Solar panels start to pay off
Eight solar panels produce about a third of the power needed to run a house at Spring Creek, with some left over to sell into the national grid.
When Bev James and Kay Saville-Smith built their house in 2001, the top priority was for the house to be sustainable and energy efficient.
The Mitsubishi photovoltaic panels sitting in a paddock beside the house were an impulse buy just over two years ago when the price fell so low they couldn't resist.
The women regarded the panels as an experiment at first, but they are quickly paying their way.
"We go mad in the summer using all the free hot water," Dr James says.
She estimates about a third of their electricity is generated by the panels, which turn the heat of the sun into power.
They sell a small surplus back to power company Meridian Energy, which pays the same price for each unit generated as it charges for units used.
Their home needs an electric pump to bring water into the house and get sewage out so power demand is high, she said.
Someone living on an urban section with low power use might find solar panels covered about half their power bills.
As solar panel prices continued to fall and Meridian still had encouraging deals, the point was close where income and savings from solar generation outweighed the installation costs, Dr James said.
This was not widely recognised despite high sunshine hours in Marlborough, she says.
Photovoltaic panels are seldom built into homes unless they are off the national grid. More people would have to pick up the technology for it to be part of good home design rather than being seen as different and unusual.
"If we want to be a society that's saving energy, and therefore money, surely there's a role for central and local government."
Information about sustainable energy sources and incentives to use them would be useful, Dr James says.
Home insulation had a good uptake because of government and council support, including in Marlborough, and it would be good to see the same happening to encourage more homeowners to capture solar and wind power.
Rick Rawlings, of Koromiko, who sold and installed the system for the women, said it cost about $28,000 two years ago. The total cost today would be as low as $21,000 because the price of panels had fallen, although fitting costs were higher.
The women's home faces north to capture the sun, which heats the air inside. They also heat the house with a wood-burning stove and have solar water heating panels on the roof.
- The Marlborough Express