The Definitive Guide to Solar Energy
Explore solar energy below the surface. In this guide, you will find everything you need to know about adopting solar power.
Table of Contents
Over the past 5 years, the cost of installing a solar system has decreased alongside major improvements in technical efficiencies, thus many Australians are considering adopting solar energy. In fact, two million Australian homes now have solar according to a report by the Clean Energy Regulator.
Although this is a remarkable achievement, coal still accounts for 35% of primary energy consumption. Fossil fuels not only impact the environment, but researchers have proven that combustion can also cause a variety of illnesses.
The fact is that adopting renewable sources of energy goes beyond just preserving the environment for future generations, it is about saving ourselves presently. The tendency is to see only climate change and global warming as consequences of polluting the environment, however, our health is directly affected by the pollution and also by changes in the climate.
Many Aussies are not waiting for government actions and are adopting solar panels as a way to save energy and reduce their environmental impact. This is why we created this guide to walk you through the important information about solar energy.
What is Solar Energy
The energy produced by the light and heat of the sun is called solar energy. It is a clean and harmless form of generating electricity. The sun is a natural nuclear reactor It releases small parcels of energy called photons. Theoretically, the sun releases enough photons in an hour to generate sufficient solar energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.
Solar Photovoltaic (mostly known as solar PV) and Solar Thermal are the two main types of solar power technology. Both systems absorb natural energy from the sun to generate usable energy. The difference is that Solar PV systems use solar energy to produce electricity, whereas solar thermal systems are used to heat water and/or air.
Why Choose a Solar Energy System
Solar energy systems are the best way to help you save on electricity bills, reduce pollution, and add value to your home.
Owning a solar system means that you hold a big share of the electricity you consume. This reduces your reliance on the electricity grid and electricity retailers, etc and increases your control over your future electricity needs. For many homes, it just takes about five to six years to pay off the cost of investment in solar energy.
Aside from the financial aspect, solar power is good for the environment. Choosing a solar energy system is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint. Installing solar panels on your roof is a safe and easy route to commit to a sustainable future.
The Solar System Composition
So, what makes a solar system? A solar system is composed of key components combined to generate electricity. The solar elements also regulate and control the flow of the electricity; connect and mounts the solar system to your building.
According to the LG Solar Guide for Beginners,
A grid-connected solar system comprises panels, a string inverter or micro-inverters or optimizers, a roof mounting system and electrical accessories including circuit breakers and wires. It is important that each component works together, with no component compromising the performance, safety or life expectancy of any other component.
Solar PV panels are composed of smaller units called photovoltaic cells. Multiple cells make up a solar panel, and multiple panels (modules) can be wired together to form a solar array. Panels on the roof of a business or home generate clean electricity by converting sunlight into usable electricity.
How do solar panels work? Simply put, solar panels work by allowing particles of light (photons) hit a solar cell and beat electrons free from atoms. An electrical circuit is formed by conductors attached to the positive and negative side of a cell, so, when electrons pass through such circuit, they generate a flow of electricity.
Energy Culture works with the best solar product brands on the market. We’ve selected the best solar panels’ brands based on after service care, product quality, longevity, and environmental considerations.
Solar inverters are one of the most important components of a solar system. It converts the variable direct current (DC) output of a photovoltaic (PV) solar panel into a utility frequency alternating current (AC) that can be fed into a commercial electrical grid or used by a local, off-grid electrical network (Solar inverter, From Wikipedia).
The electricity that is not used can either be fed into the grid via a digital meter or stored in batteries, it will depend on how your system is set up. New hybrid
Inverters include an integrated battery management system.
Photovoltaic mounting systems are the structure used to fix solar panels to roofs or other surfaces like building facades, or the ground. Most mounting systems are made of aluminium with stainless steel hardware and are designed to accept a variety of solar modules on a variety of roof types. These mounting systems generally enable retrofitting of solar panels on roofs or as part of the structure of the building.
A strong and well-engineered mounting system is essential to protect the investment you've made in your solar system. The standard warranty of a mounting frame is 10 years; however, it's advisable to ensure that the warranties on your mounting frame match or exceed the warranties of your solar panels and inverter.
Solar batteries store extra solar power for later use. When you add a battery, the solar energy that is not used at home during the day is used to charge the battery. The energy in the battery can then be used at night or early in the morning when you need it (From NSW Home Solar Battery Guide).
Energy Culture works with the LG Chem RESU and Tesla Powerwall to ensure safety and flexibility over storage. LG Chem solar battery provides the most optimal energy solution for the users using state-of-the-art energy storage system with a long lifespan and a top-notch quality. Tesla Powerwall solar battery comes with a built-in battery inverter, is compact and easy to integrate into your home.
Metering your solar system helps measure your solar generation and energy consumption. The two types of metering in Australia is Net and Gross Metering. Since 2017 smart meters are the default installation for all new homes or replacements in New South Wales.
Net meters or advanced meters let you spend the energy your solar system produces and then sold the excess of electricity back to the grid. In case you consume more energy than your system generates, it imported any extra energy you might need from the grid.
In systems with gross meters, all solar energy produced by your system is exported to the grid at a small rate per kWh. So, all the energy consumed in your household is imported at the energy retailer’s rate.
So, your solar system is installed, now it’s time to measure how the solar components are performing. According to the Clean Energy Council Guidelines, systems in each capital around Australia should perform within at least 90% of these daily kWh outputs per kW installed, when averaged out over the course of a year:
Adelaide 4.2 kWh
Brisbane 4.2 kWh
Canberra 4.3 kWh
Darwin 4.4 kWh
Hobart 3.5 kWh
Melbourne 3.6 kWh
Perth 4.4 kWh
Sydney 3.9 kWh
That means that if you got a 4kW system in Sydney, it should produce 15.6 kWh on average per day over a year.
However, this gives you only the standard performance of your solar panels. To get more accurate data that takes into account different seasons and different temperatures, you should consider a smart monitor. Energy Culture works with Solar Analytics’ Smart Monitors, which allows you to detect and diagnose any faults, failures or underperformance almost instantly.
Understanding the Solar Rating System
Solar panels come with a power rating tag that indicates the amount of power produced under industry-standard test conditions. Panels are rated according to the number of watts it can produce; this wattage rating is derived by multiplying a panel’s peak power voltage by its peak power amperage (Pmax = Vmpp x Impp or Watts = Volts x Amps).
The LG Solar System is rated according to the number of watts it can produce per hour. For example, 16 × 320W solar panels will create a 5,120 kW solar system. In regard to overall system output on an average day with intermittent clouds, this system will produce approximately 3-4 kW per hour in the best sun irradiation hours of the day.
How the Grid System Works
An electric grid system is a network of power providers and consumers interconnected by transmission and distribution lines and controlled by one or more operational centre. In short, the grid is the transmission system of electricity.
Electrical power is produced at the power plant, the grid distribution system works by connecting the energy from power plants to homes and businesses. Australia’s grid is complex because it is more renewable, decentralised, and challenges the preconceptions of many in the industry.
Solar Power Financial Incentives in Australia
The Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) is a solar power financial incentive provided by the Government of Australia to help households and small business with the purchase costs of the installation of a small scale renewable energy system (solar, wind or hydro).
The solar power incentive, also known as the solar panel rebate, subsidises the upfront cost of installing a solar power system. The requirements for claim it is:
Your solar system should be less than 100kW in size.
The design and installation should be provided by a Clean Energy Council accredited professional.
Your solar panels and inverters must be approved for use in Australia by the Clean Energy Council.
Another type of rebate is the Australian Solar Feed-In Tariffs, which is a rate paid by energy retailers to pay for excess electricity generated by a solar PV or wind power systems and fed back into the grid.
How to Choose a Solar Installer
All solar system installed in Australia must be signed off by an accredited solar installer. Hence the first step is to see if the solar designer/installer company has an accredited solar installer by the Clean Energy Council.
The second step is to choose a local installer that provides a full evaluation of your system installation requirements, assesses the available roof space, the orientation and pitch; evaluate the impact of shading across all seasons and time of the day; and ensures that the design is in accordance with building codes and electrical standards.
Another thing to check is the experience background. Solar is a growing industry that attracts professionals from many backgrounds. Some contractors are extending their practice into solar installation without having the standard expertise to do so. Thus, the last basic step is to research the contractor reviews related to its solar job.
Make sure that the solar installer has a proven solar installation track record. Energy Culture is a 5-stars rated company on Google because we ensure that our customers have all information before committing to a solar system. Solar companies reviews from past customers are great to evaluate the company’s reputation in the market.
How to Avoid Dodgy Solar Companies
The rise of Australia’s residential solar industry brought an upsurge in complaints about solar companies. The Clean Energy Regulator reported that about 16% of units installed in Australia are underperforming or not configured correctly and 4% are unsafe. These stats are alarming! without proper advice investing in solar can be stressful and confusing.
So, how to avoid dodgy solar companies and buy a quality solar PV? Even if the path to renewable energy seems daunting and confusing, there is always a solution and it’s called accreditation. The solar industry has more credentials programs than ever to protect consumers and diminish scams.
Look for solar companies accredited by the Clean Energy Council - CEC. In their website, you can search for accredited solar installers; they also list the categories of accreditation - be aware that there are three types of grid-connect accreditation. Off-grid systems need separate CEC accreditation.
Be sure the components for the system quoted are clearly specified by make, size and model, and are CEC approved. Also, check the list of CEC Approved Solar Retailers to verify if a supplier is actually approved. Energy Culture is a CEC’s approved solar retailer and our CEO Jonathan Edginton is an approved solar installer.
The other things to check before committing to a solar company is the years of operation, ideally, the company has been in the market for more than 5 years; they have an office in Australia and does not offer a one-size-fits-all system.
Always avoid offers that seem too good to be true; companies that use aggressive sales pitch, make exaggerated claims and gives unrealistic investment payback times.
Even if the retailer, installer, solar panel and inverter is accredited by CEC, there is no guarantee that you’re picking a quality solar system. However, it’s always good practice buying well-known brand name panels and inverters from companies that have a history operating in Australia. This way, if the retailer or installer goes out of business, you can easily contact the importer or manufacturer to make a claim.
Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Solar Sytem
After you’ve found a solar company, there are questions you should ask before you make a purchase.
What is the estimated monthly and annual production in kWh of my system?
What is the estimated solar electricity production in the best and worst months?
What is the responsibility of each party - the manufacturer, installer and consumer?
Who is responsible for connecting your solar PV system to the electricity grid and when it will happen?
How the installer will credit your solar rebate (STCs)?
Who is professionally responsible to service and maintain your solar system?
Those are a few essential questions that you should ask to understand the service and benefits you will receive.
Adopt Solar Energy
Adopting solar energy is a process, the path can be a little confusing, but it's worth your time and money. Using the sun to power your home or business will help reduce your energy bills and more importantly your carbon footprint.