Is solar a real industry in Australia?
Yes! In fact, there are:
- Over 2 million solar photovoltaic (solar PV) installations in Australian homes and schools
- Over 5000 Clean Energy Council accredited installers
- Over 20 years of grid-connected solar PV installations on Australian rooftops
- To qualify for government incentives, solar power systems must be installed by a professional accredited with the Clean Energy Council
What does it take to be Clean Energy Council accredited installer?
- You must be a licensed electrician
- You must complete a certified training course and pass assessments under the National Training Scheme
- You must submit case studies and complete ongoing professional development to retain accreditation
- You must have public liability insurance
What standards and guidelines must be followed for solar installations?
Every installation carried out by an accredited installer is required to meet the following Australian Standards:
- AS 4509 Stand-alone power systems
- AS 4086 Secondary batteries for SPS
- AS/NZS 3000 Electrical wiring rules
- AS 1768 Lightning protection
- AS/NZS 1170.2 Wind loads
- AS/NZS 5033 Installation of photovoltaic (PV) arrays
Clean Energy Council Guidelines must also be followed. Installers are required to install the system in accordance with the Clean Energy Council’s Installation Guidelines for Accredited Installers and Supervisors. These guidelines are updated regularly to reflect current industry best practice.
And, approved products must be used. All accredited solar installers must use products that meet Australian Standards.
The Clean Energy Council has compiled a list of approved products - including solar PV modules (panels) and grid-connect inverters - that meet these standards. In order to qualify for government incentives for the solar PV system, installers must use equipment approved and listed by the Clean Energy Council. Find out more here.
Where can I find an accredited solar installer in my area?
There something wrong with my solar installation. Who should I contact?
If you have concerns with your solar power installation, the safest thing you can do is leave your system alone and contact the installer.
If you experience difficulty in seeking clarification or rectification of any issues with your solar power installation from the installer of your system, the CEC has a dispute resolution process. This involves the customer filling out a dispute form, and the CEC then investigating the written complaint.
The CEC has the right to investigate the conduct and work of any person holding accreditation. The CEC dispute form can be found here.
Contact the Fair Trading body in your state if you have concerns about the business practices of your solar company.
How does solar PV work?
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels are generally fitted on the roof in a northerly direction and at an angle to maximise the amount of sunlight that hits the panels. Solar PV panels on the roofs of homes and businesses generate clean electricity by converting the energy in sunlight. This conversion takes place within modules of specially fabricated materials that make up the solar panels. It is a relatively simple process that requires no moving parts. In most cases solar panels are connected to the mains power supply through a device called an inverter.
Solar panels are different to solar hot water systems, which are also mounted on household roof-tops but use the heat from the sun to provide hot water for household uses.
The technology to convert sunlight into electricity was developed in the 19th century, but it was only in the second half of the 20th century that development accelerated behind the need to provide reliable supplies of electricity in remote locations – from satellites in space to outback Australia.
Solar panels have been installed on the rooftops of houses and other buildings in Australia since the 1970s. Currently there are more than 2 million solar panel systems safely and reliably delivering clean electricity across Australia.
How much power does a solar panel generate?
The output of a solar PV system depends on its size. The most common household systems are 5kW or less, although some property owners have installed much larger systems. The table below shows the average daily production of some common grid-connected systems throughout Australia.
A typical Australian house consumes around 18 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day so a 1-2kW system displaces an average of 25-40% of your average electricity bill. Solar panels produce more energy in summer than they do in winter.
How much do solar panels cost?
The cost of solar panels has continued to change over the past decade behind different government incentive schemes and increased diversity in the panels, inverters and suppliers on the market.
Being an informed consumer is increasingly important. Similar to buying a car or a computer, you’ll want to be sure that your system is a sound investment that best meets your needs at a reasonable price.
It is important to be clear on what you want from your solar PV system. Are you after a system that will partially offset your energy consumption for 5-10 years before requiring a system upgrade? Or do you want a system that will completely offset your household’s electricity use for the next 25 years? Like buying a second-hand car as opposed to a brand-new sports car, these two solar PV systems are both sound investments depending on your needs, but will vary significantly in price.
The price of your solar PV system can also be affected by variables including:
- Government rebates and support schemes (these vary in each state)
- Number of panels
- Orientation of panels
- Type of panels
- Type of inverter
- System design and configuration
- Shipping costs for equipment and parts
- Contractor installation costs
- Removal of trees or other shading
- Type of roofing (for example, tiled or tin)
- Height of roof
- Site preparation needs (for example, condition of roof or ground)
- Structural engineering, architectural, and other professional services (for commercial systems)
Here are the latest figures on the average price of a range of different sized solar systems, by State:
For more information on how much solar costs in your area, check out the regularly updated Solar Choice PV Price Index.
What size solar system should I install?
The size of your solar PV system will depend on:
- the physical unshaded area available for the installation of your panels
- how much you are prepared to spend
- what portion of your electrical consumption you wish to generate.
To work out what size solar PV system you require, you need to analyse your household’s daily electricity consumption. Your monthly or quarterly electricity bill measures your household’s electricity consumption in kilowatt hours. From this figure, you can calculate your average daily electricity consumption, and the average amount of electricity your solar PV system needs to produce to cover your electricity needs.
This process will be completed by your accredited designer during the design and specification stage, as part of their load analysis.
There are different calculators and assessment options for determining which solar pv size is best suited to your profile. Our friends at Solar Choice have one such tool called the Solar System Payback Estimator
What is an inverter? What sort should I buy?
Solar PV panels produce low voltage DC electricity. The inverter converts this into the AC electricity needed to supply power for standard appliances. There are two types of inverter - standard and hybrid. Hybrid inverters allow for the direct connection of battery storage. A solar system equipped with a standard inverter will require a second inverter to allow connection of a battery.
The efficiency of an inverter is measured by how well it converts the DC electricity into AC electricity. This usually ranges from 95% to 97.5% for most models. Check the inverter’s specifications before you purchase.
Inverters are sized according to the power (watts) they can supply.
It is important to ensure that your grid connect inverter complies with Australian Standards. This is required to be eligible for the REC’s and Solar Credits.
Ask your accredited installer to provide proof that your inverter meets Australian standards.
The Clean Energy Council has published a list of all grid connect inverters that meet Australian standards. To see the list click here.
Manufacturer guarantees range from 5 to 15 years.
After I install panels, what happens to my meter?
When your solar PV system is installed you may need to have a new meter installed.
If you have a traditional accumulation meter (with a spinning disk) this will need to be replaced with an interval meter or smart meter. This is because an accumulation meter does not record the energy you export to the grid or the electricity you import from the grid. An interval meter or a smart meter provide half hourly readings of the electricity you consume and the surplus electricity you generate.
The states and territories have committed to the progressive rollout of smart metering across Australia from 2007. While a smart meter is similar to an interval meter in that it records electricity usage in 30-minute intervals remotely to your electricity company, smart meters have a range of additional capabilities. So if your new meter is an interval meter, it will need to be replaced again with a smart meter when this rollout occurs.
Depending on where you live, your interval meter may be a gross meter or a net meter.
If you are on a gross feed-in tariff scheme, your gross meter separately measures the total electricity consumed by your household and the total electricity generated by your solar PV system. Your electricity company reads the meter and determines the total amount of electricity generated by your solar panels, regardless of whether it goes into the grid or is used by your household.
If you are on a net feed-in tariff scheme, your net meter measures your household's electricity and the electricity generated by your solar PV system together. Your electricity company reads the meter and calculates any surplus electricity fed back into the grid.
Your new meter must be installed by a relevant qualified professional This may be organised by your accredited designer/installer; or your electricity retailer; or electricity distributor. Ask to find out who will organise this for you.
The installation of a new meter may affect your electricity billing rates:
- The new meters are provided by your electricity distributor. The cost of this is passed from the electricity distributor to your electricity retailer. Generally, this cost is recovered by your electricity retailer through increased network charges on your monthly electricity bill.
- You may move from an off-peak tariff to a time-of-use (TOU) tariff. A TOU tariff is a pricing structure that changes depending on the time of day you consume power. In peak demand periods (day), charges will be higher than consumption during lower demand periods (night). So while electricity is most expensive during the day, this will be offset by your solar PV system producing energy during this time also.
- If you move from an off-peak tariff to a time-of-use (TOU) tariff, this will particularly affect your dedicated off-peak loads, such as hot water, space heating and air-conditioning.
You should check with your electricity retailer about any tariff changes that will occur as a result of installing solar and carefully weigh up the advantages and disadvantages before making a decision. This should be considered before your install your solar PV panels.