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Solar Power for Beginners: Your Comprehensive Buying Guide

Are you interested in joining the solar panel revolution sweeping across Australia? Maybe you’ve heard great things from friends about solar panels and how their energy savings have skyrocketed since installing home solar panels. Or, maybe you’re a small business looking to save money on your electricity by having a commercial solar panel setup on your roof, or out in the back parking lot. 

When it comes to capitalising on the power of solar, we understand that the cost of solar panels can sometimes seem extraordinary as an investment. However, considering that most solar panels pay for themselves within 5 years, depending on your setup, your initial investment could start saving you money immediately, particularly if you spend the extra to purchase and install a solar battery. 

As a beginner, though, it’s not uncommon to need some guidance on solar panels, including how they work, why they work and how they’re one of the smartest energy-saving investments you can make.

What Are The Four Main Components of a Solar Panel System? 

There are four critical components for any home solar system. All of these components are necessary for a properly functioning system. These same components are also found on commercial solar installations but on a much larger scale. 

●       Solar Panels

●       Inverter

●       Racking/Mounting

●       Monitoring Hardware/Software 

Before we move on, let’s understand what each of these components do and how they help to create a solar package that saves you money in the long term.

Solar Panels 

Solar panels are photovoltaic cells (called solar cells) that collect and convert solar energy (sunlight) into direct current electricity. Solar panels come in a variety of sizes and cell arrangements. You may notice that not all solar panels are found in your typical square-grid arrangement; some are long and rectangular cells, and others are 4” x 5” arrangements.

Regardless of how your solar panel grid is arranged, its purpose is converting solar energy into DC electricity. 

Are all solar panels designed equally, you ask? Well, not necessarily. The difference between different solar panel brands is less about the performance of their panels, which is marginal, and more to do with the longevity of the solar panel and how well it will convert solar energy into DC electricity with minimal losses as it ages. 

Brands rate their solar panel warranties based on the number of kilowatts the panel can put out over time. Usually, these timeframes range from 10 to 25 years. 

There are brands out there for those with more money to spend and brands with product ranges that are more budget-friendly. In general, you get what you pay for. But, it’s better to spend more upfront (if you can) to get a better quality and longer-lasting product.  

Inverter 

A solar inverter is the mouthpiece for your solar panel, talking to the electrical grid to which you are hooked up. Solar inverters allow the direct current generated by your solar panel to be converted into alternating current, which your electrical grid uses. 

There are two types of solar inverters: microinverters (about the size of a book) and string inverters. Microinverters attach to the back of each solar panel or slot beside the panel. Because they are so small, they’re perfect for oddly shaped roofs or other applications where space is tight. However, microinverters cost more than string inverters. 

String inverters mount to your wall (typically inside a garage) and can host multiple solar panels. They are generally a cheaper option, although there are high-end string inverters available, should your panels require an inverter capable of handling a greater kilowatt output. 

Inverters are wonderful. However, they can be hampered by your electrical service providers’ output requirements. For example, most electrical service providers mandate that the electrical grid can only receive 10kw of AC, and they’ll count the number of kilowatts that your solar inverter produces towards that 10kw figure. So, it’s a bit of a balancing act.

Another consideration when choosing between microinverters and string inverters is that the former operates at a lower voltage. In the event of a fault in the solar panel installation process, or during use, your microinverter is a safer option to minimise fire risk. 

Note that you should put aside money each year for a new inverter, as they tend to fail within the first ten years of use, as they never stop making conversions from DC to AC.

Racking/Mounting 

The third component of any solar panel system is a racking or mounting system. This system attaches your solar panels to your roof, or in a ground-based system, simply allows your solar panels to rest on them. Racking systems aren’t particularly fancy. They’re aluminium bolted together. 

However, certain racking systems are coated with anti-corrosion sealants to make them last longer, but they run roughly $100 per kilowatt for a higher-end system. Ground-mounted racking systems tend to be cheaper to produce as there is no need for a ‘tilt’ to be built into the rack, so expect to pay less if you’re mounting your solar panels on the ground.

Monitoring Hardware/Software 

One key component you may not think of when it comes to solar panel installation is monitoring software and hardware. This software/hardware combination is critical when understanding exactly how your solar panels are helping with your energy savings. While using a solar calculator during the initial install by a solar panel company gives you a good idea of how much you could save annually on electricity, having a wall-mounted monitor with a corresponding mobile phone application provides you with hard data. 

Individuals often skip this monitoring software/hardware during initial installation. Then, they find themselves with no way to monitor if they’re actually saving money by having solar panels on the roof. Additionally, monitoring hardware and software gives you a full energy savings picture that you and your solar panel installation company can use to see if there are different ways to save more electricity, like installing another solar battery or moving your solar panels to a new spot on your roof to avoid a grown-over tree, for example.

Basic Principles of Solar Installations 

There are a few basic principles that should be discussed between you and your solar panel installation company to help you get the most benefit out of your solar panels. They are the following:

Roof Direction & Angle of Installation is Critical 

Solar installations are only as successful as the direction in which the solar panels are facing. Given that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you may think installing your residential solar panels on the east-facing roof would be the best option. While it is true that east-facing panels generate more power in the morning, as the sun moves around during the day, you may lose some of that energy as the afternoon rolls around. 

Overall, north-facing solar panels will provide the most energy collection possible but generate less energy early in the mornings and late afternoons. 

So, which direction do you want your panels to face? This will depend on when you use the most energy. This can be determined by your solar installation company, which should perform an energy audit as part of its consultation process. This audit will allow you to see when you use the most electricity and help you decide where your solar panels should go. 

Regarding the angle of installation, different cities have optimal angles for your panels to be set at. However, the best angle is the angle of your roof. If your roof is flat, however, your solar panel installers should set your panels at 10°, but this will result in you losing about ten per cent of your energy annually, though they need to be set at 10° to allow for water runoff and proper cleaning. 

You can buy tilt frames for flat roofs that allow maximum flexibility of pitch.

How Many Solar Panels Should I Buy? 

Given that you’re reading this article, you’ve likely been waiting for this section to crop up with bated breath. Well, the answer is: it depends. It depends on what the size of your roof is and how much money you’re willing to spend on solar energy. 

If you have a high electricity bill and want to save as much as possible, then install as many solar panels as possible to fit on your roof safely and cost-effectively. If, however, you’re looking for moderate energy savings and are on a relatively low budget but still want to invest some money in solar energy, consider buying the low-budget options for solar panels and a couple of solar batteries to store the energy you create. Your Bare Energy energy consultant will be able to provide more information specific to your home or business.

What About Upgrading My Existing Panels? 

If you were one of the insightful few who saw the writing on the wall, got into the solar panel game early and have been saving money ever since then, you may be in a position to consider an upgrade.

However, upgrading existing solar panels is tricky and costly because the technology has changed so much over the last decade that most components must be completely replaced. Therefore, it makes much more sense to tear down the old solar panels and go with a fresh solar panel installation with new technology for less money.

Will I Qualify For a Solar Rebate? 

In general – yes, you will! The Australian government and various states have been throwing money at home solar panel installations in recent years. You will likely qualify for some type of rebate, whether that’s the STC (Small-Scale Technology Certificate), which is an amount given to help pay for your panels and installation upfront, or for an LGC, a reimbursement scheme used for panels over 100kw whereby the government buys power from you as you output so much into the electrical grid. 

The only qualifications for STC rebates are:

●       Your solar panels must be less than 100kw in size. For context, 100+kw are typically used in big-box store installations and other medium-sized factory power. So, yeah, they’re huge.

●       Your solar panel installation company was/is an approved Clean Energy Council of Australia panel installer. To check, ask your installer to provide proof of their accreditation on the installation day. Avoid unapproved installers like the plague.

●       Your solar panels and solar inverter(s) are an approved product by the Clean Energy Council. 

For your basic 6.6kw solar system, used in most homes, the rebate is slowly being phased out and will be completely gone by 2031, as it reduces in value by one-ninth every January. Install your solar now to get the most of the rebate possible. 

You can also explore state-level rebate options to save more money, as they run congruently with federal rebates.

How Much Can I Expect to Pay For My Solar System? 

Of course, for most people, installing solar panels is all about the money. It may be cost-prohibitive for some despite the overall savings per annum. However, if you’re looking to take the plunge, prospective customers can expect to pay the following averages, based on the traditional home solar panel systems. 

●       5KW – $4,500 – $8,000

●       6.6KW – $5,000 – $9,000

●       10KW – $8,000 – $13,000

●       13.3KW – $10,000 – $15,000 

These prices include the federal rebate discount and moderately priced (good quality, but not necessarily top-end) products. Installing microinverters will increase your costs by roughly 20% on top of the abovementioned prices.

How Much Money Will I Save By Installing Solar? 

To round off, we’ll talk about the proverbial elephant in the room: energy savings. It’s one of the main reasons folks install solar panels, to begin with! So, how much money will you save by buying a solar panel? 

This number depends on several factors: your system size (in KW), your solar panel system output annually, your self-consumption ratio (how much solar energy your home uses rather than exporting it to the grid), your feed-in and usage tariffs. 

The best way to save money when installing home solar panels is to achieve 100% self-sufficiency or as close to it as possible. That is, you use almost all of your solar panels’ energy while exporting very little to the electrical grid. However, this exact amount can vary greatly year-on-year and, while possible, can be difficult to maintain consistently. 

If you’re paying 50 cents per kilowatt hour to the electrical grid, and your solar panel system generates one-kilowatt hour to offset that, you’ve just saved 50 cents. Now, multiply that out across time and your savings become a much more understandable and cost-effective figure. 

You can use a solar calculator to determine how much money you might save and how long it may take for your solar panels to pay for themselves. Your solar panel installer also uses this solar calculator to help you determine how many panels are right for you and in what configuration.

Final Thoughts 

It’s no secret that Australia’s federal government and several state governments recognise the potential of solar energy to be Australia’s ‘next big thing’; otherwise, they wouldn’t be throwing all kinds of money at people to install solar panels on their roofs!

Much of Australia receives eight or more hours of direct sunlight every day, between 2775 and 3200 hours of sunlight annually. All those hours of sunlight are wasted energy potential without using solar panels to trap and recycle that energy into electricity. No matter where you live in Australia, solar energy is here to stay and it makes all of the sense in the world to begin your solar panel installation journey now. Contact Bare Energy to get started today!

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