It has been a little over a year now since we bit the bullet and purchased a connect to grid solar array and a solar hot water system. It took the power company over 6 months to install the much talked about “Dumb Meter” aka, “Smart Meter”, which meant that all of the power we were feeding back to the grid from July last year through to February this year, did not receive the full feed in tariff. Yes it did make the meter go backwards and yes that was kinda cool to see, but we were not getting our full financial benefits for 7+ months. Coupled with having to pay for the Dumb Meter, as we were on a waiting list for change over – didn’t want to hold my breath on that one (conservative estimate of 2-3 years at best before change over), it was in our interest to pay to get the meter changed over, and even then there was a 7 month wait… Suffice to say, any small benefit we had from the change over to the billing date, was eaten up very quickly by the cost of the meter. Our next quarter we had a significant surplus, which we knew would be reduced somewhat over the late autumn, winter and early spring periods. I have to admit, I thought we would be pretty close to paying for electricity this quarter, but we have just used half of our surplus, meaning at this rate, the next quarter we will break even – or there about and then start accumulating again – this time properly accounted for on the Dumb Meter.
Note: Why do I call it a Dumb Meter, well the meter itself does not provide ALL the information I would like. For the price we paid, it should also clean the house and cook dinner! In our previous house, the standard digital meter, which we did not have to pay for, gave me more info than this thing, hence – DUMB METER!
Unfortunately, we are not as happy with the solar hot water unit. In our climate, the heat pump we replaced was probably a better system so far as providing consistent hot water was concerned, however it did use a lot of energy, hence the swap. In summer, early autumn and mid spring on wards, it performs very well for a family of 5, come winter it is pretty useless. To save energy and maximise solar heating, the element is halfway up the tank, thus allowing the sun to heat up the other half for very minimal energy use (a small 18watt pump) during the day. Unfortunately, where we live, the daytime temperatures struggle to get close to double digits, reducing heating efficiency and by the end of a cold, cold day (pretty much every day), sun or no sun, we have to boost the system for 30mins so the kids can have a bath. As they get older, I can see that boost going from 30mins to 1 hour!
So this time next year instead of using the electricity boost, we hope to have installed a flu heat exchange for our wood heater. This should provide endless hot water as during this time of year, as the wood heater is going almost 24/7. Although we have reverse cycle heating – 1 large unit in the lounge room pretty much does the entire house – the wood heater is our main source of heating, with the reverse cycle only coming on when the fire is left to burn out (only a handful of times at most so far this year).
To sustain the fire, we have mostly used wood from our property in the form of fallen limbs and such, however, we will be planting 1 1/2 (or up to 2) acres of our land as a woodlot for firewood, furniture and building timber. It will take 10 years at best before we can start coppicing so in the meantime, I need to get my act together and stockpile firewood, sourced from sustainable plantations.
As far as carbon footprint goes with our heating – burning wood releases CO2 in the the atmosphere, however, the trees we get our wood from absorb CO2 as they grow, this CO2 then gets released as we burn it, which gets absorbed by other trees as they grow etc… Effectively this cycle creates a net “zero” carbon footprint, so long as the wood burnt is replaced, which it will be when we have our own woodlot, but until then, the wood will be sourced from fallen limbs and sustainable plantations!