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solar panels

Our new solar system.  So exciting, and it has been surprisingly affordable – solar technology is moving ahead so fast now. Eighteen 250 watt panels – way more power than we will ever use in the house, but enough, so the plan is, to run an electric car. Or van actually – this is the one we’re looking at.

We’ve lived with stand alone solar long enough to have learned how to be very frugal with electricity without sacrificing any quality of life things.  All our lights are now LED (with candles for dinner party mood lighting or quiet, listening to music evenings). The TV is 17 inch LED.  The computers are laptops.  Electronics are pretty good with electricity consumption so long as you turn them off when you’re not using them.

Electric motors can use serious power if you use them a lot. The food processor only gets used for seconds at a time, so it doesn’t count. I sweep rather than vacuum.  The washing machine is a twin tub – both water and energy efficient and very kind on clothes.  The fridge is a small (80 litre) and super efficient, and we eat mostly fresh food anyway.

The big energy guzzlers are heating and cooling – so solar hot water boosted by a slow combustion wood stove in winter, that also heats the house and is used for cooking. A gas stove and a little, stick burning Japanese barbeque for summer cooking, no kettle, no toaster (boil the kettle on the stove, cook toast under the griller).  In summer, we practically live on our north facing verandah, shaded in summer by a big deciduous pecan tree that works as a natural air conditioner. And the bloke’s latest project (actually ongoing for quite a while now, but finally getting to nearly there) is a reed bed filtered swimming pool – or more like a Japanese bath house really – for when it is really really hot.

So with nearly 5 kva, we will be so power wealthy we won’t know what to do with it until the van becomes a reality!

This is our old system.

our old solar system

See the tiny panel second from the top? That with a car battery was our original solar system. It’s now 30 years old, and has well and truly earned its cradle to grave power cost.  It powered a couple of lights (one at a time), a radio, a CB, and little black and white portable TV very occasionally.  No washing machine – I washed nappies in a little hand operated washing machine like this one. No fridge. We had a kero fridge for a while but it was so smelly and unreliable I just stopped using it.

They were hard days, but it also meant no power bills, and the money saved went into escaping the trap of not enough capital to afford the infrastructure to save the capital to afford the infrastructure to….

We added another little panel a few years later (which has moved on to powering the new swimming pool pump), then the two panels at the top and the bottom were added 22 years ago – enough power to run a very tiny 12 volt fridge and a computer.  Then, about 15 years ago we bought the eight middle panels second hand. Two of them have since died, but all in all we’ve come out way way ahead in power bills over the years.  And never any unexpected blackouts.

I watched a Foreign Correspondent episode about coal seam gas in USA a few days ago and it was shocking to see how sucked in they are. I live in a region being fracked for coal seam gas. Our road has declared itself Gas Field Free – Protected by Community, but unfortunately the air and water don’t recognise boundaries. Let alone the climate. It stuns me that people behave like fish, just taking dollar bait dangled in front of them, even when it is so painfully obvious that it’s a scam and they’re just going to end up flapping on the shore, losing their home, their environment, their life support system.  When it’s just so stupidly, stupidly unnecessary.  5 kva of electricity on our shed roof, powered by the sun and with no emissions at all.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Maria Northcutt December 30, 2012, 4:12 pm

    Beautiful!! We have solar for our horse fencing. I would love to have it for the whole ranch. That´s something we´re manifesting for the future.

  • VickiH December 31, 2012, 9:01 pm

    Hello Linda, Thats a fabulous solar system! I’m looking to get a slow combustion wood stove before next winter. What make is yours, and would you recommend it? Can you give any pointers on what I should look for when selecting one. I will be using it mostly for heat, with some cooking – as the house already has an electric stove. thanks, VickiH

  • narf7 December 31, 2012, 9:36 pm

    Solar is too expensive for us at the moment but we are saving up to get it. I would love to never have to pay a spiralling power bill again! Cheers for this motivating post 🙂

  • Linda January 1, 2013, 7:29 am

    Hi Vicki, ours is a Rayburn, bought second hand and probably over 100 years old. They’re fearfully expensive new. We rebricked it last year, and it will probably go for another 100 years. I love how stuff built in those times lasts. It had been last used by the grandmother of the person we bought it from and the house had been renovated around it. Rayburns are heavy. Getting it out was very much like “Right Said Fred.” The good things about it are that it uses relatively little wood and if I shut it down at night, there are still coals in the morning, and I can just add another log and keep it going all day. It’s great for cooking and producing hot water (although sometime this summer we will have to flush out the silt in the pipes), and it produces ash for the garden. The bad things about it are that we use a good couple of trailer loads of hardwood over winter, and our winters are relatively short, and you can’t watch the fire.

  • Linda January 3, 2013, 7:13 am

    Wow! Your original system was amazing! I really enjoyed this post. I’m a big believer of ‘making do’. People are shocked that we don’t run our air conditioner except if we feel like we’re dying! It’s ok to be hot sometimes but everyone has become so used to expecting total comfort at all times. We need to make some changes to our home (which we can’t afford at the moment) to make it more summer friendly and then hopefully we’ll never need air con. You inspire me to do more!

  • Lissa January 4, 2013, 6:32 am

    Good read blog Linda, thank you 🙂 Really quite envious and inspired by your set up. I’m still humming and harring about ANY solar system let alone something as impressive as this new one of yours. Is that little electric van available in Australia yet?

  • Linda January 4, 2013, 6:56 am

    Hi Lissa, not yet, but we are hoping it will become available this year.

  • Anonymous January 9, 2013, 8:03 am

    Oh how I love your solar setup. I really wish I could go back in time and have the wiseness you had when you were younger to do this.we have realised we have built the ‘wrong ‘ way for solar- but one day it dawned on us that we don’t have to use the electricity – so like others we dont’ use the air conditioning unless we are desperate and have ‘power free’ weekends where we see how long we can last without it .YOur system puts our ideas to shame though.
    AS for coal seam gas , I feel exactly the same.Even if we stand strong, all they have to do is buy the property nearby and still affect the water aquifers on our farm-but the more people understand /the harder it will be for these companies. I recommend that everyone reads ‘Rich Land, Wasteland’ by Sharon Munro which is about how coal is killing Australia….her stories of people’s experiences are quite scary. I put this book out in our farm stay rooms in the hopes that our city friends will take home an understanding of what is happening .

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