Is renewable energy inconvenient?

solar-wind-energyHave you noticed an increase in your utility bills recently?

Although we take weekly electricity readings, and keep trying to cut down the amount we consume in our home, our bills are not decreasing; they’re increasing!

I must admit to a bit of envy when I pass homes that have roofs covered in solar panels.

Regular readers will be aware we have a couple of small solar panels here at Chez Green, which run the downstairs lighting, and we’re seriously considering buying some more.

Our photovoltaic panels charge a 12 Volt battery system, made up of leisure batteries, during the day. These in turn provide low voltage energy to power all of our LED lighting.

Truer picture

Mr Green designed the set-up so that a battery charger cuts in automatically and boosts the batteries if they drain low, but I felt this, although convenient, wasn’t giving us a true indication of how much solar power we were generating, storing and using, so he’s recently changed the set-up.

Now the electrical power coming from the solar panels operates a relay, which keeps the battery charger off during the light hours.

When the light fades at dusk, the solar panels reduce the electrical energy generated, and the relay turns off, allowing the battery charger to switch on. This means we are more aware of turning the lights OFF during the day when we leave the kitchen (north facing and in need of artificial light even on a bright sunny day) because if we don’t, the lights will go completely off during cloudy winter days.

This is giving us a much truer representation of how ‘self-sufficient’ we can be for this one small area of our day-to-day life.

Losing power

It’s amazing how much we take flicking a switch on the wall for granted, and I’m learning now that every watt counts, because to be honest, solar panels aren’t that efficient.

One report says that one third of the electricity produced from Renewable Energy in the UK is wasted by inefficient current converters.

According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the UK produced 26,000 GWh of electricity through renewable sources such as wind, biomass, solar and wave generation in 2010. However, taking solar panels as an example, converting DC power to the AC current required by homes in the UK using a standard Grid tie inverter, is highly inefficient.

In the ideal world, we’d minimise the use of mains voltage AC and use low voltage alternatives, which is entirely possible. A quick look around your room to see how many transformers are feeding gadgets, like notebooks and mobile phones, illustrates how many appliances actually require low DC voltage already. If you touch them and find the transformer is producing heat, you are undoubtedly wasting energy unnecessarily in the transformer process.


In Britain we are committed to a ‘Green’ future, one in which Britain no longer relies on fossil fuels, but how are we going to achieve this when we continue to buy more and more electronic gadgets, insist on leaving lights on and leave things on standby?

Electricity has been cheap and ‘on tap’ for so long, we can’t imagine living in a less convenient way, but we might have to if we’re going to rely on sustainable forms of energy in the future.

We might only be able to run one appliance at a time, or find we need to maximise on particular times of the day or year to do certain things. We may not be able to run the washing machine and take a shower at the same time. I don’t think any of this is a bad thing, but it will certainly require a change of lifestyle.

What about you? Do you use any forms of renewable technology at home and have you had to make any changes as a result?


  1. EcoGrrl on June 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I do love seeing solar panels but for me it would take a hundred years to recup the cost…my bill for electric is only $35/mo, so I think it’s more reasonable for larger households to envy 🙂

  2. Small Footprints on June 11, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    We live in an apartment so don’t have a lot of control over our energy source (besides buying offsets which somehow seem to more or less miss the point, in my opinion). That said, we try to both minimize our usage and use whatever we have available … for example, when the sun comes through the windows, we use mirrors to reflect light into our office. It works best in winter and is BRIGHT so … no electricity just sunlight. We are almost obsessive about turning off lights and powering everything down (except the refrigerator). We even turn off the water heater except for about 30 minutes a day. I’d love to have solar panels or any alternate energy sources … and one would think that it could also be in management’s best interest, but … I don’t hold much hope that it’ll happen. I keep suggesting it, though! 🙂

  3. CelloMom on June 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    We’re surrounded by trees, which means no solar and no wind for us! On the other hand, they do give shade in summer, and they are beautiful. On the other other hand, when they fall over in a storm they take out the neighbourhood’s electricity (silly above-ground wiring!), and we have no backup. Maybe I should look into a bicycle-powered battery backup system. We do have plenty of bicycle power in the house, derived from organic vegs and grass-fed milk, so ultimately solar based!

  4. Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking on June 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I so enjoyed this post! WE have been wanting solar panels for quite sometime now. We are just waiting until we get moved to buy them.Reading this makes me even more excited about it!!