Renewable energy: Time to go solar?


Solar panels have become an increasingly common fixture on top of homes around the country, following a concerted effort to grow the green power industry, which in turn is delivering the benefits of renewable energy to homeowners.

The solar panel industry, with its potential to deliver households long-term savings on their electricity bills – having been assisted by various government-aided schemes to promote its establishment in states around the country – has grown dramatically.

Whether the sharp growth of recent years can be continued remains to be seen, however, with the price of solar panel manufacturing falling and the price of electricity concurrently having risen, the industry is expected to take further strides in the coming years, albeit at perhaps not quite such a rapid rate. So, is it time to go solar, and what sort of benefits will be provided by installing solar panels?

Time to join the solar rush?

To put the growth of solar into context, a report last year from the Energy Supply Association of Australia, found that Australia leads the world in rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) uptake on a per capita basis.

The report notes that it is significant that Australia’s solar capacity is almost entirely located on roof tops, with more than one in seven Australian households having installed solar PV, equating to a 15 per cent penetration rate across the country. The household penetration rate in South Australia and Queensland is 25 and 24 per cent, respectively, the report found, noting that household solar PV penetration rates above 50 per cent have been recorded by some suburbs in greater Brisbane and Adelaide.

By way of comparison, Australia has double the residential solar PV penetration rates of the next country, the report found, with the three leading  jurisdictions in the world for rooftop solar PV being South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia.

How does solar energy work?

The basic workings of solar panels see the conversion of sunlight into electricity, with household solar panels, generally fixed to rooftops, generating electricity for use throughout the course of the day.

As explained by the Clean Energy Council’s Guide to Installing Solar for Households, solar PV systems are made up of a mounting frame with PV modules and an inverter that converts the power from DC to AC, which can be used in the user’s home or exported back to the grid.

The Clean Energy Council lists three different types of systems, with grid-connected solar PV systems the most common in Australia, with most houses with these systems using solar power first before sourcing from the grid, and electricity supplied from the grid at night.

The other systems are grid-connect with battery back-up systems, with batteries able to store power for use at night or in the event of a blackout, and standalone solar PV systems, which are not connected to grid, typically installed in remote areas, which must have batteries or back-up generation. Which system is suitable for each house will be determined by a number of factors, including, of course, individual budgets.

What sort of solar panels do you need?

When it comes to purchasing a solar panel system, a number of different factors should be taken into consideration, including budget and the best solar panels for your needs and location.

While a grid-connect system may be the best fit for your home, for consumers prepared to consider upping their budget, a back-up battery system may well be a worthwhile long-term investment. You will need to be aware of the efficiency of the various systems on offer, the different types of technologies employed, what sort of capacity (in terms of size and watts) they provide, and what system is best suited for your heir rooftop, also taking into account the size of the system and your individual household energy requirements.

As with any large purchase, it is worth asking around and getting a number of different quotes. Consumers should also do their research on vendors and installers, consider issues such as warranty length, and also be aware of any government support schemes and other incentives that may exist.

Will you save money with solar?

The savings provided by having a solar panel system installed will, of course, need to be weighed up against the initial purchase price. You will be able to determine the expected pay-back time on a specific system by calculating the average expected savings over the course of a year and comparing this to the expected lifespan of your system.

With the price of solar panels coming down and the price of electricity having risen sharply across the country in recent times, and given that systems can last for around 25 years, savings could well be delivered sooner rather than later and over the long term.

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