What you need to know in 2021.
More than 21% of Australians have already made the switch to solar. Solar is a fantastic way to reduce your energy bills and your carbon footprint. But it can be a little confusing at the start. So, here’s a quick guide about residential home solar and connecting to the grid.
There are four key elements of using solar energy at your home.
- Solar Panels
- Your Switchboard
- Your Roof
- Your Local Electricity Grid
- Your Energy Plan
- Your Solar Retailer
Solar panels are sheets of solar cells that have been mounted onto a framework that is installed onto your roof. These panels then absorb the sun’s energy and turn it into electricity.
There are many types of panel technologies on the market ranging from the basic Poly panels to new N-Type, bifacial or shingled panels. As the old saying goes “you get what you pay for”, it could not be more true for investing in your solar.
An inverter turns the solar energy generated from the solar panels from DC electricity into AC electricity.
These can range from your “cheap and cheerful” string inverters to premium string inverters, hybrid optimised string inverters or AC based micro inverters.
It’s important to note that each inverter type has its own benefits, whether that be price/ROI, life span, shading optimisation or safety. Remember, a good solar retailer will talk you through what they recommend in your situation and explain why.
Your switchboard is a piece of equipment that sends electricity from one or more sources to different parts of your house. This allows you to use the solar energy you’ve created to power your home or export it to the grid. Your switchboard is an extremely important part of your solar sales process. Factors such as its ability to hold additional circuit breakers, whether it contains asbestos and its location should all be considered before deciding on a solar system or accepting a solar quote.
Your roof is possibly one of the biggest aspects of your solar system and installer selection. Is it a nice easy tin roof with no hips or gulleys? Is it a terracotta tiled roof the shape of the Sydney Opera house? Which direction does it face? The direction a solar panel faces can make a huge difference to its output. Factors such as chimneys or shade from large trees also make a big difference to a system which is why we recommend everyone has a tailored system designed to their roof and shading requirements, not just to a retailer’s price list!
Your Local Electricity Grid.
The Australian energy grid is a complex and not entirely uniform network that distributes electricity from power stations to homes and businesses around the country. The “health” of the grid in your area will dictate many things such as how big a solar system you can install, how much you can export to the grid & and if your solar system needs to be remotely activated or deactivated in times of extreme grid pressure.
Your Energy Plan.
How much you get paid for your excess solar (feed-in tariff), how much your standard daily connection charges and how much your off-peak energy rates are can affect your solar system’s financial viability to an extreme degree. We have seen some solar plans with a lower feed-in tariff and lower daily connection charges outperform some plans with a very high feed-in tariff due to the higher feed-in tariff having drastically higher daily or off-peak charges. Like every step of the way on your solar journey, your energy plan should be well researched.
Your Solar Retailer.
You can read a lot about “Phoenix Retailers” of late in the solar industry, and for the most part, a lot of it is true. Extra care should be taken when deciding on who you choose to install your solar system. Are you using a trusted local business that you can drive to and talk to if there is a problem? Are you working with a large company with a solid national footprint and offices that you can walk into and proven business model that has been around for a decade? If you decide to buy from an online only or call center based business you need to consider how likely are they to be in business in 6 months, 12 months, 3 years etc? Low costs are great but if a system fails after three years and the company no longer exists your 10-20 expected lifespan may be significantly reduced leaving you with the choice to either buy another solar system or go without.
A good way to start filtering out who to trust and who not to in the solar industry is to ask if the company is a CEC approved retailer or part of an independent industry body like the Smart Energy Council or Master Electricians. Then if all else fails, get on the phone and talk to the person, are they a local? Are they knowledgeable? Do you trust them?
How Solar Power Works.
- Solar panels on your roof turn sunlight into DC electricity
- The DC electricity flows through the inverter to turn into AC electricity
- Your home uses the AC electricity
- Unused electricity flows back into the main grid
With solar panels, if the sun is shining, you’re able to create your own power for your home. Simple as that. If you don’t use that solar-generated power you can feed it back into the electricity grid and receive a ‘feed-in tariff’ from your electricity retailer. When the sun isn’t shining you are still able to use your power but it will come from the mains power grid.
The feed-In tariff is the rate that you are paid to sell unused solar energy back into the grid so others can use it. The rate can change depending on demand, location, energy retailer and time. The examples below are accurate as at April 28 2021 for many Victorian users.
|Period||Weekday||Weekend||Rate: cents per kilowatt hour (c/kWh)|
|Off-peak||10pm to 7am||10pm to 7am||9.1|
|Shoulder||7am to 3pm, 9pm to 10pm||7am to 10pm||9.8|
|Peak||3pm to 9pm||n/a||12.5|
(Source Victorian State Government: Environment, Land, Water and Planning)
Read further on feed-in tariffs.
Energy Efficiency Schemes.
Energy efficiency schemes are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage businesses and households to use electricity and gas more efficiently. A common oversight on how large of a solar system a home needs is first reducing your homes energy appetite and then look at how large of a solar system you require. In Victoria, SA and NSW financial incentives are offered to reduce the cost of this transition. They are specific to each state in Australia so it’s important to not miss out on opportunities in your state.
Read more about how energy efficient schemes can save you money.
Video: Solar Energy for homes