Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Decade with solar power

We’ve been meaning to write a blog looking back on the first ten years of living with solar power. We had intended saying how satisfying it was, to look in the “Electricity Bills” file and see nothing there, and to tell how smoothly everything has gone. These things still apply, but we do have to report that we did have a significant glitch late last year.

Our solar system is about 40m from the house (to get more sun exposure). Our batteries and inverter are located under the panels and are not well protected from the elements. This arrangement is not the best, for a number of reasons.

Although we have a keypad in the kitchen which gives us data readouts from the inverter we still have to go up the back to check specific gravity levels occasionally and top up the batteries with water. We probably don’t do this as often as we should because of distance (out of sight, out of mind)

Also the batteries would perform better (and probably last longer) if they were kept at a more constant temperature. In their present location, prevailing air temperatures vary from around zero in winter to close to 50 degrees in mid-summer (in full sun).

However the biggest disadvantage is that water could get into the system and cause damage. We found this out in November when someone accidentally left the lid of the inverter “weatherproof” box open. We won’t name names, but Andrew’s red complexion is not a result of sunburn. One morning we awoke to find ourselves without power. There had been some drizzle overnight and this had upset the inverter. Nothing we tried, would convince it to get over being a little damp, so we called on our friend, Jerry from Solarquip in Healesville.

Jerry came to the rescue that afternoon with a spare inverter (we were extremely lucky he was free and had a spare inverter on hand). After a quick “medical” he determined some specialist work was needed. We took the machine down to the manufacturer, Selectronics (conveniently located about 30 min away) and left it with them. As it turned out, it wasn’t too expensive and our system was back to normal not long after.

However, this event and our experience over the decade have highlighted a few important points. When buying a solar system, do not just select the supplier on price. Consider whether they are a reputable company that is likely to be around in decades to come and whether they will provide backup and service when needed. There is also an advantage in using a locally manufactured inverter. By the way Solarquip installs systems all over Melbourne and in some regional areas. See their website at for more information

Housing the inverter and batteries in a building attached to the house is more secure, guarantees protection from the elements and is more convenient. We are planning to do this in the near future for these reasons.

Solar Power doesn’t need a lot of maintenance or management and is very reliable. Our system is fairly small as it was originally envisaged that it would serve the needs of 2 adults. As it turned out we have had an average of 5-6 people using the system over the decade, so we have stretched it to its capacity and it has performed admirably (only failing through our carelessness). Mind you, we do have to be mindful of our energy use in winter and do have a petrol generator as a back-up (We plan to change this in the near future).

We have no regrets about going solar and having no electricity bills for ten years is very satisfying!


Mrs Bok - The Bok Flock said...

Terrific thanks for the info. When we renovate in a few years we are installing solar panels on the roof. It only makes sense although the initial outlay is considerable.

Andrew and Heather said...

Glad the info was of use Mrs Bok. BTW the outlay is considerably cheaper if you remain connected to the grid because you do not have to have batteries for storage.

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