It’s a big step… going solar. I mean you start to become conscious of your energy use and everything changes. The way you feel about using energy changes. I mean not only does it give you a good feeling for not having to pay those blasted tyrant power companies wads of cash every quarter, but you also feel a little warm fuzzy feeling for doing something right for the environment.
You don’t have to be a “greeny” to know that using coal is not the way of the future (sorry Mr. Abbott). So anyway, if you’re reading this, you’re probably considering going solar. Which is a step in the right direction? So let’s get right into it. What are these 5 things you need to know before installing solar?
1. Is your house suitable for solar?
This is clearly the first thing you will need to know before installing solar panels. So how do you know if your house is suitable for solar? Well here is a list of “indicators” on what to look for to check that your house is well-suited for solar:
Minimal shading – Obviously solar panels don’t work great in the shade. The more direct sunlight, the better. So if your house is sitting in the shadow of a sky-scraper or was built next door to a colosseum, you might need to find a new home before going solar!
Your power bill – How much will you save by installing solar? Solar doesn’t work out great for everyone ALL the time. To make the most out of your solar panels, you should have a power bill of at least $300 per quarter and use at least half of your energy during sunlight hours. Now this is more a rule of thumb than anything. In general, the higher your power bill is, the more you will get out of solar panels.
Roof direction – Now this isn’t critical. But it’s important. To get the most out of installing solar panels, you should have a large North-facing roof (if you live in Australia). East-West can also work well. Especially for systems where the inverter is over-loaded.
2. How Much Will Solar Save You?
This is a tough one to answer accurately. How much your solar panels will save you depend on a bunch of things. Here is a very basic formula for calculating how much solar will save you:
Your electricity rate ($/kWh) x your solar system size x 1,168
Your electricity rate ($/kWh) is the rate you pay for power (shown on your power bill). You should include GST in this calculation
Your solar system size is the size of the solar system you might get (in kilo-Watts or kW)
The number 1,168 comes from an educated guesstimate of solar production. This number varies depending where in Australia (or in the world) you live.
Here is an example:
If you pay 28c/kWh for power and you might get a 5kW solar system then you will save around:
0.28 x 5 x 1,168 = $1,635.20 per year!
3. Which Panels / Inverter Should You Buy?
There are loads of different solar panels and inverter brands. Here are some useful rules to follow when choosing a solar panel or inverter:
Choose a company which has been around a long time.
Don’t worry where the panel came from, most come from China.
Steer clear of panels which try to disguise as being European or having some special properties.
Don’t pay top dollar – get a few quotes and choose a reasonable price and a good product.
If you’re living in the house for a long time into the future, then pay top dollar and get a great product.
If you’re buying for a rental property or aren’t staying long, get a cheap panel with good warranties.
4. What Warranties Should You Get?
Typical panel warranties
10 years (on the product – free from defects)
15 years (on the performance of the panel @ 90% of its peak)
25 years (on the performance of the panel @ 80% of its peak)
Typical inverter warranties
An inverter typically has between 5 and 10 years as a standard warranty and can be upgraded to up to 25 years.
5. What Price Should You Pay?
You should have some idea of the solar power systems prices you will pay for solar panels before you buy them. But beware, there are some very high and very low prices to be avoided. Generally a mid-range price is a good choice. Pay too little and you risk a dodgy product and no after-sales service. Pay too much and you’ll end up waiting 10 years just to recoup your cost! As a very general guide, a good 5kW solar power system will cost between $6,000 and $8,000 in today’s market (Mid 2015). Pay any less than $5,000 and the risks start becoming too great.
Chris Haynes is a founder of solar panels Brisbane, providing services, resources and news for solar energy.