Friday, 16 December 2011

Array of sunshine

We’ve got the power!  Or will, once these beautiful panels are connected to our batteries.

Eight is enough - or we hope so, anyway.
 It’s been a funny sort of time at Little Bush.  On the one hand it’s almost Christmas and the happy traditions and expectation involved make this my favourite time of the year.
It’s a time for catching up with friends and sharing seasonal cheer, and congratulating each other on getting to the end of another trying year intact.  As well as the enormous project which this blog chronicles, we have both survived yet another major restructure at work, so there is plenty to celebrate.  At the time of writing we are due to move in tomorrow, so excitement is high.

The other hand offers all those things we knew would happen, but preferred not to think about: Hidden costs, overspends, a rise in bank interest rates and Christmas holidays preventing certain important services from being installed before our move.  These seem to have all surfaced at once, threatening to put a dent in Snoopy’s festive propeller.
I say we’d preferred not to think about these gremlins, but they are hardly unexpected, probably inevitable, in fact. And thanks for another vet bill because some other cat has handed your bottom to you yet again, Ed! 

It might just be that despite never falling out of love with our temporary home, we are tired of living in a box, showering under a tree and never having quite enough light to find anything easily.  As we’ve frequently written: it’s not so bad, but nine months is a long time.  A week of cloud and rain hasn’t really helped, although now we have good reason to alter our attitude to precipitation – one of our water tanks is almost a third full – surely a record for December!
It seems unbelievable to write these words, but the shipping container is going back to whence it came in two days time.  Royal Wolf generously allowed us to extend our tenancy so that we could move out this weekend, and soon there will only be a large rectangular patch on the ground where our crate outdoors once stood.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of our photovoltaic panels being installed.  These eight ‘power panes’ will provide us with all of our electricity in years to come (I admit I couldn’t help but smirk when the Huntly power station had it’s small issue recently) and the goods news is that apparently we will be all connected before Christmas.  The sun will be powering our Christmas tree lights and playing my Christmas CDs –it really is the season to be jolly!

Not Christmas wrapped, but still very exciting to open
The aluminium tracks supporting the panels are set at 40 degrees
for maximum solar gain throughout the year.
The panels will be connected to our batteries next week - then bring on the sun!
(it is coming, apparently)


  1. Congratulations on getting your house built - it looks a great place to live in - and wonderful surroundings - and the committment to getting off-the-grid is very topical.

    I read about your house in the local DominionPost supplement - and the blog link was in there - and it's good to see the progress that you are making.

    The solar power panels sound interesting - and I can see you have a battery bank - but I can't work out how much power 4.5Kw really means - or how much the batteries can store.

    Is there somewhere where I can research and understand about how much power is stored, collected, and how much you expect your house to use?

    Basically, I'm asking how what happens in winter - how often you might need to resort to the generator or be without power.

  2. Power...

    My partner and I also live off-the-grid. We started planning long before we moved. Replacing appliances with low energy ones as required. That was the first step. You have to recognise you cannot support the same level of power use off-grid as on-grid ( unless you have very deep pockets). The second step was designing out as much power consumption as possible. Water and sewage are primarily gravity driven, as a for instance.

    Our energy budget is approx 3KW/day. That is 3 units for the grid connected, about 1/10th of the average NZ household usage. Our system was designed around that, we have 1360 watts of PV panels and 750amp/hours of battery storage. With a backup petrol generator. This gives us about 3 days of normal use storage with no solar gain. We probably use the generator on average 3 hours/month. Most years we will go for periods of 7 to 10 months without running it at all.

    We have most of the mod cons. Fridge, freezer, TV, stereo, DVD, PC, automatic washing machine. Cooking is all gas, water heating is mainly solar. We also have a woodfired stove (a locally, Whangarei, made Homewood about which I cannot speak highly enough) for backup water heating, cooking (it has two ovens) and space heating. Lighting is LED throughout. We don't have a dryer (drying is done outside or on a victorian style rack hung from the ceiling), spa or teenage kids spending every waking minute pounding the internet or a games machine.

    I cannot say we are particularly frugal in our power use. we certainly live quite comfortably. It wasn't difficult adjusting to living with the system (we did have the advantage of building from scratch to help us). What was diffficult was finding good information and reliable trades people to help.

    A little bit of thought can result in great savings. For the grid connected however there are few incentives to save power. Your billing is made up of a portion of fixed charges so beyond a certain amount further reductions in use don't result in savings.

    Hope that helps.

    Mark Turner