So, is solar power worth it?

The answer to that is never going to be easy, there's a lot of variables.  It will depend on how much it costs you to install, how large a system you can install, how long the equipment lasts for, and how much your supplier will pay you for the electricity that you generate.  And, of course, what the weather is like—suitable temperature and sunlight to generate power, and how much heating or airconditioning you need to use in your home.  Solar power works on the strength of sunlight, not heat; their efficiency drops off when the panels get too hot

All of those things will be different for everyone, and it needs to be pointed out that electricity companies want to earn X million dollars a month from their customers.  And if they sell you less electricity, they'll just raise their pricing so they can still earn the same amount from you.

This table, below, is how we've fared (I've only included the years I have full data for).  I'd estimate that the equipment using electricity in the house has been fairly consistent over the years.  The electricity totals are a sum of the amount we've imported from the network minus the amount we've exported.  Likewise, the bill total is what we've had to pay (the cost of supplied electricity usage minus the payment for any generated electricity returned to the grid).

Year Electricity bought Electricity bill
2006 10.5 MWh $1635
2007 8 MWh $1237
2008 8.7 MWh $1383
2009 9.2 MWh $1556
2010 9.8 MWh $1750
2012 4 MWh $1018
2013 6 MWh $1718
2014 7.8 MWh $1973
2016 7.7 MWh $2170
2018 6.5 MWh $2510
2019 4.8 MWh $2070
2020 3.3 MWh $1545

You can see that after we had a $5000 1.7 kW solar power system installed half-way through 2012, the amount of electricity that we've imported from the supplier has gone down, but the amount we've been paying has increased.  We were never on a plan where we would be paid a lot for the electricity we generated, that boat sailed away before we got on board.  And South Australia has some of the highest electricity costs.

2019 shows a change in trend after there being one less person living in the house.  And with 2021 we've had quite a sunny year, and I've replaced the solar hot water system (that wasn't heating water from the sun very well) with a new system of the same capacity.

I've never understood why people have installed home systems worth $20,000 when they're in an area with a mains supply already available.  It'd be very hard to recover those installation costs, you're going to have equipment breakdowns (due to age) around the time you're trying to break even, or make a profit.  And some of the suppliers have not been shy about saying they wouldn't allow people to turn their solar systems into a money-making scheme.

The solar power racket really pisses me off.  There's a whole pile of things wrong with how solar power is implemented in this Country (Australia).

The government pushed people into installing it with bonuses being paid to have an installation, and overly generous payment schemes for the electricity you generate were set up, where you get paid more to generate electicity than it costs you to purchase it (e.g. it'd cost you around 22¢ a kilowatt to use electricity generated by the power company, but you could get paid around 60¢ a kilowatt for what your solar power system generated).  Now, in 2020, it's around 40¢ a kilowatt to buy electricity, and we're only paid around 16¢ for what we generate.

While that sounds enticing, only 6¢ to 8¢ of that is paid by the power company, the rest of that is paid by the taxpayer.  They've bribed us with our own money (yes, taxes are our money, not theirs).  So, you're paying yourself to make electricity, and paying your neighbours, and they're paying you.  And, if you don't have solar power, perhaps because you can't afford it, you're paying everyone else this without getting any benefit.

The electricity companies are being scabby about paying you just a pittance.  Because they claim that's all that it's really worth, once they factor in their costs of maintaining the system (their generators, wiring, et cetera).  While completely ignoring the fact that home solar power owners have paid for their equipment, its installation, and will have to pay for ongoing maintenance.

And, of course, now they get less money from their customers, they've pushed up their prices, because they're interested in making x millions of dollars, and don't ever want their income to drop.

Never mind that for many years, some of them have been arguing for the right to be able to turn off your appliances, because we're using too much electricity for them to be able to generate (such as during summer, with everybody's air conditioners running), because they can't be arsed to adequately update their generating capability as the population has increased, and electricity usage increased as a result.  We've had decades of power problems due to inadequate power supplies from the power company, they've persistantly mismanaged that situation, and persistently told us to use less power rather than generate an adequate amount.

As far as I'm concerned, we should be paid the same amount for the electricity that we produce, as what we pay for them to generate, per kilowatt.  We wouldn't have had to have the meters changed over, to have separate accounting for incoming versus outgoing power.  Nor have all these complicated pricing schemes.  Nor have to put up with the power company's scams of demanding you pay them quarterly, while they'll only pay you anually.  It should simply work one way or another, crediting you or debiting you the same amount, for how many kilowatts went through the meter, depending on whether you generated more power than you used, or vice versa.

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Written by Tim Seifert on 29 Sept 2012, and last updated 21 Jan 2021.