How to live a solar powered life in the city
The last decade has seen the beginning of a boom in rooftop solar power in Australia. Just ten year ago, you’d occasionally see a solar powered hot water tank, but that was about it. Today it’s hard to take a drive without seeing an entire house covered in panels!
But while there’re now more solar panels than people in Australia, many haven’t been able to get in on the trend, due to the high cost of entry. Whatever your situation, this article has some ideas for how you can use solar power to live a better, more sustainable life.
We’ve got the power! Well, some of us do
Since 2012, the price of rooftop solar has continued to fall, and there’s no sign of it rising again. Between 2012 and 2016, there was an average drop of around 30% in the cost of rooftop solar systems. Prices have continued to fall since.
Aussies are also installing larger systems. While 1.5kW (kilowatt) setups used to be popular, 4-5kW systems are now more common. With around 86% of grid power coming from fossil fuels, every kilowatt of rooftop solar is one that doesn’t come from burning coal or gas.
There’s also been an explosion in the use of large household batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall. Tesla’s Elon Musk can certainly take some credit for being the maverick frontman of solar power, helping to familiarise people with the technology.
How to switch your home to Solar Power
If you own a home, there are some serious savings to be made by switching to solar power, especially as retail prices rise. However, the upfront cost can be pretty hefty. In 2013, a 2kW system cost around $4,400. In 2014, the average cost paid by members of Choice magazine was around $8,000, with most of those systems around the 4kW mark.
Due to price drops, you can expect those numbers to be a bit lower today. In 2014, the average annual power bill in NSW was over $2,000, so it doesn’t take long to justify the initial investment. Plus, solar panels help keep retail prices down, with rooftop solar saving electricity customers several billion dollars in 2017. So you’ll help others by helping yourself!
There’s lots to consider beyond the scope of this article. Choice magazine has a fantastic guide to switching to solar power, which you should definitely read if this is something you’re interested in.
Other ways to get livin’ la vida solar
Of course, if you’re a renter, or live in an apartment, you probably don’t have the ability to install solar panels on the roof, or batteries in the basement. But there’re still some ways you can get more solar power in your life.
Move to a building with solar power
This is the fastest way to see if a solar powered life suits you. If you like living in houses, finding one with solar power is easier than ever, as 15% of Aussie households now have solar panels. Most don’t have batteries, but the panels should reduce your power bill, and help you live a little more sustainably.
If you’re an apartment dweller, finding a building with solar power will depend on what’s available in your area. The good news is there’s a growing trend of green developments, and buildings taking sustainability seriously.
In Sydney, this includes projects small and large, from a student co-operative in Newtown to the upmarket Manly National Building. There’s also one of the most impressive green buildings in Sydney, the Central Park complex. Rather than using solar power, it has a platform of mirrors directing light into a dark alley, reducing the need for streetlights.
Power your gadgets with the sun
As long as you have a window, you can use a solar powered usb charger to juice up your phone, Bluetooth headphones, or anything else that charges through usb! Originally designed for camping, modern solar chargers provide enough power to charge most devices, provided there’s enough sunlight. Here’s one, and here are some more.
Some chargers have built in batteries, so you can use the solar panels through the day and charge your phone at night. You can do the same using a battery pack like this.
Many of these are water resistant, so you could attach one to the outside of a window and run the charging cable inside – use your creativity!
Light the Night with Solar Powered LEDs
Ask any cyclist and they’ll tell you – LED lighting has changed everything! Unlike halogen or fluorescent globes, LEDs run cool and bright on a fraction of the power. That means you can get real bang for your buck using solar power.
We found a couple of cool products on Amazon Australia, here and here. Either or these would look great on a balcony in an apartment or house. You could also prop the solar panel on the outside of a window and run the cable inside to replace the main light in a bedroom or study.