My Intentions in writing this article are to share with you my personal experiences of ten years of research as a consumer and a potential customer, just wanting to do the right thing for the earth when it comes to having a cold beer and a cool house while living in Sydney by supplying my property with a renewable energy source in the traditional manner; that is, using small roof top P.V solar arrays and a Bi-Directional, grid feed inverter.
Now as any good permaculture teacher would say to most questions you throw at them, I am about to answer this question in the same manner;
During the “embryonic” phase of the solar industry and the permaculture movement, it would have likely been 100% true if I answered the question with a simple yes, but unfortunately this is now not the case ! Pre 2005, most people that installed solar P.V did it because they cared for the environment and at around $7 a watt for the solar panels, it was likely the prime motivation for doing so, unless you required a fully stand alone system and had no viable alternative, or were the fortunate recipient of over generous government stimulus.
In todays world there are more and more people wanting to live a more sustainable and cleaner lifestyle and that also creates new business opportunities for businesses that want to operate and sell products that will make a difference in reducing unsustainable consumption on the planet. and it also opens the doors for second rate salesman to take opportunities of people who care for the planet and lack of education. Sometimes we get our education form the person selling us the product! That can not be a good thing for the customer.
Let me explain my background and experience in the industry. Ten years ago my wife and I purchased a house and wanted to install solar. After ten years of research talking with solar salesman experimenting and going through all the sales jargon and tricky marketing done by companies! Oh and I forgot to mention I have been a sales trainer for some of Australia’s largest utilities Companies for over a decade prior to looking into installing solar so I know a lot of the tricks.
My own personal experience with solar prior to starting my journey was that I had it in my car to power fridges and our electrical appliances when travelling around Australia. Also growing up in the country I would stay at friends on the weekend whose house’s were all solar with battery storage. You could really tell the difference in the kids at school who grew up on a remote farm, none of them ever left a tap running or a light on when they left the room as they knew if they did that it could mean no water for you and the animals until it rained next or no TV for a few days.
I knew that living without the grid is possible and everyone of my friends parents that lived this way all seemed really happy and carefree compared to the other kids parents I went to school with when it come to the power bills, they were always angry and frustrated about how expensive their power bills where and that all us kids did was turn everything on and leave it on and cost them a fortune!
For me living the happy carefree independent lifestyle was something at a young age I was exposed to and in my subconscious was something I always wanted to do.
Back to my solar story now on my house. I had some reps come around and got all excited when we had purchased our house and thinking this is going to be so exciting installing solar and all this fun stuff we can do on our house in the city ,so we could live more like we did when growing up on farms. I got onto calling all the solar reps to come around and quote us on getting the size system I wanted installed, how I wanted to do it, I had the plan in my head and all I got was a bunch of uneducated salesman sitting down using every trick in the book to pull on my environmentally committed heart strings to get me to buy a system that was one not going to satisfy my a quarter of my needs, not work when the grid went down and told me everything that I had experienced in my life with solar was not true and can’t be done. And some of them were very good and also most had me buying a system after years of frustration, Lucky for me my wife is more patient and convinced me to wait a bit longer. While going through this process I was also working out the embodied energy payback period on the systems and the numbers didn’t look good for the environment or financially. It was driving me mad that a renewable source of energy on paper made no more sense than staying connected to the grid.
Not finding the solutions I wanted I looked elsewhere of how I could do my part to reduce our energy consumption and started researching and buying energy efficient appliances and reducing our consumption at home. I thought I had done a great job of reducing our daily consumption , a house full of 5 adults from 30Kilo watt hours per day down to 20 on average until I did a permaculture design course with Geoff Lawton and he told me that 18Kwh per day was average for a family, instally I was challenged again to get in below the 18Kwh per day mark. Challenge accepted! The one thing I really learnt from that course that changed everything about the way I think of energy consumption was truly understanding the Kilowatt Hour. After 8 days of the Permaculture Design Course Geoff said I have a guy arriving soon and Chris Darker was his name, Funny a solar engineer with the last name darker! (I also thought I was going to learn how to grow plants and surprised when a solar engineer turns up).
After the course I just wanted to corner Chris and pick his brain and ask him about all the things I had been thinking about solar and to see what I had been told from the sales reps and companies I had been dealing with if it was all true and to clarify that I was not crazy in thinking the way I thought about energy and solar. After a few hours of conversation I felt great that I had been right in my way of thinking and I also felt some sadness to the fact that all the sales reps that had come to my house and told me what they had been trained and believed in solar was all lies , misinformation and that with my experience in sales negotiation and rock solid support from my wife I almost got involved in installing a system that was not going to be the best solution for the earth! If I almost had done it, what would someone without my support and education would have done? Thinking and believing that you were doing the best thing for the earth at that time as we all do we assume that the guy selling the environmentally friendly product is selling you what they believe is best for you and the environment not what’s best for them and their commissions at the end of each month? And just to clarify not all solar guys are crooks but unfortunately most of them have been educated incorrectly and trained the wrong way.
After the course I learned the best thing you can do for the environment is to reduce your load before you even think about installing solar, utter wise you are simply “grating wings onto a brick “ Now I have our house consumption down to less than 10 Kwh per day and soon with a few new additions of energy efficient appliances, our calculations are showing we will have the consumption down to under 5Kwh per day. The one question I asked my family was, has anyone made any huge differences in the way they do things day to day? And the answer was NO! Which I thought there was going to be a different answer as I had earned the title of the energy enforcer. With understanding the Kilowatt Hour it changed the way I thought about everything and it also made me realize that going solar is not always the best solution and that reducing your load to a reasonable and sustainable level is the best thing first. Then, if you want to install a solar system with a small load of 5Kwh per day,you can install a smaller system and batteries which turns it into a whole new ball game when you are looking to service your energy needs. 24 HOUR SOLAR POWER !
Its simple math, if you use twice as much energy in your home you need a system three times as big! With energy the math can feel like 2+2=3.
The next part of this is where I will explain the reasons and learnings I have had From Solar Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Senior Management from the Power companies and a whole range of people involved in the industry of energy and in the next article you will get to see the stories I have been told and educated on. The majority of us only ever see in the press that the big power companies don’t want rooftop solar because it eats into their profits but there is a whole other story behind “the veil” ! Oh and yes I still did decide to install a solar system and will tell all in the next few articles.
Stay tuned for the next broadcast !