New to solar power - heres a good place to start

Here's a good place to start

Like the idea of solar power, but not totally convinced it’s for you? Solar power has changed the lives of Australian's across the country, helping to save money, cut pollution and add value to their homes. Over 1 million homes in Australia now have solar power.

Getting solar power is simple

First things first. Speaking to our consultants will help you to understand how solar power works and which system is best suited for your needs. Call us on 1300 73 93 55 for obligation free advice and quote.

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Time to start saving your pocket and the planet. Customers in some states will need to wait 1-3 weeks for a new meter.

How solar power works

GRID-CONNECTED SOLAR PV SYSTEMS

Solar power is very simple. Solar modules (panels) on your roof convert sunlight in DC electricity. A solar inverter then converts the DC electricity into 240V AC electricity for home use. Devices in your house will utilise the AC from the solar power system first and draw electricity from the grid if you need more. If you are producing excessive power, this is returned to the grid. Check your power retailer to see if you are eligible for credit.

GRID-CONNECT WITH BATTERY BACK-UP SOLAR PV SYSTEMS

Battery back-up systems are becoming increasingly popular. They work similar to a standard grid-connected solar PV system with the addition of a battery inverter and a battery bank which enables you to use the electricity stored during the day to run your house at night. Some also have the advantage of being able to supply power during power outages.

How solar saves you money

When you’re producing your own power, you’re buying less from your retailer and selling your excess to them. Consider the following examples. If you have 3kW of devices running and you’re producing 2kW, after one hour you would have consumed only 1kWh instead of 3kWh, saving between 45c to 60c in that hour. If you're producing 3kW and only using 2kW, after one hour you would have sent 1kWh back to the grid and not purchased 2kWh, saving even more. Remember that kWh is “units” on many power bills.

Choosing the right system

Firstly, you need to check your power bill, as it will state your average daily consumption in kWh. Then you need to consider when you use your power, as you want to cover your daytime consumption as a minimum. Each kW of solar power will produce on average approx. 4.6kWh per day, but this will vary based on your location, roof orientation, shading etc. So if your average daytime consumption was 12kWh, you’d need at least a 3kW system, if it was 20kWh, then a 5kW system. An experienced consultant will determine the best system to suit your needs.

Some frequently asked questions for newbies

Australia is a great place to take advantage of solar energy. Systems here will produce more than they would in most places throughout Europe, despite the uptake being higher there. In Australia, a north facing roof between 20 and 30 degrees is the most ideal aspect. Lower or higher pitches can also be used, often to great effect. Panels facing east or west will still generate good yields, typically only 15-17 percent less than they would on the north. Eastern panels will generate power earlier in the day then north and western panels will produce power later in the day. Many people decide to put a portion of panels on the western aspect, as it improves the production later in the day when many appliances are commonly used. Using the power you're producing has financial advantages, which is why it can make sense despite the lower production.

Solar panels work on sunlight, not heat. Hotter days generally have more sunlight and hence better production, but the heat actually has a negative impact on them. Panels will never perform at their peak power output, as the test conditions they are subject to when they receive their rating will never be replicated in the real world (even in Australia). This is why suppliers give you an estimated energy yield in kWh (units) per day, as this is what you buy and sell from your energy retailer. In the middle of a perfect day in summer, you could expect to see your panels reach around 85 percent of their peak power output. Early in the morning, late in the day or in overcast conditions, this will be reduced. Your power output will bounce around a lot, so focus on your energy (kWh) yield when looking at the performance of your system.

Yes, however it can be quite expensive if the correct provisions are not made.

An AC coupled or DC coupled system can be retrofitted to almost any solar power system currently installed. However, this is not very cost effective, as it requires extra components in addition to the batteries. There are many more cost effective ways to include batteries (now or in the future) to your system, so if you're considering adding batteries down the track, we recommend discussing this with one of our renewable energy consultants. Different batteries will require specific components to integrate them into your system, and there is often more than one approach that will work. We can determine the most suitable option for you and provide you with a system that has, or has the capability to add, your desired battery solution.

Yes, and it's usually quite significant. Solar panels facing north should ideally be in full sun from at least 9am till 3pm, as this is when they will produce the majority of their power. If they are eastern facing panels, then this changes to 7.30am to 1.30pm and for western facing panels, 11.30am to 5.30pm.

Shading from objects like flue vents, trees and other structures should be avoided where possible. Careful design with a consultant and your install team can help with this. If this is not possible, then consider micro inverters or panel level optimisation, as this will reduce the impact of the shaded panels on the non shaded panels. Most larger inverters will have two maximum power point trackers (MPPTs), which means shaded panels on one tracker will not effect panels on the other. Also be mindful of future shading issues, as new structures may be built and trees often get bigger.

Other objects like power lines and antennas can cast a very thin and small shadow. While not ideal and to be avoided where possible, these will not have a drastic impact on your system. Panels should not be placed directly under antennas though, as birds are likely to perch on an antenna and leave excrement on the panels.

An inverter performs a variety of functions. Primarily, it converts the DC power from the solar panels into 240 AC power that the house uses. In addition to this, it has a maximum power point tracker (MPPT) that regulates the voltage of the panels to achieve maximum power. Some inverters have two MPPTs, which gives you greater flexibility when designing your system. Inverters also have a screen or counter that enables you to see how much power and energy you have produced.

Better inverters will perform their functions more efficiently, are more reliable, offer more comprehensive monitoring and features. High DC to AC efficiency is good, however it is not the only factor that impacts yield. The MPPT has complex algorithms that determine the highest yielding operating voltage. The better inverters have more refined algorithms from years of development, so they produce more power. Inverters from better manufacturers are less prone to failure, give better support, longer warranties and quicker replacements should something go wrong. They’re also far less likely to fail in fringe of grid or remote areas, where grid fluctuations are more common. Finally, better inverters will offer you connectivity and online monitoring for your system and even provide a way to monitor the consumption in your home in real-time – something which is becoming very popular.

Your situation and roof has a big impact on which inverter you should choose. Solargain has a wide range of inverters, from string, micro and even panel optimised inverters from all across the globe. This wide range, combined with our experience, enables us to recommend the perfect inverter for your project.

This can be quite tricky, as they all look very similar and all solar providers will tell you that their panels are high quality. Doing research into your panel is important, as low quality panels often degrade quickly and are prone to manufacturing defects. Also, a 25 year warranty is only as strong as the company providing it, so you need to do some research into the manufacturer as well. Here's a few tips on choosing a panel most suitable for your project.

If solar is a long term investment (three years or more), we recommend choosing a tier one panel. Panels from tier one manufacturers make up the top two percent of the panel market. The companies providing these panels have automated production facilities (reduces defects), are vertically integrated (meaning they have control over the entire supply chain) and have been producing panels for five years or more. There are many brands out there that are considered tier one and choosing a panel from one of these is a great way to ensure you're making a good investment. In addition to this, we recommend choosing a tier one provider that has a strong presence in Australia, as any warranty claims will be much easier to manage if there's local support. Finally, consider how many panels the supplier has installed for the manufacturer - tier one or not. Providers that have installed many panels from their manufacturers will have had to deal with warranty claims themselves. If the manufacturer was consistently not honoring warranties or regularly providing poor products, they would have moved on to another manufacturer. Providers changing panel manufacturers regularly are either frequently getting poor quality products or a consistently shopping for the lowest priced panel in that quality category, rather than a good quality product.

Premium panels are available and should be considered if you demand the best or have no intentions of moving from the home you're installing them on. Premium panels will give you slightly more kWh per kW from day one, degrade less than other panels, perform better in lower light and in extreme heat. These features don't pay for themselves straight away, which is why we believe they're primarily suitable for investments five years or more. Premium panels can come with better warranties, be it longer, less degradation or inclusive of labour costs for panel replacement. They may also be more aesthetically pleasing with darker cells and black frames. Lots of panels claim to be premium, but you won't know for sure until many years down the track. This is why we recommend looking for panels that have good performance in reputable independent tests and have sustained that performance over many years, ensuring the low degradation which many claim.

For people considering a short or medium term (1-3 year) investment, it still makes sense to consider the panels you are receiving. If the panel manufacturer disappears or if you don't know who they are, it can be very difficult to follow up any warranty claims - which can be very likely early in product life. Tier two manufacturers can be a good choice and are obviously cheaper than panels from tier one manufacturers. Tier two manufacturers have been producing panels for at least two years and are still in the top 10-15 percent of the market. These are good choice if you're looking for a cost effective option.

It’s very common to put more panel capacity on an inverter than its maximum output. There are two main reasons for this, firstly the panels will never perform at their peak rated power (or nameplate) output. The panels get their rating from standard test conditions (STC) which will never be seen in the real world at the same time. Below are some of the conditions in the test compared to what happens in the field:

  • The panels are flashed with 1000wm2 light intensity. Even in most places in Australia, we don't often get that amount. It can occur in the middle of a clear day though.
  • The panels are in a temperature controlled environment of 25 degrees. The panels would be at about 50-80 degrees in the middle of a clear day.
  • The panels are perfectly perpendicular to the rays. In most places in Australia, when panels are mounted on a pitched roof, the sun's rays will not be perpendicular in summer.
  • The flash test is done on the panels with minimal cable lengths, resulting in next to no loss here. This is not possible when panels are installed in the field.
  • The panels will degrade and accumulate dirt over time. In the flash test they're brand new and have been cleaned.

Due to the above, 6 kW of panels installed in most places around Australia would rarely output in excess of 5 kW. This is why selecting an inverter that has the same or higher output capacity of your panels is an added cost for no gain. Safety of the inverters is not an issue, as quality inverters are designed for this and are warranted for much higher input capacities. For example, Fronius warrant their inverters to double the DC input capacity than the AC output capacity. This means you could put 10 kW on a 5 kW without jeopardising your warranty provided it was installed correctly.

The second reason is that while your inverter will never output more than its maximum AC power output, you will generate more yield (kWh) overall. If you did have a case where the panel capacity exceeded the nominal output capacity, it will for a short period of time be able to operate at the maximum output capacity. If this is exceeded, the inverter slows the output (referred to as "clipping") of the panels, converting only what it can. While this may seem like wasted power, it's seldom occurring and is far outweighed by the system turning on earlier, turning off later and producing more power in anything other than perfect conditions. It's a small sacrifice for a big gain.

We tend to see and recommend this with 5 kW inverters, as increasing your inverter capacity beyond this point excludes most residents from selling energy back to the grid. The 6th kW in these systems is also by far the most cost effective and you will rarely, if ever, see any clipping. Also consider that if panels on your roof face different directions, they will reach peak output at different times throughout the day, so it's even more common when this is the case.

Yes. The cost varies between states and energy providers. Households that already have a smart meter will be charged a fee to configure the meter to accomodate for solar. If you do not already have a smart meter, your retailer will need to install one for you. Most energy providers have these costs absorbed into your billing so you don't pay a lump sum cost for your new meter.

  • New South Wales: As soon as the system is installed and the meter changed and/or reprogrammed and connected to the grid.
  • Queensland: As soon as the system is installed and the meter changed and/or reprogrammed and connected to the grid. The meter upgrade may take 2-4 weeks after installation.
  • South Australia: As soon as the system is installed and the meter changed and/or reprogrammed and connected to the grid.
  • Victoria: As soon as the system is installed, inspected and the meter changed and/or reprogrammed and connected to the grid.
  • Western Australia: As soon as the system is installed and the meter changed and/or reprogrammed and connected to the grid.

The system will automaticallyshut down with a power outage and switch back on when power is restored. If your system does not switch on when the power is restored, please do not hesitate to contact the Solargain Service Department on 1300 73 93 55.

A typical 3kW Solar Energy System will offset the following over a 25-year period:

  • Greenhouse gas - 80 tonnes (180,000 lbs)
  • Smog - 270 kG (600 lbs)
  • Acid rain - 220 kG (500 lbs)
  • Kilometers in the average car (lifetime) - 480,000 kM
  • Kilometers in the average car (per year) - 19,000 kM
  • Trees - The equivalent of planting roughly 1.5 acres of trees
  • Coal saved over the lifetime - Over 40 tonnes of coal will not need to be burned

Solargain provides a five year comprehensive warranty on the entire solar power system. This covers both parts and labour for all the components in your system. There are no extra costs associated with maintaining this warranty and while we recommend keeping an eye on the system performance, no scheduled maintenance is required.

The manufacturers also provide a warranty with their products. The panels all have a performance warranty (commonly 25 years) and a product warranty (usually 5-12 years). The product warranty covers any defects of the panel that doesn't impact the performance. After the product warranty, any defects must impact performance before you're eligible for repairs or replacement. Note that the panel warranty typically does not cover the labour costs involved in replacing the panels, although Solargain will do this in the first five years as apart of their comprehensive warranty. Some panel manufacturers (like Hanwha Q CELLS and Sunpower) can have a labour component in their warranty, but speak to your consultant for more details. Inverters typically have a five year product and labour warranty, however some will have longer warranties or offer them for an additional fee.