WE'RE all bracing for bill shock as our winter power bills hit. But here is how one family reduced its bill to$3.79.
As families across Australia brace themselves before opening their winter electricity bills - which can often hit $1000 - and prepare for a long, hot and costly summer ahead, one NSW couple's bill gave them change from $5.
David Kidd and his wife Jenny paid just $3.79 for electricity for the month of September after installing solar panels on the roof of their two storey home.
So is solar worth the investment?
SWITCHING ON SAVINGS
The Kidds fitted solar panels to the east side of their home in northern NSW in August.
Their goal was to get their bills as close to zero as possible - and it's working.
"It feels great to be able to provide the bulk of our electricity needs from our own installation with the grid only as a backup for longer periods of cloudy weather," Mr Kidd, 64, said.
"We are finding that, even on days of long cloudy periods, we can largely supply our needs.
"We even had a power outage during the month after the new system was installed - the added backup circuit option worked perfectly to keep our essential services such as freezer and fridge working seamlessly during the outage."
He said the pair was happily converted to the benefits of solar - both for the environment and their cost of living - using around one kilowatt per day from the grid, while most homes average 20 times that.
The Kidds had a small existing solar system for seven years and recently added extra panels and a battery, at a cost of about $12,500. The shift saw their bills drop immediately.
"Without any solar, my bills were up over $200 per month," he said.
"With my small system, the bills were $120 a month, but when the new solar and battery system was installed in late August, my September bill immediately dropped to $3.79.
"The benefits were instantaneous.
While it will take a number of years for the Kidds to recoup the cost of installing the system, Mr Kidd is thrilled with their decision.
"Solar is easy to install and integrate, provides whatever degree of energy independence you wish to achieve and can afford - it takes away the worry of what your energy bill will look like each quarter and provides insurance against future electricity price rises.
"For me, solar is a no brainer. It's clean, cheap and sustainable."
He added that it was important to do your research, and find the best solution for your home.
"In my experience a solar consultant, rather than a salesperson, is the only way to ensure the best solution for your home."
RECORD YEAR FOR SOLAR
According to solar expert Alex Georgiou, this year has been a record breaking year for solar installations in Australia, spurred on by skyrocketing electricity prices and new solar and battery solutions offering cleaner, fairer - and cheaper - power.
Mr Georgiou, co-founder and solar consultant for ShineHub, said if designed properly, a solar and battery system could reduce electricity bills as much as 90 per cent, as the Kidds can attest.
"People have become frustrated with ever rising rates and the lack of control they have over their energy costs," he told news.com.au
"Pensioners and families all over Australia are being forced to endure long cold winters and scorching hot summers, because they can't afford to run heaters or air conditioning in their homes.
"Solar can change all that. Solar panels generate electricity during the day from the sun - powering the house and charging up the battery at the same time.
"At night, the home runs from the battery, and if any extra electricity is needed, the grid is still there as a last resort.
"This provides stability, peace of mind, and the ability to use power more freely without the worry of blowing through the family budget."
Roughly 20 per cent of Aussie homes have solar, but Mr Georgiou urged families to do their homework and use trained, professional providers to make sure they would get the best possible result.
"In addition to being a great investment in the value of your home, solar and battery systems typically pay themselves back in five to seven years," he said.
"The most talked about benefits of solar are savings and the environment - but this is not what most of our customers talk about when we call them after they've had their system for a few months.
"What they love is the freedom to use electricity more freely without having to worry about the bills.
"It's really nice to be able to run the air conditioning on a hot, summer day and know that it's all powered by sunshine."
But Mr Georgiou warned that not every home was the same and it was important for an expert to design a system that would work for your home.
"In the early days of solar, it used to be best to always put panels facing north - but nowadays it's usually best to split up your panels on your roof so that it's facing different directions - like east and west," he said.
"This allows you to catch the sun all day - the east panels in the morning, and the west panels in the afternoon - so that your home can run straight from the panel power during all daylight hours.
"The final secret? Add a few extra panels when placing your order - you get extra rebates, you'll get great solar production even on cloudy days, and you'll have the freedom to use appliances more freely."
BLOCKING UP THE SAVINGS
Another new option designed to lower bills is hydronic heating, as showcased by The Block's Sarah and Jason, who installed systems on this season's show.
"The Australian general public has not been historically aware that hydronic heating is a viable alternative to traditional gas, electric or split system heating," Rolf Preston, from Hydroheat Supplies, said.
"However as efficiency, star ratings, environmental factors and the cost of fossil fuel become driving issues in Australia, hydronic heating has now become a more prevalent choice, particularly for quality home builds and renovations.
While costs vary, Mr Preston said that typically, a new three-bedroom single story house with basic system could cost up to $12,000, or up to $20,000 including installation.
"Energy savings can be greater than 35 per cent over traditional ducted split systems," he said.
"In terms of electricity usage, the only component of a hydronic boiler that uses electricity is a small circulating pump - everything else in the system is gas fired.
"So it's a two fold saving - hydronics use hardly any electricity, and gas is cheaper than electricity."
OTHER WAYS TO SAVE
Recent reports have shown that about 145,000 households and small businesses in NSW are in 'energy debt', owing an average $663 to power companies for unpaid bills, with one in 10 owing more than $1500.
So, if we can't access technology such as solar power, what can we do to cut our bills?
• If you have an air conditioner, check what temperature it is set to - every degree below 24 can increase power consumption by 10 per cent, and clean its filter to increase efficiency.
• Switch off lights and power points.
• Use the washing machine, drier and dishwasher during off-peak periods.
• Wash clothes using cold water - this can save you up to $115 a year.
• Keep doors and blinds closed and use energy efficient light globes.
• Demand a better deal. Get on the phone and shop around - take your business elsewhere if your concerns aren't being addressed.
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