Solar Panels Buying Guide

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Are you looking to decrease those pesky numbers on your energy bills? If so, you may have been thinking about solar and how it can potentially claw back some of your household electricity costs. Not only can solar help make your home more energy-efficient, it can also be fairly cost-effective in the long run, provided you’ve done a little homework.

But with so many solar suppliers in the market overloading you with information, how do you know when and where to buy from? Well, as you’re about to see, there are plenty of factors to weigh up before you hand over your cash. After all, going solar is a huge financial investment that requires a bit of forethought, which is why Canstar Blue has assembled this guide to give you all the details you need when the time comes to make a few enquiries.

When is the best time to buy solar panels?

While many suppliers will suggest that ‘now’ is the best time to buy solar, there’s no need to rush into anything. But there are a few incentives that make buying solar now appealing, like government rebates and competitive feed-in tariffs (FiTs). You’ll just need to ensure you’ve done some research as these factors will vary depending on where you live.

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where you’re eligible to receive a government rebate, this may be enough to sway your solar decision. But if a rebate isn’t on the cards, you should consider other factors like whether a local solar supplier is having a sale, or your energy provider is offering higher than average feed-in tariffs.

Number of homes with solar panels in Australia

With more than two million solar systems installed across Australia, it’s clear that demand for solar power is considerably high. As you can see in this table, many households across the country are taking advantage of solar.

State Capacity (KW) Number of solar systems Percentage of homes with solar
NSW 1,800,000 450,000 15%
VIC 1,500,000 372,000 15%
QLD 2,300,000 592,000 30%
SA 970,000 450,000 15%
WA 1,000,000 280,000 26%
TAS 132,000 33,000 14%
ACT 89,000 22,000 15%
NT 71,000 11,000 13%

Source: Clean Energy Council, May 2019.

Solar Plans & Prices

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. This table may include products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. This table may include products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. This table may include products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on SA Power network in Adelaide but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. This table may include products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Where to Buy Solar Panels

Finding the best solar supplier may require calling around and asking for a few separate quotes, as prices can vary significantly between companies. Ultimately, the prices will come down to multiple factors, including:

  • The type of solar panel – Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline or Thin Film
  • How many solar panels you need – 8, 12, 24 or somewhere in between?
  • The solar panel supplier’s reputation – are they certified and do they provide a warranty?
  • The type of inverter for each solar panel – string or micro-inverter

The solar company you choose to do business with should be able to provide you with all of the information above, as well as the energy-efficiency of the products you’re interested in. Remember, your solar installer should consider products based on your individual circumstances, and quote you a price accordingly. You should also ask to see any relevant industry-approved certification on solar products, such as panels and battery storage systems.

If you’d like to know more about solar power in your area, read our helpful guides:

Solar Panel Suppliers in Australia

With numerous ‘Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailers’ currently operating in Australia, finding a solar panel installer that’s right for you shouldn’t be much of a hassle. You can find a list of accredited retailers in your state by visiting the Clean Energy Council website.

Approved solar suppliers are allowed to use the Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer logo in their marketing. However, it’s worth verifying the accreditation on the Clean Energy Council website before signing any agreements with them.

How to choose the best solar panel supplier

Finding the best solar panel system will usually come down to the cost, quality and suitability of products on offer from your chosen solar supplier. Installation is another component you should take into consideration when looking for a solar panel supplier, as well as the warranties included in their services.

How much do solar panels cost?

Solar Panel Pricing

The cost of solar panels in Australia will depend on the size of the system, installation expenses and any applicable rebates subtracted from the original price. For a typical 3kW PV system with roughly 12 panels, expect to pay between $3,500 and $6,500, however it’s best to get at least three quotes from trusted solar installation companies.

In a recent survey, Canstar Blue found that customers spent an average of $6,106 on solar panel systems, with 94% of survey participants stating that installing solar was a good financial decision. While the upfront costs may have you raising your eyebrows, getting solar can be a wise long-term investment if you’re eligible for a rebate and have locked into a competitive feed-in tariff with your energy provider.

Solar panels installation

The cost of solar installation will usually be factored into the total quoted price by your local installer, but will vary between companies. Some installers may use better quality components which may affect the overall cost of PV installation, however the quote you receive should have every expense listed, including the installation.

More about solar panels

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels work by utilsing the ‘photovoltaic effect’. This is the process in which photons from the sun project onto the solar panel, releasing electrons from atoms, generating DC electricity. Trapped by an electric field, these electrons flow into an inverter, which then converts the free-flowing electrons in to useable AC electricity.

What types of solar panels are there?

There are three broad types of solar panels: Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline and Thin film. Each of these solar panels are built with crystalline silicon cells, however they vary considerably in efficiency and price.

  • Monocrystalline: Sometimes referred to as single-crystalline, these solar panels are comprised of a one crystalline structure, given them a deep-black colour. Monocrystalline cells have the highest marketed energy efficiency at around 15%-21%, meaning they convert 15%-21% of the absorbed solar energy into useable electricity.
  • Polycrystalline: Polycrystalline cells, also known as multi-crystalline cells, have a lower silicon purity than monocrystalline panels. This makes them more affordable, but less efficient, typically converting around 13-16%. But they are generally cheaper. Additionally, polycrystalline cells have a lower heat tolerance, making them slightly less efficient on very hot days.
  • Thin Film: These panels are very cheap to mass produce, however they have very low energy efficiency, meaning they are not ideal for residential premises. The poor efficiency and ease of producing these panels makes them most ideal for commercial and agricultural properties where there is more room available.

Which solar panel type is the best?

Your solar company will most likely recommend monocrystalline panels, due to their higher perceived efficiency, however polycrystalline technology has improved dramatically in recent years, so it’s difficult to claim one type of solar cell is better than another. More important than the type of solar panel is its energy efficiency. Enquire with your solar installer about panel efficiency, and if there is negligible difference between the poly and monocrystalline panels, then your best bet will be the cheapest – usually polycrystalline.

How many solar panels do you need?

A single solar panel can produce as little as 40w, or as much as 400w. This means more panels won’t necessarily equate to more electricity. What you should instead be looking at is the solar system size as a whole.

The system size is given in kilowatts (kW), as a measure of how much electricity the system can produce at peak output conditions (i.e. a perfect day with no clouds). So a 2kW system will produce 2kW for a couple hours a day in peak conditions.

Many households opt for a 3kW solar system, which will require 12 x 250 watt solar panels. More or less panels will be required depending on their individual output.

If you have a solar battery to store power or you have exceptionally large mid-day electricity usage, then it might be worth upgrading to a larger system. As a general rule, there is no need for a household to purchase anything larger than an 8kW system.

If you’re unsure about what you need, send your solar retailer a copy of your electricity bill and they can probably recommend an appropriate system size.

Watts to kWh – what’s the difference?

It is important to recognise that kilowatts (kW) and kilowatt-hours (kWh) are not the same. A kWh is the standard measurement on electricity bills, while a kW is a measurement of energy consumption.

If you run a 1kW appliance for an hour, it will use 1kWh. The less kW something uses, the longer it takes to use a whole kWh. For example, a 25 watt florescent light bulb would take 40 hours to use 1kWh.

There is a general rule of thumb that the solar system size you need is equal to your electricity usage in kWh divided by four. To illustrate, let’s say you wanted to purchase a solar system which covers half your energy usage – around 8kWh. This means you only need a solar system of 2W. If you mistakenly purchase an expensive 8kW system, it would produce 32kWh – more than double your energy needs!

What solar rebates are available?

It’s a common misconception that the Australian solar industry ended with the Rudd era, however there still exist two great incentive schemes available for installing solar.

They are the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme and Feed in Tariffs.

Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme

Under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme, eligible customers who install a renewable energy generator (be it solar, wind or hydro), are entitled to a number of ‘Small-Scale Technology Certificates’ (STCs). The number of STCs you receive depends on the expected output of the installation over the course of its life time (15 years max), as well as the geographical location of the premise. You can calculate the number of certificates you are entitled to using the small generation unit calculator. To illustrate, a Sydney home which installs a 5kW solar system with an expected lifetime of 15 years in January 2016 will receive 103 STCs.

These STCs can be sold to electricity retailers, who are required by law to purchase a quota of STCs each year. The easiest way to sell these certificates is by allowing your installer to sell them on your behalf in exchange for a lower return. To maximise the value of your certificates however, they can be sold on the in an open market where price is determined by supply and demand. Alternatively, the STC clearing house will purchase certificates for a flat price of $40 per certificate.

Feed-in tariffs

Solar panels alone are unable to store electricity collected from the sun, meaning any energy you don’t immediately use will feed on to the energy network. In exchange for this, your energy retailer and the state government will supply you with a feed-in tariff, which is a small rebate on your electricity bill for each kWh your solar system exported. The feed-in tariff you receive will vary anywhere from 4c to 50c per kilowatt hour and will depend on your location and retailer.

Solar checklist

  • The property is in your name
  • The roof has access to sunlight and is not shadowed by trees
  • The roof is large enough (usually a 15 square meter minimum)
  • The roof can support the weight of solar panels
  • Your home faces the right direction. Only north-facing panels will produce at full capacity
  • There are no conflicts with local government by-laws.
  • You have received multiple quotes from reputable retailers

Are solar panels worth the investment?

There’s no escaping the hefty upfront costs of installing solar panels at your property, which climb well into the thousands even for a cheaper or smaller system. Despite its initial expense, investing in solar can pay off over the long term, with many incentives and generous feed-in tariffs making it all worthwhile.

Rebates and feed-in tariffs aside, you will need to consider whether or not you’re going to be living at your home in the distant future as it may take several years to see a return on your investment. Again, don’t rush into solar because your neighbour Bill said he’s ‘making a killing’ or you’ve been doorknocked by a retailer, take your time and weigh up all the factors that matter most to you.

Image credits: zstock/Shutterstock.com, Tap10/Shutterstock.com, Christi Savin/Shutterstock.com, esbobeeldijk/Shutterstock.com, Afraid Studio/Shutterstock.com, simex78/Shutterstock.com, Alberto Masnovo/Shutterstock.com, Stonel/Shutterstock.com

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