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solar for beginners

Top 10 Most Asked Beginner Solar Questions:

1. What are the benefits of solar?

The most considered benefit of installing a Solar Power System is financial. Once installed a solar system produces electricity from the sun for free. A Kilowatt hour of electricity used from the Solar System is a kilowatt hour of electricity that does not need to be bought from the electricity retailer. The more electricity that can be used from the solar system and therefore not paid for from the grid, the more money will be saved. As electricity prices increase over time, the greater the financial benefit of having solar becomes.

Solar power is also a great way to bring clean energy to your home, and reduce your family’s carbon footprint. In today’s society we are often removed from the source of the electricity we use, and therefore unaware of just how much pollution we create.

You may also qualify for some small rebates that can help with the initial cost of solar panel installation.

2. How does a solar power system work?

A solar module is made up of a group of photovoltaic cells. They consist of 2 layers of silicon wafers which become positively and negatively charged when sunlight hits them. The charge created flows through a circuit of small wires connected to the wafers.

The PV modules generate Direct Current (DC) electricity and send it to the solar power inverter. The inverter transforms the DC power from the modules into Alternating Current (AC) electricity and feeds it back to the meter, ready to be used in the house or exported back into the grid/power poles.

3. Will solar add value to my house?

Installing a solar power system is a capital investment similar to installing a pool, spa, modern kitchen or bathroom. It will add desirability and additional value to your property.

Home buyers today are increasingly looking for homes that are energy efficient. A Real Estate Institute of Australia survey found that over 85% of respondents rated a solar system (without battery storage) would add value to a house. To 78% of those surveyed solar would add $10,000+ to the value of a property. See Real Estate Survey

Correctly marketed, a solar system can add even more value. If you can use solar power to secure just a $250 saving to your quarterly electricity bill, this saving equates to being able to borrow an additional $16,500 (at 4.5%pa over 30 years). This gives you extra fire power with which to bid for a solar powered house compared to other houses of similar size in the same area without solar. The proviso is that your solar system is well branded with bonafide transferable warranty. LG offers a 25 year warranty with full parts/labour/shipment and a 25 year performance guarantee with minimal degradation over time, along with the security that comes from dealing with a Fortune 200 global company with AU$57 billion in revenue.

This savings value will change depending on the size of solar system installed and the amount of solar power used to offset your power bill. LG provides a calculator to help you work out the savings from your system size: ROI calculator

By installing a solar power system, you can increase the efficiency and appeal of your home, and you will also deliver a degree of certainty to yourself and any future owner in terms of energy costs.

4. What affects the cost and payback of a solar system?

The cost and payback of a solar power system is dependent on a number of factors, including:

- The cost of manufacturing panels

- The international availability of silicon

- The cost of inverters

- The installation cost

- Availability of product

- Quality of the components

- The fluctuating international currency

- Federal and state rebates (if any) available towards the cost of the system

- The cost of electricity and feed in tariff rates

The economies of scale in the manufacturing of components together with the above factors impact the final cost and payback to the consumer.

Over the past few years Government solar rebates have decreased. To offset this, the price of solar panels and inverters has reduced as manufacturing volumes increased and economic of scale benefits are passed on. For example, in 2008 a panel cost around $6 per watt = $1500 for a 250W panel, while the same panel in early 2016 would have cost about $2 per watt.

5. Is my roof suitable for solar?

LG panels fit with many type of roof tiles

The easiest roof to install solar on are metal roofs, either conventional up to 25 degree or flat. Tiled roofs are ok as well as long as the tiles are not too old and fragile. Slate roofs can have solar – but are more difficult and usually cost a bit more. Asbestos roof installations are not recommended and it would be strongly advisable to change the asbestos tiles or sheets first, before installing the solar system.

Naturally single storey homes are easier to access than double storey roofs but installers can install systems at most heights.

Also trees close to the roof can cause issues with overshadowing, and with leaves and branches covering the panels and reducing output. Optimisers nowadays can offer an advantage in overshadow situation as they regulate the output of each panel individually. So if you have a strong possibility of overshadowing during the year optimisers and or a Solaredge set up can be more advantageous than the conventional solar power string inverter.

6. How to recognise a quality panel?

Like any product, not all manufacturers' solar panels are equal. Some use the best quality materials and equipment to manufacture them and others do not.

Some manufacturers conduct extensive research and development into long term performance and have deep understanding of how the materials will behave and others do not. Some manufacturers have decades of experience in manufacturing electronic equipment, others might have only recently moved into solar.

It’s not easy to tell the differences simply by looking at a solar panel. The glass and frame is simply the box/packaging surrounding the components which make the real difference. The real quality of a solar panel like an LG panel is reflected inside the solar panels, in the composite of chemically treated glass, chemically treated silicon cells, various plastics, protective films, aluminium, sealants and interconnecting wiring.

Solar panels spend their entire life in the hot sun and cold rain, harsh environment for any material, let alone a composition of different materials bonded together. Under such conditions, materials can – and do – chemically change over time reacting with each other and creating new chemicals and compounds as they age. Their elasticity also changes over their life affecting the stresses and tensions they place on each other. Cheaper panels sometimes use cheaper input materials and may have not been on Australian roofs long enough to see how these materials survive the harsh Australian sun.

Solar manufacturers with a strong understanding of materials science, who invest heavily in research and development, are able to understand and predict how these external conditions are likely to affect the materials. Some, who have been manufacturing consumer goods for many years also have the benefit of hindsight and learning. Typically, manufacturers who understand these issues will have accreditation to ISO standards for manufacturing and will have advanced quality assurance processes and controls described on their promotional material. True quality assurance is about understanding what causes variation and controlling it through research, not just checking the final product and hoping to identify faults or defects.

7. What to consider when choosing a solar system?

When choosing a solar system you should find out as much as possible about the company supplying you the system and details on the products being supplied. You should get clarifications on the following - preferably in writing

- Is the company employing full time Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited installers or just hires them in as a sub-contractor every time they install a system?

- Is the installation company a member of the Clean Energy Council (CEC) and does it follow the new CEC Code of Conduct?
Are all installers and designers CEC accredited?

- Is the company locally based (much preferred for future maintenance/check-ups or repairs) or have they just come into town with a cheap deal - never to be seen again?

- Is the company who hopes to sell you a solar power system an internet marketing company - with little local presence, who hires in short term subcontractors across Australia for the install?

- How long has the installation company been installing solar power systems and how many systems have they installed locally?

- Ask the company how they will support your solar system in 10 or 20 years time?

- Have they got a long workmanship guarantee (like 5, 7 or 10 years) to go with the installation (the workmanship warranty is the warranty for the way the system is installed)? Naturally such a workmanship warranty is only worth anything, if the installation company will be around in 5, 7 or 10 years.

- Is the installation company in a strong relationship with specific solar manufacturers or do they just buy the cheapest panels on the market?

- Is the solar installation company part of the LG authorised dealer network?

- You do not want to spend time on meter connection issues. They can take a long time to resolve. Is your installation company organising this meter connect job?

Questions on the Solar System:

- Are the panels and inverters from a reputable brand manufacturer?

- Does the company have a service centre and head office in Australia?

- Warranty offered is good but how will a defective panel be replaced if the company is based overseas with no local office- ask the installer to explain this?

- Who pays for the labour when a panel is faulty, with lots of cheap panels you will be out of pocket. If the installer says re-install labor is covered in the warranty – get it in writing.

- Are the mounting and accessories being used certified and of a high quality?

These are some of the key queries you should consider when buying a system.

8. What should I check in a quote before I buy a solar power system?

Make sure the installer comes to your house and has a look, before you get the quote. Internet based solar companies quote you for a system over the phone can spell trouble for the install quality, as they cannot truly appreciate the individual set up of your house. Are the tiles brittle ? Where are any surrounding trees, which can cause overshadowing?What about antennas and chimney locations - which in the future through overshadowing can affect the system output significantly? How old is your switch board and does it need upgrading to handle solar? All these questions only become clear through a proper home inspection.

When internet or call centre based solar companies sell you a system they use the one size fits all approach and give you a standard price. They then negotiate with a sub-contract installer to install your system for an agreed price. So the sub-contracted installer holds all the risk should your system requires extra cabling or is a particular labor intensive installation. It is more likely in this situation for the installer to find the quickest way, not necessarily the best way to install the system. Being a sub-contractor to the company that sold you the system, the installer's relationship with your system is one of "get in and get out as quick as possible".

Should you, in years to come require support for your solar system, the internet based solar company might not be around anymore, or should they still exist are very likely to send a new sub-contractor to check out the issue. It is better, like with your car, to have the same reliable mechanic undertake the ongoing work. Someone who is familiar with your particular circumstances/system.

In general the quotation should provide solar system specifications like quantity of panels, brand and model of panels, system size and likely output per annum in kW/h, capacity and output of the inverter or if micro inverters are to be used the brand and warranty conditions.

A proper, considered quote should include also datasheets of the supplied products. In general make sure your quote includes:

- Solar PV modules - brand, model and manufacturer's warranties;

- Mounting frames - brand, warranties and which part of the roof to be installed;

- Inverter - brand, capacity and manufacturer's warranty;

- Any additional metering cost - if not included in the price, make sure this aspect is clearly outlined in the quote;

- Travel and transport requirements if not included;

- Any trench digging if solar to be installed on outbuildings e.g. farms.

- At hand over, make sure the installer gives you a system user manual.

The quotation should also specify a total price, together with proposed start and completion dates. The quotation should form a basis for your contract with the designer/installer. Whitney Electrical & Solar requests a 20% deposit from our customers to confirm they will be going ahead with their quote.

9. How do I check if I'm eligible for a solar system rebate?

There are a few key eligibility rules to be eligible for solar rebate on your system:

- The solar system must be an eligible small-scale solar PV, wind or hydro system. A normal solar power system for your home normally is an eligible system.

- The solar power system must be installed at an eligible premise. Examples include houses, townhouses, residential apartments and shops.

- The solar system must be a new and complete unit.

- Solar Credits may only be created once for a particular solar installation, irrespective of whether the certificates are created for a 1-year, 5-year or 15-year deeming period.

- The electric solar system must have been installed no more than 12 months prior to the date of application for STCs.

10. What are feed-in tariffs?

Feed-in tariffs (FIT) are a defined payment for the electricity you generate from your solar PV system that is sent back to the grid . Currently in most States the energy retailers pay relatively low feed in tariffs ranging from 5c to 12 cents and varies based on State guidelines and also varies between electricity retailers. We recommend shopping around between retailers to determine the best available FIT rate for you.

Tasmania has two options so customers can shop around for the best FIT for them: Aurora and First Energy (who entered the market recently).

In Australia solar system owners have benefited in the past from a range of generous "premium" feed in tariff schemes, but these offers are no longer available to new solar installations.

State based feed-in tariff schemes are defined and managed by State Governments who are responsible for energy policy and rules in each State. These State Governments define the minimum FIT electricity retailers can offer. Although increasingly when it comes to solar feed-in tariffs (FITs), this is left to the market to decide. In some States the FIT’s paid to you are mandatory and in some cases they are voluntary.

It is important to understand that these policies are State based and as an incentive mechanism they can and do vary over time. The duration, value, rules and conditions vary.

The value of the FIT is an important aspect which can influence the economic outcome of owning a solar system and what the ideal size of a system should be in your individual case. Good solar installation companies as part of their site visit should offer a detailed analysis of what they expect your particular self-consumption to export ration to be, and what your economic outcome will be.

FIT offers can vary from electricity retailer to electricity retailer and change over time, so it is important to be 100% clear what offers are available at the time you are considering solar. It is important that you get up to date advice from the solar system installer at the time you are ready to explore solar power.

From the industry’s perspective, fair feed-in tariffs are considered an excellent way to help consumers get a reasonable return on their purchase cost and thus help the renewable energy industry to grow and reduce costs.

What's Next?

If you’re looking for an answer to something else you can search for it in the LG Energy Solar FAQs here:

OR contact Whitney Electrical & Solar and we’ll happily answer your questions about solar.

NECA member - National electrical and communications association - Whitney Electrical Hobart
Clean energy council Accredited Installer - Solaredge Solar Panel installation- Whitney Electrical
TITAB Australia Registered Cabler - Commercial and local electrician - Whitney Electrical Hobart
TREA Tasmanian Renewable Energy Alliance - Install Solar panels Tasmania - Whitney Electrical Hobart
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