Are Solar Homes Truly Green or Just Energy Hungry?

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2 australian homes with large solar systems

Happy New Year from my straw-bale home in Adelaide. Now, don’t let the eco-friendly construction fool you – my place is an energy-hungry beast, and I’m the guy feeding it! With thermal mass and careful orientation, the house is a champion of efficiency, but my family’s lifestyle… well, that’s another story.

For starters, I’ve got a Finnish sauna (a nod to my heritage) that pulls a whopping 7kW on our evening relaxations. Then there’s the 57,000-litre pool, kept toasty with a heat pump, fed from our generous solar supply. Of course, we can’t forget the air conditioning, my son’s high-power gaming PC that’s practically part of the family, and the pièce de résistance, our two electric cars. They’re our eco-friendly chariots, never tasting a drop of petrol, charged mostly on excess solar or super off-peak grid power.

I encourage solar + batteries, but my 20kW of solar panels and 13.5kWh of solar batteries only just keep up with my energy-hungry family.

Oh, and let’s not forget the three teenagers, champions of 30-minute showers. Ironically, they have the most to lose from climate change yet are the hardest to wrangle into energy-consciousness. Although on the optimistic side, my P-Plater eldest, a pure EV driver, would probably look at a petrol pump like it’s an alien artefact.

So, as I sit here, part eco-warrior, part energy glutton, I can’t help but wonder: Do our solar panels give us a ‘free pass’ to indulge? Are we solar panel owners unknowingly slipping into energy excess, comforted by our green investments?

Well, there’s a new Australian study that looks into just that.

Overview of the Study

The study ‘Moral licensing and habits: Do solar households make negligent choices?’ surveyed 257 households, all proud owners of solar panels. These folks were asked a series of questions to understand their energy habits, their thoughts on energy saving, and how they perceived their role in the grand scheme of energy efficiency.

Now, the crux of this study revolves around a fancy term called ‘moral licensing’. In plain English, it’s the idea that doing something good (like installing solar panels) might subconsciously give us the green light to slack off in other areas. Think of it as patting yourself on the back for eating a salad for lunch, then smashing a Maccas for dinner.

So, 257 households, one big question, and a whole lot of data to sift through. Let’s see what they found out.

Findings

The study’s findings are a bit of a wake-up call for us solar panel enthusiasts. Turns out this moral licensing thing is real. The study showed that some of us with solar panels might actually feel so chuffed about our eco-friendly choice that we let our guard down in other areas of energy use. It’s like giving ourselves a pat on the back for going solar, then cranking up the air con a little more than necessary, or only washing a half load of dishes.

The study indicates that solar panel owners often use more energy after installation. To be honest – I could have told the authors that in a text message. But here’s my take: it’s not inherently a problem. Our energy grid fluctuates between ‘feast’ and ‘famine’ periods in terms of renewable energy availability. Using more energy during ‘feast’ times is beneficial while cutting back during ‘famine’ periods is crucial.

A Market-Driven Solution

Here’s where market dynamics can play a vital role. Exposure to the wholesale electricity price, as offered by services like Amber Electric, is a powerful signal for when to use energy. This approach encourages us to use energy when it’s abundant and cheap and conserve when it’s scarce and costly.

Practical Steps for Solar Homeowners

For solar homeowners, this means thinking about energy timing. Amber-style or time-of-use tariffs, smart EV chargers, Catch Solar Relays (or similar), and as much automation as possible can help us align our energy use with the grid’s needs. It’s about enjoying modern luxuries responsibly, with a mindful eye on the clock.

WDYT?

So, what’s your approach to energy use with your solar panels? Are you voluntarily on a time-variable tariff or using any smart technology to optimise your consumption? Share your strategies in the comments for making the most of our solar investments while supporting the grid.





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