Life Begins At...

The Retiree Magazine Summer 2011-12

Life Begins At.....

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ECO HOMES and solar hot water makes long- term economic sense. Despite changes to some government subsidies, a range of rebates still exist to make home sustainability a more attractive option. The introduction of a carbon tax will have no direct effect on home energy systems. The tax is targeted at heavily polluting companies and will simply make the cost of dirty electricity generation technology more expensive – so that the price gap between clean and dirty technology is reduced. The first step when considering an alternative home energy system is to make your home as energy efficient as possible. That means installing insulation (walls and floors as well as the roof), shading, energy-efficient lighting and appliances and draught- proofing the home, as well as limiting energy consumption where possible. Spending a few hundred or even a couple of thousand dollars on more efficient appliances and making your home more energy efficient means you can buy a smaller solar power system, and save significant amounts of money over the longer term. Solar power Solar photovoltaic systems are made from a series of panels cut primarily from silicon that directly convert energy in the form of light from the sun into electricity. Solar power can be used in all parts of Australia as long as you have a suitable site with a north-facing roof, or ground space that is not shaded during the day. With a grid-interactive system the energy produced by the solar panels is fed directly into the mains grid via a device called an inverter and through your electricity meter. The home can also draw power from the grid when the sun is not shining. This is the simplest system and requires little or no maintenance other than the occasional check to ensure it is still operating, and cleaning the solar panels of excessive dirt. How big a system you need and how much it costs depends on how much energy your house consumes. The average-sized system in Australia has two kilowatts of peak generating capacity. A 2kW system costs about $9,000 before the subsidy that can be gained from creating and trading Small Technology Certificates (STCs) through the Federal Government's Renewable Energy Target. The amount of STCs your system qualifies for is dependent on its size and your location. As an example, a 2kW array in Melbourne is currently allowed to create and trade 89 STCs, and the current STC price is about $25. When most people buy a solar power system, they agree for the supplier to sell their STCs on the market and to pass on to them a reduction in the retail price of the system. Alternatively, you can choose to sell the STCs yourself or hold on to them. A typical 1.5kW system costing $6,750 comes down to about $4,750 after the subsidy is taken into account. The cheapest solar system can now be bought for around $3,000. Solar bulk-buy groups, often with local government support, have been springing up in recent years across Australia. Buying through these groups could mean a good deal on a quality system. In most states if you have a grid- interactive system you may also be eligible for a feed-in tariff and get paid for the clean, green power you put back into the grid. For example at the time of writing this article, a household with a solar system in Victoria is credited a net feed-in tariff of at least 60 cents per kilowatt hour of solar-generated electricity fed back into the grid after household consumption. When installing a grid-connect system ask your electricity retailer what tariff they offer as some are more generous than others. With the drop in price and rise in popularity of rooftop solar, state governments have lately been reducing their feed-in tariffs – New South Wales this year axed its generous tariff altogether for new buyers – so it's important to be informed and up-to-date on changing subsidies. Some people in rural and urban fringe areas choose stand-alone solar power systems not connected to the electricity grid. These are usually at least 2kW in capacity, with electricity stored in large batteries. Most households with stand-alone power have back-up generators to ensure consistent supply. For good-quality solar panels, you should be able to get a guarantee of 20 to 25 years on the performance of the system. Warranties of one to seven years are available for inverters. THE RETIREE SUMMER 145

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