At a glance
Installing a solar (photovoltaic or PV) power system is a great way of capturing the sun's energy to generate electricity at home.
Research your requirements
- If you're considering solar power as an option, you should contact an accredited solar installer in the first instance to ask about the costs, system components and any support such as feed-in tariffs and renewable power incentives such as Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) which may be available to you. STCs are generally assigned to your installer in exchange for a discount on your system, or you can decide to retain and sell them yourself.
- In some locations, feed-in-tariffs can enable a much faster payback of installation costs as electricity generated by your system can either be sold to your electricity retailer or used to offset the need to buy electricity from your retailer. This increases the value of the power you generate.
- Getting quotes from at least three different 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. You may decide your household would get better value out of installing energy saving alternatives to a solar system.
- You'll need 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 as well as your annual use. This information will give you an idea of the average amount of electricity your solar system needs to produce. An installer can help you with the calculations. For an explanation of how electricity is measured see our information on understanding your power bill.
- An estimate of the amount of electricity produced by your solar power system can be obtained from your supplier. The Clean Energy Council's Consumer guide to buying household solar panels (PDF, 518KB) has information on the approximate amount of power that can be generated by different system sizes in each capital city.
- The size of system that you can install also depends on what will fit on your roof, keeping in mind that the roof must be free of shade and should face north for best results. Find out whether 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.
- Determine what type of solar panels will be best for your circumstances. Each type of solar panel has different levels of efficiency. To learn more go to the Clean Energy Council's Consumer guide to buying household solar panels (PDF, 518KB) and the Your Home Technical Manual—Photovoltaic systems.
- 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.
- Each state publishes its own tariffs (rates) that may be applicable for the energy you produce and which rate you may be eligible for. Check for your state or territory here or search rebates and assistance.
- Remember that you may be spending several thousand dollars on your solar power system. Request that your quote includes the option for thief-proof screws and consider whether you need them to make sure that the panels are still there when you get back from a holiday.
Choose your system and supplier
- It's important to talk to several accredited 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 (PDF, 518KB).
- 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'll 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 so talk to an expert.
- If you're 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'll 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's up to your supplier to agree to connect you. Some suppliers let you feed your excess electricity into the electricity grid and take the payment for selling your electricity off your bill.
- In addition to the panels, you'll need to purchase an inverter. The inverter converts the low voltage DC electricity produced by your solar panels into the AC electricity needed to supply power for standard appliances. Ask your installer to go through your inverter's specifications before you purchase to ensure it is efficient, compliant with Australian Standards, and will meet your needs. The Clean Energy Council has published a list of grid connect inverters that meet Australian standards.
- Ask suppliers about allowing for air space between the roof and the panels as panel performance declines as the temperature increases. A panel rated at 25 degrees Celsius 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.
- Check with suppliers about whether there'll be any additional costs like a new fuse box or a grid-interactive electricity meter. Depending on the angle of your roof you may need a rack to tilt your panels to the right elevation to maximise sunlight collection.
- Check the warranties for different panels and other system parts. You should also check the quality of products. Ask for proof that the panels comply with Australian Standards and that the 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 list of accredited installers as this could affect your eligibility for financial assistance, rebates or insurance. Accredited installers must meet relevant Australian Standards, install approved products and install systems to current industry best practice.
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.
- The inverter should be placed as close as is practical to the solar panels to reduce power loss in the cables that connect them together.
- 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. Remember that any shade can reduce the output of the panels by much more than the area of panels actually shaded.
- 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. There are two warranties to consider: the manufacturer's warranty which warrants against manufacturing defects and the performance warranty which will warrant how much power you will get out of the system as the panels age.
Maintain your system
Your installer should be able to outline any safety procedures and offer a quick response for any system problems.
- Ask the installer to show you how to monitor the system. Your inverter should have a data panel that allows you to see the energy being produced.
- If you'd like to have more detailed information on your energy production, there are affordable monitoring systems available, some with a wireless connection between an indoor monitor and the inverter. A monitoring system enables you to keep track of how your system is performing and react quickly if it does stop working. This is especially useful if you have a net tariff agreement with your electricity retailer as your bill won't show how much electricity has been produced by your solar power system and you may not be aware if it has gone off-line.
- To maintain efficiency, panels will need to be cleaned from time to time. If possums' or birds' nests are damaging any components, always contact an installer to have your system inspected by a trained professional.
- If you're planting tall trees, don't plant them where they'll shade your system in the future.
- If your system is performing poorly or stops working always contact your installer for assistance. Never interfere with the installation yourself. Remember that the electricity coming from your solar power system is just as dangerous as electricity from the electricity grid.
- The Clean Energy Council dispute resolution process or fair trading bodies in your state and territory can assist if you have difficulties resolving issues with your installer.