Now that you know some basic information about solar energy, let’s take a look at some information you should know before you invest money into a system.
1. How do solar panels work?
Solar panels are comprised of a number of cells which convert light energy into electricity. While the first versions of solar panels needed direct sunlight and heat to work properly, advances in technology allow modern solar panels to produce electricity even on cloudy days and during the winter. Modern panels are also more efficient on sunny days than their older counterparts.
Here’s a simple breakdown of how solar panels power your home:
- The Sun’s rays hit the solar panel
- The solar energy is converted to direct current (DC) electricity
- This DC power is sent to the inverter which converts the power to alternating current (AC)
The newly converted AC power goes through the solar meter to a consumer unit which uses it for:
- domestic supply, or;
- exports it to the grid via a net meter
2. Does it need to be sunny where you live?
Obviously, the sunnier the better! But don’t be put off if you don’t live in the sunniest part of Australia. Consider Germany who leads the world in solar power technology, it’s located in Northern Europe where sun shine is very limited in the winter months. The UK is another example of a country with high utilisation of solar energy, however it typically only enjoys consistent sunshine during the three months of summer and is quite cloudy the rest of the year. While these countries might not have the same air conditioning demands of Australian households, both of them still require significant amounts of energy for winter heating and lighting.
Locations blessed with a lot of sunshine e.g. Australia, the UAE, and the Mediterranean are perfect locations for the usage of solar power. Not only because of it’s ready availability, but because they use a lot of electricity staying cool with air conditioning!
Even in countries with lower levels of sunshine like the UK and Germany, a solar power system will pay for itself over seven to ten years through savings on energy bills and/or with a Feed-In Tariff (FIT). As solar technology continues to improve, it becomes evermore efficient. Some cutting edge panels are even able to convert ultra violet light into energy, meaning a cloudy day can be a great day for harvesting energy since ultra violet can sometimes be stronger on cloudy days.
3. Is my home suitable for solar panels?
While the majority of dwellings with a roof that has sun exposure will be suitable for a solar setup, the following attributes make a home particularly well suited to solar panel usage:
- Well insulated and energy efficient
Has energy saving light bulbs
- Good insulation in roof space and cavity walls, double glazed windows
- Roof facing south (in the northern hemisphere), roof facing north (in the southern hemisphere) and a flat roof at the equator.
- Roof tilt of 25–35 degrees off horizontal, depending on your distance from the equator.
- Please note that your roof is still worth assessing even if its direction/tilt is different to that described above.
- For a standard 4kW size system you would need around 28 square meters (300 square feet) of clean roof space. Dimension wise this would be 2.8m by 10m.
4. How much do solar panels cost?
Solar panels have significantly reduced in price in recent years making them more affordable for many households. Additionally, the Australian government currently incentivises the installation of solar systems through a rebate system, which further reduces the cost of installation. While a number of factors determine the cost of each unique installation, the average price range for a 5kw system (common on most 3-4 bedroom homes) is $6,000 to $8,000 for a system using high quality product. This estimate factors in currently available rebates.
If this figure sounds high for your current situation, remember that many installers offer financing options which can allow you to start saving money on your energy bill before you outlay a cent.
As with any other purchase which requires substantial investment, do your due diligence and ensure the installer you’re considering holds appropriate accreditations and has a solid track record (check their online reviews).
5. Will installing solar save me money?
Although the upfront outlay for installing a system may seem expensive, most households stand to save a significant amount of money in the long term by installing a solar panel system. These savings occur primarily through your energy bill, with savings varying depending on the amount of sunshine you receive along with your energy usage.
Another important consideration is that you can actually start saving money before you spend a cent by utilising a financing option for your solar installation.
6. Will solar add value to my home?
In the UK, Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are an essential part of buying, selling and renting homes. While Australia doesn’t yet use a similar certification system, multiple studies have found that homes on the Australian market which feature a solar system attract higher purchase prices than equivalent homes without. Additionally, this higher purchase price typically exceeds the cost of the installation.