When choosing to install solar, many people have a primary goal of saving money on their electricity bills. Fulfilling your own energy needs through your own solar production is known as self consumption. 100% self consumption is the ability to provide all of your energy needs through solar and not need the grid at all.
Self consumption is also known as loadshifting or solar soak. They all mean essentially the same thing; your own solar power is cheaper than electricity purchased from power companies, so consuming your own solar is the most effective way to save on your power bills and ensure you’re getting the most benefit from your solar system.
If you’re looking for ways to maximise your solar output and minimise your need for the grid, we’ve compiled some ways to ensure that you make the most of your solar system.
Check Your Smart Monitor
Many solar systems come with smart metering which allows monitoring of production and consumption. Knowing what you use and consume, and when, is the first step to aligning the two.
By becoming familiar with your solar smart monitoring app or website, you can see the impact of weather and shade, as well as the times of day when you consume the most electricity. You can also identify system issues earlier, so you can clean and maintain your system for maximum efficiency.
Do an energy audit
How much energy are you actually consuming? Using a smart meter to track your usage of power from the grid, as well as production and consumption, is one of the first steps you can take in working towards high self consumption.
The times of day you’re consuming and producing power are important because higher overlap means less use of the electrical grid. Check what times of day you’re consuming the most electricity and think about ways you can address usage outside daylight hours.
Retrofitting For Energy Efficiency
Older homes are less likely to be energy efficient, meaning higher bills, greater heat loss and higher greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the property. A study in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that retrofitting energy inefficient homes in the Melbourne area could save the city as much as 2.35 TWh per year in heating and cooling.
Although retrofitting can be expensive, there are still some effective and affordable steps you can take to increase your home’s energy efficiency, some of which we’ll go through later. The long term impact of retrofitting older houses can increase household savings, so larger renovations should be part of your long term plan.
Change light bulbs to LEDS not CFLs
Lights are primarily used during the evening hours, which means they’re usually using power off the grid, instead of your solar system. Since they’re one of the few things that can’t be used during daylight hours, it’s important to make the bulbs you’re using are using low amounts of energy.
LED lights use far less energy and last much longer than traditional CFLs. Making sure all light fittings are upgraded means not only is your property safer, but you’ll invest less money in replacing bulbs and running lighting.
Hot Water Timer
If you’ve had a solar system installed and you have an electric hot water system then you have a massive opportunity to increase self consumption.
You can’t change the tariff yourself, but you can have an electrician switch it over so your hot water system is heating off your daytime solar, instead of night time grid energy.
Depending on your household, between 10% and 50% of your power bill can be made up of hot water usage. With the use of a timer on the hot water circuit, you can make sure your hot water system only uses power during peak solar production.
This way, rather than supply the grid, you can store the energy in the form of hot water. If you leave it on the off peak you are effectively selling power at a low price and choosing to buy it straight back at a higher price.
Heating and cooling makes up a large portion of power consumption, so making sure your home is close to the right temperature is a sure way to reduce your power bill.
Insulation is a cost effective way to make sure your property maintains a comfortable temperature for longer periods and more rapidly approaches an ideal temperature when you feel the need to turn on an air conditioner.
Garden on Solar
If you love the outdoors, you may be able to take advantage of solar in your yard and patio.
Solar is perfect for powering gardening tools such as hedge trimmers or mowers that require charging or permanent connection to electricity. With peak production between spring and autumn, making use of your daytime solar is a great way to power your outdoor enjoyment. If you have a sauna or pool, don’t forget to use the heater and pump during daylight hours to reduce your night time use of power from the grid.
Charge During the Day
You may be tempted to charge your batteries overnight while you rest, but depending on what you’re charging, this can add dollars to your power bill. Whether you’re charging a phone or an electric car, it’s important to think about what impact this will have on your bottom line.
If you’re at work during the day, consider charging in the morning or as soon as you arrive home.
Gaps around windows and doors can rapidly impact household temperature and increase your energy consumption. Older houses are much more likely to have gaps that need to be filled, ranging from the ones you see each day through to issues such as unsealed vents, skylights and gaps in insulation.
Installing door and window seals is a good way to maintain your optimal temperature indoors, and avoid paying for electricity outside daylight hours.
Window Upgrades or Curtains
Single glazed windows can also be an issue, allowing cold and heat into your property, depending on the season.
There are a few solutions to this issue, depending on your budget and needs:
- Double glazed or tinted windows – If you want to reduce noise as well as heat, these are a better long term option, although also more expensive.
- Curtains and blinds – To lower the heat or cold loss, a good quality thick curtain or blind is a good option. If you’re on a budget, start with covering windows facing direct sunlight for a large portion of the day.
Turn off Standby Mode
Certain electronics and appliances operate on standby mode, which continues to consume power even when they’re not in use. This energy wastage may contribute as much as 10% of your power bill, according to EnergyAustralia.
Even electronic devices in standby mode may download content, or run Wi-Fi checks, ready and waiting for use.
Whenever possible, turn off computers, electronics, games and TVs that you aren’t using for extended periods of time.
Setting timers on your appliances is a great way to make sure you still enjoy all the comforts of your home without having to leave things running while you’re asleep or out of the house.
Setting the air conditioner to turn on before leaving work, or the pool to pump during the day, means you can still enjoy your daily comforts but spend less on night time power.
Many modern appliances come with built in timers or you can purchase a timing device which plugs into your powerpoint.
Smart Appliance Controls
For an easy way to maximize your energy saving, at a very affordable price, we recommend the RM Mini. It features full infrared capability that enables full control over your AC, TV and more, over Wifi, 3G and 4G.
With a USB port and an easy to use app, you can turn even your older appliances into smart appliances that can be controlled at the touch of an app.
Solar diverters allow the redirection of excess solar to heat your hot water tank. Unfortunately they do have limitations and it’s often better to run your hot water system off your main solar array.
These are very technical devices whose purpose is to measure the accuracy of self consumption compared to a simple timer control system. Depending on your “spare” solar energy that you send to the grid, they may be a good option. If you are considering one of these make sure the calculations are done with accurate information.
Home Energy management systems (HEMS)
Although putting your appliances on timers is a good way to ensure efficient energy usage throughout the day, you may not necessarily have all the information on the best times to use your appliances.
Many people are taking the next step and installing a Home Energy Management System (HEMS), allowing you to track energy usage throughout the day, and in some cases control when different appliances and systems turn on and off for maximum efficiency.
Some people choose to integrate their HEMS with a Home Automation System so they can work towards maximum efficiency while having the ability to control timers, lights and other electronics all from their phone or device.
Set automation during daylight hours
Setting pool pumps, hot water systems and other electrical items to automatically run during daylight hours is a great way to self consume energy.
If you want to cool your house before you come home for the day, this can often be automated or controlled through an app on your phone, ensuring most cooling energy is used before sundown.
If you still have high electricity demand outside daylight hours, batteries may be an option to store the excess energy you’ve produced. It’s important to keep in mind that batteries can take longer to pay for themselves, so aren’t suitable for every system, especially if you’re consuming most of your energy during daylight hours.
The solar industry has rapidly changed and innovated over the past two decades, so batteries may soon be as affordable as solar systems. Certain areas may also be eligible for Government Subsidies toward the installation of a battery for their solar system.
Move to electric vehicles
It’s a big step but it’s the way of the future; electric cars and bicycles are the next step in transport. If you regularly make short trips or travel around town, they may be the right choice for you. With the right setup, you can charge your electric car or bicycle using energy produced from your solar system, meaning you’ll cut down on petrol costs and reduce your carbon footprint.
Although you may never reach complete self consumption of your power, there are many steps you can take which will have a positive impact on your energy efficiency. Self consumption begins with small steps, but with each step, you’re moving closer to being entirely solar powered and less reliant on the grid.
Peter is a Licensed Electrician and the Director of Proven Energy, a Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer. After working in the industry, Peter’s interest in renewable energy lead him to found the company in 2012, offering honest and reliable solar system supply and installation for residential, commercial, off-grid and agricultural properties. Peter is a CEC Accredited Installer. Electrical Contractors Lic No. 74650