Expert Advice on What You Need to Know
If you are planning to install a solar power system in your home or business then read on... but first, just how does solar power work?
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Justin Russell from Solar Depot shares with us important information and considerations, to help make an informed choice about what you might require for your power needs, and what to be aware of to avoid getting burned by shoddy materials or workmanship. He also explains the Solar Credit and Smallscale Technology Certificate rebates and the solar feed-in tariff.
We are very pleased to have been able to bring Justin on-board to answer some of the questions we have about solar power and hope that what he has to say will be useful to our readers also. Justin, or any of the other people at Solar Depot, would be happy to answer any further questions you may have, and advise you on your personal solar needs. Justin not only talks the talk but walks it too, as you will see further below when he tells us about his own property which has been set up with all kinds of sustainable features!
Justin, what solar set-up would you recommend for the following situations, and assuming standard installation, approximately how much would each cost?
|> A family of 5 living in a 3 or 4 bedroom house?
|I would recommend a 5 kW system with capacity in the inverter to add panels as required. As each homes consumption is different it is difficult to give a one size fits all answer. It doesn’t cost much more for the capacity to add more panels later, and it is a requirement that the inverter size is registered with ETSA. The cost of electricity is set to rise threefold by 2020!
| Approximate cost to the customer $12,000
|> A working couple with no plans for children, in a 2 bedroom town-house?
|I would recommend a 3 kW system with capacity to add panels later. Working couples tend to use more power and this is predominantly in the evening. The power produced would be exported to the grid and drawn back at night.
|Approximate cost to the customer $8,000
|> An elderly couple, who spend a lot of time at home, in a one bedroom unit?
|I would recommend a 3 kW system with capacity to add panels later. Power would be used as it is produced. Some exported power for evenings and the winter months when production drops off.
|Approximate cost to the customer $8,000
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What is the most common solar set-up you install, and what is the ball-park cost?
5 kW would probably be the most common system sold at the moment. Approximate cost, $10 -$12,000.
What is the largest installation Solar Depot has done?
To date Solar Depot’s largest installation is situated in Inglewood QLD. It is a 180kW system consisting of 468 x 190 watt monocrystalline panels and 18 x 10 kW inverters. The panels are located on both sheds and free-standing frames.
What rebates are there currently available for people who install solar, and what criteria are applied for eligibility?
There are two rebates available and both of these are based on Smallscale Technology Certificates (STC’s)
STC’s are allocated to solar panels dependent on the output. STC’s are traded much like shares and the price fluctuates depending on demand. Power companies are obliged to buy STC’s in order to offset environmental damage from burning coal etc. The STC value of the total system is offered as a discount/rebate. As the STC’s are created on the day of installation, there can be a variation in the market value in the time from sign-up to install, and therefore a change in total cost. To avoid any uncertainty, Solar Depot offers a guaranteed rate regardless of any STC variations.
The Federal Government offers a rebate called Solar Credits. This is based on a multiplier of the STC’s that a 1.5 kW system would be eligible for. The current multiplier is 3 x and this is dropping to 2 x in July. The current value of the Solar Credit rebate is approximately $1,600 based on today's STC value of $27 per certificate.
Consumers can only claim the Solar Credits rebate once per property.
What about the feed-in tariff? As you are located in South Australia, can you explain how this works here and what can people receive? Do you have any idea of what is likely to happen regarding this in the future?
Systems applied for after September 30 2011 are eligible for a feed in tariff on excess electricity exported to the grid. This is currently 23 cents per kWhr. From Oct 2012 this will be 25.3 cents per kWhr, and from Oct 2013 it will be 27.3 cents per kWhr. This is only available on one property per owner.
It is unclear what the future feed in tariff will be past this point, however, consumers need to be aware that they should be purchasing a system that at least covers their daytime consumption.
There is also an opportunity for charging batteries during daylight hours and drawing that power in the evening. These costs will likely reduce as technologies and manufacturing costs reduce due to increased competition. Solar Depot has 20 years experience in standalone and grid interactive battery backup solutions.
What are the advantages, both monetarily and environmentally, of switching to solar for your power needs?
The advantage is that you can accurately install a system that will produce power to match the households consumption. Because feed-in tariffs are approximately the cost per kWhr paid, customers simply match the system to the consumption rate as recorded on the power bill. This has payback periods around 4 to 5 years depending on the system size. The obvious environmental advantage is that renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels.
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What are some of the considerations people need to take into account when thinking about installing solar power?
Shading is probably the worst thing for solar so make sure when planning a system that you take into account current and possible future shading.
Roof direction and pitch play a role in system efficiencies. North is preferable, but East and West are usable with approximately a 12-15 % drop off in output. Solar depot also has a range of inverters that are designed for dual input from arrays facing different directions. The pitch of the panel affects the output with homes in SA getting best performance at around 25 – 30 degrees. Flat roofs can have angled frames built to elevate the panels but this generally requires local Government approval. The additional council and material costs may not justify the performance loss or reduced aesthetics of the building.
Generally the weight load is negligible as the panels way around 15 kg each and are spread out over a large area.
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What are some of the pitfalls people should be aware of?
The largest pitfall is buying one of the cheaper systems. At the end of the day you get what you pay for. Solar is a long term investment and it has to cope with large climatic extremes. The cheaper systems are built from the cheapest components available by companies that have no intention of being around long term. Sure they offer warranties, but these are based on the lowest standards and when the system breaks down, who are you going to call if they shut down?
Quality solar companies like Solar Depot have many years experience and know what components will last. They usually have their own team of in-house installers, which means complete quality control and ownership should there be any concerns.
To claim the STC’s the system must be installed by licensed and accredited installers.
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How can people safeguard themselves… make sure they are getting the right solar set-up for their situation, a good quality product, and that the installation is carried out properly? What sort of questions should they be asking?
When purchasing a system it is important to find out as much about the company as possible. Long standing solar companies have the necessary experience in what is going to meet the clients expectations, what is required for the installation, and the quality components to use.
What kind of information should they have at the ready when making enquiries about the right set-up and a quote?
A history of power consumption for the property, ie previous power bills showing average daily usage. A knowledge of where the power is being consumed, ie air-conditioning, hot water system. Any future appliances that they are considering, ie swimming pool / spa pumps / heaters.
What environmental concerns do you have, and how does you work at Solar Depot help you feel you are doing your part towards addressing these?
Personally, I believe we need to stop relying on the burning of fossil fuels as a means of producing energy. My home is self sufficient in electricity supply (grid connected), solar hot water, wood fire heated from wood on the property, has 12 months supply of rainwater, and all waste water is treated and reused throughout the property. We have a couple of highly efficient vehicles, although they still use petrol.
By sharing my knowledge and experience with others, I empower others to take action towards reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. People can see the light, (literally) and realise that it is all achievable and that in the long term it will pay for itself many times over.
Solar Depot attends all the local and regional farm fairs in order to get the message out, and of course drive sales. We regularly do presentations showing the advantages of going solar. Business is coming to terms with solar as an answer to reducing operating costs and with payback periods under 5 years and Return On Investment over 20%, it simply makes sense. The production of electric cars is increasing rapidly and costs will continue to come down. The ability to recharge cars at the office or at home will continue to drive solar uptake as will increasing oil costs.
For those who live in South Australia and would like to find out how Solar Depot can help them with setting their home up with solar, where are you located and what are your contact details?
West Coast SA
Lower Eyre Peninsula SA
Copper Coast SA
Limestone Coast SA