Installing a solar (photovoltaic or PV) power system is a great way of capturing the sun's energy to generate electricity at home.
Once your system is installed, it will help reduce your electricity bills and as well as your impact on the environment. Solar power systems are also low-maintenance and can increase the value of your home.
Solar power can be connected to the mains electricity grid or set up as a stand-alone system. If you connect to the grid you may still have an electricity bill. If you are still buying some electricity from the grid, consider buying GreenPower so that your home electricity comes from renewable sources.
If you install a solar power system at home, you could be eligible to receive renewable power incentives in the form of Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs).
Research your requirements
- If you are considering solar power as an option, it’s a good idea to contact an accredited solar installer in the first instance to enquire about the costs and any support such as feed-in tariffs which may be available to you. In some locations, feed-in-tariffs can enable a much faster payback of installation costs as power generated from your system can be sold at higher rates. This increases the value of the power you generate. Getting three quotes from accredited installers is a good way to compare costs and discuss any queries as a result of your initial research. The installer can also help you work out whether a solar power system is the right solution for your location and circumstances by weighing up the cost of the panels and installation against the return on your investment. A list of accredited solar installers is available from the Clean Energy Council website.
- You may like to consider whether you want a system that will partially or completely offset your electricity use.
- To choose the best system size and type for your requirements and budget, you can study your electricity bills to work out your average daily electricity use and the average amount of electricity your solar system needs to produce. Electricity is typically metered in kilowatt hours (kWh) where 1kWh equals 1,000 watt hours. For example, if you use 1kW for 1 hour, you have consumed 1kWh of energy. Some electricity retailers refer to 1kWh as 1 unit. An installer can help you with the calculations.
- Talk to an installer about what solar panels will be best for your circumstances. Each type of solar panel has different levels of efficiency under different conditions. If you would like to understand more about this you can go to the Clean Energy Council’s Consumer guide to buying household solar panels and the Your Home Technical Manual - Photovoltaic systems.
- Ask your installer if your roof will need reinforcement to support the weight of the panels and if your location has any special requirements, such as in areas with strong winds.
- If you live in a heritage-listed home or area, check with your local council to see if there are special requirements on installing solar power.
- Research rebates and assistance.
- Each state publishes its own tariffs (rates) that may be applicable for the energy you produce and which rate you may be eligible for. See ‘Further information’ for your state or territory below.
Choose your system and supplier
- It’s important to talk to several accredited designers/installers about options and to obtain several quotes before selecting a system. For help with questions to ask and what to expect in the quote, see the Clean Energy Council’s Consumer guide to buying household solar panels.
- Talk to householders in your area who have installed solar power systems. You may be able to pick up some tips from their experiences.
- Decide if you will get a grid-connected system that interacts with the main electricity grid or a stand-alone system with its own electricity storage (like a battery bank). Stand-alone systems are an option where electricity supply is not available or connection costs are high. These systems can be more complex and more expensive than grid-connected systems because they need to be self-sufficient and require more components and maintenance.
- If you are going to install a stand-alone system, you'll need a battery bank. The installation of battery banks must be in accordance with Australian Standards. Batteries cannot be placed in habitable areas or exposed to sparks. They should be housed in an appropriately designed structure preferably away from the house. Among other things, your batteries will need appropriate ventilation, compulsory safety signs, acid containment trays and they will need to be insulated from ground temperature.
- If you want to connect to the mains electricity grid, talk to your electricity supplier about your options - as it is up to your supplier to agree to connect you. Some suppliers let you feed in your electricity and take this amount off your electricity bill.
- Ask suppliers about allowing for air space between the roof and the panels as panel performance declines as temperature increases. A panel rated at 25°C won’t perform as well in the middle of summer. Most panels are installed with a gap to the roof - this air space provides cooling.
- Ask suppliers about any additional costs like a new fuse box or a grid-interactive electricity meter.
- Check the warranties for different panels and other system parts.
- Check the quality of products. Ensure that you ask to be shown proof that the panels comply with Australian Standards and that the grid-connect inverter has a Certificate of Suitability.
- Ask about after-sales service and what assistance you'll get if you have questions about your service in the future.
- Check that your installer/designer is on the Clean Energy Council’s Accredited Installers and Designers list as this could affect your eligibility for financial assistance, rebates or insurance.
Select the best position
The system’s location requires consultation with your designer/installer. Things to consider include:
- The best position and mounting options for your situation. You'll want the panels to get as much direct sun as possible. In Australia, fixed panels should face north for maximum efficiency and be installed at the most suitable angle for your location and needs.
- While solar power systems are generally noise-free, inverters may hum when power is being produced. This may cause disturbance for some if the inverter is placed close to a bedroom.
- If you have sufficient room for one, a ground-mounted automatic panel tracking frame that follows the path of the sun can significantly increase the amount of electricity you can generate (but these are likely to cost more than the fixed panels).
- Check that nearby trees or buildings aren’t likely to shade your system in future years, especially in winter when the sun is low in the sky. Electronic components called bypass diodes allow some electricity to flow around the panel if it becomes shaded or damaged. You may wish to ask your designer/installer to ensure that they are incorporated in the system.
- Ask your system designer/installer to provide you with a system design and specification. Make sure you also ask about the period covered by any warranty.
- Ask the installer to show you how to monitor the system.
- If you are planting tall trees, don't plant them where they will shade your system in the future.
- Your installer should be able to offer a quick response for any system problems. If possums’ or birds’ nests are seen damaging any components, always contact an installer to have your system inspected by a trained professional. Never interfere with the installation yourself.