an energy saving alternative to solar – an addendum

dreamstimefree_10823516The other day I wrote about the ins and outs of installing solar panels and concluded that solar panels don’t make a great return on investment at the moment (although for an alternate view, please see this article which compares solar investment to a savings account investment).

For many of us who are concerned about our impact on the environment, there can be a certain amount of guilt associated with our inability to afford solar power, or our decision not to install it.

After all, doesn’t solar power reduce the need to burn dead dinosaurs?

There is an alternative, however, to spending thousands of dollars on solar panels. It’s a smart alternative and one that everyone of us can do today, without the huge outlay of cash.

In the original article I noted that the average Australian household uses around 18kW of power a day [Choice]. Let’s assume the average person living near Brisbane installed solar power. They would be able to reduce or offset their grid electricity consumption by an average of approximately 8kW a day going off the figures of this calculator.

As a comparison, living in Sydney you could generate approximately 7.5kW, in Melbourne about 7kWs, in Hobart about 6.6kW, and Perth around 8.6kW.

To labour the point: to save 8kW a day in electricity (and around $1.70 a day), you need to make an initial $3,000 – $6,000 investment.

The kicker of an alternative

Here’s how to get the same or similar result for free (or a lot cheaper): reduce your energy consumption.

Reducing consumption is something we can all do, starting today, no money down.

Imagine if you reduced your consumption by 1kW a day. That’s the equivalent of using an electric heater for a total of 1 hour less a day, or watching 2 hours less of TV a day. At 21c a kilowatt, that’s a saving of around $75 a year.

Reduce your consumption by 3kW a day, a very achievable goal, and you can save around $230 a year.

And if you were to then install solar panels, your net energy consumption will be much closer to zero.

The bigger picture

A 3kW per day energy consumption reduction doesn’t seem like a big deal. But imagine if every household in Australia reduced their energy consumption by an average of 3kWs a day.

There are around 8 million households in Australia. At 3kWs per day, that would reduce the nations electricity usage by 8.76 billion kilowatts a year.

Australia produces around 195 billion kilowatts of electricity for general consumption. Around 30% is for residential use (going off the nation’s average of 18 kilowatts per household, per day).

At 3kWs less per day, that would be a reduction in residential energy consumption of 16% and a total reduction in energy consumption of 4.5%.

Approximately 77% of all electricity generated is from coal-fired power stations. A 3kW reduction would also mean a total reduction of coal-based energy consumption of 5.8%, which is the equivalent of over 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere per year (extrapolated from these figures).

Let’s take this a little further. Part of the government’s emissions reduction plan is to reduce carbon emissions to 5% less that the 2000 levels (which would be a total emissions target of 530 megatons per year). The current projection for 2008-12 is 582 Mt. That means we need to reduce emissions by 9% to be on target (instead of increasing emissions, which is our current trajectory).

If we were to all reduce our energy consumption by 3kW, that would contribute 15% to the total emissions reduction required.

So if you think that off the lights or using the dryer less doesn’t make a difference, think again. It all adds up.

While many of us may not be able to afford to install solar panels, or decide not to for various reasons, what we can do is reduce our energy consumption which is just as important, if not more so, than installing solar panels.

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  1. Claire says

    thanks for this continued discussion, another thing potential installers need to be concious of is the life expectancy vs savings potential, maintenace costs of solar panels and are they covered by insurance if damaged by in a storm etc… My boss had solar hot wateer installed into their 2 storey home – hot water fine and dandy downstairs but tepid at best in the upstairs – so now they are running a solar downstairs and brand new standard hot water system upstairs at the suggestion of their local solar installer/rep – huge outlay for panels, replumbing and hot water cylinder, very dissapointing and offputting.

  2. says

    Hi Clare, thanks for sharing that story. There are so many variables to think about when it comes to the viability of solar. We have a solar hot water system (two storey townhouse), I’m writing about our system next week.

  3. says

    Yes, thanks for the ongoing discussion, Melissa. A very interesting topic and also excellent to hear the experiences of commenters.

    I’ve been thinking for a while that reduced consumption + solar might be our best plan for the future. Very interesting to hear that simply having the TV off for 2 hours can potentially save so many kWs!

  4. Jack says

    Your estimate of the power consumption of a TV is pretty extreme. If you have an average LCD TV (which is the most common these days) they need 111 Watts (source You’d therefore need to reduce your TV watching by 9 hours a day to save 1 kWh. Your figures would work only if you have the largest and most inefficient plasma TV.

    Heating on the other hand you have underestimated. Your average column heater draws 2400 Watts (ie in an hour uses 2.4 kWh), while a medium sized reverse cycle air conditioner draws up to 6000 Watts (ie in an hour uses up to 6 kWh). Your figures would work with the wimpest small heater.

    Ideas for saving 3kWh a day:
    Less heating/cooling of the house would do it very easily (between 1/2 an hour and 1 1/2 hours less heating/cooling a day)
    Turn off the drinks fridge (~1 kWh a day)
    Swap from warm to cold clothes washing (very roughly 1 kWh a day depending on hot water system, frequency of washing, temperature of hot water, etc, etc)
    Use the clothes line rather than the clothes dryer (very roughly 1kWh a load – depending on machine, cycle length, load, etc)
    Turning down the temperature on your electric storage hot water system + use less hot water (shorter showers) – the exact amount you save will be highly variable.

    The things that involve heating and cooling are the things that chew power and where I’d be looking first to reduce power consumption.

  5. says

    @ Jack, thank you for those corrections. I was going off electricity estimates from the Mr Electricity website, and I think you’re right, it was a large TV. Living in QLD, I do have a wimpy heater though :).

    Your comment has actually preempted an article I have started for next week – how to save 3kWs of electricity (although I’m going to have to be a little more careful with my figures :) ). I have also found that anything involving heating chews power.

  6. says

    Well said Melissa.
    We have spent a fair bit of effort reducing our power needs before we got our solar panels.

    Things like
    Passive Solar Design
    Extra Insulation
    Cold Water clothes washing
    Low Energy Bulbs, Certainly no downlights.

    One thing I haven’t been able to give up is my Beer Fridge, but I only run it overnight when the power is half price. The insulation then keeps it cool all day.

  7. says

    @ Fiona, Jack has corrected my calculations on TV watching :) but it still saves some power.

    @ Brian, it’s nice to have some creature comforts, my father would have cut off his right hand before turning off the beer fridge, but he was a homebrewer. I really think insullation is one of the most important things we can do to our home. I know this is out of favour with everything that happened, but the insulation scheme was an excellent idea, just a shame it wasn’t run properly.