Solar panels are becoming an essential part of more and more Australian households and it’s not hard to see why. Environmental concerns and raising energy costs are on everyone’s mind and this isn’t going to change soon. However, there’s more to a solar power system than simply whacking some panels on your roof. Let’s shed some light on how to plan for solar power, focusing on the factors you need to consider to ensure you’re generating power and saving money.
Pros and Cons of Solar Power
- Can save money on your energy bills
- Creates renewable energy which reduces your carbon footprint.
- Excess power can often be sold back to the grid
- Requires little maintenance when installed properly
- Government rebates reduce costs significantly.
- Can be expensive upfront, however, solar panels are becoming more affordable as time goes on. Rebates also make solar panels less expensive.
- Take up a lot of roof space.
- Are weather dependent, so they become less efficient on cloudy days.
- Certain areas and climates aren’t as suited to solar panels as others.
How does a solar system work?
There are five key components involved in most solar panels systems
- Solar Panels: The most visible and well-known component, these are installed somewhere in direct sunlight.
- Solar Inverter: These are as crucial as the panels as without inverters, your panels are useless. A solar inverter converts the DC solar energy into AC energy for your home. There are a few types of inverters on the market. A single-phase system is more affordable, however, a three-phase system offers a larger kW capacity and efficiency.
- Racking: These are the mounts and scaffolding that will keep your solar panels in place and at the right angle.
- Solar-ready electricity meter: Sometimes called a net metre, you’ll need a special metre installed into your home. This will measure both the solar power you’re using and any energy you’re putting into the grid. A solar meter is essential to benefit from any feed-in tariffs. If you have a smart metre already, it’ll need to be reconfigured for solar. If you don’t have a smart metre, you’ll need a complete upgrade.
- Battery storage: These allow you to store solar energy for a later date. You can literally plan for a rainy day with one of these.
How to plan solar panel installation when building a new home?
Like any part of a building project, planning always trumps going in blind. By taking a few key steps and making the right decisions, you can ensure you’ll get as much sunlight as possible to generate maximum power from your solar system setup.
Choosing a block of land suitable for solar panels
It may surprise you to hear you need to be thinking about solar panels as early as the land-purchasing stage. The location of your block of land, along with its orientation, the slope, where it falls within the sun path and the angle of your house will all play a role in how much energy you’re likely to get from solar panels. While indirect light will still provide power to your home, it won’t be anywhere near as effective.
Roof design considerations
It isn’t a necessity that roofs have to be designed with solar panels in mind in order for installation to be successful, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Let’s start with materials for your roof. Metal roofs a far more likely to conduct heat and attract sunlight than other materials.
If you’re designing a home from scratch, talk to your builder, building designer or architect about maximizing the North-facing roof space as this will help you get as much solar energy as possible (in Australia). Also, it helps if you place any ariels, chimneys, air-conditioning or other features away from your panels if possible. On a pitched roof, install any other roof features
If you’ve already built your home, don’t panic. In many cases, some well-designed scaffolding and mounts should be able to compensate for any issues with your roof design. This is especially true if you’re building or have a home with a flat roof.
Identifying how much solar energy you will need
Figuring out how much solar energy your home will need will take some work, but it will be well worth it. You don’t want to be spending more money than you need to, but on the flip side, you don’t want to underestimate how much power you need. There are a few things you can do to estimate how many panels you need, including:
- Check your metre where you currently live to assess your power usage.
- Consider what times of day you use the most power.
- What appliances use the most power in your home.
- Look at your power bills.
When you talk to a solar power company, their initial consultation will run through a lot of the above to figure out what the best system is for you. While you are figuring out how much power you use, it’s a great opportunity to see if there are any habits you could improve or changes you could make to decrease your power usage.
Trees and other sunlight blockages
To get the most out of your new solar panels, you want them to absorb as much light as possible. Therefore, anything that will block direct sunlight is going to diminish your returns from your investment. Trees and other sunlight blockages, even if it only blocks the sun for an hour or so a day, will reduce the effectiveness of your solar panels.
When installing solar panels, consider where on your roof will receive the most sunlight. Here are some things to take into account:
- Are any trees going to block sunlight during the day?
- Do any nearby structures (neighbours’ homes, other buildings, billboards, power lines, etc) block the sunlight to your house?
- Are there any upcoming developments in your area (apartment block, train station, public infrastructure, etc) that could block your sunlight in the future?
More sun equals more power, and blocking and shade greatly affect the energy efficiency one can get from solar panels.
Reviewing solar rebates and other government incentives
The great news for anyone looking to install solar panels is that the government wants you to, so much so they may even give you some money for it. Here are the current options in QLD in 2023:
- National Solar Subsidy: Can save around $2,600 off a 6.6kW installation. We have noticed that some advertised prices are taking this subsidy into account. In other words, the price written on the billboard or pamphlet is with the subsidy included.
- Feed-in Tariff: this is the money you can receive for feeding excess solar energy back into the grid.
- Electric vehicles: For an electric car worth under $58,000, you can receive a $3,000-6,000 rebate.
Connecting to the Grid
To connect your solar power system to the grid, you’ll need to do the following:
- You’ll need to install a digital metre that has been set up for solar energy
- Ever you or your solar installation contractor need to submit an application to the energy supplier (in Brisbane this would be Energex).
Tips for getting the most from your solar panels
- Talk to a solar installer about the best set-up for your needs and
- Install solar battery storage to help store energy for a later date.
- If you own an electric vehicle or are considering buying one, you may want to take this opportunity to
- A three-phase power system will provide you with a variety of installation options and provides a more stable grid voltage which allows your inverter to create more and is better for your appliances.
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