Monday, December 19, 2016

Installing #Solarhotwater makes both financial and climate sense

I came home from attending #COP22 in Marrakech only to have my gas-boosted hot water system die a week or so later. A good opportunity to upgrade to an electric boosted solar hot water service to increase household energy efficiency and reduce emissions, although lousy timing for my Christmas finances.

Household disaster

On a late Friday afternoon in early December I had the unfortunate occasion to loose all household power. A check with my teenage daughter to see what appliances she may have been using gave no clues. A check of the powerboard revealed the circuit breaker had come on. Then it was just a matter of elimination working out which circuit had tripped the circuit breaker.

I narrowed it down to one power circuit that included one bedroom, the laundry, garage and the outside powerpoints to the gas-boosted hot water service. Next step: I called an emergency electrician. It wasn't a cheap visit. On a Friday evening it cost me in total $537.90. Really bordering on highway robbery considering I had already narrowed down the problem. They did promise to subtract this from any quote provided for a new hot water service, and possible install by the following mid-week.

As I needed a new hot water service, this was clearly a time I needed to assess both economic and climate costs of a new system. As I was particularly determined to move to solar hot water, the emergency electrical service I had chosen (through Google) got back to me with a quote on Monday for a solar (evacuated tube) split system for about $8800 including GST, of which I would be able to subtract the emergency callout charge. They did promise install that week. I guess if I had chosen this quote I was actually paying for a high priority install. But I felt I could find a better price.

Heating hot water accounts for 22 percent of household emissions

According to the Federal Government Your Home website from 2013, "Heating water accounts for 21 percent of the energy used in the average Australian home, and is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 22 percent) from home energy use." The Australian Bureau of Statistics page on Victorian energy - hot water systems from 2009 puts these percentages slightly higher at 23 percent household usage and 24 percent of home energy emissions.

You can check the relative costs and greenhouse emissions of different hot water systems in Victoria at Sustainability Victoria Household Hot water running Costs. But I don't think this chart includes details for those already paying an electricity retailer for 100 percent Greenpower (which I am). My electricity emissions should be nominally zero already. Emissions reduction is an important reason for me to move from gas to solar with electric-boost hot water. It will mainly be the winter months that I will need the electric boosting for hot water.

Over the weekend I contacted a number of solar hot water firms. My first port of call was the Earthworker Co-operative, but sadly they are not yet established enough to offer the system I wanted. I eventually chose one - Insolar Australia, not on the basis of price alone but on system brand and overall knowledge over the phone (including respecting my climate reasons for choosing an electric boosted solar split system). I wanted a company that would organise the contract plumbing and electrical work, without the hassle of trying to organise this myself.

By installing a solar hot water system, I am effectively adding a portion of solar energy storage in the form of hot water to my household energy system. I already have a solar PV system, so this is an opportunity to expand my household solar energy efficiency.
I know the payback time on a new electric boosted solar hot water system is anywhere up to 12 years. It might make short-term financial sense just to put in an instantaneous gas hot water system. But we need to consider the emissions involved in gas infrastructure.

Payback time for solar (evacuated tube) hot water 5-11 years in Sydney

According to this One Step of the Grid article from December 2015, in Sydney "The Apricus Evacuated Tube SHW payback ranges from 5.0 to 11.0 years depending on whether it is replacing an electric (peak) hot water system, a gas system or an electric (off-peak) hot water system (respectively)."

The article further outlines and compares the advantages of installing solar panels and solar hot water and combinations of both. When replacing natural gas hot water systems the Apricus evacuated tube solar hot water systems have quicker payback than all PV options. For Victorian Metro (which is my location) it says:

"VIC Metro: PV pays for itself quicker than SHW in most circumstances, but if your hot water tank has reached the end of its life then SHW combined with a small PV system is the optimal combination. VEECs may make retrofitting SHW to an existing tank has comparable economics to PV."
While I am paying my Gas energy supplier to offset emissions for the gas I consume, offsetting is not a long term solution when we need to be reducing emissions through mitigation action. I already have a 1.5kW Solar PV system on my roof and pay my electricity supplier for 100 percent Green power (wind) for any grid power usage. Moving to electric-boosted solar makes long term financial and climate common sense.

The solar hot water system I paid Insolar to install is an Apricus 22 Evacuated Tube 250L Stainless Steel Tank Electric Boosted System (with a bottom element). The water tank is manufactured locally in Victoria and comes with a 15 year warranty, while the Apricus roof components also come with a 15 year warranty.

I am also entitled to 15 small-scale technology certificates (STCs) for install of a new solar hot water system in Victoria. The number will vary according to the system design. My 15 STCs are worth about $570 in rebates at current STC market price. The Australian Government REC registry has a STC calculator to work out the number of small-scale technology certificates (STCs) for solar water heater or air source heat pump systems that you are entitled to according to the system specifications and location.

One millionth solar hot water system installed

In October 2016 the Clean Energy Regulator reported that the one millionth solar hot water service was installed in Australia. This is in addition to 1.5 million households with Solar PV.

“Reaching this milestone demonstrates that there is continuing strong interest from households to participate in the small-scale renewable energy scheme and enjoy the financial and environmental benefits that come along with that,” said Mark Williamson, Executive General Manager at the Clean Energy Regulator. “An average household can use around 25 per cent of its total energy on heating water and so solar water heaters are an excellent way to reduce energy bills,” said Mr Williamson.

While this milestone was reached, it appears the rate of installations has slowed rapidly. Up to October 2016 only 33,000 new solar hot water systems had been installed. According to a RenewEconomy article showing a table of installation data from 2001 to 2016, the peak years for solar hot water was in 2009 with nearly 200,000 installations, and 2010 and 2011, with more than 100,000.

“We have progressively seen this technology become more popular over the past few years and I expect, as prices reduce and households are able to see not just the environmental benefits but also the cost savings they can achieve, it will become even more common,” Mr Williamson said.

My install came with glitches

There were glitches during the install, like the manifold that was couriered to my house took all day and arrived (and was signed for by me) at 5.36pm, long after the plumber had left for another job. It appeared to be the last item of delivery by the courier. Not a very efficient service. It meant another night of cold showers for myself and my daughter.

Solar PV reaches 300,000 households in Victoria generating 1GW

In other news, Victorian Environment and Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio was pretty happy this week that Victoria achieved a milestone of 300,000 homes with solar PV panels generating over 1 GW of electricity.

Battery storage also continues to fall in price and when combined with a 5kW solar system the payback time in South Australia is as little as 8 years.

Of course, there should be better regulations at the State level to mandate install of low emissions efficient hot water heating in all new housing construction.

But reducing long term running costs as well as climate emissions is really where it's at. Have a read of the Choice article on Solar Hot Water Buying Guide from 2014.

This article was first composed by me as a Storify: