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What is solar and how does it work?
Understanding how your solar works and what happens to your solar power when it’s generated can be a real advantage but a lot of customers that we come across that are new to solar (and even some that have solar for years) are still not sure of the basic mechanics of the system.
Well it’s time to take ownership! Once you read this quick guide from Solarhunters, you will no longer be a part of the uneducated solar owners group!
At the most basic level, your solar system is a generator. Solar panels contain materials that energise when hit by UV rays, creating an electric field which is then converted to DC electricity which is channelled to the inverter. The solar inverter converts this DC power to AC power and feeds power into your home or business.
So what happens to solar power when it’s not used?
Any unused solar power is fed into the electricity grid, this supplements power for your neighbours to use, for which you’ll usually get a small credit on your bills. The problem with this scenario is that most power grids across Australia are severely outdated or under-resourced and simply can’t handle the sheer level of excess solar power that is being pumped into the grid at some points. This has been used to encourage polarisation in renewable energy by governments leaning on the “problems with solar power” to push their own agendas but really, is this not just highlighting the unbelievable potential of the sheer efficiency of rooftop solar in Australia?
Do we really think “too much power” is ever really a problem? The solution is simple… FIX THE GRID!! I’ll take a breath… Anyways… The point we are driving towards here is that the solution is very simple.. To paraphrase severely undereducated onion aficionado himself, Sir Tony Abbot, (as well as the countless other following backstabbing colleagues who snatched the throne) “when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow”…
What is the answer?? Warning rant approaching. Skip to the next section if you don’t want to talk politics!
The real answer, on a national scale, Is BATTERIES! Not one measly gas fired power plant costing taxpayers more than $600 million dollars, not the bloated ghosts of the distant energy production past coal, which along with gas and oil received 10.3 BILLION DOLLARS in Government subsidies in 2020-2021 (just to shut down the die-hard coal lobbyist trolls out there who about to try on the ‘renewables govt. subsidy argument’).
The time has come to push on “innovation”(remember… that message the government has pushed so very hard on the voting public since 2016! That very innovation that successive liberal governments have been standing in the way of and blocking for the past 6 years!) Batteries ARE the answer! Even hydro (yes pumped storage acts just like a battery) in some cases works well (not factoring in the environmental impacts of most proposals, but that discussion we will save for some other time).
The practical government solution is investing in both community solar batteries and home solar batteries with intelligent grid systems that can supply peak demand by pulling stored power from home or community-based battery systems (win) and distribute that electricity over shorter distances (another win) to places of high demand in the neighbouring properties (win/win!).
The cherry on top? That electricity, when pulled from a battery to meet peak demand will come with a nice little premium for the system owner giving you a top rate for that power! That has the potential to help to mitigate (in a small way) yet another rapidly rising little problem in communities, the rising cost of energy (and the cost of living in general really) and stagnating incomes.
The lack of federal funding for solar batteries is excruciatingly frustrating for anyone in the renewables industry that can see the writing on the wall as well as for homeowners paying more and more every quarter for electricity. Solar batteries are a developed technology, more than up to the task as publicly proven already by projects like the SA battery. That frustration compounds for those of us in states like NSW with very little innovative thinking in the way of battery projects (although admittedly more than their federal counterparts). Paying in excess of 12k for a battery system just doesn’t add up in the ROI for the average homeowner across NSW. So… we wait!
Rant over and back to the point.. Regardless of the government, what’s the answer for ME right now?
Solar power without a solar battery?
So how do I outsmart that greedy electrical company with the help of my home’s solar system without a solar battery? Well this is where technology plays a big part once again! The trick is to optimise your usage to consume your solar power more effectively. That may sound a little too easy but don’t get me wrong, it can be a bit of work upfront.
Optimising your solar energy usage sounds like a great solution, but how do I do it?
Step 1: Work out how much power you need.
Calculate your home’s energy usage and design a solar system with the most suitable amount of solar panels and the most efficient solar inverter for your needs. This, accompanied by the correct solar system design for your rooftop and your home’s environment (trees, shading, location ect.), will get you on track to tackle as much of that day-time power as you possibly can ideally leaving a little extra to send back to the grid for credits for now and charge a decently sized battery down the track. Don’t forget to include a consumption meter in the design so you can see how efficient you are using your solar power and how much you are using and selling to the grid.
If you are totally lost already and need the help of an expert team with the design and installation of the highest quality solar system then feel free to give us a call at Solarhunters. We have you covered! 😉
Step 2: Take advantage of all that data!
Utilise that new bidirectional (solar) meter. This new meter has the capability to track the power usage (from the gird) at certain times so you should start to consider time-of-use metering. Time of use metering gives you more control over how much you are paying for your electricity when you do need to buy power from the grid (when your solar is not supplying enough to meet you usage ie. at night).
The standard setup for time-of-use metering is broken into three rates. Peak; Shoulder and Off Peak. These rates are usually tied to times of low and high demand on the grid.
The Off-Peak rate is your friend! This rate is often close to half the standard peak rate and can be taken advantage of automatically using some pretty cheap and crafty add-ons to your house! This rate is typically from 10pm to 7am.
The Peak rate will be the highest, sometimes double what you would pay on a flat rate! This rate is your enemy.. Stay away! This rate usually clocks in at about 2pm to 8pm. Obviously it may be hard to reduce energy during these times. You may have a totally electric home and the deep Winters mean that cooking, heating and… general living is pretty much all done after sunlight hours on weeknights. We can address that a little in Step 3!
The Shoulder rate is the rate in between the other two. It is usually a few hours of the day 7am-2pm and 8pm-10pm and is pretty much equal to the standard rate you would pay on a flat rate.
This new bidirectional meter of yours can also provide you with valuable data about your current power usage revealing patterns in your usage and help you to start cracking down on that usage. You can often use this along with your solar monitoring if you don’t have a consumption meter to get a good read on your power usage patterns but it will be a little clunkier than forking out for the proper consumption meter to work with your solar inverter.
Step 3: Optimisation stage. Off-Peak-ify everything!!
So the off peak rate on average kicks in at 10pm and switches over at 7am. Forget the fact that you may be sleeping during these times. We are in a modern age guys! Built-in digital timers, plugin and retrofit smart home devices and Wifi all make light work of this problem and these devices are no longer a shining light at the end of the tunnel, these days you can pick them up starting at 30 bucks at Bunnings and set them up within 5 minutes! Set your heavy appliances like dryers, washing machines, pool filters and any other large consumers that run on your peak meter up with digital timers to kick in after 10pm.
If you want to take it a step further and enjoy the benefits of the modern smart-home, you can set schedules and “countdown timers” to make sure other devices like heated towel rails, TV’s, lamps and even your household lights (pretty much anything with a power point or a switch) to come on and off at certain times and days of the week and only stay on for a certain amount of time once turned on as well. The latter mentioned feature is very handy for devices that are easy to forget to turn off when leaving the house like heated towel rails, fans and lights. Trust me, this WILL save you money, time and stress if you tend to forget things and you are often in a hurry like myself.
One really big benefit to these devices, apart from restricting unnecessary power usage due to forgetfulness, is the ability to use your devices when you are not home! This means you can set things like washers, dryers, air purifiers and reverse cycle air conditioners, heaters, fans and lights to come on at lunch when your solar is at peak or a couple of hours before you leave work with the afternoon sun is hitting those panels. This feature is invaluable in the Summer for most of our customers as it allows them to cool their home with the air-conditioning powered by solar when they would otherwise be doing this one or two hours later and using grid power. In the Winter it can also come in handy with the help of an inverter air-conditioner to warm the house using solar in the afternoon and keep it warm on the automatic setting using very little power until you reach your super-cosy home and take those layers off worry-free.
Some of the low cost gear we have tested out to date include the Arlec Grid connect system (Wifi), Pixie bluetooth lighting switches and Sensibo Air conditioning Wifi retrofit devices. We have also utilised the in-built Wifi of our Delonghi 2 in 1 dehumidifier/purifier and the in-built time delay start feature of our Samsung heat pump clothes dryer to reduce our demand on the grid. These devices, while they can take some time setting up and definitely have their flaws with all the typical Wifi and NBN connectivity issues, are an excellent start on a low budget and we have found to be a great investment to keep those dreaded power bills down!
So there it is. In Short:
- Get Solar
- Study your power habits
- Cut what power usage you can
- Shift the rest to off peak
- Watch your next bill slash to pieces!
Get on it!
Cheers, Tony from Solarhunters.
P.S No sponsorships here, just pure scientific research (ie. playing with new toys we found interesting). Although if anyone from these companies is listening… we are totally open to getting paid to recommend stuff we like! 😛