It has been a while since I posted a question from a reader, so here goes. Today's question(s) come from Natalie, with her permission, hailing from somewhere in Australia.
Hi GavinWell Natalie, thanks for the questions. I will try and answer them to the best of my knowledge.
My husband and I have been discussing the installation of solar panels for our home, but have a few concerns about what the electricity companies are up to. I know you are a big supporter of solar generation in homes, so I wanted to ask your opinion.
Due to the prohibitive cost, we cannot store the electricity generated for our own use, and must feed it back into the grid. Then when we use electricity, we are buying it from the electric company. They have already drastically cut the feed in tariffs, what do you think the long term situation will be? What if they stopped paying anything for the feed in?
Shouldn't it be the electric companies responsibility to pay for installation of solar infrastructure? It will only reduce our personal power bills while they continue to pay a high feed in rate.
I don't know a great deal about the mechanics of how it works, if you are home during the day when electricity is being generated are you using that or still feeding it into the grid and buying back?
We love the idea of being self sufficient and generating our electricity and using the sun's natural energy, however we are starting to think this is only truly feasible if you can store what you generate for your own use.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as I'm sure you are much better informed than I am. Thanks for continuing to publish such an informative and useful blog. I've been a reader for quite a long time, I'm sorry I don't often comment!
Types of Solar Photovoltaic (PV)
Firstly lets talk about the mechanics or rather the electronics of it. I am no expert but I have a basic understanding, which I hope my mate Mick may be able to expand upon. I believe that you are referring to the three basic types of Solar PV, the grid tied, standalone and hybrid.
Standalone Solar PV
The standalone system does indeed require large banks of batteries for storage, as it has no grid connection. Many of these types of systems have either a wind turbine or diesel generator as a backup for when it is overcast for a few days and the current in your batteries becomes low. You can be truly independent or in your words self sufficient with this type of system. You will become master of your own domain, but the cost is sometimes prohibitive if you are a high energy user.
Grid Tied Solar PV
With the grid tied system there is no battery backup, with the electricity generated by the system fed into the main switchboard of your house. The house electrical circuits draw upon this electricity first, and then any excess is fed back into your local grid. You are usually paid what is known as a feed-in tariff for this excess electricity by you electricity retailer, which I believe in Victoria is $0.25 per kWh, which also happens to be about the same price you pay for electricity that you draw from the grid when your solar system is not generating enough to supply your household needs.
Think of the grid as a big battery that you pump extra kWh into during the day, and draw down on from during the night. If you have generated a large enough buffer during the day, then you are essentially, in a round about way, self sufficient albeit with a dependency upon the reliability and stability of the national grid. If you have a blackout, your grid inverter must disconnect as well (by law). This is in case any power company linesmen are working in your area, which will protect them from electrocution from any potential electricity being fed into the grid by a local solar PV system.
Hybrid Solar PV
Lately, some installers have been offering what is known as a hybrid system, which is both grid tied, with a small battery backup in case of blackout. You can size your battery bank depending on your perception of grid stability in your area. It will cost more than grid tied, but probably less than a standalone system (Mick, please confirm).
As you directly benefit from the installation of a solar PV system on your property, I do not understand you question regarding your proposal of the energy company should pay for the infrastructure. Remember that your house uses the electricity the system generates first, before it is exported to the grid. You get the benefit of the system before anyone else does. If you had a hybrid, the batteries would take the excess into storage, then export to the grid, which is even more beneficial to the owner.
I do not believe that governments are that stupid that they would drop feed-in tariffs completely. You would be providing an important resource, which is subsidised far less than fossil fuel generated electricity, and with far less maintenance costs, especially in states where the electricity company is government owned. At worst I believe that they will maintain the feed-in tariff at parity with the grid price per kWh. Realistically this is the same situation I found myself in when I first had a grid tied solar PV system installed in September 2007. There was no feed-in tariff, and I had an old electro-mechanical meter (the type with the clocks), whereby any excess just spun the wheels backwards. I clocked up credits during the day, and drew from the grid at night. By keeping my electricity consumption low during the daylight hours, we were able to significantly benefit from this non-arrangement. Our electricity bill was even in credit a few times, years before a feed-in tariff became legislated in the state of Victoria.
Which ever solar PV system you eventually decide upon, just remember that it is one of the rare purchases that you make in your life that actually generates an income goes towards paying itself off, and is a planet friendly for of renewable energy. Try doing that with a new car or boat which only depreciate in value as soon as they leave the showroom floor! If interested in taking the next step, you can get an obligation free quote from Enviroshop at this link who I highly recommend.
Anyway, hopefully this post has gone some way to helping you decipher the ins and out of Solar PV. On a side note, my PV system has generated over 18 Megawatt hours of electricity which is equivalent to abating 23.4 tonnes of CO2, in the five years I have owned it, which was about two years worth of grid supply that I would have used otherwise. It has been well worth the investment, in my humble opinion.
Also to my readers, if you have made an error, or misstatement, please feel free to correct the assumptions above via comment. If you have your own solar PV story to tell, also leave a comment. The more knowledge shared, the better the understanding by all who are thinking of spending some capital on their own local renewable energy source.
Disclaimer: I will receive a AUD$25 referral fee if you proceed to click on the Enviroshop link and complete and submit the information request form. This is regardless of whether a purchase is made or not. However I would not recommend this company if they were shoddy or otherwise reflect badly upon my reputation. I make this disclaimer because I blog with integrity.