With power bills skyrocketing, most Aussie families are looking for alternative sources of energy - namely, renewable energy. Solar, natural gas, hydropower and wind energy are the main renewable sources currently in use in Australia, and are attracting homeowners in droves.
But before you sign up to receive your electricity from renewable sources, or buy your home a set of its own solar panels or wind turbines, be aware that some energy sources aren’t as sustainable as you might think.
It makes sense that such a sunny country should utilise this resource as a form of renewable energy – currently, over 1.35 million solar power systems are installed all over Australia.
Queenslanders and South Australians are the most solar savvy, with just under half of homes in those states in possession of a solar panel system. But while solar panels are hailed as one of the most efficient sources of renewable energy for the everyday Aussie, how eco-friendly are they really?
Depending on a number of factors, including how big your solar panels are, what direction they are facing and at what angle, the amount and intensity of sunshine on any given day, and the number of daylight hours in the area you live, your solar panels may produce anywhere between 3.5 kWh (for a 1kW system located in Hobart or Melbourne) to 17.5 kWh (for those living in Canberra or Darwin with a 4.0 kW system).
On days without much sunlight, your home may draw its power from your electricity grid. Conversely, any extra energy you produce will be fed back onto the electricity grid, and may result in a credit against your next energy bill.
However, solar panels may not be as green as they seem. This relatively new technology is proving quite costly to the environment to manufacture, as it uses caustic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, and produces toxic wastewater.
Mostly used for commercial purposes, wind power produces 4% of total energy consumed in Australia. In rural areas, the power of wind is harnessed to pump bore water. It is the fastest growing form of renewable energy in the country.
Despite mostly being used for commercial purposes, it is possible for an everyday homeowner to install their own wind turbine to power their home. This is highly dependent on where you live, as wind turbines are generally ineffective in urban areas.
The best places for wind turbines are flat, rural areas without significant vegetation or buildings, or along the southern, south-western and south-eastern coasts. Parts of the east coast are also suitable.
Depending on the size of the wind system, energy outputs can be anywhere between 766.5 kWh a year for a 1kW wind system (with low wind speeds), to 23,300 kWh a year for a 10kW system exposed to stronger wind.
The environmental cost of manufacturing a wind turbine is somewhat small compared to the actual cost – some turbines cost up to three million to manufacture and install!
Wind turbines also pose a potential threat to wildlife such as bats and birds, and possibly even a disturbance to those living near them due to the low decibel noise and vibrations they produce.
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Don’t want to invest in installing your own solar panels or wind turbine but still want to draw your energy from renewable sources? There is another option for Aussie homeowners.
GreenPower is a voluntary government program that allows residents to purchase their electricity from renewable sources such as hydropower, natural gas, solar, biomass and wind power.
You simply sign up and indicate the percentage of your power you’d like to draw from which renewable source. You can purchase only 1% or 100% of your power through GreenPower - it’s completely up to you!