So you have seen a few adds pop up for solar panels. Maybe you have heard about the Gippy Bulk Buys Scheme. Either way, you are interested in solar but have no idea if it is right for you or maybe even where to begin.
We all know that it’s best to do some research before buying a product, but did you know that Australia has a huge range of solar panels on the market? We are talking over 10,000 models approved for use in Australia alone!
And then there are the terms used, monocrystalline or polycrystalline, tier 1, 2 or 3 panels, tolerance, efficiency, temperature coefficient…
Making sure that you are getting the best deal regarding solar is complicated. It is heavily dependant on many different variables so there is no quick guide that is also thorough. Becoming an expert yourself is time-consuming and fraught with its own challenges, but it can be hard trusting some companies who are in it only for profit.
Being a part of a bulk buys program is a great start to accessing simpler and affordable solar without the hassle and headache.
The Yarra Energy Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation sourcing the solar panels for such programs, including the Gippy Bulk Buys. They can be contacted on 1300866634 or on the website. Otherwise, we are also happy to answer any questions that you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to learn more yourself first, continue reading below for a few important considerations. Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive list!
1) The Solar PV (photovoltaic) Panels
Solar panels convert energy from sunlight into electrical energy that you can use. See a simple explanation and video here.
Solar panels work best when they are north facing, pointed directly at the sun, at an optimal angle, and not blocked by trees or shading. Their effectiveness also depends on the weather where you live.
A typical installation includes several panels connected together in an array.
The cost of a solar PV system will depend on many variables including the system size and the quality and types of components used.
Choosing based only on price is also not a good idea. More expensive doesn’t guarantee the best product, value for money, or suitability for your individual needs.
You may have purchased the most productive unit and be producing lots of energy but are only using a fraction of this. While choosing cheap units that may be poor quality means less value for your purchase.
It’s important to remember solar panels are a long-term investment, so stick to your budget but always choose solar panels that best suit your living situation (roof size, surface direction, and household energy requirements to name a few).
The best way to figure these out is to have an installer come and do a site visit and advise you on the suitability of your home and roof space as well as any other unforeseen installation costs. They can also advise you on the choice of inverter and considerations if you intend to include batteries in your system, now or in the future. Also don’t be afraid to get multiple quotes!
It’s also a good exercise to estimate your energy requirements and which units may be suitable for yourself. Here’s a great guide on how to! Make sure you take into account whether you think your electricity use will go up or down in the future because of new electric appliances, more family members living in the home, renovations etc.
3) Panel Materials (Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline)
This refers to the different ways silicon has been used in the two most common solar panel types in Australia. More refined silicon has better-aligned silicon molecules which are more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity.
Monocrystalline panels have high efficiency and good heat tolerance characteristics. These panels degrade very slowly and have been used for more than 50 years, but they tend to also be more expensive. While polycrystalline is now the most popular choice in residential installs with high-quality silicon that can be used in any climate.
However, while monocrystalline solar panels may be superior in some ways, the CSIRO has determined that this cannot be taken as a blanket statement. There are also some other silicon-based panels available that may be worth considering. However, the quality and reliability of the manufacturer is, and will always be the most important consideration.
So the short answer is each panel and its manufacturer should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Sorry!
4) Tier 1, 2 or 3 panels (a measurement of quality)
Solar panel manufacturers are ranked into 3 tiers.
Tier 1 are the top 2% of solar manufacturers:
- They are the big brand panels with a good reputation for quality and performance
- Use the highest grade silicone
- Invest heavily in research and development
- Have advanced robotic processes
- Have been manufacturing panels for longer than 5 years.
Tier 2 is small to medium manufacturers:
- Little or no investment in research and development
- Reliant on manual work on production lines
- Usually producing panels for 2-5 years
Tier 3 is assemblers only:
- Do not manufacture the panels only assemble them
Getting a panel from a Tier 1 manufacturer is considered the best option if you are not a solar panel expert and know the industry specifics. They are also companies that are likely to be around longer if you need to replace a panel or claim warranty.
Be aware some people will try to tell you their panels are Tier 1 when they are not!
Be aware that all solar panels come with 2 warranties. The “performance” warranty and the “manufacturers” warranty.
Generally, the performance warranty is 25 years.
However, the warranty that matters is the manufacturer’s warranty. It’s not advised to buy a panel that has a manufacturer’s warranty of fewer than 10 years.
Generally, the higher the efficiency, the more power you can get from a given roof area. Not how much you will get from the unit itself.
Fewer panels to be installed may have lower installation costs. However, if you have plenty of roof space, you might find it more economical to buy cheaper panels with lower efficiency and just use more of them. It will depend on multiple factors regarding where and how the solar panels are used.
When comparing panels for efficiency remember, that more efficient panels don’t produce more electricity, they are just a little bit smaller on your roof. Unless roof space is critical, don’t stress about efficiency.
If two solar panels cost the same, have the same power output, but one has a higher efficiency then that panel will provide better value for money.
7) Temperature Coefficient
While panels rely on sunlight, extreme heat can actually make panels less efficient. The lower the coefficient rating percentage per degree Celsius, the better.
The range is generally from -0.4% per °C (good) to -0.5% per °C (not as good). For example, if the panel temperature goes up by 20°C, the power will drop 0.5 x 20° = 10%.
Even on a 25°C day, your rooftop panels could be operating at well above 40°C. Correct installations are also important to assist with air circulation and a cooling effect.
8) Panel Construction Origin
It’s important to research when choosing solar panels as not all Asian solar panel brands are cheap and nasty!
Also, choose brands that have a local support system in Australia, including a physical office and Australian staff.
Every bit of solar power produced by your panels will pass through your inverter. It also contains critical safety shutdown electronics.
Quality vs value, the right match for the solar panels you are using, your roof, considerations about warranty, and whether you want energy monitoring options are all things to consider.
Here is a website that compares popular inverters in simpler terms (like comparing cars).
10) Choosing an Installer
To be eligible for any small-scale technology certificates, systems must be installed by a CEC-accredited installer.
11) Household Efficiency
This is pretty simple. The more efficient your household is the better. Consider using less power-hungry appliances and changing habits like turning off unused appliances and using appliances at the most optimal times of the day.
In particular, you should look at your hot water and heating systems which use most of the energy in your home.
12) Make Sure Solar is Right for You!
Quality solar systems are very affordable nowadays, but that does not mean they are for everyone. If you are never home during the day, travel a lot, or have extremely low electricity use, then solar might not be the right fit for you. The best candidates for solar are people who want to reduce their electricity bills and have some flexibility to use their electric appliances during daylight hours such as families with young children and a parent at home, home office workers, retirees, and shift workers.
If you are still curious about how solar PV systems work, start with this article from One Step Off The Grid.