For many Australians with solar panels, and those considering them, it’s the holy grail: generating enough solar energy to cover your usage, being paid to export the excess and to ultimately avoid paying for electricity.
The zero dollar electricity bill.
But unless you’re on a generous legacy feed-in rate (like Victoria’s premium feed-in tariff of 60c per kWh) is it even possible?
The good news is that, with the right solar storage system, smart appliances and monitoring, and by accessing available government rebates, it’s within the reach of many solar households.
But it’s not all about the products you buy. You’ll also need to use your solar power properly to maximise your savings.
So we’re going to take a look at how you can achieve a zero dollar electricity bill, from the steps involved in setting up your system, to the rules to follow to use your solar efficiently.
Getting the right products: solar panels, batteries & more.
Step 1: Putting solar panels on the roof
Firstly, you’ll need the right size solar system for your energy usage.
Ideally you should size your solar system so that on any given day you consume around half of the electricity it will produce.
In other words, your solar panels should generate approximately twice as much power as your household usage. So not only will your system produce plenty of solar electricity for you to use, but a large proportion of the energy will also be exported to the grid, earning you feed-in credits.
Your solar installer should be able to size up the right system for you, but you can also get more information on how to size up your solar system in our Solar Buyer’s Guide.
Before you accept your solar quote, make sure you ask your installer if you’re eligible for any solar rebates. Depending on your location and income, you might be eligible for government rebate schemes such as the Victorian Solar Rebate, which offers a 50% subsidy of up to $2225 for eligible households to install a solar system.
Step 2: Getting the right solar battery
Another important element is the solar storage battery.
We estimate that most solar households are only ever using around 25% of the electricity produced by their solar system. This is because if your solar power isn’t used in your home as soon as it’s created, it’s automatically fed back into the grid.
Batteries allow you to store your solar electricity to use later on instead of exporting it now for a low price and having to buy electricity from the grid later at twice the cost.
This means a typical solar household could up their solar usage to 80% or more.
While some solar batteries only offer basic features – charging and discharging power with some monitoring – others are becoming increasingly ‘smart’. These smart batteries are able to communicate with their owners and other household appliances through the Internet of Things (IoT).
And, like solar systems, the cost of a solar battery can be offset by government rebates. For example, from 1 July 2019 the Victorian State Government will offer a solar battery rebate of up to $4838 to households that already have solar panels (although it’s not available to anyone who has accessed the State’s solar rebate).
Step 3: Energy efficiency is vital
Time to boost the overall energy efficiency of your home. Ensuring your house is well-sealed and insulated is crucial, and looking into solar hot water (again, you can access a $1000 Victorian Government rebate if you haven’t taken up the panel or battery rebate) and/or a heat pump is a great place to start. Ask your solar installer about your options.
Investing in energy efficient appliances – highly rated fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioners – also plays a big role here. This also includes using timers, which can help you set your devices (for example, your dishwasher) to run when your solar system is producing the most electricity, even if you’re not home.
Once again, it can pay to look into government rebates. Programs like Victorian Energy Upgrades subsidises accredited providers offering energy efficiency products and services. These can result in discounts at the point of sale, so it pays to ask the question before shelling out on a five-star washing machine.
DC Power Co Co-founder Nick Brass says the efficiency part of the equation is important, because it brings your electricity consumption way below the average Australian household and means you’ve got even more ‘surplus’ solar electricity to play with.
“A typical two-person home consumes 11kWh of power on an average day,” says Nick. “But if you have a solar hot water system or a heat pump, and energy efficient lights and other efficient appliances, the actual energy use of your home could be as low as 6-7kWh.”
Step 4: Bring it all together with smart appliances
When it comes to appliances, it’s great if they’re super efficient. It’s even better if they’re also smart, IoT-enabled appliances.
This means they have the capacity to be plugged into the internet, scheduled and controlled remotely through a smartphone, and in some cases completely automated. Now an increasing number of products can even provide data to their owners about things like energy use.
Use it or lose it.
So, you’ve got all the elements. Now you just need to combine them all to create a home energy system that minimises your need to buy electricity from the grid.
Rule 1: Consume your free solar energy, don’t export it
We mentioned at the top of this post that you should get a solar system that’s double your usage needs so that you’ve got excess solar energy to export. This is because the income from your feed-in tariff is handy to have. But don’t be fooled, it’s not the best way to save.
Instead you should always focus on consuming your own solar energy over selling it – unless you have a premium feed-in tariff. If you’re not sure, you can find out what feed-in tariff you might be on and how to use it here.
Put bluntly, the cash you get through your standard feed-in tariff will almost always be much less than the cost of buying the same amount of grid electricity from your power company, even at off-peak times.
When you’re using your own solar electricity, it’s free. When you’re using grid power, it’s much more expensive. So use your solar electricity to run your appliances.
If you’ve got a battery, this is easy. If you don’t have a battery, use smart appliances and timers to run your devices during sunny hours.
So while your dishwasher is chugging away in the middle of the day, your smart solar battery is also charging with the excess solar power being produced by your panels. Once your battery is full, your solar energy will start being exported back to the grid.
Come 6pm, the electricity stored in your battery can be used to power your lights, the TV and any appliances you’re using to cook dinner.
Rule 2: Off-peak grid power is a handy backup option
That scenario reflects how your solar panels, battery and appliances work together in a perfect world. But we know the world isn’t perfect.
Your solar panels may not always produce enough electricity to charge your battery and run your appliances during the day. To overcome this, you might need to shift your electricity usage into the 11pm-6am off-peak period, when grid electricity is around 10c/kWh cheaper.
This is most likely to happen during winter, when there are fewer sunlight hours and your solar system’s capacity can be reduced by up to two thirds.
If you’ve got a battery, choose an electricity plan with lower off-peak rates. That way it won’t cost much to recharge your battery overnight using grid electricity at off-peak rates. You might even be able to use the credits you’ve built up on those sunny days to pay for this off-peak power.
Rule 3: Control your home from the cloud
In both expected and unexpected circumstances, monitoring and smart devices play a major role in managing your zero bill household.
In one scenario a homeowner could remotely monitor the amount of solar electricity going into their battery during the day via their smartphone. If it’s cloudy and the amount of solar power generated is less than expected, they could remotely connect with their washing machine, which was previously programmed to run at 1pm, and reschedule it to 11.30pm – the next cheapest option. This could even be automated.
In another scenario, an IoT-enabled air conditioner could be programmed to use free solar power to automatically pre-heat a well-insulated home – and be triggered only when the outside temperature drops below a certain level. By cooling the house during the day, the owner can then turn the air conditioner down or off for the peak evening period when electricity costs more.
New digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home can also be key elements of the smart solar house. They’re easy to manage and can speak to all or most of these devices.
Zero dollar bills. Zero impact on your lifestyle.
DC Power Co’s Nick Brass says creating and managing a zero bill home is surprisingly easy, and will only get easier as smart home technology becomes cheaper and even more user-friendly.
“You can totally get a zero dollar bill without it affecting your lifestyle,” he says.
“You’re still doing all the things you love in your home. You’re treading lightly on the planet, but you can also be confident that you don’t need to worry about the lights going off.”
A cost-effective battery package
The DC Power Co Solar Battery Package is our powerful yet simple and affordable battery package that’s compatible with any existing solar system. Starting at just $6750 plus installation, it’s a modular battery package that comes with extended warranties and blackout protection included at no extra cost.