None So Blind

My parents live in a beautiful, and beautifully located, but tiny house in the inner city. One of the ways their architect made the best use of the space available was by installing skylights all along the passageway, turning what was previously a very dark terrace into a house filled with light.

The downside of this, however, is that in December and January the sun streams in directly through the skylights, and on hot days turns the house to an oven. My parents respond by making heavy use of air conditioning, but would prefer not to. So they are looking at getting blinds installed on the skylights. Given their failing health they could certainly not pull these open or shut, so these would have to be motorised.

The first quote they got for blinds, motor and installation: $12,000.

Obviously there is a big question here as to whether this is worth it, given that they’ll only be used a few days a year at the moment – and even with climate change probably less than 20, given the sun’s angle in February makes them unnecessary.

But the thing that struck me is that these blinds take up an area roughly similar to my solar panels, which cost $9000. In both cases this was top of the range pricing, with cheaper options available, the savings roughly in proportion. Both require two people and ladders to install. Both are supposed to last at least 25 years – but the panels need to do this exposed to the weather, while the blinds will be on the inside. The blinds come with a motor and a remote control, but my panels included an inverter, which must have cost even more. My panels had a government subsidy, but less than $3000 IIRC.

The blinds will keep the house moderately cool a few weeks a year. My panels produce all the electricity we use in the house and more, such that I anticipate being a net exporter to the grid. And the blinds are, basically big pieces of wool, whereas the solar panels are highly sophisticated examples of solid state technology.

Now I realise that most Australians would struggle to afford such blinds, and even my well off parents have baulked at the price. However, the next time someone tells you solar power is too expensive you might ask “compared to what?”.

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About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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One Response to None So Blind

  1. Judy C says:

    Go the solar panels! Also you said the blinds would be inside. This means the heat would get through the skylights anyway? We are on 66 cents feed-in tariff and want to increase the number of panels. Looking at putting in a seperate system on battery storage so we can cover blackouts (like yesterday’s pole fire in the vicinity. Lucky the conditions didn’t result in a fire).

    re the comment about cost. Our local PV provider when asked “how long will this take to pay us back?” said he points to their vehicle (usually a 4-wheel drive out here) and says “how long will that take to pay you back?”

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