Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Air Conditioner Installed

Yesterday we had an air conditioner installed in readiness for summer. We selected a unit manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries given its products have (one of) the highest energy efficiency ratings and were strongly recommended as best in the market by two trusted contacts ... one of which works in the industry for a competing manufacturer and the other in the solar energy supply industry.

Here are some of the key details:
Model #: SRK71ZEA-S1
Supplier: Coles Hardware & Glass, Cnr Flint & Bathurst Sts, Forbes Phone (02) 6852 1955
Installers: Michael Coles from the above business did the gas fitting work ( and the electrician was Colin Mayo also from Forbes phone 0419 697 168.

We were impressed with the overall supply and installation and are happy to give both Michael and Col a plug.

The first step in the installation is locating the best place for both the 'head' (inside unit) and 'compressor' (outside unit). The head is located in a position in the living room that will allow for the cool air to reach into the two bedrooms. This photo shows the backing plate and hole through the wall for the wiring and pipes.

This photo shows Colin (L) and Mike (R) putting the head on the backing plate. The head is a tad under 1100 mm wide.

Here you can see the compressor unit on the concrete pad supplied as part of the installation. Sitting on top of the unit is a high pressure vacuum unit ... used to basically extract all moisture from the copper pipes prior to releasing the refrigerant (stored in the unit). Most of the compressor units are placed on wall brackets but in our case we opted for a concrete pad on the ground given concerns that being an old weather board home the noise from the compressor would go straight through the wall. It's the way to go for us ... and we also learned that with houses like ours the vibrations can also trigger rattles from windows.
The compressor has to be installed (and is) at least 1500 mm from any gas tanks to comply with regulations.

Here you can see Mike and Col doing the last bit of the installation. There was a reasonable amount of pipe fitting and electrical work involved ... all carried out without fuss. Col was able to source power using one of two spare cables that our local electrician (Alf Zammit) left for this purpose when he originally wired the cottage for us.

In terms of trends we learned that the majority of people locally are now tending to buy evaporative air conditioning units in response to escalating electricity costs. This is turn places pressure on water supplies ... but at least water is a renewable resource. Given we have a stand alone power supply system we don't have power bills ... so a refrigerated unit suits us and we don't also have to muck around connecting water to the unit. During peak usage our air conditioning unit is expected to produce around 3 to 3.5 litres of water per hour.

A comment Mike made that I found enlightening was that one way to determine the quality of a product (such as air conditioners) is by going onto e-Bay and seeing how many spare parts sellers there are. The more spare parts sellers there are the poorer the product quality!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Location of Ochre Arch

The following Google Maps link shows the location of Ochre Arch. Included in the map are the directions to the farm from the towns of Grenfell, Forbes and West Wyalong via the roads we tend to use. The farm area is also marked on the map.

View Ochre Arch, Grenfell, NSW, Australia in a larger map

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Solar Panels ... Setting the Angle

In November 2009 I posted an article containing information about our remote power supply setup. Systems such as ours are more commonly known as Stand Alone Power Systems or SAPS.

When Central West Solar installed our system they set the angle of the fixed solar panels on the shed at approximately 43 degrees ... being latitude (34 degrees south of the equator) plus 10 degrees. From this I assumed that the ideal 'rule of thumb' for all solar panels would be the same as ours i.e. latitude plus 10 degrees.

A farming family we know who live south of Grenfell recently had a 10 kW grid-connect solar system installed, with the panels attached to the roof of one of their sheds. The panels have been attached directly to the roof without angle-adjustment frames and thus are at the same angle as the roof pitch. The pitch of this roof is very low ... at a guess around 5 degrees. My initial reaction was that they would most likely be missing out on quite a bit of potential energy capture at this angle.

I've been in contact with Robert at Central West Solar to get some clarification on the solar panel angle conventions and now understand that the angle can and should be set differently depending on the goal of the solar panel installation. Robert advises that "Generally peoples power consumption in this region over winter is approx the same as summer. If you dont take bias of array to suit loads in different seasons then the rule of thumb is: 
  • For the best all year round yield: Angle should be equal to the latitude
  • For the best summer yield: Angle should be latitude MINUS 10 to 15 degrees
  • For the best winter yield: Angle should be latitude PLUS 10 to 15 degrees"
In our own case, given we have a SAPS (and cannot sell surplus or externally source shortfalls), our goal is to maximise the winter yield as this is naturally a low capture part of the year due to shorter day length, less intense light, and higher probability of cloud and fog cover. Thus 43 degrees is spot on for us.

For those who are on grid connect systems where the primarily goal is to reduce the year round power bill (or maximise year round revenue) then the appropriate angle would be equal to latitude. Letting the mind wander creatively for a moment (and assuming all things being equal ... which they are not) people with this goal:
  • Living on the equator could install panels directly on to flat roofs
  • Living on the south pole could install panels directly on to north facing walls
  • With a 20 degree north facing pitch roof living at one of the following places in Australia could affix panels directly to their roof: Camooweal, Charters Towers or Bowen in Queensland; Tanumi or Avon Downs in the Northern Territory; or Port Hedland in Western Australia
What I have not investigated and thus don't have a feel for is what the yield reduction is for each degree the panels are not at the ideal setting. This is the type of information I reckon anyone with a grid connect system should find out as it would allow for cost benefit analysis to be carried out to assess the return from spending money on frames and structures that alter the angle of the panels from the pitch of the roof or for 'follow the sun' moving solar panel support structures.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

UBank losing its gloss

On 31st October 2009 I posted an article on Ochre Archives explaining how in rising rate economic climates financial institutions have a tendency of releasing new variable rate savings based products offering rates that are at the time of release competitive, whilst at the same time either capping or slowing the rate of rises on existing savings based products. In this way they are able to attract ‘new’ money (to the new higher rate accounts) but at the same time broaden the overall margin between lending rates (interest rates on variable rate loans almost always increase in line with market movements) and deposit rates leading to even greater profitability. I also explained how we had moved our main deposit funds to UBank which is part of the National Australia Bank (nab) group in an attempt to keep pace with changes.

When we opened our UBank USaver account they were offering two types of USaver accounts. The ‘standard’ one was for those who did not want or need a regular savings program and the second was for those who were prepared to commit to a regular savings plan. UBank offered a premium of about 0.1 % above the rate payable on the standard product to those who selected the regular savings option.

This morning I decided to have a close look at what UBank/nab had been ‘up to’ since we transferred funds to them in the context of the above and subsequent movements in the ‘official cash rate’ approved and determined by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Board.

On the ‘rate changes’ front from early December 2009 to end June 2010 the following has occurred:
  • The RBA made 4 upward / increase rate adjustments totalling 1.0 % in the official cash rate taking the total rate to 4.5 %
  • UBank (nab) made 5 upward adjustments totalling 0.55 % (55 % of the increase in the RBA adjustments) in the UBank standard USaver account rate making the current total rate 6.01 %
  • UBank (nab) has broadened the margin premium for the regular savings USaver account by about 0.4 % to take the total rate to 6.51 %. Thus the rate on this product has risen roughly in line with the RBA official cash rate.

Thus based on the above anyone who has a standard USaver account has been ‘left behind’ the rise in official cash rates announced by the RBA to the tune of 0.45 % which roughly equates to a $45 opportunity loss for every $10,000 invested over a 12 month period. What I'd suggested normally happens in rising rate environments has been confirmed.

I’ve observed a couple of other changes in the UBank experience and general offering:
  1. The complexity of what UBank does has increased. When you call the main switch number you now get an auto message offering superannuation product offerings
  2. The nab has re-enforced the ‘right of set-off’ clause with UBank deposits. Essentially and simplistically what this means is that the Bank has the legal right to report in its figures to the regulators the net balances (loans less deposit funds) of ‘same customer’ arrangements. The advantages to the banks are that in some circumstances they can reduce the amount of capital shareholders need to provide to support the balance sheet gearing and they can also physically transfer funds from a customer’s deposit account to the same customer’s loan account/s clear or reduce loans should they choose to do so. The advantage to some customers is that they can opt to only pay interest on the net loan, rather than pay interest on the gross loan balance and receive credit interest on the deposit account/s. Because of the right of set-off clause some customers choose have their deposit funds in a different financial institution to the one they get loans from.

The moral of the above story with variable deposit rate products is basically that as far as the financial services industry goes (or at least some of the players) the saying “If you are on a good thing stick to it” does not apply and we need to regularly check to see that we are being offered competitive deals.

For those who love micro detail below is what has happened with RBA official cash and UBank standard USaver account rate movements during the period I have referred to above.

2-Dec-09 RBA increased the official cash rate by 0.25 % to 3.75 %
9-Dec-09 NAB increased the UBank standard USaver account rate by 0.05 % to 5.51 %
22-Jan-10 NAB increased the UBank standard USaver account rate by 0.11 % to 5.62 %
3-Mar-10 RBA increased the official cash rate by 0.25 % to 4 %
12-Mar-10 NAB increased the UBank standard USaver account rate by 0.13 % to 5.75 %
19-Mar-10 NAB increased the UBank standard USaver account rate by 0.1 % to 5.85 %
7-Apr-10 RBA increased the official cash rate by 0.25 % to 4.25 %
5-May-10 RBA increased the official cash rate by 0.25 % to 4.5 %
24-Jun-10 NAB increased the UBank standard USaver account rate by 0.16 % to 6.01 %