Monday, January 23, 2012

Monthly solar stats: 16 Dec 2011 - 18 Jan 2012

So I've had my solar panels installed for just over a month now. We've had many sunny days in Melbourne so they've been going gangbusters, and I can't wait to see my next electricity bill (due end of Feb).

I have a 1.52kW system which means in theory that it can produce 1.52kW each hour of operation. However no system is ever 100% efficient and I've read that 80% efficiency is a good rule of thumb. The output will also depend on the number of hours of sunshine, the temperature, the angle that the sun is hitting your panels at, and whether there is any cloud cover or shadow on the panels. 

Here are the stats for month 1 (32 days: 16 December - 17 January):

Total export: 251.2kWh
Total operational hours: 415 hours
Average daily export: 7.85kWh

That might all seem a bit useless if you don't understand what a kilowatt (kW) or kilowatt hour (kWh) is.

A kilowatt, or 1,000 watts and is a measure of power. A solar power system is rated according to the number of watts it can produce under standardised conditions.
A kilowatt hour is a measure of energy. If you ran a 1 kW electric appliance  for one hour, it would use 1 kWh of energy. Your electricity retailer will bill you at rate per kWh used.

Needless to say I am very happy with the rate of production. We haven't had many cloudy days although there were a few here or there, and we had a major storm on Christmas day which would have affected the output. So overall I think my system is doing great.

At the moment I have yet to sign a solar contract with my retailer (more on that later) which means I am not receiving a Feed in Tariff for excess electricity put back into the grid. However, since I have the old-school spinning disc meter, it actually spins backwards when export > consumption, which is like being on a Standard Feed in Tariff (where the rate per kWh you are paid for the electricity you export is the same as the rate you pay for electricity consumed). I'll go onto a solar contract soon which means I will go onto the Transitional Feed-in Tariff, which ranges from 25-33c/kWh, so if that's higher than the rate I pay for electricity consumed, then I will actually be making a slight profit. I don't expect to receive I 'negative' bill since I have such a small system, but it will definitely help to offset the charges incurred.

I am planning a series of posts about my experience with going solar, and I will so do a regular post showing my monthly stats - I think it will be very interesting to track over the course of the year.

Image sources 1 / 2

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Brown paper packages tied up with string

One of the best things about buying online is the feeling you get when the package arrives - it's like getting a present knowing that it's exactly what you wanted!

I recently stumbled across a website packed with gorgeous goodies - I kept putting things in my shopping basket and then taking them out (I'm really trying to be more strict with by budget this year). Nevertheless I couldn't help myself and besides, things were on sale!

So here's my loot, photos courtesy my D-Lite Hipstamatic Disposable Camera app:

A butter-yellow leather travel set with travel wallet with passport cover and luggage tags - only $ if only I had an international trip planned to put it through it's paces! And  it looks like I got the last one, as the website says it's currently out of stock! However I did see lots of other gorgeous colours so take your pick.

Two basic singlets for $10 each - I would have gotten a third colour combo if they'd had it in stock.

And lastly an interesting looking top that doesn't photograph well - best to take a look on the Ciao Bella website. The colour is a bit darker in real life but I love the shape so will definitely be wearing it just as soon as I've gotten the wrinkles out.

Last but not least they threw in another cute luggage tag - plus if you sign up as a member you get a 5% discount at the checkout. Now that's what I call customer service!

And now no more shopping for me for a while! Go take a look at the Ciao Bella website - but don't blame me if you can't leave without buying a little something.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Green thumbs up

Yesterday I posted about the changes in my front and back garden since I moved in just over a year ago - today here is some more detail about the herbs and veggies I have planted.

I have yet to actually harvest any of the veggies but I have high hopes! I have been using the herbs here and there, and I love being able to run outside and grab a few leaves - I don't have to remember to buy them, I don't have to pay for them, and I don't have to throw out half of the bought bunch (how often do you use the whole bunch from the supermarket?) And at about $3 a bunch, it's not a bad way to save a few bucks.

Panoramic view - amateur Photoshop stitching effort (when I took the pictures it hadn't occured to me to do a panorama - next time I will take them with the same f-stop and aperture and angle!)

On Sunday I dropped in to Bunnings to get a few more pots, potting soil and replacement herbs (my coriander seedlings didn't make it, and my rocket sprouts disappeared overnight due to a worm attack!). I also picked up this sweet plant - there were two colour varieties in the same pot for under $5. I repotted them and put them into my IKEA planters, and they are currently brightening up my kitchen windowsill.

It's called the Polka Dot Plant or Hypoestes phyllostachya.

Hopefully the herbs and veggies survive - can't wait to try my first home-grown cucumber!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Flexing my green thumb

It's a little known fact that when you buy a house with a garden, all of a sudden that garden becomes a Big Deal. Two years ago I would never have dreamed that I would spend hours at a time weeding, pruning, watering, feeding, planning and generally gardening!

The front

To keep up appearances, I kept the front looking pretty good...

This photo is from the real estate listing:

Unfortunately that little patch of grass didn't stay looking that good - it pretty much died and turned into a bare patch of earth. So we decided to turn the whole thing into a garden bed:

Shortly after planting (back in March of 2011):

We planted:
  • Purple Agapanthas from my mother's garden
  • A low growing plant with purple flowers from my parents' neighbour's garden (left photo, closest to the concrete pathway)
  • Geraniums/pelargoniums galore from my mother's garden
  • Gazanias lining the concrete of the driveway - there were originally in the flower bed and we pulled them up and divided them. They grow so easily.
  • Succulents and cactii in the other flower bed and a fern from my mother's garden
The pink rose bush in the background (in the little concrete flower bed) is the border of my front garden and the neighbours'.

This is how the front is looking today (excuse the quality of the photos - I used my iPhone in fading light, but I wanted to get them to finish this post!):

The agapanthas have flowered and the geraniums are going gangbusters. I continually have to cut them down as they're getting bigger than the agapanthas. As you can see the gazanias have also exploded - during the day their flowers open and they look so cheerful!

I'm still not totally happy with it - I am really envisaging something very lush, so will keep dividing plants and filling in the gaps.

The back

The back garden is a long narrow space that I'm still grappling with in terms of how to best use it...

This is what it looked like in December 2010 (a few weeks after I moved in):

During the settlement period the weeds had taken over and it was not a pretty sight! As you come out of the back door, you come down about 4 steps and to your right is this view. The washing line was full of spiders (eek!) and blocked the rest of the space. You had to duck under it to get to the rest of the back garden, which was also blocked off by two trees.

Since I never used the washing line outside (I usually just have a clothes-horse inside), I decided to get rid of the washing line. My brother came over with an angle grinder and we cut that baby down! 

Then we tackled the tree issue - although I hate to get rid of a tree, the space was really too small to handle two trees. So I decided to cut down the first tree - the one that was most 'in the middle' and therefore most in the way. Again, my bro came to the rescue and we pulled, sawed and cut that poor tree down. It then lay on it's side for MONTHS whilst I figured out how to get rid of a tree...(I wasn't up for paying anybody to remove it).

I'm embarrassed to say that after that, I pretty much ignored the back for almost a year. Yes, I can't believe it either. Well not quite - I bought some pots and planted some seedlings - more about that later. So, fast forward to December 2011 and this is what I faced:

This is the view from the back door. A small section of the back fence was recently replaced and that big dark patch on the left is all the debris that was left behind, blocking the drain. (And that's not a roll of toilet paper, it's a roll of rubbish bags).

You can see the older fence on the right (replaced about 2 years ago I think) and the newer fence on the left. Hopefully over time it will weather to a similar colour as the older section, otherwise I might need to paint the whole fence to disguise the difference.

Welcome to the jungle! Dead tree on the right, and re-grown tree behind it! Whoops - I learned you need to drill holes in the stump and pour kerosene or poison into it to kill it.

Behind the re-born tree is even more of a jungle - grass growing to about waist-height, although it had been raining so it was all bent over from the weight of the water. Elephant-ear in the pot is also courtesy of my momma.

Part of the motivation to get this situation under control was that I was hosting a Christmas/housewarming barbecue! So I tackled the back one humid Sunday and cut back all the new growth from the tree stump, pulled out all the grass and weeds, and discovered a lovely little space!

That pile of grass and weeds on the left is only half of what I pulled out! I also tried breaking the dead tree into smaller bits (a bit easier now that the wood was dried out) and put as much as I could fit into the green bin. I filled another three rubbish bags with grass and weeds, and moved the last bits of the dried tree right to the back corner. I've still got to work out how to get rid of the bigger pieces...

And drum-roll's the after (for the moment at least):

I've got all sorts of ideas about what to do with this space, although the narrowness is definitely a challenge. I'm working on a moodboard/design post but I'm still trying to sort through all my ideas...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Great Victorian Bike Ride 2011

I've always wanted to do the Great Victorian Bike Ride and this year (er...last year!) I finally did it. Well, part of it, but it's a start.

The 2011 ride started in Swan Hill and finished in Castlemaine, however being a newbie I only signed up for the first three days: "The Mighty Murray". I thought it would be a good way to ease into an event like this, since I had no idea what to expect.

Overall I had a really great experience and I'm keen to do the full ride next (ummm this year!). The 2012 ride looks to be a fantastic route, from Lakes Entrance to Phillip Island.

After advice from Richard Tulloch's Life on the Road I decided to take my point-and-shoot camera. After using my DSLR for so long I was not anticipating any great photos but I was pleasantly surprised.

Disclaimer: the photos below have been altered in Photoshop using the Pioneer Woman's "Boost" and "Lovely and Ethereal" Actions.

Day 1: Swan Hill loop (Saturday) - 54km

We took the coach from Spencer St station departing at 5am. We arrived in Swan Hill by 9am after a breakfast stop halfway, and collected our bags from the bus. Many people had arrived the previous night and endured some pretty heavy rain during the night (23ml apparently!). Some of the school groups on the lower oval got flooded, so I'm glad we skipped that part!

We pitched our tent and then went to find our bikes. The bikes are transported in cattle trucks - going up the ramp with a bike is not exactly the easiest thing to do - I felt sorry for the poor cattle although I guess they don't have to deal with the bike (haha :P).

 Tent city, Swan Hill. The calm before the storm...

By 11am we were ready to start the day's ride. It was a leisurely 54km along flat roads. We had lunch halfway - there was so much food I couldn't finish it, but I suppose they have to cater for those with bigger appetites too!

We got back to camp about 2pm I think, having spent the last 20 minutes riding in the rain. After a shower I felt reborn, and we went into town to have a look around. Luckily we managed to dodge some torrential rain by wandering around Target, stocking up on batteries and bits and pieces (including an umbrella as my rain jacket was no match for that downpour). We joined the dinner queue about 6pm and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. There was plenty of it, and the roast beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender. 

That night we watched Cars-2 and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I may have been the oldest person there (save for the parents accompanying their kids) but that's hardly important!
 Joining the dinner queue

Looking forward to my dinner! I earned it :)

Dinner day 1: Roast beef, veggies, potatoes, gravy, a bread roll and chocolate mousse for dessert - yum!

An ominous looking sky during dinner

Bike parking

Amazing skies walking from the Murray river back towards the camp at the showgrounds

 Some smart people found a dry spot for their bikes - and someone even smarter found a couple of crates to form a bridge through one of the entrances to the campground. 

 The Murray River with a view of the Murray River Bridge (I'm standing in Victoria, and New South Wales is just across the bridge) 

I made a friend along the way

 Getting close to sunset, Swan Hill

 Welcome to Victoria!

Next stop: Kerang

Day 2: Swan Hill to Kerang - 82km
This is the furthest I've ever ridden in one day. Luckily the route was pretty much flat so I didn't have to climb any hills. The downside of that is you don't get to coast down the other side!

The first rest stop was approximately 20km in. It was an opportunity to use the loo (the queue was pretty long!) and to have a snack (BYO). I refilled my water bottle and went on my merry way...forgetting to reapply sunscreen.

First rest stop, day 2

Portaloos: a beautiful sight to behold! 

The view along the way (the above image went through some sort of Photoshop disaster, but I thought it looked quite artistic actually, so thought I'd throw it in there - the unblemished version is below).

 Lunch time: there was precious little shade to be had but some people found a bit of shelter for their bikes. At the lunch stop I did apply more sunscreen, but as I was to find out later, it was much much too late...

Rest stop approx. 60km mark 

By Day 2 it was clear that the rainy weather was gone for good, and there was barely a cloud in the sky. I can't quite recall what the maximum temperature was but I think it was about 30 degrees. Whilst riding it wasn't too bad, as you create your own breeze, but the minute we stopped it was pretty damn hot.

About 2km before the lunch stop I heard a peculiar noise, looked down and realised my front tyre was completely flat. I pulled over and began to walk, as I could see some shade up ahead. Then I would tackle changing my tube (I know how to do it in theory, but have never done it myself). Everyone talks about the spirit of the Great Victorian Bike Ride, and it's true. The people are absolutely lovely, and before I had gone three steps two gentleman pulled over to give me a hand. We ended up patching the tube.

Upon arrival in Kerang I parked my bike and went to put up my tent. When I went to fetch my bike, lo and behold my front tyre was flat as a pancake. Luckily the lady in the neighbouring tent generously offered her husband's services as bike mechanic (he wasn't there at the time to offer his opinion on the arrangement). I thought the patch from the earlier puncture had not been stuck on properly, but it turned out to be another puncture near the first one. We checked the tyre thoroughly for the culprit but found nothing. This time we changed to a fresh tube and I crossed my fingers I wouldn't have a third puncture!

With the necessities taken care of, I headed straight for the local pool. Plenty of other people had the same idea of course - it was probably the busiest day that the Kerang public pool has had in long time! The water was deliciously cold. 

My memorable story that day (besides the double puncture) was a spectacular fall from my bike. What made it most remarkable was that I was stationary with one foot on the ground at the time. I can't even imagine what it would have looked like for passers by, although none of them laughed at me, which was pretty decent of them, all things considered! I had my right foot locked on the pedal (I ride with a cage) and my left foot on the ground, and I was reaching into my back pocket. Before I knew it the front wheel had swung to the left and the bike went down, taking me with it. There wasn't anything I could do except fall over. The handlebar hit me in the bicep and I had a little graze on my knee, but those wounds were nothing compared to my self-esteem, which had been crushed to a pulp somewhere beneath my bike and I.

That night we watched Tomorrow When the War Began - I hadn't read the book but I thought the movie was really good (and quite scary actually - as in - what if that could really happen to Australia?).

Dinner was butter chicken (delicious) and sleep did not come easy. I discovered I was very sunburned (I had been wearing a sleeveless top) across my shoulders and on my upper back, and my grazed knee protested every move. I also had a tender bicep and two blisters - one on each big toe!

Day 3: Kerang to Barham - 63km
The final day! I woke up around 5:30am and got ready to go. Luckily I had brought some of those amazing blister Bandaids so my blisters gave me no more trouble. It was even hotter than the previous day (early 30s I think) but I was much more careful to apply sunscreen regularly (and I wore a top with sleeves this time).

The 63km went by quite quickly and I made it to Barham by about 1pm. The campsite was stifling, as there was hardly any shade at all. I had a shower and then retired to the Spokes Bar to sit under the shade sail and drink cider until my coach departed for Melbourne. I didn't explore the town at all, I just couldn't face the heat, so I will have to go back sometime.

I can't believe I made it this far. Secretly I was glad to be heading back to Melbourne, as I knew the next day would have been brutal. The fourth day was the longest ever leg of the Great Vic Bike Ride (101km) and the weather forecast was for temperatures over 35 degrees. I'm not sure I would have made it.

The handlebar in my bicep from my little fall the previous day was swiftly developing into a fantastic bruise. Despite appearances it wasn't too painful, but unfortunately meant I had to tell the story of how I got it over and over again. This time people laughed :)

 The beginning of the bruise: 1 day after the fall

 And developing an interesting mix of colours: day 2 after the fall

 At its most spectacular: 4 days after the fall

In summary...

I will definitely be doing the Great Vic Bike Ride again. It was a fantastic experience, incredibly well organised and generally a pleasure to participate in. I know for next time to make sure I had plenty of the blister Band-Aids, to apply sunscreen liberally and regularly, and to keep both feet on the ground whenever my bike is stationery!

Overall I was incredibly lucky with the weather, as some years participants have to contend with rain and strong winds. I didn't have a rain jacked suitable for cycling in so I was lucky not to need it, but I'll definitely put that on my list for 2012.

To cleanse your palate of my terrible bruise I'll leave you with this stunning image - I took it through the window of the coach as we made a the long trip back to Melbourne.

~ Jacqui ~