Solar Power for Beginners
So, you’ve finally decided that you’ve had enough of paying the highest electricity prices in the world and you're going to go solar! Firstly, congratulations on making one of the best financial decisions of your life, but like all great financial decisions there is a great deal to learn. Hopefully this blog will put it in simple terms for you and help when you're gathering your solar quotes.
You are charged for your electricity in a unit called a kilowatt hour or kWh for short. This is quite easy to calculate: if you have a 2 kilowatt (2kW) air conditioner which runs for 1 hour, you have used 2kWh.
Your electricity retailer will charge you around 40 cents per kWh so your air conditioner will cost about 80 cents per hour to run. Pretty simple, right?
Here’s where solar comes in, if you have a 5kW solar system and it's producing the full 5kW of power for one hour then you have produced 5kWh on a nice sunny day. If you're running that same 2kW air conditioner, then that full 2kWh will be powered by the solar energy your system is generating, instead of buying it in from your energy retailer.
Now you’re probably thinking what about that other 3kWh of excess energy from my 5kW solar system, where does that go? Well you actually get to sell that back to your energy retailer, via a process which is called a feed in tariff. Most retailers will pay you a 16 cent per kWh feed in tariff in SA, meaning that on top of the 80 cents per hour you saved from your solar panels running your air conditioner, you will make an extra 48 cents per hour from your feed in tariff.
So that’s a simple example of how you save money by going solar, there are a lot more tips and tricks of how to save money but as this is a beginner’s guide to solar power, let’s just leave the money saving side nice and simple and move on to the three most important components to consider in your solar system investment...
1. The Solar Panels
The solar panels are those beautiful rectangular panels that sit on your roof and harvest the sun. They take the direct sunlight (not heat) and turn it into DC energy which can be converted into your household electricity using an inverter (which we will get to in a minute).
The truth is that it's extremely rare for something to go wrong with your solar panels, as long as they are installed correctly. Roughly 70% of solar panels come out of China these days. The remaining 30% of panels are manufactured in Asian countries like Korea and Singapore, and have slightly longer warranties. So long as you stick to a reputable brand you shouldn’t have an issue with your panels. You can tell a reputable company by their length of time in business and more importantly, by their Australian presence.
The quality Chinese made panels that we recommend are Canadian Solar. The money you save by buying the high quality Chinese panels, rather than say the Korean made LG panel is over $2,500 on a 5kW solar system. You can generate 5kW worth of solar using the Canadian Solar panel, whereas if you want to use a Korean made LG panel instead you will only generate 3kW worth of solar for the same price and 5kW will always produce more than 3kW will! We custom design all our systems so we can also recommend non-Chinese made higher end panels like Q-Cells, REC and LG which all offer slightly longer warranties. Check out our premium package offering for more details.
2. The Solar Inverter
The solar inverter takes the DC energy which your solar panels produce and converts it into AC energy that you use in your household.
The solar inverter is the brain of your solar system, so it's crucial that this is of high quality. Cheaper Chinese inverters might work fine for a year or so but they are just not built for Australian conditions. Remember this is a 25+ year investment, you don’t want to be paying for another inverter in a few years. We only recommend 2 inverters: the Austrian made Fronius inverter and the inverter with the best warranty on the market: Solar Edge. Anything else is rubbish!
3. The Installation
The most important part of your solar system is the installation. If the system is not installed correctly or the installation company is not around for the long term, then you simply won’t have a warranty. We highly recommend only using an installation company which employs its own Clean Energy Council accredited installers, and never uses sub-contractors.
Most importantly we recommend working with a solar specialist electrical company rather than solar only service businesses, as they are not guaranteed to be around in the event that you need a repair or replacement under warranty. The solar industry is notorious for going through boom years where lots of solar companies pop up and then goes quiet, meaning those same solar companies go bust due to lack of work. So make sure the company you select is tried and tested, established and here for the long haul.
I hope this blog has been helpful and we can get you involved in South Australia’s renewable energy future.
David is the founder of Goliath Solar & Electrical. His 13 years experience working as an electrician have equipped him with top shelf solar and electrical knowledge which he brings to his current role overseeing the installation team.