Absorbing benefits of solar energy

SUSTAINABLE ENERGY: Sue Matthews dusts her solar panels. Sue Matthews dusts her solar panels.
SUSTAINABLE ENERGY: Sue Matthews dusts her solar panels. Sue Matthews dusts her solar panels.

The electricity Neil Kiddey's six solar panels create from the sun has cut his monthly bill by $37.

The Timaru retiree had them installed in February and he is also on the national grid, and represents a small but growing sector of consumers installing solar panels. The solar system cost Mr Kiddey $8500. "It's kind of green and makes me feel good."

Aged in his 70s he is not expecting to make his money back. He has recently had an import/export meter installed so any unused power goes on the national grid for redistribution. Contact Energy will pay him 17 cents a kilowatt for his extra power.

Getting a sustainable energy source was important to Sue Matthews who has nine solar panels on her first storey roof for electricity.

"It's about looking after ecology and we're at peak oil."

She is unsure of how much money she is saving on her electricity bill but thinks of the system as an "immediate capital asset".

"I could move it if I moved, or sell it. It adds to the capital of the house."

Mrs Matthews has no desire to be off the grid. Ruth Clarke has been completely off the grid for the past four years. She mostly uses solar power and back-up generators and a woodburner occasionally to heat water.

The solar system was installed when the council waste minimisation manager's house was built which was more cost effective then getting electricity connected to the rural property. She said her family's power use was minimal because they used gas in the kitchen and a special European energy efficient fridge.

Thinking long term about their house with a view to sell or rent, Mrs Clarke and her husband are considering connecting to the grid alongside their solar system.

However, not everyone has found favour with solar power.

A rural South Canterbury family with three children lived off grid for eight years until 2004 when they reverted to full electricity. Their reasons for switching were that it was inconvenient and just too much of a pain lighting a fire and waiting two hours for the water to heat.

"We couldn't handle it any longer," the father said.

He said he was still a "greenie" but did not want to go public for fear of people's reactions to his now mainstream lifestyle.

The Timaru Herald