Why Solar ? – Is Solar really worth it ? Why we chose to go off grid.

Why Solar ? Is Solar really worth it ?

Solar, unlike coal power is the actual future of Australia and is fast becoming the now!  With more and more households installing solar and taking advantage of the energy provided by the sun it’s becoming easier to access. That’s not to say there is zero downsides to solar, but the benefits far outweigh those.

We have politicians in this country holding up lumps of coal and telling us not to be afraid, which I find disturbing. I grew up in coal country, the La Trobe Valley in Victoria, with multiple open cut coal mines in the area, my father even worked as a dozer driver for them.

We knew even as kids that coal had a negative impact on the environment, yet somehow in the last thirty years, it has become nice, according to our current government.

Reducing your footprint.

poly pipe hoop house greenhouse with planted vegetables
Our DIY Poly Pipe Greenhouse – Take 1!

Not being part of the grid, removing ourselves from using fossil fuel as power is one step closer to us making an impact on reducing our carbon footprint. This is something everyone can do, even a small system on a suburban household helps to reduce usage during the daylight hours.

We all need to be responsible for at least trying to reduce our footprint, solar power is one of those ways, it may not be viable everywhere in the world, but for us in Australia, our climate is well suited to solar power.

Obviously, this works best in conjunction with other environmentally friendly endeavours, composting, re-using, buying environmentally friendly where possible etc.

Reducing your costs

Circuit board for off grid solar Victron energy
Solar circuit board from Energy Connections

Having solar installed is a costly process, with anything from a few grand for a small system all the way up to 30K plus for a large off-grid system.  This cost is offset by the fact that you will no longer have to be reliant on grid power, and for a standalone system, no longer need to pay quarterly electricity bills.  It may take a while to break even, but when you think about the many years after you’ve broken even that you will still require electricity, it makes sense.

For us, we got a quote to have grid power on the block  The estimate to put a pole across the highway so that they could then put poles to the house was $30,000. Once we heard that, it wasn’t even a choice, we could get a system that would run all we need for that or less, so that’s what we did.

There are ways to reduce the costs of a new system.  We purchased second-hand panels.  We bought them from a reputable source and we tested them prior to purchase.  We have had no problems with the panels, and would definitely recommend this as a cost reduction.

We chose not to skimp on our main battery bank or charge controller/inverter.  We needed to make sure that we could rely on these every step of the way, especially with 6 small children.

Our charge controller/inverter board was purchased from Energy Connections we received it all pre-wired, ready to install. For a very reasonable price we got a fully functioning Victron board, wired by electricians that will see us out for many years.  Our batteries were also purchased brand new, this was by far the most expensive part of our entire system.  By doing this though, we know that these batteries if handled correctly will last us 20+ years.

In the case of these two items, our decision to pay more now, means that we have peace of mind for the long term.

Being power aware

Solar panels north facing on off grid roofline
Solar panels mid installation on our roof.

We have all seen the campaigns over the years for turning lights off when leaving rooms and not leaving electrical items on standby. Until we moved off grid though, we did not truly realise how much power we wasted each day.  We now see exactly how much we are using and are far more aware.

This has taught us the benefits of being spend thrifty with our power.  We purchased a low wattage pressure pump for our water and have only one tap hooked up,  we chose not to install lights into the bedrooms, as these rooms are purely for sleeping and we don’t leave anything running unnecessarily.  We have minimal power points and change what is plugged in as we need it.

We make sure to choose what we use carefully on rainy days, knowing that our input will be lower and overuse might mean that we need to kick in the generator to top up the batteries if they start to fall toward 70% capacity.

Even something as seemingly simple as air-conditioning.  Previously, before it would start to get hot, we would turn on the aircon. Now, because of the high-power usage of most air-con, we open doors and windows. Though with our current setup, we would be able to run a good quality inverter split system.

With our current setup, we have almost unlimited power availability during the day.  At night, however, we have to be more aware.   We purchased inverter fridges and freezers and we make sure to turn everything off that is not in use.  We still have plenty of power, but it is coming straight from the batteries.  It would be easy to run them under 70% if we were not being thoughtful about our usage.

So, it’s just better than being on the grid

Whilst solar power may incur a larger cost up front, in the end, it will pay dividends.   Not only in money saved, but also in environmental impact, and reducing wastage. We, unfortunately, live in a society where waste is the norm. Society will not be able to continue indefinitely without change.  Starting with small steps, and leaving smaller footprints is a way that everyone can contribute to our future.

Our take on the Composting Toilet

Construction of Composting Toilet

Humanure composting bucket toilet 101

Hello everyone Darryl here from Our Small Footprint.  Today we are going to look at the humanure toilet, it’s setup and usage, and all the experiences we have had with it so far. We will add in a link to a book on the subject.  We look forward to hearing from you all regarding your own thoughts and experiences with toilets and composting etc.

There were a couple of false starts regarding getting the cutting of the wood right. Once we got there though we managed to get a serviceable hole cut out for the bucket.  Then it was simply a matter of attaching the hinges and the feet and we were ready to go.

The beauty of the humanure toilet is that it can be placed anywhere.  In fact, when we first moved, it was out in the open  We quickly had to find partitions to give everyone a bit of privacy. (no one was ok with the koalas laughing at us on the toilet). Now, of course, it is in the bathroom and the Koalas can no longer spy on us.

Boxy but good

Composting Toilet

I was personally amazed at how comfortable the toilet is.  When I saw the design my first thought was “Oh great a big box with a toilet lid, that’ll be comfy”.  However, it has been great to use and easy to clean.  Most importantly though, saves on our most precious commodity, water.

During the early days of the move we had no luck finding either pine shavings or straw, which are suggested in the design of this toilet to help break down waste into usable compost, so we started off with sand (there is a lot of sand here) and moved on to charcoal, until we eventually found a supplier for pine shavings (Still no straw though).

Sand was not the greatest.  We had a lot of problems with the moisture creating mud, which was yuk.  We quickly changed to charcoal which was much better, but ultimately not good enough.  Finding a supplier with pine shaving was a godsend. Since that point we have had no problems, pine shavings soak up everything and keep it odour free and pleasant smelling (If you like the smell of pine).  The only problems are those regarding children and their lack of care, which we are sure most people can relate to.

Building the pit

Building the Humanure Hacienda

Next, we needed to build a poo pit (Humanure Hacienda).  We did not have a lot of spare timber, or any knowledge of how to make a gabled structure to use as a pit which was what we found used in a number of informational videos.   Most of the videos were American.  They seem to really like those sorts of roofs and arches on their gardens and surrounds. We ended up designing one with the materials at hand  Old pool fencing tied with that most useful tool the cable tie and lined with cardboard did the trick. This has worked quite well so far. The only drawback has been the lack of straw, which has made it harder to keep nasties out.

We have used more pine shavings on the pile periodically to keep bugs from breeding in the pile. Unfortunately, the continuing droughts in this part of Australia make hay, straw and the like scarce and expensive. The pine shavings do the job though, it just comes down to paying attention to the pile and using the shavings as required.

Clean up aisle 3

Emptying and cleaning the buckets has been a fun experience, and strangely one that no one else seems to wish to share with me, however, this is not a problem, dumping and cleaning is easy. We use a bit of vinegar and water to scrub out the buckets, give them a final rinse and a good dose of sunlight to make sure no baddies linger, and they go back into circulation.

Once we have filled the first side we will swap to the second side, and within twelve months we will have viable compost to use to improve the quality of the soil here.

It will take a few years, but our goal is to improve the soil and reduce our food waste.  We may never be Zero Waste but we aim to get as close as possible.  Sunflowers and pest repelling ground covers are part of the next phase of the plan. We will also expand our greenhouses and chicken pens.

Thanks for reading!  We hope you will continue to take this journey with us and once again we look forward to all comments, advice, and suggestions.