Newsletter Archive

E-News Issue #24

3 September 1999

20W-24V Dichroics

The search for these continues - we have located a source of supply scheduled for January 2000. Yes, you read correctly - 4 months away! If you know of any quicker supply, let me know.

Web Search Engine

For you computer nerds, I came across a new beaut search engine whose data base contains more than 200 million URLs - 3 to 4 times more than any other search engine. At the moment, it is incredibly fast and there are no ads (yet!). Check it out at (edit 6.5.11 now redirected to yahoo)

Bread Ovens

In the April newsletter we warned you that the Panasonic Model SD200 Breadmaker did not like inverters (even sine wave). Does anyone have any good reports about running breadmakers on inverters? Thanks to Kathy at Choice Magazine for giving us some power consumption data. She reported "The breadmakers we tested used between 0.25 and 0.65KWh to bake a loaf of bread, with the average being 0.33KWh". You heard it first from Rainbow Power Company.

20W Fluoro Inverters

Chris has reminded me that the 20W fluoro inverters which we sell are designed for the fat 20W tubes, and not the 18W skinny tubes. While the latter are arguably a little more efficient, they are harder to start. So, we suggest you use the 20W fat tubes.

"Planning a Power System"

This article has been contributed by David Benton from Self Power in New Zealand.
Please note the currency would be in NZ dollars.

Getting a power company quote

Getting an alternative power system quote

You've brought your dream bit of land, designed the house to suit, and then comes the problems of things like getting power and water provided. A phone call to the power company, they come and have a look around, work out far to the nearest power line and transformer (and whether it can handle the extra load) and a few days later a quote arrives. It will usually give you 2 options, for overhead power lines, or for underground cables (generally around double the cost). It may range from $ 3000 - 7000 for connection over the fence to an existing transformer, to $ 20 000 to $ 50 000 for a new transformer and 1- 5 km of new power lines. But at least it's a quote, took an hour or so of your time and if you went ahead and connected to the grid, the power would be there in abundance and ready to use, just a bimonthly power bill to pay.

Trying to get a quote from a alternative power supplier is a different story altogether. "How much would it cost to solar power the average house" you might ask as a reasonable opening question. This will probably send "the expert" into a fit of ums and ahs, and "it all depends". Most likely they will answer your query with questions, wanting to know what kind of appliances you're planning to run in intimate detail. As you run by the things you have in your house at the moment, the expert may quietly "tut tut" as you mention the microwave, groan when you get to the clothes drier, and butt in to demand that you not use an electric stove at all, insisting that you'd be far better off to use gas or wood for most of your heating and cooking requirements.

Then when you think you've covered all the appliances, they will probably say, "and what about the fridge and freezer?". Well of course, you confess, we've just bought a big new fridge/freezer to go in the new house. They may dare to suggest that you would be better off to sell your new fridge, and buy a foreign one that they happen to sell for twice the price, insisting that this will actually save you money. Likewise they will expect you to use those expensive funny looking fluoro light bulbs.

After you've succumbed to all this they may then mention a vague figure, probably double what you expected, and that you'll need a diesel generator as a back up. If you're still interested they will then deliver the final shot, demanding you fill in a power use survey form.

The scenario above is an attempt to highlight 2 or 3 important differences between mains (national grid) power, and alternative energy systems.

  1. Mains power lets you run whatever you want (within reason), alternative energy systems (A.E.S.) cannot run large heating and cooking loads (unless you have a large hydro system).
  2. there is generally a fixed capital cost to connect to Mains power, alternative energy capital costs rise in proportion to the amount of power consumed.
  3. The most effective way to reduce the cost of alternative energy systems (and grid systems to a lesser extent) is to use more efficient appliances to reduce the power required.
  4. To successfully design and live with a A.E.S., the home owner needs to understand the above points, and be willing to cooperate with the system designer.

Is it worth while going to alternative energy systems?

Reading all the above you would think you'd have to be crazy (it probably does help) to put in a n A.E.S. Yet more and more people are choosing to go alternative, a lot of them paying quite a lot more for their system than it would cost to put the mains in. Why ?

Probably the main reason many people want to get away from mains power is to feel more independent. One less bill to be paid each month is a great feeling, as is having solar panels quietly producing power on your roof. While the power company offerings may look attractive on the surface, digging deeper will show up a few niggly points. Although you pay for the new power line and transformer, the power company actually own it. There may be a minimum usage clause, where you will pay for a certain amount of power whether you use it or not. But the one that gets up most peoples noses the most is the daily line charge, a set amount you pay whether you use power or not. No matter how frugal you are with using power, the line charge stays the same, and may amount to more than the cost of the actual power used.

Other reasons for wanting to go the A.E.S. way may be, it's generally environmentally friendlier, uncertainty of power supply in rural areas, and an interest in alternative ideas generally.

In fact most people that do go to an A.E.S are generally happy with their decision, and wouldn't dream of going back to mains. Once you adapt your energy use to suit the available power, living with a A.E.S. is a very rewarding experience. Some would even say fun. After all none of your visitors would want to see your power board meter, but they'd all want to see the solar panels etc.

So let's go ahead and design a system

Unfortunately its back to the power use survey again (email me for a copy). The importance of doing this can't be overstressed. Its a process of trying to find out how many lights and appliances you will need to run and for how long each day. It is then possible to estimate the total power requirement per day.

It gives the designer (which may be yourself ) an idea of the way you plan to live, and helps you to understand how much power each appliance uses, and where savings may be made. It may seem difficult, but it is only an estimating process, nobody knows exactly how much power they'll be using, but it will give both parties a lot better idea.

Each appliance uses power at a certain rate, measured in Watts. A 100 watt light bulb consumes 100 watts of power continuously while its on. If the light is on for 1 hour then it will consume 100 watt/hours of electricity. (1000 watt/hours = 1 kW/h, or one unit of electricity on your power bill). We then need to know how long this light bulb is likely to be run per day. If it is run for 4 hours a day, then it will consume 400 watt/hours per day. This is done for each light and appliance, the total watt/hours per day for each appliance are added up, which gives us the total watt/hours required per day.

Reduce, eliminate, find alternatives

The total watt/hours used per day is likely to be too high for a A.E.S. that could be provided within your financial means. Your designer will now roll their sleeves up and start to slash you power use like an accountant attacking your spending budget. They will point out that a 20 watt fluorescent light will put out the same amount of light as a 100 watt ordinary light bulb, cutting your total lighting power requirements by 80 %. The fridge/freezer will come next, a high efficiency model using less than 1/2 the power of a ordinary fridge/freezer, will be suggested. (If things are really tight they might suggest a gas fridge).

Heating and cooking requirements will be cut, going to gas or wood for most, a jug, toaster an microwave would be OK on larger systems. They may suggest that you will have to start the diesel generator to run the bigger appliances. The aim will be to get total power use down to a range of between 2 kW/h a day to 8 kW/h per day. The designer may say that it's still not possible to run everything you want to run at a reasonable cost. Decisions will made at each step as to what's suitable.

By now your designer should be able to give you a reasonable idea of likely costs, and what you can and can't run.. They will load your total power use into a spreadsheet, which will tell them what size battery, solar panel/wind/hydro is required. I will cover this process next month, for those of you who would like to do it yourself.

Cheers from Dave and all the RPC crew.

Dave Lambert (Director)

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We install solar systems in Northern NSW and Southern QLD.

Gold Coast (from Coolangatta to Southport), Nerang and Hinterland (Beaudesert) and out West (Warwick, Stanthorpe, Killarney)

Northern NSW (Tweed Heads to Yamba, including Evans Head, Byron Bay and Ballina); the Far North Coast Hinterland (Grafton via Lismore to Murwillumbah) and out West (Casino to Tenterfield, including Drake and Tabulam, as well as Woodenbong and Bonalbo)

For larger system we also go up to Brisbane or down to Coffs Harbour and even Glen Innes. Other places by arrangement.