Sunday 21 September 2014

Yes, there are still good monetary reasons to put solar panels on your roof

As many of you who have been reading this blog know, I, just a little, disagree with how this country is
being run.
While I love living in a democracy, and much of the information I need for my articles, both here and at Independent Australia, is therefore available for me to access, the downside of a democracy is that anyone can vote.
This leads to ANYONE being able to get into power, and so we have Tony Abbott as prime minister, and Campbell Newman, Dennis Napthine and Mike Baird in power in Queensland, Victoria and NSW, respectively.
Although I worked for Greenpeace when a hotheaded young man, and recently with Australian Seabird Rescue in the environmental field, my activism was reignited by my friend Antony over the last few years.
Antony is an engineer, a 'green-gineer', as I refer to him, and he reminded me that there is no bigger fight than the environment, and no other time to fight for it than now.
Thus my major concerns with the conservative governments around the place are that they are destroying the planet - making it unlivable for all of us - and all for short term monetary returns.
In a perfect world only those who continued to support the coal industry in the face of all scientific evidence to the contrary, would die because of global warming.
However, the idiocy and greed these people display of course leads us all to be under threat from a rapidly deteriorating environment.
The worst thing, sorry among the worst things, that the Abbott government has done is the scrapping of the Carbon Tax.
The Abbott government have been supremely successful in laying all the ills of the economy at the foot of the Carbon Tax.
This is enormously enraging for me, as the maths says it just isn't so.
But with any remotely less-than-optimal thing to do with money the Abbott government have stridently cried out 'it's the fault of the Carbon Tax'.
Dog poops on the footpath in South Yarra?
The Carbon Tax did it.
Old woman mugged in Logan?
The Carbon Tax did it.
Your car broke down on the Cahill Expressway?
The Carbon Tax did it.
Next year the carbon tax drops from $US23 a tonne of coal, to U$10 a tonne.
That's due to a complex economic finagle where the price goes from fixed, to floating.
The intricacies of that need not worry us, but those who saw my most recent article at Independent Australia will know that AGL recently informed all their customers that with the scrapping of the Carbon tax, your power bill will go down 7.8%.
Thus, if the Abbott government had removed its head from its arse, and kept the carbon tax, it would have been only 3.4% of your quarterly power bill.
The last bill I saw was for $700 for the quarter, thus the Carbon Tax would have been a measly $23 of the bill.
And for this miserly price the homeowner would have been contributing to the most effective way of Australia reducing its greenhouse emissions.
As you know if your a regular reader, there are few poorer than me in this country, and I would be prepared $23 a quarter to enable the human race to survive.
However, for purely ideological reasons the Abbott Government have scrapped the Carbon Tax, and so we have to fight now to get it back at the next election.
Equally unforgivable is the scrapping of the Renewable Energy Target (the RET).
The RET was put in place by the Howard government in 2001, and its purpose was to encourage investment and use of clean, renewable sources of power.
It was a great initiative, and it shows how far this country has sunk when I, of all people, get around to saying that John Howard was a better prime minister than, well, ANYONE.
Tony Abbott is worse than John Howard, and I never thought I was see the day dawn when I would be writing that anyone was worse than John Howard!
Now I have had extensive conversations with Antony, and many others, trying to get a handle on why the Abbott Government hate the RET so much.
It's still not clear.
The main reason seems to be that they really like (to put it mildly) the money that comes from coal.
But even that hardly covers their antipathy to the RET.
I think it has now become a personal punch-up.
The Abbott government see giving in on the RET as 'losing to those dole-bludging, bong-smoking, hippies'.
I struggle to utter over this.
Using renewable power is clearly good for the entire human race, yet those numbskulls in Canberra want to scrap it just so they can say they won the fight.
Anyway there is considerable confusion around the scrapping of the RET, and so I thought I would clear things up a little for everybody.
If the question is, "Now that the RET has been scrapped, should I not bother to put solar panels on my roof?"
The answer is a resounding 'YES, still bother to do it'.
What has changed is the financials around this issue.
When the RET was in operation the plan was to put solar panels on your roof, and then sell excess power back to the state government.
At first the state government, at least here in NSW, offered 60c a kilowatt.
However, so successful, so mind-bendingly, staggeringly, successful was this, that people signed up in their droves.
A contender for the stupidest man in history, Barry O'Farrell, the then state premier, nearly gave birth when the putative bill for this was presented to him by the state treasurer, and turned off the tap, reducing the price from 60c to 17c a kilowatt.
Not that NSW couldn't afford this I might add, the problem that Barry's government had was that if the citizens of NSW kept this up, then his government couldn't keep opening more coal mines, and therefore receiving the lovely money that came from this.
So that is the situation today, 17c a kilowatt, and with the official upcoming scrapping of the RET, many are wondering if they should abandon the idea of solar panels.
Well, I would say no, if you can afford the panels, put them on for environmental reasons apart from anything else.
The money flow has changed though, but here are the financial reasons for doing this.
Whereas before you put solar panels on the roof and 'made' money from the excess, now you do it to 'save' money.
The most recent quote I heard was $3,000 to put solar panels on the roof of a standard family home.
You then having invested in solar, now start saving money with every bill.
A standard power bill for a year for a home like this is around $1,000-$1,500.
But now with solar on the roof, the homeowners have to undergo some organisational changes to get their money back the quickest.
The major uses of energy in any home, the world over, are heating and cooling.
And the biggest chewer of juice of all is air conditioning.
Cooling in the summer, and warming in the winter.
So what you do now is set the air conditioner to automatic, and as soon as the sun is high enough over the horizon and power is flowing to your panels, the air conditioner comes on.
If both parents work and the two kids go to school, the air conditioner stays on all day and cools the house, free of charge.
Then when you come home at night, you switch the air conditioner off at dusk, and enjoy the cooled house for the evening.
How much will this cost/save?
I went over to the wonderfully useful Smarter Choice website and used their energy efficiency calculator.
If you were to run the air conditioner for twelve hours a day during the six months of summer.
This would cost you near two grand using coal fired power.
And what of heating?
Using the same calculator we learn that if you run your air conditioner's heating function for say six hours a day, two hours in the morning when everyone is getting ready for work and school, and four hours in the afternoon, to provide heating for the evening in the home, then the price of winter heating would be close to a thousand dollars.
So as you can see, for your initial outlay of three grand, you get your money back in one year.
While the sun is shining power to your air conditioner is free.
So it seems like a no-brainer to me, if you've got three grand, put solar on your roof, and within a short period your power bills will go down to next to nothing.
And of course, you will be doing more than anyone to ensure that the human race survives on this planet.
And by the way if you think I was going over the top listing an air conditioner as needing to run twelve hours  day, then consider this.
If one of the people in the standard home mentioned above were to stay home during the day, for instance a parent who is the home maker, then running your air conditioner all day is not unreasonable.
As this graphic shows:

Oh the mechanical irony!

The first car I ever saw that had electronic diagnostics on the dashboard was a Nissan Bluebird.
My recollection is this car was owned by a friend of my father's, Max Palmer.
One day I got in it to ride somewhere, and watched with wonder as the the dashboard displayed a little graphic showing that some of the doors were open.
This graphic (right) shows some of the common ones.
Anyway, even then I was clearly on my way to being a scientist, or perhaps just a smart arse, because I watched the dashboard in wonder at this electronic display, then asked Mr Palmer, "How do you know though if it is the graphic that is malfunctioning, and not the door or whatever it is displaying?"
I can't recall Max's answer, but I don't think he was able to give one, because there is no answer.
In the end there is no way of knowing if it is the part of the car, or the dashboard that is at fault.
Worse than that, if the bulb in the dash blows, and a bit of the car goes wrong, then you are not being informed of a potential problem.
In the end I felt it was the ultimate "Who will guard the guards" sort of conundrum.
NB: When Lisa Simpson asked this of Homer in the episode where Homer forms a drunken vigilante group, Homer replies: "I don't know, Coast Guard?"
Anyway this topic of whether it was the engine or the dashboard that was at fault came up on The Big Bang Theory.
For reasons that have left me, Leonard, who normally drives Sheldon to work, can't do it, and so Sheldon has to ride with Penny.
He observes with considerable angst that Penny's check engine light is on.
He asks her what this means, and Penny replies, "Oh don't worry about it, that's been on since I bought the car."
To which Sheldon replies, "Well shouldn't you check the engine?"
And Penny replies: "Well it was still there last time I checked."
I mention all of that because since I bought my new old car from my friend Tom, the 'CHECK ENGINE' light comes on.
Once I start the car and drive a five kilometres or so, the 'CHECK ENGINE' light some on and stays on.
I checked with Tom, and he told me, much like Penny above, that this light had been on all the time he was running the car, and he never had a problem.
Tom also told me that he had got our mechanic, Paul, to check this out, and he said there was nothing wrong with the engine, it was just a little electronic ghost in the machine.
Anyway, recently rego time for my car came up, the car is really on its last legs, and I thought about getting a different second-hand car.
Sorry for blurred photo, but you get the idea.
However I'm sure many of you have been in this situation yourselves, and will know that if you scrap your old car, and buy a different one, all you get is a whole lot of new, and completely other set of mechanical problems.
So after much soul searching I decided to re-register this car, and just drive it until it stopped by the side of the road one day.
So I took it out to Paul, got the pink slip done, and then went about the business of re-registering it.
So last Sunday, I went up to Clunes to see my friends Eric and Shelagh.
Normally I go up there to do some gardening, but I am still out of action due to my hand being in a cast.
I had an enjoyable time with them, talking Aussie rules and other topics.
Please note: Eric is a Collingwood supporter, and I have shown (I feel) massive maturity in still being friends with him.
Anyway when it was time to go I got in my car and drive home.
To my unholy consternation just as I was coming down the hill to Bangalow, the 'CHECK ENGINE' light went out, for the first time in five years.
'ARRRWWWWGGGHHHHHH', I groaned internally, 'that can't be good'.
I immediately concluded that either the dashboard display has finally begun to work, or more likely, the engine wasn't.
That would fit with me just re-registering it.
I got home all right on the day, but now I've gotta go, I have to take the damn car out to Paul and get him to check the engine.

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