I have discovered a secret weapon in my quest to persuade people to make the switch to renewable energy. It’s called GADGETS!

We’ve had solar panels for nearly ten years now. 18 months ago we bought a Tesla 2 battery for $11,500 (which, as I now realise, was quite a bargain since prices have gone up this year). The installer, who did a great job, showed me how the app tells you exactly how much electricity you are consuming at any moment, and where that electricity is coming from. 

I didn’t realise at the time how powerful that insight could be. Three pictures

A sunny day in North Balgowlah
  1. A sunny day in November 2019

The big yellow mountain is solar energy, collected from our rooftop panels. The jagged line is our household energy consumption. (You can see that I made a cup of tea just before 8 a.m., and I ran the dishwasher and the washing machine in the morning.) Below the horizontal axis shows how the battery works: when the sun comes up excess solar energy feeds into the battery. It’s full by noon, so the grey area is excess energy flowing back to the grid (and earning a feed-in tariff). And you can see that, on this day, the battery powered the house right through till sunrise, so we were 100% self-powered.  ☺

Solar Offset
  1. Of course, the sun doesn’t always shine

But this screen shot shows that across 2019 we offset our usage — 8166 kWh — with 5473 kWh solar power from our roof. So a 67% reduction in our electricity bill and a 67% reduction in our carbon emissions. The retail price in NSW per kWh is 33c. So *furrows brow, doing sums* that’s $1806.09 in savings in 2019. Nice.

  1. What’s happening here?

This is a screenshot from March 2020 showing where our power is coming from. We’re in the middle of a powercut. The Tesla battery automatically takes over, so that the house can be independent of the grid, using power from the solar panels and, if needed, from the battery. WFH with no grid? No problem. 

We love checking on the app to see how much we are saving. But above all, this funky little app, with its visual representation of real time household electricity usage, is an amazing communications tool. Household power bills aren’t sexy but gadgets totally are. Therefore, my husband, even though he is not involved in environmental campaigning, gets a real kick out of showing his friends how we are helping ourselves to free energy (and helping the environment at the same time).

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The Australian Energy Foundation ran a great webinar this week on “Energy Efficiency”. Guess what the top two energy vampires are in the average Aussie home?

  • Heating & cooling your house (40% of electricity usage)
  • Water heating (23%)
  • Home appliances such as TV and computers (14%). 

The good news is that a few simple behavioural changes can already save you money and reduce your emissions. And won’t cost you a cent. 

Top tips:

  1. In winter, set your heating to a maximum of 18-20 degrees. Every degree more increases your energy usage by 10%. Fun Fact: As it gets colder going from summer into winter, our blood thickens and we can better tolerate the cold. So maybe start with 21 degrees and work your way down to 18 degrees by August. 
  2. Heat the person, not the house. Think double layers, warm socks, boots (ugg boots working from home!). And you may even want to invest in some low-cost electric blankets or heat pads. 
  3. Use less hot water by limiting your showers to 4 minutes. Yes, eventually you will convince your teenagers that this is important. Or at least install water-efficient showerheads that reduce the flow of water from 12-15 litres/minute to 6-9 litres.
  4. Use the cold-setting on your washing machine. Modern machines will do a great job.
  5. Switch off all your appliances at the powerpoint when not in use. Too time-consuming? Invest in power strips (plug in several appliances) and a remote control to switch them all off at once when you call it a night. 
  6. Make sure your fridge and freezer are running at the optimal temperature: 3 to 4 degrees and -15 to -18 respectively.
  7. Use smaller appliances in the kitchen. For example, heat up food in the microwave rather than turning on the energy-hungry oven.  

These are the lowest hanging fruit in the energy efficiency world. If you want to bring out the big guns to reduce your energy consumption, the Australian Energy Foundation website has info about best practice for heating & cooling (split air con) and hot water (heat pump).  Both require an initial investment and are best considered when you have to replace an existing system or are renovating or building from scratch.  

You can view a recording of the AEF webinar or check out the presentation. Both are available online until 30 June.

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