Going green

More solar

Now the solar hot water is installed and happy, I was pondering further solar installations. The question is: is it more effective to get my own solar panels, and get green power for whatever I can’t generate myself, or just switch entirely to green power?

First thing to do is reduce my consumption. My previous bills indicate it’s generally in the range of 8-10 kWh per day. And thanks to Josh giving me the Watt-O-Meter (or whatever it’s called), I know how many watts most of my appliances use. (Does anybody else want to have a go with this thing? I should pass it on.)

Almost all the bulbs have already been replaced with CFLs, need to get the last couple of tricky installations done.

I’ve isolated the computers so they are now switched off at the wall. From the Watt-O-Meter I know the computers and the XBox together use 45 W while doing nothing, so if they’re switched off two-thirds of the time (and it’s probably more than that), that’s 0.72 kWh saved. Most of the other appliances don’t draw that much power when not being used, but I’ll see what else can be done.

If I get panels, 1 kW solar installation is now about $4500 after rebates. Unlike people who are off in the wilderness, off the grid, this doesn’t use batteries, but works in conjunction with existing electricity supply: if you’re generating more than you’re using, the excess is pumped into the grid and you actually earn money for it. If you’re using more than you’re generating, the excess is pulled from the grid, and you pay for it.

Apparently typically a 1 kW solar system in Melbourne will produce 3.15 kWh per day, so effectively I’d be saving about a third of my electricity bill and associated emissions (though the amount saved depends whether that’s peak or off-peak).

A 1.5 kW system — costing about $8700 after rebates — would produce 4.7 kWh per day.

Given Victoria’s reliance on filthy brown coal for power generation, I really like this idea. It’s a bit pricey though, and I think it should be measured-up against investing in green power elsewhere which might be more efficient.

Switching to 100% green power is the other thing. (I’m on Origin’s Green for Footy plan, but that’s only 20% green power. It’s not that obvious when you join, which is why I chose it…) Tony pointed out this survey of suppliers.

For Victoria, Origin (who I’m already with) will provide 100% green power for an extra 5-6 cents (depending on whether it’s wind or solar) per kWh above the normal rates.

So which 100% green power works out cheapest?

Rough calculations based on my current usage…

100% green power for all my usage would cost about $197.10 extra per year.

Getting a 1 kW solar installation would cost me $4500 and an extra $128.11 per year to convert the rest of my power to Green.

Getting a 1.5 kW solar installation would cost me $8700 and an extra $94.17 per year.

While I’d like nothing better than to cover my roof in more solar panels, perhaps for now it’s easiest (and less capital outlay) to convert to 100% green power.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

14 replies on “More solar”

Your work and awareness raising is fantastic, but I can’t help thinking there should be more we can do.

I walked past an automatic door the other day and it opened for me even though I didn’t go through it. I got me thinking about how much electricity they use each time and how that can add up. I don’t understand why society needs automatic doors. Yes, they’re easier, but on the other hand, maybe our muscles are atrophying through lack of use and we should go back to opening doors.


I think you have reached an interesting point (and question) on your journey towards a smaller ‘footprint’.

We start by changing light globes and (hopefully)progress to thinking about investments of 1000’s of $$. It’s perhaps a knee-jerk response for us to assume that we must ‘go for solar’ because that seems to be the ‘right thing to do’. Maybe it is.

But then we (should) start to think ‘rationally’ (as economists would define it) and wonder whether that’s a smart way to invest our money. I think that’s a great question because there are alternatives – it’s not a simple decision. As you point out – in Australia – there is accredited GreenPower (

I love the idea of solar panels. But they are expensive and if people think that’s the only way to be ‘green’ regarding electricty, then they’d likely be scared out of their financial pants into inaction. And one could consider that it’s estimated that it takes about 18 months of use before those panels have ‘paid back’ on the carbon that we released during their manufacture.

I know a few folks who have ‘promised’ to get solar stuff installed and just can’t bring themselves to do it. One call is all it takes for GreenPower.

That’s why I’d humbly suggest to folks to go for 100%GreenPower right away. Ponder the tough questions about solar power whilst you bask in the warm glow of knowing that for

Friends in Wollongong (who’re building their own home) told me there’s a new solar light fitting available that doesn’t need a big solar panel but is individually wired to it’s own mini solar panel on the roof.
Not sure on the safety standard difference between each state but this sounds reasonable and I’m waiting for better LED technology (which is in the pipeline) before I fork out my hard earned for large solar panels.

Our household has gone 100% Green Power, based on the same sort of calculations.

While I wish the grid infrastructure was unnecessary, there must be economies of scale in the generation side of things. 1000 huge solar panels that follow the sun must be cheaper than 10000 small panels on individual roofs?

Coal has a bad reputation in the USA too. It contributes to acid rain in our northeast as well as CO2. We use mostly black coal in US coal fired plants. Here in Florida we have power generated with oil,natural gas,and nuclear power. The Turkey Point nuclear power plant is just south of Miami, Florida. This plant and the Port Everglades oil fired plant supply much of the power used here in South Florida. Nuclear power plants do not pollute the air but there is much controversey about them over safety and raidoactive waste.

While reasearching Australia I heard of the Snowy River scheme and I thought it generated much of the power used in southeast Australia. Does hydro power contribute much to the grid in Victoria or is it mostly coal generated? I saw on TV a proposed solar tower to be built in Australia. Hot air rising in the tower will drive wind turbines to generate power and it would be one of the tallest structures on earth if completed. Solar power would seem to be the way to go in such a sunny country!

Suzie, you may be right. Doors help airconditioning work more efficiently, but perhaps they don’t all need to be automatic. Mind you, these days there are issues with hand operated doors and wheelchair users.

Tony, yeah that’s how I’m leaning.

Jed, most power in Victoria is brown coal, which is the dirtiest kind. Tasmania has substantial hydro power.

Excellent move there, Daniel.

I think if the government are serious about climate change, they would have aborted the now-being-constructed coal station in the La Trobe valley. Typical Labor hypocrisy.

It is also possible to get Green Power *and* solar PV panels :-)

The economics of whether to get panels could change dramatically if we get a decent feed-in tariff in Victoria. Feed-in tariffs mean you get paid a premium for the energy you export to the grid (i.e. a higher rate than what you pay for the energy you buy).

The rationale, apart from encouraging renewable energy, is that distributed generation like this requires less transmission infrastructure and that production from such systems often nicely matches peak demand (e.g. air conditioners on sunny days) so less centralised generating capacity is needed. So these savings can be used to reward the people with panels on their roof.

Feed-in tariffs in Europe have been a *major* factor in very rapid growth of solar in countries such as Germany which has overtaken Australia! There is talk of a feed-in tariff for Victoria, but the details are still being worked out. See the Alternative Technology Association website for more info and who to lobby.

I’m thinking LED bulbs will be the next big thing as well, also a company called nanosolar are just begining to roll out production of supposedly really cheap flexible solar panels, I’m holding out high hopes those will be easy to buy and cheap enough when I consider solar panels.

Hey Daniel,

What sort of guarantees is your power company providing you that the power you’re consuming will be provided by renewable sources?

I’m not talking the specific electrons you’re getting, but that somewhere the 8KWH you’re using per day is being put into the grid somewhere from these sources.

My reason for asking is that the information I’ve read indicates that the existing renewable sources are already over-subscribed, and that the premium charged by power companies isn’t enough to compensate for this.

‘course, I could be reading wrong data… :)

Yes, I agree wheelchair users have problems with non-automatic doors, but it’s possible to put a button within reach for them. A lot of the doors are sliding doors so it should be relatively easy to convert the automatic into a button push method.

I’m incredibly cynical and suspicious when it comes to Green Power. There is no way of knowing that the company really is buying energy created in a sustainable manner. This is just the sort of thing that well-meaning people can get sucked into by greedy corporations. Big business can’t really be trusted just look at the greed driven financial problems the world is going through right now. It is for this reason that I would avoid green power and go straight for putting solar panels on the roof. As soon as I have saved up enough money I will be doing exactly that.

Suzie, automatic doors use a ridiculously small amount of power. Converting them to buttons is also a bad idea as wheelchair users that could push the button would, most likely, also be able to open an ordinary door. This just leaves people like me (muscular dystrophy & electric wheelchair) who would not be able to reach the button being stuck outside in the cold. And what’s to stop little kids pressing the button repetitively? In truth, automatic doors probably save power by keeping warm air inside. Sorry, I got a little carried away there.

Daniel, I will be adding your site to my blogroll. :)

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