O Solar Mio!

Getting solar power is a richly attractive idea, when you sit down and think about it. Part of a wonderful dream. In your mind you imagine independence, freedom. Freedom from the dirty brown coal burning multinational power generating industry. Independence. No longer will Heartless Bastards, a member of the Bullies International Incorporated Group push your buttons. You will save on power bills. You can even make some money by feeding some of the electricity you generate back into the grid. Your power company will pay you for it. You can put that big fat lazy old sun out to work for you as you snuggle up in your freely and cleanly heated, cooled and lit cottage. Make yourself another cup of tea. With free hot water ever on the boil.

It doesn’t even have to be fine and sunny. Overcast or cloudy works fine – just as long as there’s enough UV around to make those photo-voltaic cells in your solar panels work properly.

You will be green. And clean. You will reduce your household’s carbon footprint. You will become a more responsible global citizen. Respectable. Like Adam Bandt. You feel a warm inner glow. 

Your independent spirit surges:

“Let’s go it alone. Let’s be entirely self-sufficient in electricity. Self-sustaining.

You can go off grid by purchasing a system big enough to meet your needs and an adequate storage system or battery.  All you need to do is spend another $10,000. of course this part will need replacing after seven years. But improving technology means batteries keep getting better and cheaper.  Don’t let the costs bother you. Think of it as an investment.

Of course even a feed in system will cost you a bit at first. Systems have dropped in price but they are still expensive. When you consider the rising price of electricity, however, your average system will pay for itself in a short space of time. Or so you hope. Best of all a government rebate will help you and your family towards a more self-sufficient, eco-friendly life style. You’ll be set forever.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? What could go wrong? What are you waiting for? Just do it, whispers your inner green hippie child.

Look at the facts, here. We are being priced out of the electricity market. We cannot afford not to grow our own power. Our last bill was nearly $600.

Heavenly Sunbeams, your independent local power broker’s website made it so simple. Imperative, too. HS promised to us three independent local quotes. Quickly. They would make the calls. All they needed first was to know a bit about us. Quite a bit. We entered our details. This was the first time we would be asked for our data. It would not be the last.

A day later an email from HS explained that because of our location, there was only one company on its list. Luckily, for us, however, and HS, it turned out to be Spark Group – the biggest solar company in the world. Heavenly Sunbeams thoughtfully suggested ways we could contact other contracting firms outside our area. If we still needed to. But that step was up to us. 

“Firms outside our area?” Sounded expensive. Travel charges to add to installation costs. And would they still be keen to help us should anything go wrong, further, as they say in the bush, down the track. Should we go with in the area but off the list? The fine print on the website suggested otherwise. In their no cowboys clause they explained that only reputable, honest and reliable firms made it to their list. 

We had a light-bulb moment. That dull voice of reason again. Things solar were not, perhaps, as they seemed. Our green consumer dream of independence, freedom was fading before our eyes. It gave way to Franz Kafka’s nightmare. Authority ruled. It was everywhere. It was arbitrary. Independence was all well and good provided it was approved by those with more (ahem) power than you. You could do as you liked provided you did as you were told.

Within days, however, things were (as they say), moving forward. Inexorably. Rapidly. Before we knew it, Sales Rep Radiant Teeth had invited himself over to have a chat over a cup of tea. Our tea? He didn’t specify. I wasn’t going to suggest he packed a thermos. Teeth did tell us that he represented the biggest group in the industry. The biggest in the world. I couldn’t delay making the appointment. Into the future, as they say. He rang back the next day to bring it forward.

Teeth tooled up in an SUV. A big white rhino appeared in our driveway,menacing our little old Camry.

Teeth’s car was nothing special. Just an ordinary, common or garden 4WD. $40, 000 without options. It had options. No sign, however, of any tea pot. But it looked hungry for fuel. And dangerous to any other road user. The Camry trembled.

We introduced ourselves.  A roo topic sprang up apparently out of nowhere, commending itself to both of us. Radiant had run into one or two. We exchanged tallies.

Impossible to dodge. Dangerous. You feel so powerless. At their mercy. His firm bought him a better car. You do feel safer in a bigger vehicle, I volunteered. Bugger the planet.

In a bit of an awkward gap, I proudly offered him a cup of our finest Aldi coffee. I avoided any mention of hunger.

He would love a coffee, he said. Perhaps I had misheard him about the tea. Or was it a salesman’s ambit claim? But first, he had to check our supply and our meter. 

You realise, he said, alongside the transformer, your limits.


Limits set by your power supply company. Powercorp will not permit you to generate more than 5KW.  Your transformer is rated 2.5KWH. This limits you to a 5KWH system. Or less. The earlier you get solar installed the more likely it is you are going to be able to connect a larger PV system. Too late and you may miss out entirely. If PV is already prevalent in an area you may not be able to connect at all. At all?  Until network upgrades are made in that area.  Or you pay for them yourself.

I am still trying to come to terms with this. You have to go cap in hand to your local electricity mafia to beg them to be allowed to generate your own juice? Only if you are going to feed it back into the grid, he says.

At least we will be able to say goodbye to power cuts.

Not if you are feeding into the grid. Only if you are going to go off grid.

Like a minnow swimming up to a white pointer, I ask him one of the questions they say you should ask your installation contractor. I have my research. I printed it out from Heavenly Sunbeams’s site. It sits beside my coffee cup on the dining table.

Let’s do it my way, he says. I will go through my presentation and you can ask questions afterwards.

He talks for one hour. I do ask questions. He tells me my questions are good. I thank him and tell him that I need to get at least two other quotes. His pitch is that his company is the biggest. The gear that they use is the best. Their installers are all fully trained in their own academy.

He has a colour ink-jet print out. Three options. The best panels in the world as used by NASA. The Canadian panels, stand up to extremes. The best value panels.

His cheapest top tier system, with twenty panels guaranteed for 25 years to generate up to 80% capacity. His top of the line Austrian inverter with 10 year extended warranty.  (Average life is up to 20 years.) price after rebate is $8900.

The government could abolish all rebates in a few days. The RET could be abolished. The findings of Warburton’s review are being considered now. Not that he wants us to feel pressured. Just needs to state the context.

The following Tuesday Rapunzel of Spark rings to say that the boys will be out tomorrow. Takes five to seven hours to install. And how would I like to pay the balance owing?

We’ll have to put the cat in the cabin with her tray. And keep a close eye on our chooks. They have just started to lay.

an email appears with a design for our approval. Ten panels face East and ten West. Unlike some aspects of the solar industry, the roof, happily has a low pitch.

To be continued …