A household guide to energy efficiency and renewable tech

As new and improved energy efficient and renewable technologies are released to market, consumers may be well served by assessing not only the standalone merits of these respective technologies, but also how they can collectively be employed to deliver households value.

From solar panels to battery storage and electric vehicles, the adoption of many of these technologies requires a significant upfront investment and a long-term outlook, and it is necessary to consider a range of individual household factors in determining what will work best.

In adopting a long-term view of a household’s anticipated electricity usage and needs, it also is worthwhile assessing how this mix of technologies may be upgraded, built upon and used in concert together, potentially combining to deliver additional value.

By taking a step-by-step approach, and exploring all available options, households may over time be able to put to use a range of complementary technologies, and ultimately drive down electricity costs.

First step: Energy efficiency

As a practical first step, assessing your household’s energy efficiency can help pinpoint areas where you may initially be able to cut usage ahead of the adoption of technologies such as solar panels, battery storage or an electric vehicle.

Inefficient lighting and older appliances and heating systems have the potential to significantly ratchet up electricity usage, and running these technologies in conjunction with a solar or battery storage system can detract from the potential value these systems can deliver.

From the bathroom to the laundry to the kitchen to the living room, it makes sense to ensure your household is running energy efficient technologies.

Households may wish to broadly assess the following:

  • Lighting – as advised via the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s (EECA) Energywise website, LED lights are the most efficient and longest-lasting option, using up to 85 per cent less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs for the same light output.
  • Appliances – opting for energy efficient appliances can make a significant difference to electricity usage, especially with appliances that will be used regularly. For instance, Energywise advises that the running cost of a new fridge/freezer over a 10-year period could be between $600 and $2,000.
  • Heating – inefficient space and water heating can lead to sharply increased electricity usage. The EECA recently advised that if all current electrical space and water heating was delivered via heat pumps savings of around 40 per cent could be expected for these end uses.

When purchasing a new appliance, consumers can use the Energy Rating Label to help determine how much it will cost to run.

Energywise advises that the label, displayed on all new whiteware appliances, televisions, computer monitors and heat pumps available for sale in New Zealand, employs a star rating system (the more stars, the more energy efficient) and features annual kWh energy consumption, calculated based on average expected use.

Taking the solar step: Solar panel systems

Solar panels are one of the most accessible renewable technology options for households, with residential solar panel uptake having grown significantly in recent years.

Statistics released by the Electricity Authority last year showed that 19,497 New Zealand residential connections had solar panels as at September 30, 2018, up 3,840 year-on-year, with a combined capacity of 67.6 MW up by 14.7 MW year-on-year.

Households keen on installing a solar system will need to assess if it makes financial sense in the long term, taking into account a range of factors, and weighing up the short-term costs versus potential long-term gains.

As advised via Energywise:

  • A solar system should be sized to match a household’s individual usage requirements, with bigger not necessarily better, with a system ideally sized so that most of the electricity it generates is used directly at home, rather than being sold to a retailer.
  • When solar generates more electricity than can be used by a household, excess electricity can be sold to a retailer, with retailers buying this electricity at a “buy-back” rate, with these rates (which vary) lower than the amount companies charge for electricity.
  • Using electricity during the day, from appliance usage to showering in the morning to charging electric vehicles, can increase the amount of solar electricity used and reduce the amount of electricity needed to be purchased from a retailer.

When considering how different technologies can complement each other, using energy efficient technologies can help ensure less demands are made on solar systems, potentially meaning less retailer electricity will be required.

The storage step: Residential battery storage systems

Residential battery storage systems paired with solar panels allow for households to store solar-generated energy for use when needed, and provide for increasingly controlled and smart energy management.

Battery storage systems have been building market momentum in recent years, as battery technology continues to evolve and becomes more economic, and as manufacturers deliver consumers an increasing range of options.

The growing use of solar panels provides further opportunity for the deployment of battery storage systems – and, as with solar panels, these systems are a long-term investment, with households needing to consider a range of factors in assessing whether a system is suitable for their needs.

It is also worth noting that battery storage opens up the way for new market models, providing consumers further options, including:

  • Peer-to-peer electricity trading – allowing households with solar and battery storage systems to buy and sell electricity via a digital platform, choosing when to sell or store excess power, or buy additional power for storage.
  • Virtual power plants – employing solar and battery technology, with the capacity to integrate a range of systems, including residential systems, managing the collective electricity generated, and using smart technology to cater for supply and demand.

Next step: Time to get behind the wheel?

The local electric vehicle (EV) market is poised for growth in the coming years, with car manufacturers bringing new models to market, and the government exploring initiatives to promote uptake among consumers.

Consumers looking to purchase an electric vehicle, and considering what impact this will have on their electricity usage, may also consider looking into the economics of running a vehicle in combination with a solar system or with a battery storage system.

As with solar and battery technology, a long-term outlook is required when purchasing an electric vehicle, and consumers should take into account a range of factors in weighing up the short-term cost versus potential long-term benefits.

In looking to run an electric vehicle in combination with a solar system, it is worthwhile closely considering what sort of solar capacity will be required to accommodate the electricity demands of a vehicle on top of a household’s regular usage requirements.

In considering the solar capacity required, consumers will need to assess how frequently a vehicle will need to be charged, and will need to consider the average expected kilometres driven per day and week.

For consumers unable to charge their vehicle during daylight hours, it may be worthwhile looking into the value a battery storage system can provide, which could potentially allow for solar-generated energy to be used to charge a vehicle overnight.

Of course, what isn’t economic now may well prove to be so in the future, and consumers keen on combining an electric vehicle with a solar system or a battery storage system should keep an eye on market developments.

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Image credits: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com, Rido/Shutterstock.com, Millenius/Shutterstock.com, Smile Fight/Shutterstock.com

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