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Queenscliffe Herald Article - July 2005

Solar Energy in Queenscliff

By Bob Fuller

In Queenscliff, we enjoy a temperate climate, as keen gardeners will tell you. It's also a good climate to use solar energy. Most Victorians do not realise that we enjoy 15% more sunshine than Barcelona in Spain and the same amount as North Africa, so this means that solar technologies will work well here.

These days you often hear people talk about "solar panels". This is a very confusing way to describe any solar technology because there are several different ways households can harness solar energy to reduce their energy bills and the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

One kind of solar technology will produce hot water. You can easily identify some brands of this technology because you will see the hot water storage tank attached directly to the solar water-heating panel. There are several manufacturers of solar water heaters and good quality units can reduce household hot water bills in Victoria by more than 60% each year. Solar water heaters are fitted with either gas or electric boosters so you are never without hot water, even during winter.

Currently the Victorian Government is offering rebates of up to $1500 to reduce the price that households have to pay to install a solar water heater. A solar water heater will cost more than a conventional water heater, but according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Victoria (SEAV), if the additional investment is $2000, the solar water heater will pay for itself in approximately four to ten years at today's gas and electricity prices. Of course, if energy prices rise, the payback period will be even shorter. A solar water heater with an electric booster will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds compared to an all-electric water heater, and a solar water heater with a gas booster will produce half the greenhouse gas emissions of an average efficiency gas water heater.

Another kind of solar technology that households can install produces electricity. In the simplest system, when electricity is produced on a sunny day, this is used directly in the house, if any electrical appliances are in use. If not, then the solar-generated electricity is exported into the main power grid. At night, when appliances or lights are being used, electricity is imported from the main grid. The house is fitted with a special meter, which records how much electricity is exported and how much is imported. An electricity supplier, like Origin, will pay for the exported electricity at the same rate as they charge for any imported electricity.

Solar electricity systems are expensive but the Federal Government offers a rebate to reduce the price that households have to pay. The rebate is set at $4 for each unit of system power. For a 640 Watt system, for example, the rebate would be $2560 and the installed cost to the householder would be about $6000. Over a year, such a system would produce about 900 units (kWh) of electricity and avoid well over one tonne of greenhouse gases from going into the atmosphere.

These systems have been installed successfully in houses in Queenscliff.

A Solar Hot Water Factsheet and information about solar electricity systems can be obtained from SEAV (www.seav.vic.gov.au).


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