Everything you need to know about residential solar panels, how it works and feed-in tariffs for it

    Introduction

    Australia, by the end of the year 2018, had around 2.04 million solar panels. Out of this, 1.96 million were residential solar panel systems. In the latest analysis, it currently has 13GW of solar panels, leading to the highest usage of solar energy. If you are planning to get a residential solar system, then this guide is the best place for you to start. Let’s understand how the system works in Australia, how to get started, and what things you should look out for.

    How does it work?

    The majority of residential solar panel systems are grid-tied but due to the immense sunlight Australia gets, there are multiple options available for you.

    1. Grid-connected System

    This allows you to keep your system connected to the grid to buy power when it’s too cloudy or even during the night. The inverter will work seamlessly with the grid to work solely on solar power first and draw from the grid only when it’s depleted or sunlight isn’t available. Grid-connected solar systems allow you to sell the energy back to the grid.

    1. Off-grid System

    These are standalone sources of power that include batteries to keep the power 24*7. They don’t require any connection to the grid and are popular in rural areas. It’s a good option for areas where the cost of grid connection is too high. Some places are quoted at $50,000, hence a complete solar system would be a better option since other than the upfront payment, electricity will be free afterwards and through its lifetime. These are arguably the most common residential solar systems.

    1. Hybrid Solar System

    Hybrid systems are a mix of both the systems mentioned above. They are grid-connected and require an inverter and batteries. The batteries store the excess energy generated for the night. These are pricier than the others but are excellent backups and can be used in large households.

    The above-stated residential solar systems have their own pros and cons and they depend mainly on your energy requirements, area layout, and space. Once the installer visits the site, they will tell you which one would be best for your house. Grid-connected and off-grid solar systems are slightly cheaper than hybrid solar systems, but the overall difference isn’t much.

    Now let’s go through the basic components of a residential solar panel system would have:

    • Solar Panels
    • Solar Inverters
    • Charge Controller
    • Battery
    • A Mount Or Rack
    • Monitors

    Solar panels

    Every individual solar panel comprises different layers of phosphorus, silicon, and boron. Every panel has at least 60 or more cells. The polycrystalline solar panels that you see are the most common and widely used ones, but there are other types of solar panels with different cell arrangements too-

    • Monocrystalline Panels: these are more used in rural and remote areas to generate energy more efficiently.
    • Polycrystalline Panels: these are the traditional ones that you see everywhere since they are diverse and are suitable for both residential solar systems and commercial.
    • Half-cut Panels: if you have a small space or your roof gets a lot of shade, then half-cut panels are best for you.
    • Shingled: Shingled panels are more expensive, but they are efficient and can be used anywhere.

    These were panels based on the cell arrangement. They contain the same elements and will generate more or less the same amount. They are suitable for commercial solar systems and residential solar systems alike. In addition to this, there are two types of solar panels depending on the size:

    • Residential size: These usually have about 60 to 66 cells and are ideal for small residential buildings or if your rooftop doesn’t have much space. Due to the smaller size, they are easier to work with during installation.
    • Commercial size: panels will have around 72 cells and are heavier than the residential ones. These would generate slightly more energy but are harder to work with and not ideal for small spaces.

    Despite the names, both are suitable for residential solar systems.

    Solar Inverters

    Solar inverters play an important role in residential solar panel systems. Hence, choosing the correct one is very crucial. The different types of inverters available in the market are:

    1. String Inverter: These are roughly the size of a briefcase or small suitcase. The industry-standard warranty on string inverters is 5-10 years
    2. Microinverters: These are around the same size as a paperback book. You can get about 20 to 25 years of warranty on them.
    3. Optimizers: The optimizers are a combination of both the string and the microinverter.

    The string inverter is cheaper than a microinverter and is to be mounted on the wall. Microinverters are placed either underneath or on the back of each panel individually. All are suitable for a residential solar system, your installer would let you know which ones are ideal for you.

    One thing you should be aware of though, is that you should never mount the string inverters where they receive the full glare of the sun. Australia’s sun is harsh and it pretty much kills the inverters, so you should either mount them where they will get a shade or build a shade over the place you mount them. The inverters are always hard at work in a residential solar system and hence are likely to need a replacement in 15 to 20 years. 

    Charge controller

    These are helpful for solar systems that use batteries. As the name suggests, they control the input and out of energy to protect the system from an overload. Australia gets 300 days of sun every year. This means occasionally there would be too much energy influx. So having a controller would prevent any accidents. 

    Battery

    Batteries are an optional element in on-grid residential solar systems. Their work is to store the extra energy so it can be used later when there’s no sunlight. By adding batteries to your solar systems, you can cut down on your local grid usage a lot more. Since there’s no scarcity in Australia for sunlight, the batteries will always have extra energy that can be used during the night or when there’s heavy rain or winds.

    The industry-standard warranty for solar panels is 25 years. If an installer offers you less than this, consider another retailer. Reliable and reputed retailers will always offer at least 25-30 years of warranty on the panels. This also covers the minimum power output.

    Mount System

    Mount systems or a rack is the structure that holds the panels in place. These consist of aluminium and there are a lot of brands available for this. The flexibility might vary depending on the brand, but they are more or less the same with similar lifespans. 

    Monitors

    These small devices are fitted in your switchboards and their sole responsibility is to keep track of how much energy is getting generated and consumed per day. You can go ahead without a monitor, but then you won’t be able to see how much energy you are consuming. Hence, by getting a monitor, you could track and manage your usage. These are non-negotiable if you are going for the solar rebates since they will need to analyze your energy consumption and generation.

    Now those are the major components of a residential solar system. But as we mentioned above, batteries can be optional. So let’s see why they should be added to the system:-

    • Solar batteries will give you security and peace of mind. They are great if your area is known for storms, blackouts, and sudden power cuts. They store enough energy that your household will go on with no hitch if there’s a blackout. But are they completely necessary for residential solar systems? The answer is trickier than just a yes or no.
    • Electricity rates are ever-changing, the Feed-In Tariffs & rebates have a chance of decreasing over the years. Batteries are a great backup for both the possibilities and can reduce your grid usage by 90%! No one knows how the electricity rates and Feed-In Tariff rates will change, but if you have a battery system, you won’t have to worry about either. Another thing to be noted is that not all batteries will provide backup automatically when the grid shuts off. If you want this, you must tell the installers upfront so they can wire the system and switchboards accordingly.

    Rebates & subsidies you should know:

    There are a lot of rebates, laws, and programs that give you a huge discount or financial incentives and protection for residential solar panel systems. We have grouped them here so you would be aware of all the perks you can get-

    • SRES & STCs: Small Scale Renewable Energy Scheme also known as SRES, was started in 2011 to encourage the usage of renewable & clean energy all over Australia. SRES issues Small-scale Technology Certificates, also known as STCs, to both businesses and houses that install solar systems under 100kW. The STCs are made only after the Clean Energy Council accredited solar system installer commissions the system. STC is based on how much energy your system will generate before the end of the year 2030. This means it’s calculated based on your location, how much energy your system can produce, and the time left till 2030. The rebate is roughly equal to 30-35% of the total cost of the system.
    • LGCs: If your system is over 100kW, you are eligible for the LGC instead. To get LGC, you would need to first register to be an official “accredited power station” with the Clean Energy Regulator. The process is handled by the solar system installers, so you don’t need to scramble. They will just need to provide proof that your meter is up to the standards of the National Electricity Market and you will track everything properly. This is for really enormous properties and commercial systems only.
    • Feed-In Tariffs: Australia has a lot of rebates and FITs (AKA Feed-In Tariffs) to promote residential solar systems. With over 29% of homes choosing residential solar systems, around 2.77 million solar systems are in use all across Australia.
    • Battery Subsidies: In South Australia, some postal codes in ACT and Victoria offer solar battery subsidies that would halve the entire installation cost while potentially giving you a 10-year payback.
    • VPP or Virtual Power Plants are fairly recent developments and people are wary of this for good reasons. In short, you will be able to get cheaper batteries if you let the electricity retailer have full control over them. What this means is that they can charge and discharge your batteries as they wish and you won’t have much control over the entire system.
    • Australian Consumer Law gives legal protection to CEC accredited solar systems and condemns illegal or unreliable solar installations that aren’t credited by the Clean Energy Council. This law applies to services and tools that are worth less than 40,000. This means commercial & residential solar systems that are less than 40kW will get legal protection.

    Conclusion

    We hope this answers questions you might have had regarding residential solar panel systems. Now that you have decided and know all your options, the next step is to get the right installer. Here’s a rundown on why GoRunSolar would be best for you:

    • We offer financing options for when you are tight on the budget!
    • All our professionals and equipment are Clean Energy Council accredited.
    • Our team will take care of all the paperwork involved for the rebates and plans.
    • Our solar panels have 25 years of warranty on them.
    • Our post-installation services are just as good as pre-installation ones.

    We work in the locations of Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, and Ipswich. If you would like to get a quote or inspection, we do a free on-site visit too. For more details, <INSERT CTA>.