Solar buyers’ guide

Congratulations on starting your solar journey! Solar power is an excellent way you can immediately reduce your energy bills, whilst also investing in a better future for Australia. There are already over 2 million homes in Australia benefitting from solar power, with the number growing every day!

Solar can be an excellent investment for your home, but it is very important to install a high quality and safe solar power system. Due to the popularity of solar in Australia, the solar market now has many suppliers. Some suppliers offer very cheap solar power systems. These might sound like a great deal but can be problematic for a number of reasons:

  • A poorly designed solar power system with inferior components is likely to lead to much lower electricity output (meaning you save less money from your system)
  • Budget components are likely to require replacement much sooner (which means additional expenses)
  • Unsafe installation – Solar is very safe only when installed by a highly professional installer

Due to the above considerations, it is very important to ensure you invest in your home and purchase a high quality, reliable and safe solar system, to save time and money later.

In order to help you navigate the solar market, we have developed a 5 step guide.

Follow the guide below to choose the right system for your home. If you have any further questions or need any more assistance, please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 1300 23 68 55 or email us and we’ll be happy to help.

  1. Choose the right panels and inverters
  2. Make sure you are getting the right price
  3. Choose the right size for your home
  4. Choose the right location
  5. Choose the right supplier

1. Choose the right panels and inverter

When buying a solar power system, there are two main components you will need to choose.

 

A. Solar Panel

When choosing the right solar panel for your home, here is what you should look for:

  • Choose a commonly installed brand: Examples of commonly installed brands include Jinko, LG, Qcells, REC, Trina, JA Solar, SunPower.
  • Make sure the panels have strong warranties: Look for at least 10 year product warranty and 25 years performance warranty.
  • Panel Output: Panels generally produce around 270W under direct sunlight. However, you may find more premium panels can produce more power such as 300W or 330W. This may be advantageous if your roof space is limited and you would like to use your roof space more efficiently.

B. Inverter

The inverter is a very important part of your system that is responsible for converting the direct current (DC) electricity generated by your solar panels to alternating current (AC), used by your appliances. It also manages voltages to keep you safe. You can think of the inverter as the brains of your system, so it is very important to choose one that is high quality.

There are two main types of inverters that you can choose from.

1. String inverter

Source: Solartribune.com

How does it work? A string inverter is one ‘central’ inverter which is connected to a series of panels that are wired together to form a ‘string’. All of the energy that the panels generate is sent to this string inverter which is normally located next to your switchboard. You can have up to two strings going into most string design inverters.

Advantages:

  • It is a tried and tested technology
  • Cheaper than micro-inverters and DC optimisers

Disadvantages:

  • Due to the panels being connected together in a string, if there is any issue causing one panel to produce less electricity (such as shading), the amount of electricity produced is reduced not just in that one panel, but across all panels in that string. This can impact the total amount of electricity produced by your solar power system
  • It is not possible to monitor how each individual panel is performing. So, if you have one panel that is not working, it is likely to be undetected
  • If there is an issue with the inverter, no electricity is able to be generated.

2. Panel-optimised inverter

Source: Solartribune.com

There are two types of panel-optimised inverters that you can choose from: micro-inverters and DC optimisers.

Micro inverters and power optimisers are two different types of technology which allow for the production of electricity to be optimised across each panel. Each panel has either a ‘micro-inverter’ or a ‘power optimiser’ which means that if there is anything that affects the output of one particular panel (such as shading), it only affects that panel, and does not affect the other panels on your roof.

How do micro-inverters work? Solar power systems with micro-inverters have a small inverter attached to each solar panel which convert the electricity from DC to AC.

How do power optimisers work? Solar power systems with power optimisers have a ‘power optimiser’ located on each individual solar panel which optimise the DC current being produced at each panel. This DC current is then sent to a string inverter (the central inverter) which converts the current to AC.

Advantages of micro-inverters and power optimisers:

  • Panel optimised systems have the advantage that any panels that are underperforming do not impact on the other panels. This means you are likely to get more electricity from your solar PV system and is particularly important if you have shading on your roof.
  • Easy to detect any issues across individual panels
  • Greater flexibility in terms of panel layout if you have a steep or complex roof

Disadvantages of micro-inverters and power optimisers:

  • More expensive than string inverters

So how to make the choice between a panel-optimised inverter and a string inverter?

String inverters are a solid and reliable technology that has been used for many years. However, if you have shading on your roof or if you would like to have the ability to monitor the performance of each individual panel and maximise the amount of electricity produced on your roof, a panel-optimised inverter can be a good choice.

Regardless of which inverter type you choose, look out for the following:

  • Choose a commonly installed brand:  Some examples of commonly installed brands include SMA, Fronius, Sungrow, Solis, Solaredge and Enphase.
  • Make sure the inverters have strong warranties: Look for at least 10 years product warranty and that there are no conditions on the warranty
  • Battery-ready inverters: It is possible to connect a battery later to any type of inverter sold in the market today. Depending on the type of inverter you choose, the way the battery is connected will differ. If you are planning on installing a battery in the future, contact the supplier to ask for clarification as to how the battery will be connected

2. Make sure you are getting the right price

Generally you can expect the price to fall within this range:

Solar power system with a string inverter Solar power system with a panel-optimised inverter
5kW: $6500- $8000 5kW: $8000 – $9500
10kW: $9000 – $15000 10kW: $12000 – $17000

However, complex installations can increase the price. If the price is much higher, please ask the supplier to explain the additional costs.

Similarly, if the price is too low, this could mean that:

  • The company is operating at very tight margins and there is a risk that the company may go into liquidation
  • Poor quality panels and inverters are being installed which means that the system’s safety may be compromised or you may need to replace some components prematurely
  • After-sales support will be minimal

Given solar power systems last for a long time, it is important to choose a company that will still be operating throughout the lifetime of your system!

How much money can I save?

Most households can benefit from solar and expect a payback period between 3-8 years. Depending on how much power you use during the day, you can easily save anywhere between $800-$2000 per year (based on a 5kW system). The more power you are able to use during the day, the more savings you will see.

Are there any rebates available?

There is currently a federal government scheme available, that is referred to as a rebate. It is actually called the small scale renewable energy scheme and is based on the generation and sale of Smallscale Technology Certificates (STCs).

Typically, quotes will state the total price (pre-rebate), the value of the  rebate and then provide you with a lower, final price (with the rebate deducted). The STC program is being phased out gradually until 2030. As such, the rebate is declining in value by 7% at start of each year (1st January).

Source: solarquotes.com.au

In August 2018, an additional solar rebate by the Victorian government was announced. For solar installations that were completed on or after Sunday 19th August 2018, eligible Victorians will be able to receive a 50 per cent rebate on the cost of a solar power system, up to a maximum rebate of $2,225.

For more information on this state rebate, please see our article.


3. Choose the right size for your home

The supplier will look at your available roof space and match your electricity usage with the size of the solar power system. The table below provides rough estimates to help you consider what size system will work for you.

System size Solar couple – 5kW Solar for 4 – 7kW Serious solar – 10kW
Recommended for Couples and retirees Average family with two kids Big family
Daily solar power produced 18kWh 25.2kWh 36kWh

You can compare this to your daily usage as a quick way of estimating how much of the electricity you use could be covered by solar power.

Due to the prices of solar power falling in recent years, households are increasingly installing larger systems for a number of reasons:

  • Payback periods of larger systems are often better than for smaller systems
  • If you are planning to install battery storage, get an electric car and charge it at home, and/or switch to an all-electric zero emissions home, in the future
  • The labour associated with installation makes up a large proportion of the total cost of systems, so it is more economical to install a large system than to expand your system in the future
  • You want to generate a significant amount of your electricity needs in winter, rather than only see a marked reduction in your electricity bill in the longer, sunnier seasons, when the days are longer and you will generate more power

However, please note depending on your location and the number of phases your property has, some distributors may impose limits on the size of your system. Check with the solar installer to see if this applies in your circumstance.


4. Choose the right location on your home

Facing due north is the ideal orientation, as it gets the majority of daytime sun throughout the year. However panels facing more east or west can still provide a high percentage of available power (perhaps 10–15% reduction).  East facing panels get morning sun and west facing panels get the afternoon sun (particularly in the seasons with longer days), so in some cases matching the position of the panels to generate when you are home means that an East/West orientation is more desirable.

 

Source: awsolar.com.au

 


5. Choose the right supplier

When it comes to choosing a solar system, one of the most important decisions to make is choosing the correct supplier.

Here is our list of things to look out for:

  • Longevity: There have been over 500 solar companies that have gone into liquidation in Australia since 2011. As such, it is very important to choose a supplier that is likely to be around for the long haul to be able to provide you with after sales support such as claiming warranties. Look for companies that have already been around for several years
  • Online reviews: Have a look at online reviews to learn about other customers’ experiences
  • Clean Energy Council Accreditation: Make the sure the suppliers are Clean Energy Council accredited. In order to claim the rebate, the supplier must be CEC accredited
  • Make sure the quote is professional: Ensure you receive a formal, professional quote.

It can be very difficult knowing how to choose the right supplier. To help make the process easier, we have conducted a rigorous, open to tender procurement process to provide suppliers that you can use should you wish.

The suppliers are chosen based on:

  • Quality of product
  • Length of warranties
  • Price
  • Installation quality
  • Financial Sustainability
  • Shared company values

In addition, the system components are independently assessed by Renew (formerly known as the Alternative Technology Association) to ensure they meet high standards.

 We hope this helps you to choose the right solar system for your home! If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at 1300 23 68 55 or hello@positivecharge.com.au 

Request an obligation free quote from our carefully selected suppliers. Prices start from $6,500 for a 5kW system and financing options are available.