Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Using grid interactive solar (or not)

Principle 3: Obtain a yeild

Since we got our 1.5kW PV solar system switched on at the end of July last year, just on six months ago, we have generated 1375 kW and exported 1164.9 kW. So we have used 210.1 kW (the difference bewteen the two) from our system plus the 204.4 kW that we imported from the grid. That's 414.5 kW over six months, about 2.27 kW per day being a 20% reduction on the same period last year. I attribute this to our greater awareness of our power generation and further energy conservation efforts.
We received our first bill (actually a $30 credit) from our energy retailer, Origin, recently - three months overdue. The bill does not show our total energy useage because we use power from our system as it is generated (the 210.1kW figure above). What I noticed on our bill was that is that we are not being paid the 66c 'premium feed-in tariff' that we were told that we would be, but are instead receiving the new rate of 23.5c.
I contacted Origin to try and work out what was going on and got a call back yesterday with an appology stating that Origin have made an error, and are not going to pay me the premium feed-in tariff rate (after assuring me in writing that they would). I was also told that I would be compensated for this error. What a stuff up! I assume that they didn't send in the Contract of Acceptance that I submitted to the right government department in time, so wont be getting the subsidies for exported solar power, which are no longer available.
I thought it best that I calculate what I think that the compensation should be based on current figures so that when they come to me with an offer I have an idea whether it is reasonable or not - somehow I have the feeling it wont be. The contact that I was entering into with the premium feed-in tariff was for 15 years (I think), so:
1165kW exported over six months
= 2330 kW exported over on year (estimate)
= 34,950 kW over 15 years
The difference of the 66c tariff and the 23.5c tariff that I am receiving is 42.5c
34,950 x 42.5c = $14,853
Wow! Not bad. That's what I'll be asking for in compensation, wonder how I'll go?

UPDATE 20th Feb 2012: One thing that I've been thinking about since I wrote this was about our intention to reduce our energy usage further by: purchasing more energy efficient appliances in the future, LED lighting, installing a pressure tank and / or header tank to reduce water pump usage and stand by, and the contruction / purchase of a solar oven (we have been using an electric one for a while) - along with any other measures that we can think of. This would affect our compensation into more positive territory (for us).

Since our fridge died at the start of the year we have been using water frozen in bottles stored in the freezer compartment of the old bar fridge to keep food cool

In other energy related news, our 23 year old bar fridge died at the start of the year, during a hot spell. This is just a few weeks after we bought a freezer. We had trialled the use of a esky (23lt cooler) to replace the fridge for a few days (before it died), using 2 x 1lt ice blocks from the freezer which lasted a few days before melting completely.  The esky wasn't big enough so we put the idea on ice (pun intended) until we got the cool cupboard finished off. The cool cupboard would store most fresh food (fruit, vegies, butter, cheeses & eggs) that we would normal store in the fridge, keeping it at an estimated 14-18 degrees - see Melliodra eBook. I hope to get this finished soon, but have been put off by the difficulty in getting the doors to seal with my limited skills.
In the mean time we have continued to use the fridge with the inclusion of about 4lt of ice (2 x 2lt milk bottles or 3 x 1.25lt bottles filled with water) kept in the freezer compartment, which is changed each morning. It takes about one minute each day to do and saves us buying a new fridge and the running costs of about 600W + per day. The bar fridge with ice doesn't stay as cool as a powered fridge, but it's not bad. Important to use up food quickly. Beer is chilled in the chest freezer before drinking.
In a short term energy audit (36 hours) our 150lt chest freezer used 600Wh, about a third less energy that the small bar fridge on it's own. Owning the chest freezer has been great (what a luxury!), we've been able to take advantage of bulk food purchase, another option for preserving and have home made icey poles on hot days to help keep cool. It uses less energy and give us more options than a bar fridge, with only a small amount of work (putting ice in each day). Worth exploring further, in combination with the cool cupboard.

UPDATE 14th Feb 2012: Our new freezer uses about 466Wh per day, measured over a 8-9 during summer, which is far less than the 2 star energy rating of 836Wh per day (305kWh p.a.) that it's been given. This could be because its pretty full and got plenty of room for air movement.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Our netted chook run and future orchard

Principle 7: Design from patterns to details

We got our first three pullets (Golden Pencil Hamburg crosses) a year ago from my mate Dylan who was 'cleaning up' this rare chicken breed. I set up a temporary netted yard to prevent them escaping, which they were keen to do early on, using old children's play equipment as a chook house. I clipped their wings but found this an unsuccessful way to prevent these flighty birds from taking off. I eventually gathered the courage to let them out to free range and had a number of interesting episodes trying to get them to return home. On three occasions I'd given up on escapees, once in a neighbours yard (with a dog), once on another neighbours roof and once found at night in the reeds down the creek after the kids had chased them away - somehow we still have all three.
We waited nearly six months before we got our first egg, which was very exciting for us all. Before long we were getting up to three eggs a day and our girls were returning home with just a clap of the hands.

We got up to three eggs a day from our three young chooks
Letting the chickens out to free range has it's pluses and minuses. The slaters (Woodlouse) are hardly a problem in the back yard, but are a real problem in the front where the chickens rarely venture. They get a rich and varied diet at the expense of some of our young plants. Protection of seedlings is essential to ensure survival, and I tend to only let them out for an hour or so in the evening to prevent too much garden damage.
I had been giving thought to the idea of a intensive netted area that provided a larger safe place for our chickens to scratch around as well as grow soft fruit trees that are irrigated using our grey water. After many ideas I settled on using two inch poly pipe on star pickets for the frame with a material netting. Stage one was getting the netted enclosure completed to provide easier access to the chooks and a place to dump green waste for the chooks to scratch up.

Three hooped two inch poly piping mounted on star pickets form the frame of the new chook run, replacing the temporary one on the right.

Three sheets of corrugated iron were screwed together on the ground and then screwed to timber attached to the star pickets

Wire threaded through and wound onto screws attach one side of the net
Netting pulled over hoops and attached to timber battens to give even tension

Netting wound around battens and screwed to inside of corrugated iron. Old roofing tiles set below ground level to deter dogs and foxes.

Stiff wire mesh fills the gaps on the western side of the orchard 
Wire mesh added to base to create a dog / fox proof chook house

Aluminium security door fixed to metal pole with small concrete path section underneath
Stage one of the netted chook run complete

It's about 8x3 metres and 2.8 metres at it's highest point and looks kinda sleek with those curves.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bringing outdoor furniture back from the dead

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change
While this project illustrates a few design principles, including produce no waste, I wanted to focus on principle 12 because I think that the proverb "vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be" is most appropriate.

The plastic chairs that my got handed down to me are cracking up, ugly and unsafe. Outdoor plastic items don't seem to last very well, and end up in the bin after a few years, best avoided in my book. I think that it's just about time to take them to the tip, where they may be able to recycle them if we are lucky.
We went to the local Scout car boot sale to try to find a replacement. We hit the jackpot with these pressed metal beauties that had been rusting away outside for years. My guess is that the chairs we made in the 50's or 60's, so they'd be over 50 years old and still perfectly useable. At $1 each we decided to buy 10 of them.

Pressed metal chairs that we bought at the local Scout car boot sale for $1 each, we got 10 in all.
After washing them and treating the rust with a dissolver the legs were given a couple of coats of black enamel
After a good clean we realised that they were different colours! We decided to go the whole hog and paint them, which I wanted to do properly so that they would last and look great. I had a 500ml can of 'Killrust' epoxy black enamel which I thought would look good for the legs and we bought a 500ml can of 'Metal Armour' flame tree red for the pressed metal seat. I used some rust dissolver - which may not have been necessary - to inhibit the rust, as I had some laying around and figured that it would ensure a longer lasting job.
Two coats of paint for the legs and two coats for the seat with some new feet so we can use them inside or on the deck. Now we don't want to leave them in the weather because they look so good, so keep them in the shed until we get around to making a cover for them.
All up the job cost about AUS $45 for the paint (with some left over), $10 for the chairs and $25 for the feet - $80 or so in all. It was a fairly long job as each coat took a day to dry, but not an unpleasent one and very rewarding in the end. Now we've got 10 sexy chairs with a story that should another lifetime (or two or three).

The stack finished chairs with two coats of flame red paint and new rubber feet
Inspired to touch up the outdoor table that I recovered from hard rubbish in Melbourne, I gave the frame a couple of coats of left over black enamel and used some old decking that I'd salvaged from a skip to rebuild the table top. With a couple of coats of linseed oil it looks as good as new! Now I'm thinking that I want to make a big Red Gum dining table for the chairs to sit around in the living room.


Table made from all recovered waste and repainted, while the chairs were brought back from the dead after a clean and paint.

I also gave an old rusty wrought iron table in the living room the 'chair' treatment while I was at it. Came up a treat and goes well with the bright red kitchen cupboards.
Well made metal outdoor furniture certainly lasts and can look great with some TLC, puts plastic to shame, and even wood, which, more often than not is uncertified and from rainforests. Wood has a very limited life outdoors, but is probably the most sustainable option if it is certified as sustainable, a hardy species and regularly maintained.

Wrought Iron table that was found in hard rubbish many years ago transformed with a couple of coats of paint (and some hard cleaning)

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