Optimizing Your Home Solar System: Techniques for Lowering Energy Costs

by Vincent Godstime

A recent survey revealed that 15% of Australians are considering installing solar panels due to rising electricity costs, with an additional 6% considering the option on top of the 28% who already have panels installed. As costs continue to decrease, households are now opting for larger solar systems, with 8-10kW systems becoming increasingly common, often paired with a battery. However, roof size may limit the maximum size of the system.

While installing a solar system may lower electricity costs, some households may still experience high bills. This is due to feeding energy into the grid during peak sunlight hours, when retailers offer low feed-in tariffs of five cents per kWh or less. To encourage customers to use energy during these times, retailers offer generous time-of-use tariffs, known as “solar sponge” tariffs. However, during peak demand periods (around 6-10 am and 3-11 pm) when solar output is low or non-existent, the cost doubles and most rooftop solar owners are still paying for the electricity they use.

To effectively reduce electricity costs with a solar system, it is important to focus on three key areas:

  • selecting energy efficient appliances,
  • utilizing smart technology or timers to run them during times of ample solar generation, and
  • choosing a retail electricity plan that aligns with your usage habits.

How much of an impact can appliances make on energy costs?

To effectively reduce energy expenses, it is essential to understand your usage patterns. Heating and cooling account for a significant portion of a typical home’s energy consumption, ranging from 30-45%. Our research at the University of South Australia shows that older air conditioners consume more energy as they age. Many homes still have air conditioners that are over 10 years old with 2-3 star ratings, while modern split systems with 6 stars use less than half as much electricity. Users can use smart technology or timers to program or control air conditioners remotely with a mobile phone, to turn on for an hour or two before getting home, taking advantage of cheap solar electricity to create a comfortable home. Smart and cost-effective controllers can also decrease cooling or heating when they detect a room is empty or windows are open. Another 25-33% of energy consumption is used for water heating. With ample solar electricity and rising gas prices, heat pump water heaters are a cost-effective option. With government subsidies, their initial cost is similar to conventional gas or electric systems, but they typically use a third of the energy.

To maximize the benefits of a solar system and reduce energy costs, appliances can be programmed to operate during times of peak solar generation and store energy for later use. For example, heat pump water heaters can be set to heat water during peak solar hours and store it, providing almost free hot water when needed. In addition to smart appliances for heating and cooling, there are many other energy-efficient options available. Induction cooktops, microwaves, air fryers, pressure cookers, and other appliances can all be used to reduce energy consumption. Ovens and slow cookers can be set to run on solar power and have meals ready when you get home. Appliances for washing clothes, dishes and drying clothes can also be programmed to run during sunny hours. It is important to select appliances with high star ratings to ensure they are energy efficient.

Energy-efficient fridges can also help cut energy costs, but it’s important to note that even if you purchase one, it’s common for people to keep their old, less efficient fridge for drinks, which can greatly increase energy consumption. Homes with swimming pools or spas often have high electricity bills. A pool can consume 2,000-3,000kWh of electricity per year, costing between A$A$700-1,200.

However, using a solar pool heater can be an excellent cost-saving alternative. A timer switch can be used to ensure that the majority of energy is consumed during peak solar hours. Outdoor spas also use a significant amount of energy for water heating and circulation. To reduce energy consumption, a timer switch can be installed to use solar power for heating and have the spa ready for use after working hours.  Also, turning off the thermostat when not in use can prevent heat loss to the surroundings.

Maximizing Solar Output with Smart Technology

As electricity prices continue to rise, many homeowners are turning to solar energy to reduce their power bills. However, simply installing solar panels does not guarantee significant savings. By implementing smart technology to control the timing of energy usage, households can make the most of their solar output and see real savings on their electricity bills. Whether through a whole-home control system or individual appliance timers, adjusting usage to align with peak solar generation can greatly reduce energy waste and costs.

Also, with advancements in AI-based forecasting, future smart control systems will require even less human intervention to optimize energy usage. To fully utilize the benefits of solar energy, energy storage solutions are crucial. One option is the use of home batteries,.

Another exciting development is the use of thermal batteries for heating and cooling. These systems use energy generated during sunny hours to store heat or coolness in a thermal battery for later use.  Integrating electric vehicles that connect to the grid can greatly enhance the utilization of rooftop solar energy and its storage for evening use, as their battery capacity is significantly higher than that of home batteries.

In conclusion, solar energy is becoming an increasingly popular and cost-effective option for households looking to reduce their energy costs. By focusing on energy-efficient appliances, utilizing smart technology, and choosing a retail electricity plan that aligns with your usage habits, households can maximize the benefits of a solar system and reduce energy costs. It is important to note that the size of the solar system and the presence of storage solutions will also play a key role in determining the effectiveness of a solar system in reducing energy costs.

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