Solar Power Information: Everything you need to know before installing solar panels in Australia
A clean, reliable, and affordable energy supply for all Australian is finally here
“Disruption… Smart solar power, solar storage, and home automation are redefining the status quo in Australia’s Energy Market, placing power firmly back in the hands of the household. In 2019, Solaray is at the forefront of one of the most exciting transitions in the history of the solar industry.”
Jonathan Fisk, Solaray Energy Director
This solar power guide is for you if you are considering installing a solar power system for your home
We have created this solar power guide to help you find the information you need before choosing a solar power system. We understand how hard it has become to find honest advice due to the increased activity of online lead generation companies, telemarketers and doorknockers. Because these lead generation companies are only selling information & generating leads, there is no incentive to ensure consumers buy the right system for their needs. This often results in people installing mediocre products at inflated prices, something reputable solar installers are actively trying to stop.
There are significant risks involved with cheap solar systems, and a lot of households are getting stung. We recognised that people were not getting the right information and were often ending up with sub-quality systems thinking they were getting a good deal. More information is available here: A warning about cheap solar systems.
You can download the PDF version of our solar power guide here: Solaray Smart Solar Power Guide. Free Bonus: The 10 Key Benefits of a Solaray System
Solar Power For Homes In Australia
Why you should install solar power in 2019
Good quality solar power systems have never been so affordable and in 2019 we will see many households include battery storage with their system to store excess solar power that can then be used in the evening. 370W solar panels are now available, a huge improvement from the standard 250W panel we were installing only a few years ago. If you have been considering solar, 2019 is the year you should seriously consider getting a solar power system installed.
Solar power has never been this affordable
As power prices continue to rise, a good quality solar power system can typically pay for itself in as little as 3 to 5 years. A solar power system can save you tens of thousands of dollars on your power bills over the life of the system, add value to your home, and significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
Improvements in technology
Nearly all our systems now include panel level output, which means that each panel outputs power independently from the rest of the array. This increases output in partial shade, it allows us to use multiple roof sections, and it allows you to take advantage of positive power tolerance.
Smart Solar Systems from Enphase now come with a sophisticated monitoring system that is connected to the internet, provide real-time performance data, status reports and automated alerts if one of the panels is underperforming. Consumption monitoring is also available to help you monitor how much power you are using in your home. Previously, system owners had to keep an eye on system performance manually or book regular service calls. We can now monitor your system in real time, and we can even remotely reset firmware if there is an issue with one of the panels. This next generation of solar technology ensures little to no downtime.
Safety is also a key issue. Gone are the days of high-voltage cable runs through the house. Smart Solar Technology allows us to run a safe and easy AC cable from the panel array directly into your meter board, significantly reducing electrocution and fire risks.
How Does Solar Power Work?
A solar system produces clean energy from the sun to help you save money on your power bill and reduce your carbon footprint.
Solar power is fed into your home to power everything that is connected to mains power. If you don’t use the solar power as it is generated, it is automatically fed out to the grid and you may be paid a feed-in tariff by your energy retailer (this is generally around 7 cents to 13 cents and is paid as a credit on your power bill).
If you are using more power than the solar system is generating you will automatically buy power from the grid at your contracted rates.
This is known as a Nett system.
To get the most benefit from solar power, you should use most or all of the solar power at the time it is generated. To do this requires some analysis of your current and future usage patterns – as well as preferably some knowledge about how solar power works. The Solaray Team can help you with this.
Is my home suitable for solar power?
The Solaray Team has access to detailed aerial photos on the computer to help accurately measure how many solar panels will fit on your roof. A site visit may also be required to confirm the measurements.
We can help you clarify your roof’s orientation and any shading issues.
If your roof looks suitable for solar power, we can help you size up a solar array, recommend brands and the type of system best suited to your house (string vs micro inverters), provide a firm price for the installation and book you in for an installation date.
This is usually done over the phone to save you the hassle of a site inspection, however, if we need to come and see you we will do so free of charge.
Are there solar rebates currently available?
Rebates are available to qualifying residential and commercial premises in Australia that install Solar Panels and other Renewable Energy Systems. The Federal Government’s scheme is actually called an incentive rather than a rebate.
This incentive can mean significant reductions in the cost of Solar Systems -and have been designed to encourage Australia’s use of renewable energy. The incentive program – which is part of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target – means that when you install a Solar System, a number of Renewable Energy Certificates are created. These Certificates (referred to as STC’s or Small-scale Technology Certificates) are then purchased by Energy Companies as part of their Renewable Energy commitments.
The value of these Certificates can vary and can either be deducted from the price of your system or sold via the Clean Energy Regulator’s certificate Clearing House system. There are also several additional incentives and grants available for commercial systems. One of our commercial consultants would be happy to discuss these with you.
On top of this, the Victorian State government has a solar rebate program in place that can be claimed after the installation is completed. There are a number of important points to note with this rebate, so please read follow the link to the information below:
Have the Solar Rebates finished?
Many households in NSW were on the old Solar Bonus Scheme that is now closed to new applications. The current Federal Government incentive is now in place and directly reduces your purchase price rather than offering a higher feed-in tariff.
On the old scheme, households were paid a high feed-in tariff for the energy they supplied to the grid – up to 60 cents a kWh. This scheme was designed to increase demand in the solar market to bring down the price of a solar system, and it was extremely successful in doing this.
Although the Solar Bonus Scheme doesn’t apply to new purchasers, this is more than made up for by the current Federal Government Incentive and the massive reduction in solar prices since it was in place. In other words, you will be much better off buying solar today compared to buying a solar system under the old scheme.
Does Solar power work on cloudy days?
A solar system does not only work at maximum capacity. In low light conditions such as early in the morning or when it is overcast, solar panels will still convert light into power for your home, just at a reduced rate.
For example, a 4kW system may only be outputting 2kWs of power on a cloudy day. There is a point where the energy produced is no longer strong enough to power the inverter and the system will turn off. This happens every evening and perhaps during an especially dark storm.
Here is an example of one of our high performing Enphase Micro Inverter systems on an overcast day. As you can see output can change minute by minute as the sun comes out and disappears again behind the clouds. This system is orientated just west of north, hence the peak solar output occurs from late morning through to around 4 pm in the afternoon. This is an early spring day (September) so the peak output period will increase in length over summer, and be a little shorter in winter.
What is a kilowatt hour (kWh)?
This is a unit for measuring energy and it is how your energy retailer bills you.
A kWh is one kilowatt of power measured or used over an hour. For example, if you have an air conditioner that uses 3kW of power, it will use 3kWh of power every hour, so if you are billed 25 cents per kWh by your energy retail, it will cost you 75 cents every hour to run the air conditioner.
Similarly, a 2kW solar system will generate 2kWh of power for every hour that it is outputting power at full capacity. If on a sunny day in summer a 2kW solar system works at full capacity for 4 hours and you use all of this power in the home, you will save $2.00 off your power bill (2kW x 4 hours x 25 cents).
How much power does a solar system generate?
This depends on a number of factors including where you live, your roof orientation, the angle of the panels, the weather, the seasons and the size of your system. Because of this we only use averages as well as guidelines from the clean energy council.
The Clean Energy Council advise that in Sydney a solar system should on average output 3.9 kWh of energy per day for every kW of solar installed, taking into account the seasons and the weather. On any given day this figure could be extremely different. In Melbourne, a solar system will output 3.6kWh per day per kW of solar installed.
As an example, a 2kW system should output 7.8kWh on an average day and a 10kW system will output 39kWh per day.
Using this figure, a simple yet effective way to estimate the output of a solar system is to multiply the system size by 4. For example, a 2kW system will generate approximately 8kWh of power on an average day. Importantly, a solar system will output a lot more power in summer compared to winter, which normally works well with a home or business in NSW due to our hot summers. Our customers will typically use more electricity in summer because of the air conditioner, pool pumps, and because they home from work and school over the Christmas holidays.
As with most products, our experience is that higher quality products such as LG Solar Panels in many cases achieve results above the expected averages. Here are the average daily output figures for a 5kW solar system in Sydney:
How many solar panels do I need for my house?
The right size of solar system depends on what you want your system to do. For many people, it is about making sure the solar system pays for itself in as little time as possible, for others it is to reduce their power bill by the greatest amount or to reduce their carbon footprint and do their bit for the environment.
Paying back your investment as quickly as possible requires sizing up a system to match your daytime energy usage. In a perfect situation, you would use all of the solar power that is generated and have the solar panels facing north or (north-west to maximise your savings during the peak time of use billing period- see below for more info).
For example, if you install a 5kW system for $6,000 and it generates 7118kW/h a year, if you pay an average of 30 cents a kW for your electricity you would save $2,135 every year. This would result in a return on your investment of only 2.8 years!
In reality, it is difficult to use 100% of the power a solar system generates, however, if the system is sized correctly you should be able to get close to 80% or higher. You can now also store excess solar power in a battery to use at night. This makes it much easier to maximise the benefit of your solar system.
Minimising your power bill is easy, simply buy the largest solar system you can afford and/or fit on your roof. As mentioned above, there is a good fit for everyone but there is no harm in getting a system that is a little bigger. This can allow for future increases in power usage if you are planning on buying a pool, spa, air conditioner or some other large user of power, and don’t forget the kids! For some reason, teenagers seem to find it difficult to shower without the heat lamps on, and then there is the hairdryer…
The reason returns diminish when you have an oversized solar system is that instead of saving money from your bill by using the solar power rather than buying power from the grid (eg. contracted rate of 25 cents per kW), you are selling solar power to the grid at your contracted feed-in tariff rate. The good news here is that solar feed-in tariffs are skyrocketing, with many energy retailers now offering close to half of the price of power, for example, a feed-in tariff of 13 cents per kWh and a cost of power of around 25 cents a kWh. Because of this, we now have many customers with a power bill of well under $100 a quater:
“I am pleased to be able to say that the system has worked flawlessly since commissioning and has exceeded my expectations.
Our last monthly bill was $10.53 – the same bill in previous years was $198.79 and $163.67”
If you are environmentally motivated, your roof space and budget are all that are stopping you!
The bigger the solar system the better, as you are reducing your reliance on polluting industries such as coal and gas and helping to produce clean, renewable energy. Buying a solar system is one of the most significant steps you can take as an individual and a household to help build the renewable energy sector and reduce our reliance on old and polluting technology. There are now millions of solar systems in Australia, and as this number continues to grow our voice becomes louder- governments are starting to listen!
More info is available here: How To Size Up A Solar Power System
What direction should my solar panels face?
Solar panels will generate the most energy over the course of a year when they are facing north. This is especially important in winter when the sun is lower in the northern sky.
A Solaray consultant can visit your home and use specially designed software to demonstrate the sun and/or shade that your particular roof will have in winter, summer and at any time during the year.
If you house has a north-south roofline, we can install panels on either the eastern or western roof depending on what time of the day you use the most power. Many households use more power in the afternoon when the kids are home from school and the air conditioner and pool pump are running. If this is the case we would install your solar panels on the western roof.
The other point that can influence this decision is time-of-use billing in the Ausgrid distribution area as illustrated here:
Please see the question about your new digital meter below for more information.
It is important to understand that panels installed on a roof facing south of either east or west will generate less power than a solar system facing north, and may not even turn on during winter. In most cases, we would advise against using any south facing roof unless it has a very shallow tilt of fewer than 10 degrees or so.
Do I need a new digital meter when I install solar power?
Yes, all solar systems require the replacement of your meter to a new digital meter. These bi-directional meters can monitor how much excess solar power you are sending to the grid as well as how much power you are buying from your energy retailer.
If you have a digital meter you will still need to get it replaced as it will not have the correct programming in it, unless you or your builder have specifically installed a digital meter that can measure solar. This is rare for houses that have not had a recent renovation.
As of December 2017, all meter replacements are now the responsibility of your energy retailer. Should you prefer, Solaray have an arrangement with Energy Locals where we can arrange to replace your meter at no cost to you. The Energy Locals plan includes a solar feed-in-tariff of up to 16 cents per kWh (including GST), competitive prices on electricity, carbon offsets for all your energy use, and no exit fees or lock-in contracts.
Please contact the Solaray Team for more information and for the terms and conditions.
Does a digital meter mean I will pay more for my power?
Your new energy tariffs will then depend on which energy distribution area your house is in.
If you are in the Endeavour Energy distribution area, your regulated energy tariffs should not change when you install solar.
In the Ausgrid distribution area, having a new digital meter will typically result in you being charged time-of-use billing. This is a great opportunity to further reduce your energy bill but you will need to manage your power usage to ensure you maximise the potential benefits.
Energy prices in the shoulder and off-peak periods are much cheaper than a flat rate tariff. The peak billing period is between 2 pm to 8 pm on weekdays only, which means you will pay less for your power 82% of the time.
According to Ausgrid, an average Sydney household only uses 22% of their power during the peak period, when power prices are approximately 50 cents per kWh. If you have a roof facing between north and west, you can take advantage of time-of-use pricing to further minimise the amount of power you use during the peak period by running your home on solar power. This results in free solar power during the afternoon and low tariffs in the morning until 2 pm and after 8 pm. Please note that the actual tariffs you will pay depend on which retailer you are with and the available packages. If you have any questions about this please call us today on 1300 221 586.
I have heard that solar technology is progressing rapidly. When should I install a solar system?
Now is the best time to buy a solar power system in Australia, due to generous government rebates and the record low price of solar panels.
It is important to remember that no matter how efficient panels become in the future, a 3kW solar system is always going to output 3kWs. A common mistake consumers make is to equate a panel’s efficiency with a system’s output. A 3kW system with high-efficiency 360W panel produces exactly the same power as a 3kW system with low-efficiency 250W panels, it just does so using a few panels. Unless you are hindered by a small roof and you are looking to install a commercial size solar system (over 30kWs or so), efficiency is largely irrelevant.
You would be much better off buying a 5kW system with today’s 345W panels compared to waiting 5 years to buy a 5kW system with 400W panels because by installing a 5kW solar power today you are saving up to around $500 per quarterly bill.
Solar power prices have been dropping for many years, however, we are approaching a limit to this price drop due to the fixed costs of installing a system such as the installation, cabling and mounting kit. The biggest change we are seeing in solar panels is efficiency, not price drops.
Why wait to have a 9-panel system giving you the same output as a 10-panel system? More information is available here: Don’t put Solar Power on the backburner
What maintenance does a solar system require?
Very little. Solar panels are passive, however, they can collect dust, bird poo and other particles that will build up over time. Luckily the rain will normally wash all of this off.
If there is a period of many months without rain, by all means safely wash your solar panels by spraying them with a hose (whilst standing safely on the ground), but we don’t recommend that you go up onto your roof and wash them by hand. It is not worth your time and of course, it can be dangerous.
If you get up onto your roof to clean the gutters then spraying your panels could be a good idea if you are able to do it safely.
Nearly all Solaray systems are now what we call smart solar systems, where the inverter is connected to the internet. This provides panel-level monitoring and system status alerts to our service team, so we now know if something is wrong with one of the panels without needing to conduct a regular service check. We have heard of companies charging yearly service fees to maintain your system, but this would only be required with older solar technology.
Do you offer payment options?
Yes, we offer a number of great options depending on what you are more comfortable with.
So you’re keen on solar—but you’re not so keen on the upfront costs.
Many of us don’t have the cash lying around to install a solar system right away. We’re left with a choice; sweat through another season of heatwaves without putting that Aussie sun to good use, gamble on a cheap system that’s unlikely to last, or get the ball rolling with a solar green loan from Rate Setter.
With a Green Loan, your repayments can often be less than your solar savings, leaving you better off from day one!
Designed to make environmentally-friendly investments easier, these loans are low-interest, flexible, quicker to apply for than your usual bank loan, and they are able to be managed online. Green Loans from RateSetter can be used to finance Solaray solar power systems and battery storage up to $45,000, to be repaid across 3-7 years.
More information is available here: Solar Power Green Loan
If you are looking to pay for your system in full, we require a deposit (usually 10% on a standard system) and the balance on or before the day of installation of the panels and the inverter.
Does a solar power system work in a blackout?
For safety reasons, your solar system switches off in a blackout. It should automatically turn on again once the power is restored. If it doesn’t please call us on (02) 8090 4399 and ask to speak with one of our support staff. We can help you switch your system on again or book a service check for you to make sure everything is ok.
If you would like to power your home in a blackout you will need a solar battery with backup protection such as the Tesla Powerwall. We can connect a few circuits to the battery to power essentials for when the grid goes down, such as a fridge, freezers, fish tanks, TV, internet etc. In the morning, the battery will recharge from any excess solar power that is not used in the home as it is generated.
More information is available here: Price of Solar Storage
Do you sell battery storage systems so that I can go off grid?
For most households that are already connected to the grid, the additional battery capacity needed to go completely off-grid is too expensive to make it worthwhile.
Disconnecting from the power grid would mean that you would need to install both a daily cycle battery and a backup weekly cycle battery, with enough capacity to last up to a week or so during the middle of winter when it rains for 7 days straight.
It is much cheaper and more reliable to use the grid as a backup, rather than buying a backup battery bank for tens of thousands of dollars.
More information is available here: Why you shouldn’t disconnect from the power grid
Can I add solar panels to my solar system?
The main limitation is that we are only able to install up to a total of 5kWs on one phase. If you have 3 phase power, you can install whatever you like.
The other issue we often face with older solar systems is that the Australian Standards have been significantly upgraded in recent years. This means that if we touch your existing system we need to replace all of the cables.
We typically recommend that you install a new Enphase system alongside your existing system, and we then connect the two systems in your meter board.
More information is available here: Adding solar panels to your existing solar system
I have 3 phase power. Do I need a 3 phase inverter?
Not always. A three-phase inverter directs power across all 3 phases evenly, however, you can also have a single-phase inverter and not adversely affect the benefit of your solar system because the digital meter will usually reconcile the power across all three phases in 15-minute increments. Whether or not you need a 3 Phase Inverter really depends on the size of your system, your load and usage profile, so please contact our solar experts so that we can assess what you have in your home, and then provide you with the right information.
More information is available here: Solar with 3 Phase Power