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The bloke who lives next door to me put solar panels on his roof recently. I presume they’re there to generate actual power from the sun, and it’s not just a fashion accessory. I assume the former, because he is inordinately proud of the fact that he’s gone – literally – off the grid.

He’s not a person I thought would do this. He’s not a greenie, not by a long shot, and he’s the kind of guy whose free-market philosophy puts him somewhere to the right of the Tea Party. He’s more of a W-Party, if you see what I mean?

But it turns out that the economic rationalist in him suffered bill shock like you generally only hear about on TV current affairs shows when a family goes on a six-week holiday in Europe, taking phones, tablets, laptops and other devices with them, and returns to Australia to be handed a thousand-dollar phone bill for roaming charges.

Tony Abbott’s promise to cut power bills by repealing the carbon tax didn’t quite live up to expectations, it seems. So he’s taken matters into his own hands.

There was obviously some effort and some inconvenience in getting ready for the change. He researched his options and asked around; the best testimonials invariably come from those who have already made the change. Do it, they said – you will never look back.

The end justifies the means?

There’s been an upfront cost, as well, so in the short term it ends up being more expensive. But he reckons it’s worth it for the certainty it will provide in the longer term. I’m not sure when the money he’ll save will pay off the capital cost, and nor does he, but that’s sort of beside the point.

The main attraction for him is the independence – both physical and mental. And the service he has received from the solar company puts the big electricity supplier to shame.

There are some regulations that he’s had to become familiar with, because now a greater responsibility for compliance sits with him. And if his equipment fails, it’s not completely clear who will foot the bill. But he reckons that’s a minor issue if he pays attention to the installation, does it by the rules and uses good suppliers.

It’s fair to say that it’s probably only recently that technology has reached the point where this is even feasible. Advances in efficiency mean even relatively small installations can do a job effectively. And it’s becoming increasingly cost-efficient to store energy now, using batteries, and consume it at a later date or when the weather is been bad.

The state of independence

Independence means different things to different people. For my neighbour it means being freed from the influence of a large corporate entity whose service is iffy and whose billing practices leave something to be desired.

For others, it’s a statement that they are free thinkers – perhaps the ultimate free marketeers – and are no longer happy being tied to a single supplier.

And for others still it is the economic reason – the argument that says in the long run (whatever that is) you’ll end up better off financially.

Whatever reason ultimately appeals, it’s obviously easier and simpler to go off the grid today than it has ever been before.

That’s really good news for those who are independently minded. It’s less good news for the big organisations that they have previously been beholden to.

How those big players respond is the next chapter in this evolving story. Can’t wait for that.

Dixon Bainbridge may be contacted by email only since his phone was disconnected - and it's best to try in the mornings. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Professional Planner, and not even necessarily grounded in reality, to be frank.
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