Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Going solar #4 - hidden costs

Another draft post that I never quite finished so it was never published. A few tweaks and I'm hitting the publish button! Originally written in 2012.

So at this stage, my solar system has been installed and things are going great - my meter is turning backwards whenever the panels are generating more electricity than I am consuming.

At some point the power distributor contacted me to say that I had to turn my solar system off until a bidirectional meter was installed - I was not allowed to have it on whilst having the old meter essentially running backwards. But damn, it was good while it lasted!

So after coughing up for the truck fee of $420, the meter was installed and it took about 2 weeks for it to be remotely programmed, during which time I had to leave the solar system switched off.

Somewhere along the line (I'm writing this 5 years after the event so my memory is a little hazy), I discovered that I had a problem with my hot water electricity service. With the old meters, the hot water system was hooked up to an off-peak meter. I don't quite know how it worked in terms of the heater knowing when to turn on, but presumably the off-peak supply was only available during off-peak hours. So the problem I faced with replace the two meters (one peak, one off-peak), was that the hot water system would be on and heating 24 hours a day, which would mean that it would consume electricity during peak hours and at a higher cost, but also that it would never be off.

The power distributor advised I should have an electrician install a time switch. I contacted my sparky that did the switchboard, and after much explaining (he had never come across this situation before), he could do it for me. This was another additional expense I was not expecting and I think it also cost around $400 from memory.

Separate time switch panel

Had I known this from the start, I could have had him do it at the same time as the switchboard, saving on callout fees, but also he would have installed a switchboard with more space. In the end, there is a separate time switch panel because there was not enough space on the switchboard. This separate panel added to the overall cost.

Here you can see the time switch panel above the switchboard, which didn't have enough space for the time switch
The great thing about having the time switch is that I can control how many hours my hot water system is on - I can make sure it is only heating overnight during the off-peak times, and in summer I can reduce the amount of time it is on for, or if I'm going away for an extended period. I can even switch it off if I'm going away, but I just need to remember to turn it back on so I have hot water when I want to have a shower or wash the dishes (learned from experience...oops!)

I do need to keep an eye on it if I have any power outages or change the clocks for daylight savings - whilst an hour out of whack won't make that much difference (as the time I've set it to be on is right in the middle of the off-peak period), over time the small time differences add up and it can creep into the peak period, with a much higher rate, which is significant as hot water heating is one of the big ones when it comes to electricity consumption.

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