Solar panel 101: solar power systems
Thinking about getting solar panels but not sure where to start? With so many installers out there and a huge range of products available, installing a solar power system can be a daunting task! That’s why we’ve developed this guide. Think of it as your solar cheat sheet or a Solar Panel 101. Here is everything you need to know to be able to confidently and proficiently begin your solar journey.
In this guide, we talk about:
- The installer
- Panel layout
- System size
- Quotes, costs and payback
- Questions to ask
But first, it’s important to understand how a solar power system works and how to get the most out of it. Check out our ‘How does solar work?’ guide.
Finding an accredited solar panel installer
If you’ve decided to install a solar system, selecting a solar supplier who holds Clean Energy Council (CEC) accreditation is crucial. In fact, to qualify for the Solar Credits rebate your system must be installed by a CEC accredited installer.
Here at DC Power Co, we only partner with locally-based, accredited installers and our solar experts are on hand to offer independent advice. So if you’d like to find out more, get in touch with the team.
Panels and products you need
When purchasing a solar power system there are four main elements to focus on: the solar panels, the inverter, monitoring (optional), and the mounting system.
Solar photovoltaic panels (also known as solar PV) convert sunlight into electricity. The technology is very robust and reliable and has become prevalent with the introduction of mass production techniques over the past 10 years.
There are generally two types of solar panels installed on domestic roofs, monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, however it doesn’t matter so much which type of solar panel you get. Instead, focus on getting a good product that will last on your roof for at least 25 years.
When it comes to solar panels, there are budget brands and premium brands. Whether you opt to purchase higher- or lower-end panels, the product should perform over the long term as long as it qualifies for the Clean Energy Council’s Solar Credits rebate.
Like most things though, when it comes to solar panels you get what you pay for. Higher-end products will generally have a higher efficiency rating, which means you get more power per square metre, and they will generally perform better in low light conditions due to the manufacturing techniques used. They will also likely last longer.
The electricity produced by the solar panels is DC (direct current) power, however your home uses AC (alternating current) power. The inverter converts the DC power produced by the solar panels to AC power to be used in your home or fed back into the grid.
There are two types of inverters:
- A string inverter sits on your wall and all your solar panels connect into it.
- A microinverter sits on the back of each individual solar panel.
Whether you go for a microinverter or a string inverter is dependent on your personal set up and budget. Generally speaking, microinverters are best for installations where one or more panels are partially shaded, while string inverters tend to be lower cost and best for roof areas that are in full sunlight most of the day.
Think of the inverter as the heart of the system. It works hard all day, so is the part of your solar power system which is most likely to fail within the first 10 years of your solar installation. The inverter is the part of the system you don’t want to scrimp on, even if you’re on a budget.
Most inverters come with a monitoring option. This generally requires the inverter to be paired wirelessly to your home wifi network or connected via a cable. At a minimum, you should ask your installer to connect this up whilst they’re installing the solar system.
Finally, you need to make sure your solar panels are securely attached to your roof! That’s where the mounting comes in.
Again, there is a range of mounting brands out there so make sure you go for one that is wind certified (you don’t want your panels flying off the roof in a storm!) and comes with a minimum 10 year warranty.
If you have a tiled roof, you’ll need to make sure you have 10-20 extra tiles available as they will break during installation. Also note, tile roof installations do cost a bit more.
For those with non-penetrable style roofs (e.g. Klip-Lok), make sure the installer uses non-penetrable clamps so that they don’t put holes in your roof and risk creating a space where water can enter the ceiling.
When considering whether solar would be suitable for your home, there are three big things to consider: the panel direction, the panel angle and potential shading.
North-facing solar panels will always receive the most sunlight throughout the day and therefore produce the most electricity. That said, if it’s not possible to put north-facing solar panels on your roof, you can still get a good benefit from east and/or west facing panels.
East-facing panels will produce most of their electricity in the morning, and west-facing panels will produce more electricity in the late afternoon. For many people, those are also the times we’re at home, which means you can use the power from your roof rather than paying for it from the grid.
Technically, the ideal angle for your solar panels is dependent on location. In most cases though, the ideal angle for your solar panels is simply whatever angle your roof sits at. Just make sure the angle is steep enough to allow the panels to remain reasonably clean, which typically requires a minimum angle of 10°.
Consider the light that hits your roof. In order to produce electricity efficiently, solar panels need to be in full sun for most, if not all, of the day. Shading from trees, power lines or nearby buildings will reduce your solar system’s performance. In fact, a shadow cast on just a small part of one panel could potentially compromise the output of the entire system. So make sure you put your solar panels in a sunny spot.
In general, our policy is to fill your roof with as many solar panels as you can fit.
Of course, it’s not always as simple as that. When deciding on the size of your system, take into account the amount of unshaded space available on your roof, the amount of electricity you’d like to produce based on your home’s electricity consumption and your budget.
To maximise your economic benefit, we generally suggest that you size your system so that you consume approximately 50% of the electricity it will generate. Have a look at your electricity bill to see what your daily consumption is. To size a system that will deliver you optimal savings, a simple rule of thumb is to divide your total daily consumption by four and then select the system that’s best suited to your home’s need. For example a household using 20kWh or more per day is likely to look at purchasing a 5kW system.
Quotes, costs and payback
So, how much is your new solar power system likely to set you back? Well that all depends on the size of the system and the quality of the products you buy. Here at DC Power Co, we only partner with installers who we believe use quality products at fair prices, so you know you’re getting good value for your money.
If you decide to go your own way, you could use these approximate prices as a guide (this is a guide for residential solar power systems in Australia as of January 2019):
- 3kW: $4300 – $6000
- 5kW: $6000 – $8500
- 10kW: $11,000 – $15,000
Be wary of quotes that are much less than this, as the installer will probably have to cut corners to accommodate the cheap price.
It might seem like a lot of money now, however a 5kW system has a typical payback period of approximately 3-7 years depending on your energy costs, your energy usage and where you live.
Most solar panels are covered under warranty for 25 years and a decent solar power system should last for at least that long, so make sure you look for an installer who offers a warranty for that amount of time. Here at DC Power Co, we only partner with installers who offer industry-leading warranties.
Warranties should typically include:
- Workmanship – 5 years per the CEC Approved Solar Retailers Code of Conduct.
- Panels – 25 years performance and 10 years workmanship.
- Inverter – Minimum 5 years parts and labour.
- Framing – Minimum 10 years (ideally 20 years.)
Questions to ask
Don’t be afraid to ask your solar installer any and all questions you have. Solar is a big investment and you have a right to know all the facts.
When it comes to the installers we partner with, we’ve asked all of these questions for you, so you don’t have to worry. However please don’t hesitate to ask again, for your own peace of mind.
Some questions you might like to ask include:
- What is your CEC accreditation number? (You can check that at solaraccreditation.com.au.)
- How long have you been in business? Who are your owners and are they committed long term? How many solar power systems have you installed in the past?
- How many installations has your company done?
- Do you have any testimonials or the contact number of a recent customer I can talk to? (Even if you don’t follow through, it’s a good indication to see if they’re happy to offer up past customers.)
- Do you offer a performance guarantee?
- Do the products you use meet Australian Standards? (You can check that at solaraccreditation.com.au.)
Ready to go solar?
If you’re getting solar panels installed, now is the most cost effective time to think about a solar battery too. For example, our mid-sized solar and battery package (including installation) could pay for itself in around 7 years*.
Designed specifically for households adding solar panels and a battery at the same time, the DC Power Co solar and battery package brings world-leading, tier 1 solar panels together with an Australian-designed battery solution in one streamlined, cost-effective package.
The package comes in a range of sizes depending on your energy needs, household set-up and budget. Plus there are financing options available so you can start saving with your solar and battery system now, and pay it off over time.
If you already have solar, but want to add a battery, check out our solar battery package.