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Considering Investing in Solar Panels

Investing in Solar Panels? Consider These 3 Key Areas First

As energy prices soar higher and higher, more Australian households are investing in solar power to reduce their reliance on the grid and lessen their energy costs. Solar energy systems can help your household to reduce reliance and strain on the grid, reduce your carbon footprint and reduce your ongoing energy costs.

Like any important home investment, there are a number of things to consider before signing your contract. To help you make the best decision possible for your energy future, we’ve detailed the three key areas to consider before buying your solar power system.

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1. Choosing your system

What size system should I install? Why?

The size of your system will depend on your energy generation goals, current and future energy needs, the physical size available for solar panels and, of course, your budget. A good solar provider will ask you about your goals, timelines and your possible budget. Whether you’re looking for the fastest payback, grid independence, blackout power, reduced environmental impact, or a combination of these, your solar provider will tailor a solution to your unique circumstances and needs. The first step to deciding the size of your solar PV system should be to carefully review your current energy needs. Your system should be sized appropriately to match your household electricity consumption and maximise self-consumption, saving you cash on your ongoing energy bills.

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What is the difference between mono and poly solar panels?

The vast majority of solar PV (photovoltaic) panels are made using silicon. The main difference between mono- and polycrystalline silicon is the purity of the silicon. The higher the purity of the silicon, the better the solar cell will be at converting sunlight into electricity.

Monocrystalline solar cells are made from a single silicon structure, and in many cases a higher grade of silicon is used. This produces a solar panel with a higher efficiency. Another advantage of a monocrystalline solar cell is that it is space efficient – with a higher efficiency, you can often produce more power per square metre of panel.

Solar cells made from polycrystalline silicon are produced by melting silicon into square moulds and slicing wafer-thin perfect squares, resulting in a light blue square pattern. Polycrystalline silicon solar panels are generally a bit cheaper than monocrystalline, but they can also be slightly less efficient.

Which is better for me?

The decision you make in regards to mono- or polycrystalline solar panels is your personal choice, based on what best suits your energy needs and goals. It is important to keep in mind that in many circumstances, the overall performance and benefits of your system will often be influenced more by factors like good sizing and expert design and installation techniques than whether your panels or mono- or polycrystalline.

Do I want to reduce my bills or completely wipe them out? What’s my goal?

When you’re considering your options for a solar energy system, you need to consider your energy needs and goals. For example, if you want to move away from the grid and become as energy independent as possible, battery storage could be a great addition to your system. But keep in mind that the difference between being 80 or 90% grid independent and completely off-grid might be a big one. While systems are available to do either, your goals and budget might mean you need to decide whether being off-grid is a need to have or just a nice to have. Make sure you discuss your goals with your supplier and make sure they take this into account when designing your system.

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What is the feed-in tariff in my state?

A feed-in tariff is the rate you are paid for excess electricity generated by your solar system that you export back to the grid. If you generate more electricity than you use, your system will feed this back into the grid, and your energy retailer will pay you a feed-in tariff. Feed-in tariffs vary in each state and with each energy retailer, so it’s best to shop around and find the best deal for you. Keep in mind however that over time, a well designed solar energy solution will be sized to not feed too much energy back out to the grid, and therefore the feed-in tariff you can get shouldn’t be one of the main deciders on your solution.

How will this system affect my electricity bills?

Always ask your consultant if they can show you how your chosen solar energy system will affect your power bills. When deciding on the right system for you, your provider should establish your current average energy usage per day to decide on the right solar PV system and the right type of panels and inverter for you, and whether a battery makes sense. Once they have this information, they should be able to give you an indication of what to expect from your system and how this may affect your future power bills.

Has the performance estimate accounted for exactly where my solar panels will be?

Make sure your quote and performance estimate takes into consideration the orientation of and any shading on your solar panels. The variable that will affect the amount of electricity you can generate from your panels is the amount of sunlight your panels are exposed to each day, and the amount of sunlight that your panels will receive will depend on the orientation of your panels and the shading they will be exposed to.

Beware that some cheaper or less reputable providers might present you with performance and financial benefits of your system that are based on how their system will perform in an “ideal” scenario rather than your actual situation, just to make it look more attractive and get the sale. A reputable provider will account for your exact circumstances in their estimates and will be able to explain them if you ask – the estimates from a reputable provider might look worse on paper, but they are often more honest and accurate than cheaper providers.

Does my roof material make a difference?

The top six factors that will affect your roof’s suitability for solar include orientation, shade, age, size, pitch and, yes, material. The material used on your roof will make it easier or more difficult for installers to place your panels, but it’s never impossible. Solar installers can place panels on just about any of the most common roofing materials, including iron, tiles, slate and even Kliploc.

The most important thing, however, is not the material of your roof, but whether it’s in good condition. Any damage to your roof needs to be repaired before your solar panels are installed. If you decide to re-roof after your panels have been installed, it can be very costly to have them removed and reinstalled.

Solar panels on a residential roof

How much will this cost me?

The upfront cost of your solar solution is affected by a number of things:

  • Government incentives and schemes
  • Installation costs
  • Type and number of solar panels
  • Type and size of inverter
  • Framing equipment
  • Height and accessibility of your roof
  • Componentry and installation quality
  • After sales support

As a very rough guide, for a standard installation in a metropolitan area, the total cost of your home solution could fall anywhere between $3,000 for a small 2kW system to $12,000 for a top of the line 10kW system. You could expect to pay more if you’re also looking for a battery storage system, with more in depth design requirements, as well as the additional cost for batteries and associated equipment.

Additional costs could include changing or reconfiguring your meter, switchboard or cabling works, access requirements to work safely on your roof, installing panels across multiple roof areas, removing any trees or shading and preparing your roof for installation.

Can I get a cheaper system that still meets my needs?

When selecting your solar energy system, remember that your lifestyle, finances and long-term objectives all need to be considered. Different solar and storage levels will suit different needs; one size does not fit all. Solar energy systems that seem cheap may end up costing you much more in customer support waiting time, installation costs or surcharges that are included in the fine print. What’s more, is you could be paying a whole lot less for installation, but you might be paying the price for the installer cutting corners and only doing the bare minimum. When it comes to your energy security, would you rather pay less for a lower quality product and service, or pay a premium price for a premium product and great customer support?

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2. Choosing your supplier

Do you have Australian-based sales support?

Australian-based customer support will add even more value to your investment. When it comes to after-sales care and support, local knowledge and personalised product advice is invaluable. Customer support that is based overseas can often mean costly delays in repairs or servicing, not to mention possible language or context barriers between you and your customer service representative. With Australian-based customer support, you can be sure you’re dealing with a local who knows your area and understands your needs, and you can have a local advocate in warranty claims with overseas suppliers, saving you time and money.

What finance options am I eligible for?

When investing in a solar energy solution for your home or business, make sure you understand not only the costs but how you will be paying for the system. Many retailers offer credit products to help customers finance their system. However, often the simplest and most cost-effective solution may be to extend or redraw from your existing home loan. On your home loan, interest rates are generally lower, your credit risk has already been assessed and a relationship has already been established with the lender. As with any financial decision, make sure to read the fine print carefully and contact your accountant or lawyer for personalised advice before signing on any dotted line.

What documentation will I receive both before and after installation?

Your solar provider should provide you with all documentation for your system soon after the installation has been completed. This documentation will be critical if you ever need to lodge a warranty or insurance claim. At minimum, you should receive a system user manual, a list of equipment supplied, shutdown and isolation procedures for emergencies, connection diagrams, performance estimates, maintenance guides and timetables, the commissioning sheet and installation checklist, the installer’s declaration of compliance with the Clean Energy Council, warranty information, the PV array frame engineering certificate, the equipment manufacturer’s documentation and handbooks and a checklist of actions to be taken in the event of an earth fault alarm.

Once your system has been installed, check that you have received all the necessary documentation and follow up with your provider immediately if you are missing anything. You should also check that your meter has been scheduled for any necessary upgrades or replacement by your electricity retailer, if necessary, and that your electricity retailer has applied the correct tariff to your energy bills.

Are your designers and installers Clean Energy Council accredited?

The Clean Energy Council is the leading regulatory body for the clean energy industry in Australia and helps to ensure good customer service and ethical sales and marketing activities by retailers. Clean Energy Council accreditation shows good capability in the design and installation of solar energy systems. Only systems designed and installed by Clean Energy Council accredited electricians are eligible for government rebates, so it’s important to know and ask this question upfront if you plan to apply for any incentives or rebates. If you claim a rebate on a system that is then found to not be designed or installed by a Clean Energy Council accredited electrician, you may find yourself having to pay thousands more for your system than you expected.

What does Tier 1 mean?

Solar panel manufacturers are ranked into three ‘tiers’. Tier 1 manufacturers are generally big brands with great reputations for quality and performance. Tier 1 manufacturers also invest a lot of time and money into research and development of new and improved technologies and have been manufacturing solar panels for longer than just a few years. Getting solar panels from a Tier 1 manufacturer is generally a pretty safe investment, and can be a good proxy for quality in a market with many options.

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3. Safeguarding your future

Australian-based customer support

Will I be able to add a battery storage solution in the future?

Most solar energy systems can be connected to battery storage. However, selecting the right battery storage solution for your existing solar energy system depends on a few different factors, including what you want to achieve and the feed-in tariff you’re getting. As part of reviewing your energy needs when looking at battery storage, you may need to consider adding some more panels to cater for your night-time energy usage as well as your daytime usage. You can certainly work towards taking your home completely ‘off the grid’, but many homeowners are content with being 70% to 90% grid independent, with the grid connection there as a back-up if needed. Read our blog to find out more about adding battery storage to your solar energy system.

What is the warranty on my panels and inverter?

There are various warranties associated with solar PV systems, including installation, solar panels and inverters. You may receive a few warranties within the one system:

  • A solar panel performance warranty is to protect the panel’s performance, generally over 25 years. This kind of warranty is fairly standard with most manufacturers.
  • The solar panel materials and workmanship warranty is to cover poor materials or workmanship in the manufacture of the panel itself, but not the installation company. Generally these warranties are between five and ten years.
  • An inverter warranty is the most important warranty; this is the piece of equipment that converts your solar energy into electricity ready for use, and it works all day every day at very high voltage. Inverters generally have a warranty of five years for standard inverters and up to 10 years or more for premium inverters.
  • The installation warranty covers issues resulting from poor installation of your system. These warranties vary greatly from provider to provider, but generally are a minimum of two years and more like 5 years from quality providers. A longer installation warranty period can assure you of your solar provider’s confidence in their installers.

Make sure you understand each of the warranties for your system and how long each warranty is for; read the fine print carefully and ask as many questions as you need.

What is the payback period on my system?

Payback periods differ in each state, and it will depend on the size of your system and how well suited it is with your energy consumption. However as a guide, a solar energy system that’s able to comfortably manage your daytime needs will typically take 3 to 5 years to payback, and a well-designed battery storage system that is combined with solar panels typically takes around 6 to 12 years to payback. Of course, this does still depend on things like your overall energy usage, the times of the day you use energy, and the system you choose. A good provider should be able to give you a more accurate timeframe when they know more about your situation and energy habits. Read more about payback periods and what else to consider here.

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Are you ready to invest in a solar energy solution and save on your energy bills?

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Blog photo by Jcomp – Freepik.com

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