June 10, 2017

The best thing you will ever read about living with Renewable Energy battery storage.

In this article, you are going to learn what my process was for going solar, what I did first, how I selected my solar system, the reasons I did what I did, and of course, how much it all cost, followed by some more about our solar courses and ways to invest in your knowledge.

I lived on a 650sqm block in the middle of Sydney and we wanted to use electricity for as much as possible because getting wood was a big job for me with the distance to travel to do it sustainably.

Before you get excited by looking at what type of solar panels and batteries you want and are going to spend your money and environmental resources on, there is another step that is the most important.Understand your load. For example, when you are going to tow a heavy load with your car, the first thing you check is if your car is capable of towing that load. If it’s not, what do you do? Well, you hire a car or ask your mate that has a ute if you can borrow it to move a heavy load. So, when you're planning to live on solar and batteries, the most important thing to understand is your load.I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do this, before you go and buy a solar system. Trust me, your mate won’t lend you their solar panels or batteries! And the mate that says 'I have a generator you can borrow' will always be a cheap and nasty generator that won’t be any good. 

Understanding your load is the NUMBER 1 priority, get this right you won’t require the backup of being grid connected, or at least very rarely. You’re not required to be an electrician to work this stuff out, it's basic maths, but if you're concerned with your math skills, you can cheat by buying yourself a watt meter,click here for more info. When I first started my project, my daily load was 30kWh’s (kilowatt hours) per day, I then reduced it to 12kWh without spending any money!

Next, I went crazy and upgraded everything. I also cheated and used an interest-free credit card to do this. People always say "I can’t afford it" when I suggest they upgrade their electrical appliances. Use the system we did. We spent $7000 on fitting out our whole house with electrical equipment. Our flatmates of ten years moved out, so we said "You take all the electrical stuff" and went ahead and upgraded it all to energy-efficient appliances. With the interest-free card, work out how much per week it is, and make sure it’s paid off within that time. For us, for example, it was $7000 over 48 months interest-free which cost $145 per month. This left more cash flow for the solar system. Alternatively, if you do own your home, there are companies that will finance your solar system.If you are interested contact me.  Make sure you can afford it, and cut the card up once you have used your interest-free stuff up. Using that card after your initial purchases is where it costs you a fortune in interest.

This is what we got for our $7000- two new TVs (44 inch and 32 inch), DVD Player, Turbo oven, Dyson battery vacuum, 440 litre fridge, 1000 watt Microwave, Thermomix , LG 8.5KG washing Machine, Dyson fan, and we changed all the lighting over to L.E.D lights with the replacement bulb types (not the downlights that require a sparky or know how). I think that’s about it. This investment alone reduced our daily energy consumption to 5kWh’s per day and that’s using the dishwasher which the house already had. Dishwashers are high drawing, however if you must have one, get yourself a twin drawer system. It was a necessity for us living in the city.

You might have other things that you want to use in your system, this is the reason it is so important to learn how much power they consume and build your system to suit all of your appliances that you want to run. Here is avideo for an example. 

As you can see, by understanding your load, you can reduce your load. If there is only one thing you do when thinking about solar, it's to reduce your load or even just to understand it. That will be the best thing you can do. When you understand your load, you will understand which devices you can and can’t use when your batteries get low, and that is the key to having a good renewable energy experience. Next was building my system and my budget started at $15,000.

I started looking into everything, and realized I would not be buying a good quality 24 or 48 volt system for $15,000. I could get a system, but I would be replacing it in ten years time. I have lived with solar in cars, and I know how easy it is to burn through a set of lead-acid batteries if you ever take them too low- they are never the same again. Learn about different battery technologies. I then discovered Nickel Iron Batteries (NiFe Cells) and this has changed everything.

I started my research, and I spoke with 62 different people that had lived with them, some for 12 months and others for 50 years. They all had nothing but good things to say. I talked to my solar guy and said: "let’s build a system around the NiFe Cells". We got stuck into the design and had a thought-  'would it be possible to use a 12 volt system?'. We knew it was going to be a risk that I might buy a heap of stuff and if it didn’t work we would need to sell and upgrade, and that might set us back. If we got it right, we knew we had a winner for everyone. My great Grandfather was a pioneer, he was the Cedar King of Australia, it’s in my blood to take the path of a pioneer, so I said let’s give it a go. 

The system consists of a 12 volt NiFe bank of batteries. From research and talking to users of it, it is possibly a lifetime cell. 2880 Watts of thin film C.I.G.S TSMC solar panels. The reason I selected these as they have a very low embodied energy, they are heat tolerant and can reach temperatures of up to 80 degrees before performance is affected. They also pick up deep infrared from the spectrum range, which allows performance on cloudy days. They are shade tolerant, where I was living in the city my neighbor’s trees blocked half my panels, but in the morning we still get 70% performance at that time and they looked amazing, black on black. As for the electrical components we only used 1 MPPT for the moment to test, and we splayed the array of panels so we got a constant production of solar all day. This helps the batteries, and also we can use more power from the panels rather than from the batteries.

If we have a bad morning, we have enough panels facing the afternoon sun so only a few hours of afternoon winter sun would top the cells up and vice versa, if we have a good morning and bad afternoon. As for inverters, the largest 12 volt inverter we could get was a 3kW inverter, which means at any one time we can run a load of up to 3kW’s. What we decided to do was install two of these as a master-slave setup. If we wanted more power, the system had the potential of 6kw’s with this setup. It also gives us a backup. If one inverter dies over time we have a back up until we get the other sorted.

And honestly, until we moved to Lismore, we did not require the use of the second inverter, ever. The biggest issue I had is getting traditional help and advice from electricians and solar people, because most of them were trained in dealing with grid feed systems. I installed the system myself and I got an electrician in to connect the system to the house. It was meant to be a simple $150 job to connect up a switch for me. That's when all my issues started. I asked if I could have the meter moved and they said yes, $600. They had disconnected us from the grid only 4 weeks prior and the list of things we had to do, by law, to get it connected again was a joke. The bill quickly climbed to $3500 of electrical laws that they wanted us to upgrade to meet standards because of rising energy usage.

I told them that our house is an energy efficient home, we use less power per day than most houses do in an hour. I showed them if I turned on all my three air cons, my oven, the hairdryer and everything else in my house, I would still have been a third of the ratings they were wanting to upgrade me too. I didn't require all the extras they were wanting to install. Long story short they cost me a fortune and still didn't hook up my $150 back up switch. My backup switch is a very simple switch, all it does is select battery power or mains power. I got really frustrated with myself, that I attempted to get a professional in and this happened.

I could only imagine what would happen to someone that doesn’t have half the idea I do. In the end, I did it myself. (I was attempting to follow the rules and get an electrician to sign it off). Now I have a better way of explaining it to electricians, and how I would advise to do it in the future. The house now has the grid as a backup. If we run out of power, we just flick a switch and the house is back on mains power- which we never required to do before we moved either! 

We even had a builder at home for a week, building us a new deck, welding and using loads of power tools- and all on24hoursolarpower which is a great feeling.

The system itself cost just under $25,000, and includes a wind turbine that I haven't installed yet either. We had budgeted $5000 on maintenance over the next 25 years and if we did this project for financial reasons we would get our money back in 7-10 years, so there would be 18 years of free electricity and no more pollution from us! Since we had been living on batteries, I opened the newspaper to find out our neighbourhood had had a blackout for 24 hours the week before, now that is a good feeling because we never lost any power. After going through this and learning a lot on the go, my solar guy and I teamed up and started running courses to show people what is possible. You’re not required to be a qualified electrician to play with any system under 48 volts, DIY solar is the way of the future, if you can grow food and consider yourself someone who is willing to have a go, you can build your own renewable energy system under the right guidance.

Thanks for reading and I hoped this helped. Please share on social media if this helped you in any way. It might help someone else as well. Go and like our solarFacebook Page If you would like to know more or any other specific detailscontact us. Don't be shy.