By David Macilwain, Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health (WATCH)
We still get those calls offering help with our electricity bill. “We get our power from the sun” I say – but then they offer a better feed-in tariff. “We’re not connected to the grid!” I say, and that’s usually it – though some answer “Oh really – that’s great, have a nice (sunny) day!”
Well I suppose it has been ‘great’ not getting a bill for thirty years, for electricity. We were never big TV watchers or electric gadget users, and if the sun didn’t shine for a week – as happens in winter – we managed OK with one light and the radio, in the early days when we only had a few solar panels and some old truck batteries.
But – we managed OK because we had a gas fridge, and a gas cooker, and a gas bill. And we had a solar hot water system, with a ‘chip heater’ as winter back-up. And we had a wood-burning heater, with a petrol and oil eating chainsaw to cut the wood and a diesel-burning ute to fetch it. Sometimes, just sometimes we used a generator, to charge flat batteries or for large power tools, and even once when a visiting guest needed to use a hair-dryer.
Nowadays things are much better, thanks to the Chinese dedication to producing cheaper photovoltaic panels, defying the market stranglehold that kept the price up for so long. Now we have a freezer running on our expanded 1.5 Kw system, along with satellite internet, kitchen gadgets and lights in every room, and of course a washing machine.
And we have a slow combustion stove that cooks, heats the water when the sun’s heat is insufficient, as well as heating our living room – our double-glazed, heavily insulated, ‘passive solar’ heated living room.
Now for what we don’t have. Simply put, that’s everything else that runs on electricity in ‘the modern’ – grid-connected – home. Electric blankets. Bathroom heaters. Tumble Dryers. Electric kettles, cookers and toasters. Electric stove tops and ovens. Walk-in fridges. Beer fridges. Air conditioning. Electric irons. Electric hot water back-up. Decorative lighting. 24 hour security lighting. TVs in every room…
But of course there’s one thing I left out that we can’t ‘live lightly’ without – expensive, non-renewable, dirty and heavy batteries. And there’s a lot more to say about them!