Up until two years ago, the thought of our family (two adults, one teenager) living in a solar-powered home was just a pipedream. But thanks to the $8,000 government rebate and a good deal from a local solar power company, our dream has now become a reality!
Initially we had a 1 kilowatt system installed, which was all we could afford ($3,990 after the rebate, plus $400 for a bi-directional meter). Actually, this was sufficient for our needs. We had already had solar hot water connected, which had cut our power bill in half, so with the addition of six solar panels, our bill was reduced to $30-$40 per quarter ($32 of this was the service fee for the man to read the meter!)
Twelve months later we were so thrilled with the whole "solar power thing", we decided to upgrade and added a 2 kilowatt system (12 more panels). We went with the same company, who gave us a generous discount, but still had to do it in stages, six months apart, in order to afford it.
So we now have 18 panels, which also provide valuable shade to one half of our roof! Last quarter we received our first bill since completing installations: $83.52 CREDIT! And things are looking even better in 2010 with the introduction of gross feed-in tariffs - we will be earning up to $12 a day for the energy we produce (we generate, on average, at least twice as much power as we use).
To be honest, whether or not our system ever pays for itself was never a consideration for us. The money is not important ("you can't take it with you when you go") but investing in the environment for future generations certainly is. We chose to invest in a better future. Not having any more electricity bills is just a bonus.
At the end of last year I wrote to our local newspaper and, telling them of our achievements, and inviting them to do a story about our home. They declined, but published an edited form of my letter in the "Letters" section in January. As a result of this we have had five different families track us down, via the paper, to ask us about our solar panels, two have come to have a look at our house for themselves, and at least one family has gone anead and had ten solar panels installed on their own roof! We are beginning to feel that we are ambassadors for solar power, leading by example! It has been a blessing to share our enthusiasm for the cause, and to see others changing their habits and getting on board with solar power.
I am a big believer in people power. Either we can get frustrated waiting for governments to act on climate change*, or we can take up the challenge ourselves, make the sacrifices, and bring about change. The power (literally!) is in our hands. (*This doesn't mean we should stop lobbying governments!)
To conclude, I must emphasise that efficient solar power requires a two-pronged approach: solar panels are great, but they are only really effective when coupled with reduced energy consumption. Thanks to good passive solar design, our house requires no heating in winter or cooling in summer. We have minimal electrical appliances and carefully monitor our power use in order to avoid wastage. Yet, for all this, we still live in relative luxury.
So this is our story. May God bless you and strengthen you in your own green endeavours, and remember: together we can make a difference!