The most common type of system. Your home will use electricity from your PV system before it uses it from the grid. When your system isn't generating electricity at night, your home will get electricity from the grid.
Adding solar power to your home can help you save big on energy costs, but it can be a daunting investment. We break down the entire process for you here.
Essential facts about solar power
- You'll need to make an upfront investment of between $3,500 and $10,000 to get started (though financing is an option).
- Depending on household usage, your solar installation could reduce electricity bills enough to pay itself off in around four to seven years.
- Always ensure your installer has Climate Energy Council (CEC) accreditation.
- For most people, using electricity generated from solar will have a bigger impact than feeding electricity back into the grid.
- Batteries are still expensive and may not pay for themselves in a reasonable time period.
In a country that gets as much sun as Australia, it's no wonder that household use of solar power is becoming increasingly popular. Though they were once seen as too expensive, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are now an affordable choice for Aussies who want to reduce their power bills and generate their own environmentally friendly electricity.
There are many benefits to installing a solar power system in your home. Australia has the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent and solar power is a sustainable option that collects free energy from the sun and converts it into clean electricity. It's also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding more-traditional forms of energy powered by fossil fuels.
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Every solar power system needs to be customised for the home it's being installed on, as well as the household's energy needs. While there are a lot of variables that need to be considered, there are three critical components to any solar PV system.
- Photovoltaic panels: These are the panels that convert the sun's energy into electricity.
- Inverter: This converts the panels' direct current (DC) into a 240V alternating current (AC), so you can use your solar energy to power your home's electricity.
- Racking: This is the equipment used to attach the solar panels to your home's roof.
To make things a little more confusing, there are different types of panel technologies available and multiple types of inverters. Then there are additional elements like batteries and feed-in tariffs to consider. We'll break all this down for you on this page, but your solar installer should be able to guide you through the more difficult decisions.
Solar panels: Polycrystalline vs monocrystalline
Before we dive into what makes these two panel types different, it's worth noting that for most installations in Australia, this decision doesn't matter too much. Because of our climate, both polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels offer similar performance, though there are higher-quality products at a range of prices that should be considered.
To showcase the differences, we've put two similar Trina Solar panels side by side so you can see the differences in the technologies below.
|Peak power (Watts)|
Solar inverters: String inverters vs micro-inverters
The second key component of your solar system is the inverter. Inverters are responsible for converting the DC produced by the solar panels into an AC that can be used by your appliances.
Again, there are two main technologies to consider for an inverter. Below are some pros and cons for each:
|Price||One unit per system, generally cheaper||Need one per solar panel, can add significant cost to a large solar system|
|Safety||Single point of failure dealing with large voltages, so potential fire risk||Current converted at each panel, so lower risk of overall failure|
|Extending||Difficult to add additional panels||Easy to add more panels over time|
|Performance||System can only perform as well as its worst-performing panel||Each panel outputs full potential to system, so more efficient power overall|
|Alignment||All panels need to be aligned to maximise output||Panels can face different directions because performance isn't tied together|
|Troubleshooting||If one panel fails, can be difficult to determine which one||Each panel can be monitored and issues identified easily|
|Replacement||Easy to replace if it fails||Can be difficult to replace given location on roof|
If you're about to spend thousands of dollars attaching solar panels to your roof, you should pay attention to the racking that will be used to keep them secure.
While there are a number of products and manufacturers available, the most important things to be aware of are ensuring the racking is correctly wind rated for your area.
This means if you live in an area prone to cyclones, you want to make sure your racking is rated for cyclonic winds, otherwise your expensive solar system could blow away.
High-quality solar racking for Australian homes is generally rated for all wind types in Australia, but you should do your research and make sure anyway. While your installer will help guide you in this decision, know that some racking may not support both portrait and landscape installations, while others may only be appropriate for certain roof types.
How big should your solar system be?
Now you know what's required for your solar system, the next step is to determine what type of system you want and how much energy it will produce.
Naturally there are lots of elements that can impact this decision, like your budget, your retailer and even the size of your home. Let's break it down, step by step.
Choose your system
For most Australians, there are three main types of solar systems to consider:
As solar batteries become more affordable, hybrid PV systems with a battery backup become more popular. Your home will use electricity from your PV panels first, your battery second and the grid third.
Off-grid homes are usually limited to remote locations where there's limited connectivity to the grid. These homes must have batteries or back-up generation (like a diesel or petrol generator) for power at night.
Most Australian homes with a solar PV system currently have a grid-connected system, though hybrid systems with a battery backup are becoming more popular as the price of solar batteries comes down.
Off-grid systems really are limited to remote locations. Even if you invest in a large hybrid solar system with a view to stop using grid-electricity, it will likely still be connected to the grid in the majority of cases.
How much does installing solar cost?
Now you have a bit of an idea about the type of solar photovoltaic system you want to install, it's time to budget. It's important to know there's no fixed price for any solar system installation. The costs you're quoted will depend on the size and capacity of the system being designed, the quality and brand of the products used and the difficulty of the install.
Then there are potential additional costs, like upgrading your meter or your electricity switchboard.
As such, it's important to get multiple quotes from CEC-accredited installers.
But to give you a general outline of potential price ranges for a standard grid-connected PV system, Solar Choice has compiled its list of average install prices across Australia for different solar system sizes.
For February 2019, the average out-of-pocket install price (deducting any relevant government solar rebates) looked like this:
Importantly, these numbers are averaged across all of Australia. Some states don't offer any type of rebate on a solar system install, so those prices could be higher, depending on your location.
How long will it take for my solar PV system to pay for itself?
Naturally, the time it takes for your solar system to pay for itself from reduced electricity costs depends on everything from the size of your system and the price you paid to your energy usage habits and consumption, plus your electricity plan's rates for both consumption and production.
It's also significantly impacted by where you live, as that can have a big impact on the typical amount of energy your panels will produce, as well as the rebates available and the feed-in tariff options.
According to the Australian Energy Council's January 2019 Solar Report (pdf), these are the expected time frames for a solar PV system to pay back its upfront cost across Australian capital cities:
Feed-in tariff plans
Once you've had your solar panels installed, one of the first things to do is to take a good look at your energy plan. Chances are the plan you were on before adding solar panels isn't the best plan for you now you're generating your own electricity. One of the most important features of an energy plan to consider once you have solar panels is the feed-in tariff, sometimes referred to as the "FiT".
This refers to the amount of money your energy company will pay you for the excess electricity you create that's fed back into the grid.
FiTs can vary quite dramatically, depending on where you live and the retailer you choose. Some retailers offer relatively generous FiTs, but also charge higher rates for any electricity you use from the grid, while others offer lower FiTs (or no FiTs at all).
Understanding your usage is important when selecting the right electricity plan with a FiT, because as we mentioned above, the cost of electricity from the grid is almost always more than the amount energy companies will pay you.
How to compare solar products
To find the best solar product for your home, compare different makes and models of solar PV panels based on the following features:
- Clean Energy Council certification. Are the solar panels certified by the Clean Energy Council (CEC)? Certification ensures the solar product has been manufactured according to industry best practice and it adheres to Australian standards. You can claim government rebates like small-scale technology certificates for CEC certified solar panels installed by a CEC accredited installer. You can check to see whether solar products are certified by searching a database on the CEC website.
- Warranty. What is the manufacturer's guarantee and how does this compare with warranties from other manufacturers? Look out for where the solar products were made and whether that particular brand can be serviced and repaired within Australia.
- Lifespan. What is the expected lifespan on the quotes solar products? Some systems will last longer than the others.
- Solar manufacturer reputation. How long has the brand been in business? Consider the likelihood that the brand will still be in business if government rebates schemes change. You can usually take confidence in the length of time a product has been on the market.
- Solar system output. What is the projected output for the PV solar system? The capacity to generate electricity varies depending on the size of the system. A 4kWh solar system has the capacity to generate more electricity than a 1.5kWh system; however, the actual amount of electricity the solar product generates depends on a number of factors such as sunlight exposure, temperature and position. Be sure to account for factors like electricity losses from the inverter and wiring which can contribute to a loss of as much as 20%.
- Solar panel efficiency. What is the solar system output compared to the amount of space covered by PV solar panels? Smaller roofs may require a system with high efficiency to get the best result while a less efficient system on a larger roof may give the same result.
- Cost per kilowatt. Your quote should include a cost per kilowatt figure and a cost per kilowatt hour of delivered energy calculated over a solar year. Compare this figure against the price you pay to buy electricity from the grid. Remember that electricity prices will more than likely increase in the future and be conscious that solar inverters generally last for about half the life of PV solar panels.
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