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Should I go solar?

Released on 08 January 2019
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The City of Salisbury’s Infrastructure Team, who are highly experienced and knowledgeable in energy and lighting, have put together the following to ensure you’re getting the most ‘bang for your buck’ when it comes to energy.

Below is the second of a three-part series on practical energy saving tips for your home.  If you missed the first piece, we recommend you go back and read it before reading the below.

This is one of the hottest topics in South Australia at the moment  as residents look at measures to reduce their energy bills.

The the decision to ‘go solar’ is often made too quickly, with decisions made to spend thousands only to save hundreds of dollars!

When deciding to install solar, batteries or both, make sure you understand what you want to achieve and that your business plan stacks up.

Install monitoring equipment years before you entertain this investment, so that you understand how you use energy and where and how this technology suits you.

You can then do the maths and work out how long it will take to pay back the sizeable investment on solar and whether is worth it for you.

Understanding Solar

It’s important to know how solar works before investing in it. He is an overview of the key components that make up a solar system:

Solar Panels: Are a collection of photovoltaic cells and two wafers of silicon placed together to form a panel.  Particles of light, or photons, break electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. With no moving parts, there is very little that goes wrong with the panels themselves.

Inverters:  The inverter converts the current produced by your solar panel into alternating current (AC) for use in your home. This device has more parts and because it changes the current can be prone to failure. There are two types of inverters; the usual single inverter on the side of your house, or the micro inverter which is connected behind each panel.  It is important to seek advice on which inverter will suit your needs.

Installation:  This is the workmanship, wires, switches, fuses, etc.  All of this should and must comply with Australian standards, but there are some things you should also consider for your installation, such as ease of cleaning and maintenance of your new panels.  Also, the impact a system will have on access to your existing roof and gutters. Again, do your homework and seek expert advice to ensure the installation is practical for your individual home environment.


Other things to know

  • Solar panels do not store energy, and they only work when the whole panel is in direct sunlight. It is really important to understand this. You need sunlight for a solar system to produce energy. If you don’t have a battery or system to store this energy, then the solar system will cease being a source of energy them moment the sun disappears.
  • Panels are connected in strings (a group of panels connected together on a single circuit), a string only works if all the panels on that string are in direct sunlight, if one is in shade, none work.
  • Creating appropriate strings is important with shade from trees and other structures need to be factored in also.  Micro inverters may be a solution and it is important to seek advice based on your home environment.
  • Remember your panels are in sunlight, and generate an electrical current so they get hot.  Make sure that you clean between the panels and the roof, as birds’ nests and rubbish can ignite.
  • Minimise how much energy you send back to the grid, by changing your habits so that you use the energy produced by your solar system. For example, run appliances during the day while your system is producing energy.

Should I also invest in battery storage and how do I maximise my value?

Batteries are relatively new to energy storage. Even though we have been using batteries in our cars and phones for decades, our needs when it comes to our homes are a different energy challenge. Effectively, a battery can store the energy our solar system produces, allowing us to tap into it even when the sun is not shining. This mean you don’t have to send it back to the grid and don’t have to resort back to conventional energy during not sun light.

But there are factors to consider. You cannot store the energy your solar system is producing and use it at the same time.

You therefore need to consider how you want the battery used and who gets priority to the solar energy. If you are home during the day, do you use the solar energy being produced to power appliances, or do you want to store it in your battery for later use?

A good energy monitoring and management system is therefore important, as it will help inform your decision to maximise energy savings and speed up pay back on your investment.

Battery Options

It is also important to understand that there varying types of batteries with different strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you understand them so you can make an informed choice on which is right for you.

Lead Acid: Lead acid batteries are a tested technology. They have been used for decades in off-grid applications; they are cheap and readily available. Unfortunately the have a relatively short life, and have a lower ’Depth of Discharge’ (DoD). The DoD is the rate at which a battery is emptied relative to its total storage capacity. Other forms of battery can store more energy than a Lead Acid and can discharge it more efficiently.

Lithium Ion: The majority of home energy storage batteries use some sort of lithium ion chemical composition. These batteries are smaller and lighter, have a higher DoD and longer lifespan when compared with equivalent lead acid batteries. They are however more expensive.

Chemical Flow Battery (Zinc-Bromide): A promising technology solution.  Zinc-Bromide has a 100 per cent DoD capacity on a daily basis and has no shelf life. They are very expensive at this stage, and need to be fully discharged every few days

To go solar, or not to go solar?  

Effectively, this decision should come down to your return on investment. How much will it cost you to go to solar, and how quickly will you pay this investment off through savings on your energy bill and be in the black?

The above information gives you the tools you need to begin accurately calculating how much you will spend to fully set up a solar and battery system which suits your home needs, and how much will you spend annually on maintaining it. It willalso gives you the tools you need to begin calculating how much your annual energy saving will be if you move to solar.

Remember, technology is always changing and improving in this space, so calculations will continue to change, and the business case for going solar may stack up more in five years than it does now. It’s also important to get expert advice before rushing into a significant investment.