Here are some inspiring stories from Australian householders who have already taken the pledge for Energy Freedom and are reaping the rewards!
The Zimmermans, Victoria
Concerned about the environment in which their children will grow up in, and aware of the constant increases in energy prices, the Zimmerman family took the pledge for Energy Freedom back in 2012. Their main objective was to minimise their dependency on non-renewable sources of energy and therefore reduce the household’s carbon emissions as much as possible.
Before implementing any energy efficiency initiatives, the Zimmerman household was consuming an average of 49 kWh per day. Now their energy consumption has decreased by an impressive 69% to just 15 kWh per day. This is pretty good considering that their electric car is being charged on an daily basis! They did this by taking a number of the steps towards Energy Freedom:
1. Installing LED lights: Consuming up to 82% less electricity than conventional 55 watt halogen downlights, they retrofitting a total of 102 downlights with LED’s.
2. Going solar: A 7KW solar system was installed at the house, including a 3KW solar hybrid/pool water system to maximise the north facing roof. This solar system averages an annual energy production of 8,500 kWh.
3. Installing double-glazing: Double glazed windows were installed throughout the house, reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling.
In addition to these steps, the rest of the electricity the family consumes from the grid is bought from an energy retailer than sources its electricity from renewable energy generation projects in Australia.
The Keech’s from Essendon
By Richard Keech
This is my personal experience of energy freedom.
Eight years ago I was a typical energy consumer. In 2006 the energy accounts for my suburban family home totalled $1875 for electricity and gas. Factoring in actual price increases, I calculate that if had consumed the same amount of energy in 2013 then my bills would have amounted to $3421.
Instead of following business-as-usual, in 2007 I embarked on a journey of transformation which has fundamentally changed both the way my home uses energy, and my role as a retail consumer of energy.
With the same household occupancy as in 2006, in 2013 my total energy account was a credit for $1296.
So I saved over $4700 last year on my energy bills.
How? In a nutshell, I achieved this turnaround by:
a. investing in home energy efficiency, reducing my home’s energy consumption by three quarters;
b. disconnecting from mains gas entirely; and
c. offsetting the remaining energy consumption with solar panels.
Energy efficiency. In 2006 my home consumed about 46GJ of gas and 33GJ of electricity, which was very close to average for my suburb. In the years since then I’ve spent a total of about $43000 on, draught proofing, insulation, double glazing, LED lights, induction cook top, standby power reduction, reverse-cycle heating/cooling, and a hybrid solar / heat-pump hot water system. In 2013 the home’s gross energy consumption was reduced to about 20GJ.
No gas. I’ve formed the view that mains gas is not the efficient, low-emission fuel it’s often made out to be. Read BZE’s fact sheet at http://media.bze.org.au/nogas.pdf if you’d like to know more. As a result I replaced my:
a. gas hot water with high-efficient solar/electric,
b. gas heating with reverse-cycle split systems, and
c. gas cooking with induction electric.
Solar. The remaining one quarter of my original energy consumption is now fully offset by the 5kW of solar panels on my roof. As an early adopter this cost me about $25,000, but I get the high feed-in tariff as a reward. Today this amount of solar would probably cost under $10,000, but the feed-in tariff would be much lower. In 2013 my solar panels generated about 24GJ (6556kWh) of energy.
Mains electric. My remaining mains electric demand is satisfied by low-emissions hydro power, much of it consumed off-peak.
So all up I figure I’m about as close to zero emissions on my energy as it is possible to be.
Today I’m completely free of the gas company, and future gas price hikes will not effect me. Today my electric company is as much my customer as I am theirs. Aside from the satisfaction of making a positive step for action on climate change, the money I’ve spent is a productive investment giving me an effective rate of return, in avoided energy charges, of about 5% tax-free. Better than money in the bank! Beyond making good climate change sense, and good financial sense, I’m happy to report that my home is generally more comfortable than it was in 2006. All up a win-win-win situation.
So don’t let anyone tell you that action on climate change is too hard. Just get out there and do it! You won’t regret it.
The Schultz’s in Woolloongabba, Brisbane
We purchased our house in 2009. Minimising carbon emissions is important to us, so we wanted to be located close to public transport and to be able to walk to many places. For these reasons, and because we love the area, we decided to live in Woolloongabba in city-fringe Brisbane. To afford this we jointly purchased our house with some good friends and now live in an upstairs/downstairs arrangement. The house is a workers cottage built in the 1920s and raised/extended in the 1960s.
The first thing we did was add ceiling insulation. It lowered temperatures upstairs in Summer meaning less requirement for fans/air conditioning. We have found that with installation of ceiling fans and good use of natural ventilation, air conditioner use can be avoided. With better shading (window awnings) and potentially wall insulation, this will be further improved.
Solar PV was next on the agenda and a 3kW system now supplies about 84% of our electricity or about 44% of the total energy for the house when gas is taken into account.
The upstairs dishwasher was an old model which, apart from not being particularly effective at washing dishes, used a lot of water and energy. We replaced it with a new one which uses 56% less electricity and water. (Old: 1.6kWh and 31 litres per wash, New: 0.7kWh and 13.5 litres per wash.)
We have replaced lights bulbs and some light fittings throughout the house. We now use compact fluorescent lights through the house and in the kitchens have replaced the large old fluorescents (T8, magnetic) with newer more efficient ones (T5, electronic). External sensor lights are LED and we are starting to replace the compact fluorescents with LEDs as they fail.
Natural Gas currently supplies our hot water and a cooktop in the downstairs kitchen. Gas is just another fossil fuel, so we want to eliminate this energy source. Also, growing up on a farm in the Darling Downs and seeing the threat to farmland Coal Seam Gas creates means we definitely don’t want to cook with gas! To this end, one of our next tasks is to replace the hot water system with a Solar Thermal hot water system and the gas cooktop with electric induction.
We are planning on adding a deck to the back of the house. When this happens, we will ensure that the roof is sloped to maximise solar potential so that we can further expand our Solar PV system in the future.
Washing machine replacement is on the agenda – we will replace the old top loader with a high-efficiency front loading machine at some point.
Other initiatives around the house have included a 5000 litre water tank, and low flow shower heads.
Once we have completed the work we wish to do, we anticipate that our house will be a net energy generator which is our ultimate aim. The below table shows where we were in 2010, where we got to in 2013 (bearing in mind that we have had a few new little energy-consuming additions to the family over that time) and where we would like to eventually be.
It shows that we’ve already reduced our energy bills by more than half!
|Year||Total Net Energy Consumption (from the grid)||Electricity||Gas||Electricity Cost||Gas Cost||Total Cost|
|Target||0 MJ (or better!)||0%||0%||$0||$0||$0|
The Vicker Ridge – The Rule Breakers
We are a Family of 4; Myself, my wife + 2 kids (11yrs & 8yrs) + cat + 2 horses (whom also consume a lot a water), living in Logan Village in between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. When you think sustainable homes, you probably don’t picture a big home, big swimming pool, multiple fridges, home theatre, regular clothes dryer use and certainly not air conditioning outside living spaces. Yet the Vicker Ridge incorporates all of the above, and is well on the way to achieving net zero energy and water. These are the toughest performance milestones found in most rigorous sustainable building standards in the world. We don’t hide the fact we run our pool pump 12 hours a day/7 days a week (in summer) to filter our 90,000 litre swimming pool nor feel guilty we regularly use our clothes dryer, even on fine sunny days. We believe being sustainable is not based on how much you are prepared to sacrifice, rather simply balancing site energy use with energy production. We handpicked and incorporated high performance housing design & construction principles to suit our local climate, energy & water efficient appliances & fixtures, smart use of off peak tariffs and have maximised our solar production and water harvesting ability.
Our journey began back in 2006, frustrated by spiralling out of control energy and water prices and an overpriced building industry lacking in knowledge, skill and interest to build high performance homes, we set out on our own as novice owner builders. We spent over a year refining our design and 4 years building, (primarily due to working the home construction in around my regular job). Since completion in late 2012, we have won the local council awards for sustainable household in both 2013 and 2014.
We are totally self-sufficient with water by harvesting rainwater from our roof. We also treat and reuse all our wastewater onsite without the use of chemicals.
We were early adopters of solar and were rewarded with a high feed-in tariff. Yet unfortunately this also meant we were locked in to our medium (some say small) 3.8kW inverter. Still even with this 3.8kW inverter we have managed to produce more electricity than we consume. Our home imports on average 15kW/day (combining both continuous and off-peak tariffs) and currently exports an average of 18kW/day (with a gross production up to 30kW/day). Of the 15kW/day imported, close to half of this is via controlled supply off-peak tariff usage. This high use of off-peak power is better for the environment as it reduces peak load demand and benefits our electricity bill.
The end result is we don’t pay for electricity. In fact our annual electricity credits are close to funding our total annual council rates and our own on site wastewater system servicing fees. And since rainwater is free, this results in a home with no out of pocket expenses for the household to contribute for council fees, electricity, water or wastewater. We believe it is easier than ever to be net zero energy, and the building industry of today has little excuse not to match or better our performance. Future plans for the Vicker Ridge includes electric cars and solar roof ventilation. For more information on this project see their Facebook page – The Vicker Ridge Double Net Zero Challenge
Peter from Rostrevor, Adelaide, SA.
I bought my first home in 2008. It is a 1963 solid brick construction and one of my main objectives was to increase its energy efficiency and generate my own power!
60% Saving on Electricity Bills!
I calculated my power bill in 2010 prior to my solar installations and it was $631 for the year. This was also prior to installing my reverse cycle inverter air conditioner and larger fridge upgrade. In today’s dollars, this bill would be the equivalent of $1082 dollars (according to my rates schedule). With the measures I have taken I am now saving hundreds of dollars.
I have switched to Diamond Energy, who only have renewable energy generation assets, which further supports clean renewable energy.
Reducing Roof Temperature: I replaced broken tiles and sealed up gaps, as well as sprayed the roof with a lighter colour heat reflective paint. I also installed a whirly bird to help the roof space vent the heat in summer, with the added bonus of acting as a skylight in the roof space.
Solar PV: I installed a 1.5KW system. In the summer peak it can generate on a clear day around 9 to 10 Kwh per day, which puts credit onto my electricity bill.
Evacuated Tube Solar Hot Water System: Five months of the year (summer) I switch off the electric booster and I have hot water free from the sun. My consumption dropped by hundreds of KWh per quarter.
Efficient Lighting, Appliances, and Insulation: During renovations, I replaced my old lights and installed efficient 11W and 16 W LED down lights (the light is bright and fantastic). I updated to an efficient induction cooktop in the kitchen, efficient inverter wall split reverse cycle air conditioner, new insulation in the roof and roller shutters on all the windows. I also updated the gap fillers and weather seals around the house.
Ben & Ema – Bacchus Marsh, Victoria
Our house is stone, built in brick-veneer style. We moved in in 2012 and decided to aim for energy freedom and sustainability.
We have a cathedral ceiling with no ceiling cavity, and it had barely any insulation. We raised the roof by 100mm to install Earthwool batts and a layer of Kingspan’s Air-cell Insulbreak foam/foil. The combination is about an R4 rating, a lot of hard work to install, but it made a huge difference.
The old gas wall furnace gave off a sulphurous smell – indicating it wasn’t venting its flue gases properly, despite being set into the wall cavity with a flue like an open fireplace. The old split-system air conditioner (cooling only) had its outside unit installed into a hole in the outside stonewall of the house. Both these seriously compromised the thermal envelope of the building. We sealed up the holes and installed a 3KW reverse cycle air conditioner (5.5 star energy rating) to replace both. After a bit more draft sealing around doors, we are “snug as a bug in a rug” as they say.
Our house has high thermal inertia from the concrete slab and some internal brick walls. Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to when we our budget permits us to get insulation pumped into the wall cavity, and double-glazing on the windows to take any remaining edge off the winter chill.
We wanted to run our hot water on our solar panels since we were only getting 8c/kWh feed-in tariff for our solar power (now a pathetic 6.2c). We got a solar heat pump from Siddons, and a cheap timer switch that sits between it and the power point, so that it only runs in the afternoons. At this time it achieves maximum efficiency (due to using warmer air), and runs off the energy from our solar panels if it isn’t too cloudy. The heat pump even uses hydrocarbon refrigerant, with a Global Warming Potential (if any leaks) a tiny fraction of the more common hydro fluorocarbons. The 300L tank remains hot enough for a scalding shower next morning, even in the coldest weather, at next to no extra on our energy bill.
Last, we replaced our ancient gas oven and stove with a fairly cheap induction cooktop (Ikea), and an electric oven (eBay). So now we’re cooking without gas! We wouldn’t dream of going back – induction is so much easier to use.
Origin Energy send regular threatening letters saying we must pay to re-connect the gas, or (in the fine print) they will remove our connection permanently. Sadly they have yet to come good on this promise, but we’re not paying them a cent in the meantime. Now, our electricity bill is only a couple of hundred dollars a year – less than the water bill (until we get water tanks)!
So far, we’re pretty happy. Being comfortable in our house really was a revelation, after years of renting draughty, uninsulated weatherboard cottages. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re missing until you find it! Low bills means low stress, while our comfort and ecological footprint has improved. Worth every cent.