My house sits on a ridge and a very large chunk of roof faces north – that means that it gets full sun for most of the day. [In the southern hemisphere the north side is hot, the south side remains cool]. So right from the beginning I I knew I would have to harvest some of that lovely solar power. Unfortunately the steepness of my roof and the fact that it sits on the two storey end of the house meant that I received nothing but negative responses to all my queries. Every summer was frustration for me.
Then, about mid-way through 2011 I decided that if I couldn’t get solar power I would console myself with solar hotwater. That decision was helped along by the fact that when the house was built I glossed over the whole question of hotwater and ended up with an electric hotwater system. Never having had an electric system before I did not realise how big a mistake I had made until the quarterly bills started coming in. At an average of $700 per quarter I cursed my lack of foresight but, being a scrooge, I lived with the bills because I hated the thought of throwing out a brand new and expensive piece of equipment. That fuzzy thinking cost me an arm and a leg over the next six years so my decision to go with solar hotwater was long overdue. Total cost = under $10,000.
The installation went smoothly and I was soon enjoying the benefits of solar hotwater during the day and instantaneous gas boosted hotwater at night. Unfortunately red tape meant that I did not begin enjoying the financial benefits until almost six months later. But more on that later.
A couple of months before Christmas 2011 I followed an impulse into a local solar/rainwater tank shop and asked about solar again. This time the nice man behind the counter looked my address up on google maps, had a look at my roof and said, ‘Sure we can do that but…’ The ‘but’ turned out to be an extra $1000 for the cost of scaffolding but at a total cost of $11,000 I said ‘yes’ on the spot. For my $11,000 investment I would get 12 solar panels installed and hooked up to an inverter [?] that would allow me to use my solar power for the house while sending my surplus to the grid. Again the installation went smoothly but then all sorts of horrible things came to light.
First and foremost I was told that my lovely new solar panels would have to be turned off until an inspector could come out and do his thing. Waiting time? 2-6 weeks. What? Summer was just beginning. I could end up missing at least half of it…
It turned out that the gods of chance were smiling on me because a very nice inspector came out just over two weeks later. Joy, joy, dance, dance. I was just doing my own homage to Rudolph Nureyev when the inspector turned to me and said that he would have to shut the system down again now. What? You have to be kidding me?
I think the poor man actually cringed away from me in fear as he hurriedly explained that if he left the system on before the utility company came and changed my electricity meter any surplus solar power I generated would count as power coming off the grid and COST ME!
By this stage I was ready to run down the roads of Warrandyte tearing my clothes off and screaming blue murder. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of my 50-something body traumatising the local kids as they came home from school. So instead I did the next most self-destructive thing I could think of – I told the inspector to leave that effing system on. Again I was saved by luck as the meter was changed early in January of 2012 instead of some time in February as might have been the case.
Now anyone who knows me knows that I am a calm, practical, logical woman. Most of the time. When I received my first proper electricity bill in late February I became something else entirely. The bill was for $750 and did not register either my solar consumption or my solar credits! No woman who invests $20,000 on solar power instead of buying a new car receives such a bill and stays sane and rational. I yelled a lot and then I sat down and typed a letter to my utility company. At the end of that letter I threatened them with court action if they did not immediately pull their effing finger out and FIX THIS!
Ok, I do admit my language was a tad less colourful but my intent was set in stone. To make sure they took me seriously I had the letter sent registered mail so they could not pretend they had not received it. And then I sat down to wait. I never did receive a formal response to my letter but well within the two week deadline I had given them I received a brand new amended bill that included $150 odd dollars for the alteration to the meter, a credit of $118 for my contribution to the grid and new charges of about $500. The bill was so complicated that I still don’t understand exactly how they arrived at that figure but there is only so much stress I can take in one month so I decided to let things go until the next bill.
Bearing all that in mind please take the following estimations with a grain of salt.
Total cost of solar installations [both panels and hotwater] = ~$20,000.00
Actual drop in electricity consumption = ~50%
Net gain in credits = $118.00
[Estimate for 12 months = $400.00]
Reduction in bill = ~$400 [after subtracting cost of meter alteration]
Clearly on these figures it is going to take me a very long time to recoup my costs but I am still hopeful that the utility company’s accounting system will eventually sort itself out and give me a better return on my investment. Given my experiences todate I’m not holding my breath.
My advice to anyone out there thinking of going solar – wait! The infrastructure that should be supporting the push towards solar is just not there yet and until it catches up with demand every new solar system installed is just going to overload the existing system even more.
I still get a huge kick out of going outside and looking up at my roof [lol colourbond, what else?]. All those solar panels make me feel good about every drop of sunshine we get. However I am seriously p*ssed off with the utilities. All of them are woeful and in a perfect world they would be obliged by law to pay us compensation for the grief they are still causing. But of course the world is as it is and my pollyanna bone is silent.