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Fancy Free Solar and a Green Star for your Business?

Information verified correct on December 3rd, 2016

Thinking of making your business green? Keen to know the benefits of going solar? Read on.

Why should my business go solar?

Solar power can be a great investment. It will help your business generate clean, green energy for decades, and ensure that you are not at the mercy of the power grid and its tendency to blackout. In addition to this, over the long term solar could actually help generate revenue for your business as well as providing positive PR.

Money matters

The biggest hurdle to most businesses getting solar panels is the cost, but fortunately that may be beginning to change. While electricity prices have consistently risen, the price of solar power has been dropping a lot over the last 18 months — so solar could be a way for you to insulate your business against further price hikes. It could also be possible to get solar with no initial capital outlay, as some companies offer a solar leasing or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

What is a PPA?

A Power Purchase Agreement is an energy supply agreement between you and your energy provider, in which they will provide your property with solar panels, usually with no initial outlay, and then agree to sell you the energy that they produce at a rate cheaper than you would pay for energy generated elsewhere. The energy producer in effect leases the space on your roof to generate power and then sells you the power produced. There are usually clauses attached, such as a minimum term contract which you must have the panels for and sometimes a minimum amount of power that you must buy each month. Check with your energy supplier or with a specialist energy broker for full details and a quote of PPAs that may be available to you.

The building

Obviously putting solar panels on your roof is going to have an impact on the value of your building, but a lot of people are unsure about whether they send the valuation up or down. This will vary depending on your property and location, but the answer is usually that they send the value up, making your property more valuable than it was before. In addition to the value of self generating power and the long life expectancy of solar panels, you could also improve your building’s National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) and your Green Star rating, both of which could improve the value of your commercial property.

A guide to energy ratings

NABERS is an Australian national energy rating system that measure the environmental performance of commercial buildings, tenancies and homes. They take into account energy efficiency, water usage, waste management and indoor environment to determine the overall quality of a building and its impact on the environment. They have a simple star rating, with six stars for the best and one star for those that require the most improvement.

Green Star rating is a similar certification that is dished out by the Green Building Council of Australia. It measures new and old building and gives them a rating from one star to six stars depending on their energy efficiency and overall environmental impact.

Social and PR perspective

Aside from benefiting your building’s value, having solar installed may also help you to improve your social presence. Climate change is the big story in the world at the moment, perhaps the biggest, and companies are beginning to use their positive news on going green to advance their brand and attract new customers.

Practical concerns

As a business owner your biggest concern will be the financial implications of a switch to solar, but there are also practical issues you need to think about.

Where is your business located?

In Australia we’re pretty lucky with sunshine -- most corners of this country get more than enough sun to power a solar panel system. However, if your building is in the shade for parts of the day or your roof has an unsuitable angle, you may not be able to realise the full potential of your system. A specialist energy consultant, or your solar provider, should provide you with an honest assessment of your building and how well it will be able to utilise solar panels.

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Which way does your roof face?

The direction of your roof will directly impact how much sun you get during an average day, and therefore the effectiveness of your solar panel system. So, which is the right direction?

  • North - North is best. The sun rises in the east, travels north and sets in the west, making north the ideal direction for maximum solar output.
  • East/West - Not optimum, but still good. If your roof faces east or west, you will lose around 3-4% of your maximum potential. That's effective enough to make panels a viable option (assuming the other numbers add up).
  • South - If your roof faces south then you could lose up to 20% of your maximum potential. This is a significant chunk, and may make you think twice about installation, especially if you’re a heavy electricity user.
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What costs do I need to consider?

So what will you need to know in order to decide? You should talk to a specialist energy consultant or solar provider, and make sure you have this information to hand::

  • You current energy usage over a year. You need the total amount used over a 12 month period and quarterly summaries, as energy use can vary significantly between summer and winter. This will give you an idea of what size system you would require for your business.
  • How much you’re currently spending. Before you know what you can save, you will need to know what you currently spend. To get as broad a picture of this as you can try to get as many bills as you can, dating back as many years as possible. This will give you a solid average as you try to work out if the cost of solar will lead to savings.
  • Feed-in tariffs available in your state. Each state has different energy providers available, and will often different feed-in tariffs. These allow you to sell the excess energy that you generate through your solar system back to the grid, and can provide you with income from your panels. We’ve done a state by state guide to solar providers available in each state, so why not have a look through and see if you might be eligible for a feed-in?
  • Insurance. Before making the move to solar be sure to check with your insurer that the panels and the system will be covered under your existing policy, or take out additional cover to include them. Solar panels are generally well-designed and incredibly hard wearing, but their position on the roof will make them vulnerable to weather or debris, especially if you live in an area surrounded by trees or rock formations.
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I’m interested. Which company should I go with?

There are a whole host of companies that provide a quality solar service, and we’ve reviewed many of them on our energy pages. It’s a good idea to have a look through our guides to see what solar service might benefit you the most. And if you get lost in the jargon or if you just want the advice of an expert, then contact a specialist energy broker on the form provided. They’ll discuss your options with you and make sure you find the solar system that suits your needs.

Shirley Liu

Shirley is finder.com.au's publisher for banking and investments. She is currently studying a Masters in Commerce (Finance) and is the author of hundreds of articles. She is passionate about helping Aussies make an informed decision, save money and find the best deal for their needs.

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