I Just Got A Solar Panel On My House And I Love It

I’ve always had a bit of a keen interest in renewable energy. When I was about 13 years old I bought a science kit from a National Geographic store that allowed you to attach a small solar panel to a little unit that charged 2 AAA batteries. It took almost an entire day in broad daylight, but at the end of it I could play my Game Boy Pocket for a couple of days with electricity I generated on my own. I was rapt. I fell in love with Solar.

But now I am a big boy. Now I have a house. Now I have a big boy solar panel. It's awesome.


This post was originally published on December 3, at 4:45PM.

Solar pic via Shutterstock

The Science

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tech, a standard solar setup is made up of two primary elements – a solar panel, which converts all that lovely free energy into power and an inverter, which converts that power to the same current we use in our electricity network. Each panel can generate a certain amount of wattage, for example, 260W. In my basic setup, I had six 200W panels linked up to a 1000W (or 1 KiloWatt (KW)) inverter.

Now, if you take a look at your last power bill, you’ll see that your utility has charged you in KwH. A KwH unit in its basic form is a 1000W device being run for one hour. For example, a PS4 runs at about 110W on average. Running that sucker for an hour will use about 0.11KwH. To make things simple, the amount of power solar panels produce is measured in the same way. But because there are so many factors that can come into play (How bright is the sun where you are? How many hours a day is it out? Is there any shading on your panels?) how much you will get varies.

Now I live in Sunny Queensland, so I’m in one of the areas where Solar is most beneficial. There’s lots of bright sun available and its fairly abundant. I would generate about 4kWH a day with my little system – that’s about 1/5 of the average 4 person household’s daily energy consumption. It doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a big dent. Think of all the things that you leave running during the day – pool pumps, computers, standby devices, slow cookers and washing machines – you aren’t paying a cent* for most of that. Once those panels are on your roof, you have free** power for life.

*/** - A $6000 system would take roughly 3-4 years to be paid off via savings on power bills. Likely less if tarrifs are frozen or increased.


Dollar Dollar

Back in the gold rush days of the mid naughties, state and national governments in Australia couldn’t throw enough money at Solar. Realising that the key to meeting new stringent climate change targets lay in a public-private partnership of sorts with the general public, a huge number of rebates, grants and special “Feed in Tariffs” (FiTs) were introduced to spur interest. It worked.

Australia has more Solar PV on roofs than any other country as a % of the population. In 2008 there was 9.5MW of power generated on rooves, now it's 1328MW. A lot of this was due to very generous Feed In Tariffs – which is the amount the government would pay per KwH of the power you didn’t use. In some states it was as high as SIXTY cents per KwH – this would mean that if I didn’t use any of the power I generated with my little system, I would have made $249 a quarter.

As a result, many enterprising folks did the sums and realised that if they bought a much larger system, say, 5KW, they could make up to $19k a year. After a few years, the backlash from budget hits and new conservative governments stopped most of these inflated FiTs from proceeding. Currently, only Tasmania has a FiT above 10c/KwH – 27.7c. On the flipside however, the cost of installation has tanked since 2008. A 5KW system would have cost upwards of $20-25k back in 2008. Right now you can get one for less than $5000.


Is It Worth It?

Solar pic via Shutterstock In a word? Yes. More now than ever. Sure, you can’t make buckets of money off your excess power anymore. But this was never the point – since systems were so expensive, governments needed ways to encourage early investment. They also needed quick results. Such a large FiT meant that those who invested big early on could get a return on investment within a few years. It takes a little longer now, but the barrier to entry is significantly lower – such generous FiTs aren’t necessary.

But while the debate rages on to what a fair price for your excess power is, the benefits continue to exist. On a 5KW system, with the sun shining, almost everything you do during the day is effectively carbon neutral and costs you nothing. You could run your home server, set a timer on your washer/dryer, heat up hot water and clean your pool. On the weekends in summer you can enjoy guilt free air-conditioning. Got an electric car? How about free fuel for life?

The day I switched on my 5KW system at my new house, my power use plummeted. Granted, I work from home so I use more power during the day than most, but my daily 16KwH dropped to 5KwH instantly. I changed my schedule so my dishwasher, washing machine and hot water ran during 9 and 5. On top of this, every bit of that power is green as can be and emission free. You know where and how it was generated. No billions of infrastructure required for delivery.

But there are still disadvantages. Utilities have bumped up daily service fees to compensate for the lack of power used during the day, making savings even more difficult to make. If you live in a cold or regularly cloudy part of the country, solar probably isn’t going to be as efficient, making the return on investment much longer. At the most, your paltry FiT would probably only generate enough to cover your service free and a couple of KW on top of your night-time usage. As a result, you *probably* wouldn’t get a bill credit unless you used very little power.

On top of this – if you’re renting, solar is just not a possibility for you.


Geeking Out

Owning a solar system is like being part of a rapidly growing club of people who are immensely proud of their investment. Sites like PV Output suck up all of the information your inverter (and smart meter if you have one) and publish very live stats, reports and graphs that show you exactly how much you have generated each day, how efficient your panels are and how the weather impacted your generation. I can even track it on my phone.

I’ve become infatuated with it. I keep it in a window and marvel as my panels still manage to produce power on the cloudiest of days, or even during a rain storm once. I compare to other PV setups in the area and smile as my system outperforms one a few suburbs over. I think about how incredible it will be once all this excess is captured and stored so I can finally break the love/hate relationship I have with my power company. Hell, track it yourself.

If you have a smart meter or a monitor you can also dump that information into the software for a much bigger picture – you’ll be able to see how much of the energy you created was sold to the grid, plus how much you bought from the grid and when. This information is super handy – not only is it a simple way of managing your power use, but it would also give you a great indictation as to whether a battery would be worthwhile or not.


In Conclusion, Solar Is Super Good

Solar uptake has slowed of late, mainly due to the financials not being as strong as they once were. But solar is still the absolute best way to make a huge impact to one of the most important parts of your everyday life – whether you care about the environment or your hip pocket.

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Comments

    "For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tech, a standard solar setup is made up of two primary elements – a solar panel, which converts all that lovely free energy into power and an inverter, which converts that power to the same current we use in our electricity network."

    Should be voltage, not current

      The biggest task of the inverter is converting from DC (generated by solar and batteries) to AC, used by all household appliances. Of course most of these appliances, especially electronics, just convert it straight back to DC, which can be quite inefficient. begs the question whether a low current DC circuit would be beneficial in a house, but DC suffers over range.

        It would have safety advantages though. All commercial electronics don't have this in mid anyway so probably wouldn't be worth it - but you could have a nice little USB charging hub or something like that?

        every house should have 2 circuits and 2 different plugs. you would convert the AC to DC at the fuse box run it to the various plus etc.

        Most switch mode supplies are in the over 90% efficiency range these days. Plus it is also very easy to change the voltage of ac compared to changing the voltage of dc and a lot more efficient, power transformers are close to 99% efficent in some cases and although a lot of equipment is dc powered some of them are rather high current. DC just wouldn't work.

      To be fair an inverter converts DC (Direct Current) from the solar panels to AC (Alternating Current) which is what the grid supplies. Since the process involves changing the voltage output from the solar panel, typically 12V DC, to 240V AC and since current x voltage = power the process of inversion also changes the current. A very simplistic example would be, 5 kW at 12V = 5000/12 = 417A to 5kW at 240V = 20A for AC.

    Once I move to a bigger house, I plan on having my own solar system.

    The Tasmanian FIT of 27.7 cents has ended for new installs about 2 years ago, it's referred to as the Legacy tariff and runs until 1/1/19 for the customers who got in before the cutoff date. Any new installs now get the basic tariff of about 6 cents per KW.

    Where is a good place to source from? Just go through Ergon? Im a little ware of the little companies out there.

    If your 1kw system only generates 4kwh a day it needs cleaning and alignment sorted I've got 1kw and pull about the 9kwh a day. If you're in the tropics ignore the angle towards son rules as they actually reduce your input especially right up top of the tropics. Alternatively lower quality panels can and will overheat, and unless you use a micro inverter all your panels only work as effectively as your lowest performing panel. So your 1kw system could only be as good as a properly set up quality 500w system.

      Where are you based to get 9kwh per day? Are you talking about maximum (ideal day) or average? Nowhere in Australia has an average of 9kwh per day and few places at ideal.

        Katherine NT. 13 hours of solid sunlight a day, about 7 hours get pretty much perfect coverage and I do adjust it north south. Throughout the year.

      Averaged over a year the power generated by 1Kw panel setup will be 3.5Kw per day.
      This is calculated for Sydney by CSIRO and over the past 2 years of tracking and analysis of my own system (10Kw) it is accurate. Summertime will get you over 2+ times that at solstice and Wintertime can go to 30% of the average.
      This output will vary depending upon Latitude, the closer to the equator/ the higher overall.

    Ive had solar panels for years. I still like to run out and see how much power i'm making sometimes.

    Im using my extra solar power to bitcoin mine. I have then on cron jobs to turn on a few hours after sun rise and turn off later in the evening.

    With current difficulty and price, i yield around 18c per kWh.

    i wish i could do this to my apartment...

    PV might now be an option for landlords/rentals - www.smartmatter.com

    Before considering yourself super-green now, you should consider the cost and manufacturing processes of creating the panels in the first place.

    I believe the benefits far out-weigh the negatives myself, but some might have other beliefs. My 3.77 kW system has been installed for 4 years, 8 months now and was one of the best investments I've ever made. Initial intention was surely to cut my bill to $0, only given the excess it produces and the FiT at the time, it is actually giving a nice tax-free income as of a few months ago.

    Without the FiT it would not have been installed. I find it interesting the target for me is to export all that I can during the day and use more at night, whereas current systems aim for $0 only, using their energy during the day while they are producing.

    I've spent time fitting off grid solar power systems in some very remote places, the technology is truly amazing. The feeling when the system goes 'live' when the home lights up is quite something when in such a remote place.

    Its a big financial outlay initially (batteries being the killer cost) and that's coupled with a slight adjustment in respect to energy use, like time of the day to run the washing machine etc. But after that your free from 'somecorp' that's in control of fluctuating a price that they want you to pay them in the years to come to suit projections and blah blah..

    If you can afford it, break from the grid and go off grid, and then if and when they begin to tax people for 'number of panels' on your roof vs energy being supplied back to the grid, you'll have an argument that you are not part of that grid and that your roof is nothing to do with them and basically get off my land.

    The government rebates for solar on offer seem to capture just the right information to set up a good Panel Tax base - Owners name, address, number of panels, how many Kw's when installed, obviously, this is speculation, but nothing surprises me these days when it comes to taking money from me.

    When I can pay for it, i'll be breaking away from the grid for sure. just need free internet then and i'm good.

    This is great. Now I just need to get a house.

      This too is my issue. Doing it as soon as I do get one though, unless its an apartment.

    Are you able to private message me as to what brands and what company you have used? I have procrastinated for a year not knowing what is the best company to go with and as a single woman with no technical expertise, I am utterly confused. Now that batteries seem to be available in the near distant future, I would like to invest in a solar situation that could adapt to this. Basically I am clueless. lol

      I used a company in Melbourne metro called CS Solar. Great prices, advice, and a staff of installers (not contractors). 18 months on and I'm loving it.

      I'm happy to say who I used.

      The company was called "SolarGain", really great prices and service. My setup is 20x260w ReneSola Virtus 2 panels and a Fronius Primo Inverter,

      The inverter is great, includes Wifi which makes it easier to track and record usage.

    Something a lot of people even solar advocates often overlook is that they should keep your roof cooler as well reducing the need for AC...

      I was thinking about this on Saturday when it was 30+ °C.

    Got any recommendations for a NSW/Sydney based installer/company?

      I had some good results using SolarQuotes.com.au - they fetch quotes for you from local installers, and there are heaps of good ratings/reviews for each one. It's how I found my installer, he came very well regarded.

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