Perhaps you’ve heard of solar power but don’t understand whether it’s for you, or maybe you’re interested in buying solar for your home but don’t know where to start. Solar power is a brilliant way to save money on electricity, boost the value of your home, and save the planet. Solar energy systems (often referred to as PV or Photovoltaics) work by taking energy directly from the sun and converting it into DC power. Then, you’ll want to push that power through a solar inverter to turn the DC power into the usable AC power that comes out of the wall.
Without battery storage, grid connected solar power can be used as a cushion to soften the blow of your energy bill, simply by covering a portion of your energy consumption while the sun shines. In certain scenarios, solar panels can replace your electricity bill costs entirely with the ability to sell any excess power that your panels produce back to the grid.
Due to the nature of solar power, it doesn’t produce at night or if the sun isn’t out. As such, some customers consider buying battery assisted systems, so any excess power is stored in a battery and can then be used to cover any reductions in your energy production, such as night time or during cloudy weather. Particular battery systems can keep supplying energy if the power goes out, such as during a power cut. Battery systems are cutting-edge technology and are extremely helpful in making solar more viable as a total replacement for conventional power systems.
1. What will solar cost me?
Nowhere near as much as it did 5 or 10 years ago. The price of installing a system can vary depending on the system you require. Concerning conventional power sources, renewable energy is going to have a higher capital cost, purely due to it only being used on a smaller scale compared to non-renewables. The biggest advantage, however, is that once installed the cost to operate becomes obsolete.
The price of buying solar has fallen dramatically in recent years. Largely due to gains in traction within countries across the globe. It’s advantages and payback periods (in energy savings) are particularly significant in many global locations due to the abundance of sunshine. Though it’s worth noting that a hot day does not necessarily mean a sunny day, as solar panels work off the light, not heat.
There are a few costs that you might not have considered with solar. Numbers 1-5 below are often included within most base grid connected solar packages, however, depending on where in the world you reside, what’s included within certain packages may vary:
- Solar panels to harvest the sunshine.
- Solar inverter to converter the DC power to AC useable power.
- Solar panel mounting system to secure the solar panels directly to the roof.
- Cabling and electrical accessories.
- Certified installation to ensure the maximum benefit and warranty are upheld.
- Import/export meter which is configured to work with solar power to ensure your receive any available feed in tariffs (If applicable).
- Network application and connection costs (if applicable).
- Battery storage (if required).
2. What Is An Inverter?
A key device equally as important as the solar panels themselves. Solar panels output power in DC (Direct Current). Your home power system requires AC (Alternating Current) power from the plugs in the walls. The solar inverter is the device that converts your energy from DC to the usable AC power. Furthermore, solar inverters feature a maximum power point tracker or MPPT, which helps to maintain and control the voltage that flows through the panel to ensure maximum power production. Certain central inverter models may have two MPPTs, which can aid in designing individual systems to make them more efficient.
Having multiple MPPTs is extremely valuable in systems where shading of the panels cannot be avoided. It essentially means that the shaded panels on one tracker will not have any impact on the energy production of the solar panels on the other tracker. There are also other solutions for shading, such as panel level optimisation or microinverters. Inverters will also have a human-readable output that will allow you to see exactly how much power and energy your solar panel solution has produced.
3. How Should I Maximise My Savings?
It seems logical that from day one of your solar panel installation, you will immediately start saving money due to your power coming from your solar panels and not the grid. So, many users will quickly adopt the habit of only using devices with a high energy consumption during peak power production periods. This change makes perfect sense. However, it’s important that you’re careful to stagger your energy uses over a longer period during the daytime.
Unless you have a battery system, any excess power is immediately exported back to the grid. As such, it’s important that you don’t start using all of your appliances at the same time. Otherwise, your short-term power draw will far exceed your solar energy production, which will mean you will need to purchase energy from the grid.
If you’re buying a battery system also, then this is somewhat less of an issue as you’ll only start pulling from the battery as soon as your energy consumption exceeds your solar production.
4. How Much Will My System Produce?
Short answer: you won’t know exactly how much it’ll produce until the system has already been installed for a while. However, utilising historical data, your solar installer can give you an estimate based on many factors, such as your roof angle/ orientation, geographical location and the particular solar technology you’ll want to be installed.
It’s important to understand solar panels are rated by their performance under Standard Test Conditions or STC. These conditions are exceptionally difficult to replicate in the real world. STC is basically the equivalent of an overly sunny day with the sun directly perpendicular to a brand-new and clean solar panel. Obviously, these conditions are extremely rare. As such, you should expect your solar panels to produce slightly less (approx -20%) peak power than they are rated for.
Performance inhibiting factors also occur at the solar inverter. Some inverters are less efficient than others. As such, it’s important to aim for a solid balance between efficiency, features, and life expectancy. Furthermore, there is also the issue of degradation. Solar panels specifically degrade over time. Using a high-quality solar panel with a linear performance guarantee is the best place to start. A linear performance guarantee assures the buyer that the solar panels output will degrade at no more than a set percentage annually (usually between 0.3% to 0.7%). Degradation is unavoidable, and as such, you should expect your energy production to drop off slowly throughout the lifespan of the system. Keeping the panels free of dirt and other objects which can block light from reaching the solar cell will ensure that your production remains as high as possible.
5. Is Solar Right For Me?
Due to the variable nature of solar, it can seem unappealing to a lot of people do to the initial capital outlay. However, if you’re interested in a long-term investment that could save you a lot of money, as well as help to protect the environment, buying solar is perfect for you.
Naturally, solar works best in places where the solar panels will have an optimal alignment with the sun as well as no light inhibiting obstructions or shade.