Thursday, April 08, 2021

Powering my future

My life today is completely different than it was some 18 months ago, and the changes aren’t done yet. Today I had something done that will help me into the future, that helps achieve a dream that Nigel and I had, and that puts my personal values into action. It’s not every day that we can do something that powerful—in more ways than one.

Nigel had a part-dream, part-fantasy of us being largely self-sufficient. I shared in his overall vision, though maybe not the parts about growing our own food, because I knew that would largely fall on me—or would it? In his last couple years, Nigel took increasing interest in our tomato crop, so it’s not hard to imagine that he might become equally enthused about more food growing, especially when he retired. But as for the rest—the other things involved with living sustainably and self-sufficiently—I shared that dream.

In his last couple years, Nigel was determined to put up a wind turbine to generate electricity. When we’d hear the wind blowing outside, he’d say, “Listen to all that electricity!” The first turbine he bought was too large for our nearly quarter-acre section surrounded on all sides by similar-sized properties, six in total. So, he bought a smaller turbine. “I just want to generate enough electricity to power our computer servers and a bit more," he said. He would’ve been happy for more, of course, but he at least wanted to offset the “excess” power that we used.

When he died, the wind turbine idea died, too. I knew I’d be living in a town and wouldn’t be able to have a large turbine, and I also knew that those things need maintenance and care and I simply wasn’t up to that on any level. And so, it seemed our dream had died.

But then it turned out that it hadn’t.

An opportunity to revive it opened up in December last year when I decided against putting in an expensive ducted air conditioning system. I decided to spend the money instead on PV (photovoltaic) solar panels.

I contacted the folks at Harrisons Energy, and the franchisee for this area, based in Tauranga, came out to meet me and get information to work out a quote. I decided on them because, although not the cheapest, I knew they were a reputable company, were reliable, and had been around for many years, which could be important if anything went wrong.

The guy gave me three options for panels—cheaper (but good, highly rated) ones from a Chinese company, mid-price ones from LG, and expensive ones from a German company. Each of them rated well in independent rankings (I checked), but in the end I went with the LG. The other two companies had begun within the past decade, whereas LG has been around for some six decades, and they invest millions in R&D. That mattered to me because if anything went wrong with the panels, and Harrisons had gone out of business, the manufacturer, at least, should still be around as a last resort. And, there wasn’t that much difference in performance, anyway.

Rain delayed installation until today, and the guys arrived a little after nine this morning. They finished around 4:30-ish (a photo of the completed installation is above). I opted for a higher spec inverter (the device that takes the solar power from the PV collectors and makes it usable) because it’s ready to go for a plug-in electric car, which, right now, I hope to have eventually. I also opted for a special device that ensures power for the hot water tank is prioritised. That’s because in a typical house electric hot water heating accounts for up to 40% of all the power used in the house, partly because it switches on frequently in order to keep the water hot. Unfortunately, the device I ordered is on back-order at the moment.

I didn't get a battery pack to use at night: The cost for that alone was about 30% higher than the cost of the entire system I chose, installed. There are also environmental and ethical concerns about those battery packs that will eventually be solved, but that’s not now. Also, it seems likely that plug-in electric cars will become the battery storage for houses. One day a couple years ago, maybe, Nigel and I were driving home, and he gave me a detailed description of how that would work, what it would mean, and the technical ins and outs. I understood some of what he was saying, but I remember how he was very convincing—and enthusiastic.

My new system is up and working, however, it’s switched off at the moment. I need two things before I can use it: First, the installation has to be inspected and approved (because it connects to the national power grid, and so, must meet both code and requirements for that, and also because it involves major changes to the house’s power supply).

Second, I need a new ultra-smart meter that can sense the power I’m sending out to the grid so I can be paid for it. Right now, I have what used to be considered a smart meter, because it can be read remotely and because it can record the time power is used so it could use differential charging (where available), neither of which old-fashioned meters could do. However, the current not-so-smart-after-all meter can’t work out what’s happening with power I generate, and would treat it as power I’d consumed, rather than produced—and that means I’d pay the electricity company for the power I generated. Yeah, nah. In most cases, though, at least some old-fashioned meters could simply “spin backwards”, so maybe they weren’t so not-smart after all.

Me and a PV panel.
At any rate, the power meter will be changed a week from today, and Harrison’s will arrange for the inspection. With a bit of luck, a week or so from now the system can be switched on and I can generate my own electricity.

Based on the amount of power I actually use, I may achieve, or get very near to, self-sufficiency in electricity. That means that—at the very least—my power bills will be a fraction of what they are now. This will matter a lot when I retire. In fact, much of what I’ve been doing to this house has been about making it more comfortable for me for years to come, maybe until I die some decades from now.

However, one of the biggest things for me is that I’ll be at least near self-sufficiency in electricity generation, which had been Nigel’s dream. I couldn’t do it the way he wanted, but I’m trying to do it in a way that’s right for me. He’d approve.

It also puts my values in action. Not everyone can afford PV solar cells, obviously, however, I believe that those of us who can manage to do it should install them. The reason is simple: New Zealand needs more power generation, and if everyone who could do so installed PV on their roofs, it would dramatically reduce the need for new power plants, and it would help achieve New Zealand’s goal of achieving 100% renewable and non-polluting energy generation. Earlier generations sacrificed and did their bit to help their country win world wars, and, to me, this is similar: I’m doing my bit to help New Zealand, and to help fight climate change: It's my values in action.

It’s not every day that we can achieve anything that's so powerful to us. Today, I did that, and I’m very happy about that.

The names of products listed are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.


Roger Owen Green said...

We need to do better. The initial outlay of a sunroof has been the hangup, but we haven't checked it in a few years.

Arthur Schenck said...

It's definitely getting cheaper, what with increasing demand meaning more are manufactured. Then, too, today's panels and systems are much better.