Green-minded councils and community groups can save you time, money and energy.
IN LATE 2006, at a meeting held by Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions (BREAZE), Nick Lanyon asked how many of the crowd had solar hot water systems. “I assumed that half the room would put their hands up,” he says. “But out of 170 people there were only six hands.”
It was a green-minded audience, so Mr Lanyon asked why they hadn’t switched systems. People answered that they didn’t know which suppliers to trust, were too busy to research, and didn’t want to make the wrong decision. “So they just stayed in a situation of paralysis,” he says.
If you’re choosing solar hot water units or photovoltaic panels, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. But never fear: many councils and community groups can help you pick the right product at a good price.
Mr Lanyon and the BREAZE volunteers set about finding a good system and a supplier that would offer its members a hefty discount. The organisation also investigated solar photovoltaic panels and, eventually, became a supplier itself. “The research was fairly intensive,” he says. “We contacted nearly every photovoltaic supplier in Australia at the time.”
Altogether, he estimates that BREAZE has coordinated the installation of nearly 600 solar electricity and hot water systems. In recent years, the renewables market has surged, with big suppliers often selling cheap, low-quality systems with questionable warranty provisions. “We’re concerned about the longevity of what’s available now,” Mr Lanyon says. “People respect our independence because we exist to reduce emissions, regardless of who supplies the technology.”
Many other sustainability groups and councils have run bulk-purchasing schemes for solar hot water and electricity, so it’s worthwhile seeking information in your local area.
Environmental consultant Bill Pemberton, from Scarab Solutions, has worked for a number of councils on similar programs. “They make it easier for people to invest in renewable energy,” he says. “A lot of the administration is done for you – the council looks at the technology and the rebates, and gets quotes from the whole industry.”
That pre-planning is particularly helpful for hot water units. “When your existing system breaks down, you need it replaced straight away,” Mr Pemberton says. “But if you want solar, you hit a wall of complexity.” For energy efficiency, he argues, it’s far better to buy a new system before your old one dies, especially if you have an electric service.
The other benefit is monetary. “By purchasing on a large scale, people can save hundreds of dollars each. In Manningham and Nillumbik we found a saving of about $300, compared to buying and installing individually,” he says.
Zero Carbon Moreland estimates that its program will cut the cost of installing a climate-friendly hot water system by $800 to $1200. Householders can also save up to 15 per cent on ongoing energy bills and up to four tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, depending on their existing unit.
With rebates constantly changing, Mr Pemberton says it pays to be on the lookout for new bulk-purchasing schemes. “I think they’ll also include appliances, such as front-loading washing machines, or even the replacement of halogen downlights.”