for a week, and then set some goals with them for how much we can reduce it. Then we’ll look at our power bills and see how much money we can save. That’s not really a big motivation for us, but I think if we actually see how much it is and figure out what we can do with that money, as a family, then it will help motivate the children – and probably us too!

Our longer term goal is to install a solar power system, but at the moment we’re concentrating on reducing our overall energy use. On Sunday this week we’re planning to go visit Canberra’s Sustainable House for more inspiration, and information.

New solar LED garden lights and Solar Powered November

Since I’m doing NoBloPoMo this month, which means posting every day, I’ve decided a theme is in order. Now you might think I’ve already set a food theme with my new vegetarian dishes posts, but no. Since I bought some solar LED garden lights earlier this week (lantern style, but more on that later), and besides have been thinking about other ways to use domestic solar power, I’m declaring it a Solar Powered November. I’m going to research all manner of solar powered home appliances, and related issues like how to save electricity in general.

Now, as to the lights I have bought…

I chose some Gardmans Lattice Lanterns, mostly because I wanted some lanterns style lights and those were the only ones in Bunnings (I’d link, but they’re not on the Bunnings website). They came in a pack of four (and were AU$29.95), which I plan to use three of in our front courtyard, where we like to have BBQs of a summer evening, and one out the front of the courtyard, where our front door light keeps blowing. We just put a new compact fluorescent in there a couple of weeks ago, and it’s blown already!

These lanterns only have one LED each, which seemed to be pretty standard, so I’m not sure how much light they will really give, but the front door light doesn’t give much anyway as it is behind a bottlebrush tree. I will place this one a bit closer to the driveway and hopefully it might have some effect.

Like many solar garden lights, these turn on automatically when it is dark. They also have an ‘off’ setting, but they don’t seem to have a straight ‘on’ setting, and the instructions are to use them without any other light, as that could cause them to flicker. Likewise they are to be placed at least a metre and a half apart, so the light of one doesn’t turn the next one off. So that gives a good indication of how far their light goes I guess.

I haven’t seen them in action yet, and I’m not sure if four will be sufficiently useful, but I’ll write review when I have used them a bit.

Some easy vegetarian dishes and a pledge to eat less meat in November

Meat eating – especially red meat eating – is a hazard to the environment.* And we have too much meat in our diet: we need more vegetarian dishes. Preferably ones the kids will eat. And we shall have them, starting with the recipes below.

I used to be a vegetarian. When I first got involved with my (now) husband he was a meat eater who ate very few vegetables. So we met somewhere in the middle, initially eating only organic or bio-dynamic meat. But somewhere along the line (was it when we became two-half-incomes plus kids instead of double income no kids?) my standards slipped. We still buy some organic meat, but not all. And then there are the kids, who are both voracious meat eaters. And not such voracious vegetable eaters. Especially the older one.

So my pledge for November is to introduce two new vegetarian recipes each week. I’m going to look for things that will tempt my children, but I’m not going to worry about that too much, because I know they probably won’t respond well to new food the first time it’s presented anyway. I’ll just make sure there’s salad and bread on the side. I’m also going to preference quick vegetarian recipes, because Babe Number Three is pretty tired by dinner time, so if it’s not something I can pre-prepare in the slow cooker, or cook a big pot of and freeze some, it needs to be quick and easy to make.

Vegetarian dishes already on our menu include:

  • Vegetarian chili
  • Cheese and beans burritos
  • Pasta with a veg tomato sauce
  • Quesadillas
  • Various soups (pumpkin, zucchini, vegetable)
  • Dahl curry

New Vegetarian dishes we are going to try:

I’ll add more links as I decide on them, and to keep me accountable, I’ll report back on how the new dishes go (and what the kids think) as I go. In fact, I might even ask the kids for some words of review! 🙂

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*Although, according to that link, a 2003 Swedish study found that organic beef was (surprise surprise) better for the environment than other beef (40% less emissions and 85% less energy used).

Vegetarian dishes
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