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How does solar work?

The way solar power works in Sydney these days is all of the solar energy is directed into your home to be used immediately.

By using solar power, you’re not buying electricity from the grid, and that directly reduces your power bill. And importantly with that, you’re not actually going to see the saving on your bill as a line item, it’s just gonna be a smaller bill.

Say for example you have an $800 quarterly bill, and then you go and install a good-sized solar system, it may reduce your bill by $300 a quarter. In that case, your bill will just be $500.

But then there is also a feed-in tariff. So if you don’t use the solar power in the home as it’s being generated (and you don’t have battery storage), then the solar power will go straight out to the grid and you’ll get paid a feed-in tariff by your energy retailer.

This is not a rebate, but a part of the agreement you have with your energy retailer. The FITs bounce around a bit, they’ve been up over 20 cents per kWh before, but these days they’re somewhere between 5 and 10 cents. I think a lot of retailers at the moment are around about 7 cents, a kWh.

And so obviously with the price of power at the moment being a lot more than 7 cents a kWh (and it’s on the way up), in fact in the peak billing period if you’ve got time-of-use billing, it is often well over 50 cents a kWh. So it’s much, much better to save 50 cents in that example, compared to getting a 7-cent credit on your bill.

And so what we say is we want the feed-in tariff on your bill to be as small as possible because that means you’re using most of the solar power in the home as it’s being generated.

In this example, if you’re $800 bill is now $450, we’d only want to see a $20 or $30 credit on your bill from your feed tariff because that means that you’re really making the most of the power that you’re generating.

Does a solar system still work during a blackout?

No, in Australia a solar system without integrated battery storage turns off in a blackout. There are two reasons why your solar system turns off when the grid goes down:

  1. Safety: during a power outage, repair crews will be working to fix the grid to get power restored. To avoid endangering them, it is essential that there is no power flowing from solar systems out into the grid.

  2. Technical: the appliances in your home need a steady flow of electricity to work properly. In many cases, appliances can also be damaged if the flow of power isn’t steady and constant. Because a solar system doesn’t produce a steady flow of power, the system needs to be turned off when the grid goes down.

For these two reasons, your solar system must automatically shut down in the event of a blackout, unless you have battery storage with backup.

Battery Storage With Blackout Protection

Tesla Powerwall is the battery we recommend for households that want blackout protection.

As a part of our installation service, we will work with you to nominate circuits that can be powered from your battery in the event of a blackout. Typically this will include things like a modem, lights, small pumps, garage doors and other appliances that are of high priority. Anything that uses a lot of power is typically not backed up in a blackout such as air conditioning and pool pumps.

The final step is to nominate how much capacity you want to leave in your battery in case of a blackout. If you choose 30%, for example, your Powerwall will never discharge more than 70% of the battery’s capacity, ensuring that in a worst-case scenario, you still have 30% of the Powerwall’s capacity to get you through the night. In the morning, the solar system will start generating power again and the Powerwall will recharge from the solar power being generated. For more information about how this works, please speak with a member of the 1KOMMA5° Team.

Do I need a battery?

A solar battery allows our system designers to size up a solar system to match your 24-hour energy usage. This means you can generate much more solar power compared to just trying to cover your daytime usage.

Without battery storage, most solar homes will only be about 30-40% self-sufficient. By adding battery storage, we can completely eliminate your power bills.

Unlike solar power, battery storage offers a lot more than savings on your power bill. So when you consider if battery storage is worth it for your household, you also need to factor in:

  • Blackout protection

  • Virtual power plants (VPPs) – sell excess solar power at a rate much higher than standard feed-in tariffs

  • The ability to run your home on solar power 24 hours a day

  • Protection from future price rises for electricity

  • The ability to charge an electric car, which also helps you save money on petrol

  • Divesting your home from coal and gas

There are also a number of intangible benefits that our customers enjoy, such as the freedom that comes from being independent of the power grid.

We get a lot of messages from customers after long blackouts who are genuinely grateful and relieved that they could get on with life while their neighbours struggled to make do without power.

In the same way that a nice new kitchen may not have a specific ROI calculation, living in a home where you can generate, store and manage your own electricity can be worth a lot more than the strict return on investment.

Of course, not having to pay a power bill isn’t such a bad thing either!

In terms of cost, the amount you pay for a battery will depend on how much excess solar power you have, how much energy you use, and what you’re trying to achieve. Lots of factors!

But as a starting point, the price of a Tesla Powerwall is $16000 fully installed.

What does your workmanship guarantee cover?

The workmanship warranty covers the quality of the installation. Basically, it covers that the solar system was installed correctly, to the manufacturer’s standards, and to the applicable Australian Standards.

The installation also needs to meet the standards of the energy distributor.

Solar systems in Australia can be inspected by the Clean Energy Council, and an incredible 1 in 4 systems in the last few years have been found to have been installed with defects.

This is why it is so important to choose a reputable solar installer for your installation. Doing so will ensure a professional installation by installers who have years of experience installing the system you have chosen, whether it is an Enphase system, SolarEdge, or a standard string inverter.

An important question to ask solar companies when comparing quotes is who is responsible for the workmanship guarantee; the solar company or a subcontracted installer? Some of the larger companies that sell ‘cheap solar’ will often pass on the responsibility of the installation to a subcontracted installer, making it very difficult to claim on the workmanship guarantee if something goes wrong, which leads us to the next question.

Are your installers employees or subcontractors? How do you control quality?

A lot of solar installers make a big fuss about their installation teams being in-house, and they’ll tell you to watch out for subcontractors.

So what’s the big deal?

It’s a smart one-liner that they use because it lumps together all of the solar installers that use subcontractors, from the Cowboys all the way up to Australia’s leading solar companies.

The rest of the industry is then trying to play catchup to explain how there are subcontractors, and then there are subcontractors.

Most Large Solar Installers Use Subcontractors

The solar industry uses subcontractors for a number of reasons:

  • It’s the individual that is accredited by the Clean Energy Council to install solar, not a company. Therefore, a lot of solar installers work for themselves, and as they grow they bring on more staff. They typically work with one or two solar companies and have firm agreements in place including costs

  • On rainy days, the installers can do other work such as electrical work

  • The solar industry has big peaks and troughs. Larger installers would have long lead times during the busy periods if they weren’t able to quickly subcontract more installers. During quiet times, the installers can do electrical work. This is much more difficult to manage with in-house installers

  • In-house installers require a large upfront cost including a van, tools and training

So What’s The Risk?

The problem is that the Solar Cowboys exclusively use subcontractors, and in our opinion, it can appear to be for nefarious reasons.

Often, the responsibility for the entire installation, including warranty obligations is passed on to the subcontracted installer. This makes it difficult to get any proper service because the company you bought the system from won’t help you if things go wrong.

It appears to be an attempt by the Solar Cowboys to avoid one of the main pitfalls in the solar industry, which is where solar companies install cheap brands that are notorious for high failure rates. By not having to honour service or warranty obligations the solar company is able to stay in business.

This type of company will often sell door to door or use telemarketers. It is also a tactic used by the larger solar companies that sell very cheap solar systems.

But the problems don’t stop there.

We have seen ads on Gumtree looking for backpackers to install solar.

The Solar Cowboys will get one accredited installer to sign off on multiple jobs each day, but it’s unaccredited labourers actually installing the system.

The Clean Energy Council are trying to crack down on this, which is great, however, this type of thing happens with solar companies that use in-house installers as well, which leads us to the main point.

Quality Installations From Reputable Solar Companies

The main point to consider when choosing a solar installer is that it doesn’t matter if the installers are subcontractors or in-house installers.

What’s more important is that the team installing your system is experienced, professional, well-trained, and generally people who care about doing a good job.

Reputable solar companies that use subcontractors will typically work with the same teams for many years. The installations will be of the highest quality, and all service enquiries are made directly to the solar company that you bought the system from, not the installer. The responsibility for the installation is not passed off to a subcontracted installer.

In summary, the reputation of the solar installer is what matters the most. If you choose a reputable solar company, you will be looked after.

Are there any rebates available?

There are great government rebates/incentives still in place for eligible households. Basically, the larger the panel array, the more STCs your solar system generates as it is based on the expected output of the system over time.

When you buy a solar system, the purchase price is normally reduced by the value of the STCs created by your system. You simply fill out a form on the day of installation to confirm that the system has been installed, and that’s it. There is no additional paperwork that you need to do.

Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs)

Small-scale Technology Certificates (STC’s) – previously known as Renewable Energy Certificates or RECS – are created when a Renewable Energy System such as a Solar PV system is installed.

The number of STC’s depends on the predicted amount of energy generated and hence the larger the system the greater the rebate. In essence, one STC is created for every megawatt-hour of production capacity of the system.

This is further multiplied by the number of years the system is likely to generate energy (for home solar systems, this is usually 15 years, although the life of the solar panels themselves is considerably more than that).

This incentive program is being phased out until 2030, so each year the number of certificates your system is eligible for reduces.

STC Price

The system for trading and pricing STCs for small systems is managed by the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).

STCs are bought by Liable Parties (usually electricity retailers) and must be surrendered at the end of each quarter. As the number of STCs that are required to be surrendered is a fixed amount each year, but the number of STCs created is variable, the price paid for STCs also varies and is determined by supply and demand.

The Federal Government legislated in 2010 a fixed price for STCs by implementing a Clearing House system where STCs can be bought and sold for $40. However, there is no requirement for Liable Parties to purchase from the Clearing House, so they are likely to only do so if there is a shortage of STCs or the market price exceeds $40. There is currently a surplus of STCs in the market which means the market price of STC’s below $40.

How does the feed-in tariff work?

The Feed In Tariff is only something you need to worry about if you don’t have battery storage.

The price your chosen energy retailer pays for any excess electricity generated from your solar panels is recorded as a credit on your power bill.

In NSW, solar power is fed into your home as it is generated and your household will use it first before you draw power from the grid.

This means that for every kWh of solar power used in the home you are directly saving money you’d spend on your power bill. This reduction in your power bill is the main financial benefit of solar power.

Everything else will be bought up at an agreed rate by your electricity retailer.

At the moment, most feed-in tariffs are between 5 and 10 cents per kWh, with many being about 7 cents. They bounce up and down a lot, for example in previous years they have been up over 20 cents per kWh. Typically, they are always at least 5 cents per kWh.

What is the deposit?

In the solar industry, the normal deposit is either $500 or 10%, and then full payment is due on or before the day of installation.

Lately, we are starting to see some companies ask for full payment upfront when placing an order. We can only take a guess, but costs are increasing across the board and when that happens sometimes combines struggle with their cash flow. Don’t get caught out paying in full only to find your installer go under before the installation is completed.

Do you offer finance?

Green Loans can be an affordable way to pay for your solar power system and is only available for approved products. As a Clean Energy Council Accredited installer, all our systems qualify.

Green Loans can be used to finance 1KOMMA5° systems from $1,000 to $30,000 over a 2-7 year term. Once you have received a referral from 1KOMMA5°, online approval usually occurs within 1-2 business days. Green Loans have a competitive fixed interest rate that is as low as 7.99% p.a.* | Comparison rate 9.21% p.a.^ Establishment fee of $299 added to the loan amount. $2.70 per week account keeping fee included in repayments.

To be eligible to apply you must:

  • Be over 18 years old and an Australian resident or citizen

  • Own or be purchasing a home

  • Be employed, self-employed, a self-funded retiree; or is receiving the Government Age Pension

  • Have an Australian driver’s license or Passport

  • Provide two most recent payslips or 90 days of bank statements

There are a number of good, competitive Green Loan providers – ask us about the options available.

Do solar panels work in the shade?

With today’s modern and smart solar systems, using micro-inverter technology from Enphase Energy, shading isn't an issue anymore as it was a few years ago.

Even when the sun is setting, some of the panels that are still in bright sunshine will be producing power right to the end of the day – which isn’t possible with any other technology. For more information check out our post on the 10 key benefits of an Enphase Solar System

What direction should solar panels face In Australia?

You want your panels facing north to generate the most power, however, what’s more important is that you generate enough solar power at the right time of the day.

So if you are not home in the middle of the day, but you the kids are home from school relatively early, and maybe mom’s a teacher or dad’s a tradie and they get home relatively early or whatever, we can face some panels west and so that way you can push some of that output later into the day.

If that’s when you want your electricity to be generated then that can be a really good thing and much more beneficial than having a big peak from like 12 to 2:00pm or so.

Similarly, if you want to have more electricity being generated early in the morning, then we can do that by facing the panels east.

So it depends a bit on when you want the electricity to be generated.

The other thing to keep in mind is the angle of the panels. If they’re flat they’ll generate more electricity in summer compared to the average. Or if they’re on a pitched roof such as a tile roof, then they’ll generate more power in winter compared to the average.

Finally, in terms of putting panels south, we can do that now that solar panels are so much cheaper. The worst-case scenario is a steep roof facing south because as you can imagine, the sun is lower in the sky to the north and so they don’t get much direct sunlight. But if you’ve got a roof that’s just south of west or south of east and it’s not too steep or even quite flat, then that’s fine.

We can definitely put panels on a south-facing roof and we are doing that more and more to max out the roof space to help you get as much electricity coming through as possible.

Why is online monitoring important?

Online monitoring is about making sure you can see what’s going on with the solar power system and how much power it’s generating and what it’s doing, what its status is and importantly, you need to have that because the last thing you want to do is find out your system’s not working when your power bill arrives in three months’ time, but that’s the first step.

The second step is in relation to how your system is actually performing in relation to our expectations. Because when we sell you a system, we tell you how much power we expect your system to generate day on day, month on month, year on year. So it’s important we benchmark that data and understand what’s going on.

So, our system will give you detail around and graph that detail for you, so you can see how much power your system’s generating.

Then it comes to the exciting stuff and that’s when us data junkies get excited because we’re going to give you data and the access to data, so you can start to profile what your system’s doing when you generate power and how you can use it, because we all want to get the best out of self-consumption.

So whether it’s just solar power or you’re putting in solar power and storage, self-consumption is really important and data is really powerful.

What are the key elements of a solar system

So the first one is the panels. That’s what everyone sees. It’s an important part and you must choose the right panel but it is only a small part. So you have the panels which produce DC power.

You have inverters, which convert the DC power to AC power. That’s the next big component.

Then you have everything else that goes behind it which is the mounting rails and everything that’s included with that, the cabling, the switches, the circuit breakers and so on and so forth.

So that’s what we call Balance Of System or BOS and it is very important not only that the components are done properly but that it’s all selected and installed correctly.

Then you have the next major component which is installation and there’s a lot more to installation than just physically going and installing it on the roof, wiring it up and hoping it works.

Do solar panels work in the shade?

With today’s modern and smart solar systems, using micro-inverter technology from Enphase Energy, shading isn't an issue anymore as it was a few years ago.

Even when the sun is setting, some of the panels that are still in bright sunshine will be producing power right to the end of the day – which isn’t possible with any other technology. For more information check out our post on the 10 key benefits of an Enphase Solar System

All the panels look the same and everyone is saying their panels are the best! How can I tell the brands apart, and what should I be looking for?

The Solar Panels are the heart of any solar system. Whilst there are literally thousands of brands of solar panels on the market, Solaray only selects preferred suppliers that meet our strict standards. The supplier must:

  • Manufacture their own products in their own factories

  • Have a local office in Australia to provide warranty and other support

  • Conduct Research and Development and show a level of technology leadership

  • Have been manufacturing and supplying solar panels for at least 10 years

  • Have the financial and market strength to be able to honour the long term warranty

  • Have commercial scale and solar farm reference sites

As with most industries that have grown rapidly in the past (such as televisions, computers, cars etc), we are starting to see a growing consolidation in the number of manufacturers and it is likely that within the next few years, we will see the industry dominated by the top handful of suppliers. For this reason alone, it is worth selecting panels from any one of the world’s leading brands rather than the smaller or newer ones.

What happens once I sign the paperwork?

Once you sign up for a 1KOMMA5° Installation, we immediately submit your grid application to the relevant energy distributor. For systems up to 5kWs, this is a formality. For larger systems it can take a few days or more. Once we receive approval, your installation will be managed by our installation coordinator, who will welcome you to 1KOMMA5° and book an installation date for you. This is generally booked within around two weeks and installation dates are available Monday to Friday, weather permitting.

We endeavour to have your system installed within 2-4 weeks unless you request us to hold for whatever reason. Due to our strict safety policy, we do not install solar systems when it rains. In the event of inclement weather, we will rebook your installation as soon as possible. We always work with your requests as we strongly recommend that someone be home on the day of installation.

How much roof space do I need?

Most solar panels are all approximately 1.7 meters high by 1 meter wide. If you have a flat roof please allow a minimum of 2 meters per row to allow for additional shading from the panels after they are tilted.

As today’s solar panels are about 265W or higher, you should allow 4 panels per kW. For example, a 4kW system can be installed in 2 rows of 8 panels, allowing 1.7 meters for each row plus a little buffer, and 8 meters long. The panels in a row sit flush and they are just under a meter wide, so allowing one meter per panel works out to be quite accurate.

Our Solar Experts have the ability to draw proposed panel diagrams on the computer such as the one below. Because we use aerial maps that do not take into account the pitch of your roof, our estimates are not exact to the centimetre, but we can get pretty close! If it looks like a tight fit we will send an installer out before the installation day to confirm everything for you.

How does the mounting system work?

We have custom mounting kits depending on your roof. For tile roofs, we use brackets that fit between the rows of tiles and mount firmly onto the frame of your roof. We do not need to break or remove any tiles. For colourbond roofing, we take out the existing screws and replace them with strong stainless screws to ensure that the system is firmly mounted to the frame of your roof. Normally we only make one penetration through the roofing to run the D.C. cable, and this is fully waterproofed and guaranteed. For Kliplok we generally do not penetrate the roofing because doing so voids your warranty. Because of this, we use special clips that grip the ridge of the Kliplok to hold the panels firmly in place.

We then mount 2 rails per row of panels and then the panels are mounted to the rails. This results in the panels sitting slightly off your roof.

What happens on the day of installation?

Installing any product on your roof is a job that needs to be treated with care. At 1KOMMA5°, we pride ourselves on the quality of installation and workmanship. The quality of the installation can potentially determine both the performance and the longevity of your system. We apply years of project and implementation experience to our installation process and we are proud to set the standard for the industry for quality installations. All 1KOMMA5° installations include:
– installers are trained and supervised by our Operations Team to rigorous standards
– installers are Clean Energy Council Accredited
– installers have a track record of quality installations
– we do not contract installations to unknown or ‘cheap’ contractors
– installers are given enough time to complete every job properly
– all installations are planned using our industry-leading project management methodology
– customers are kept up to date and informed at every step of the process
– we pride ourselves on rarely if ever needing to go back to a job to fix problems

Should you decide to go ahead, we will lodge an application with your electricity distributor for the connection of your new system to the electricity grid. We then plan an installation date with you for once the connection is approved. Our customer service team will keep you up to date as to the progress with your application and the installation day. On the day of installation, our team will arrive and install the system. This usually takes around 5 to 8 hours depending on size and complexity. Once installed, we demonstrate the system to you and arrange for the connection to the electricity grid (and the installation of a new solar meter). Naturally, our teams always clean up after themselves and are available to answer any questions you may have. Finally, we take care of any paperwork required to benefit from any rebates and bonuses.

What happens if my roof is damaged during the installation of the solar system?

We will repair any damage we do in the installation of your system, However, if you have roof tiles that are very old, it is likely that some of these will be damaged in the installation as the installers walk across the roof, and so we ask that you provide us with spare tiles if necessary. If you are concerned about the age of your roof, please discuss this with us first.

What maintenance does a solar system require?

Very little. Solar panels are passive and so faults are very rare, however, they can collect dust, bird poo and other particles that will build up over time. Luckily the rain will typically wash off all of this debris. If there is a period of many months without rain, by all means safely wash your solar panels by spraying them with a hose (whilst standing safely on the ground), but we don’t recommend that you go up onto your roof and wash them by hand. It is not worth your time and of course, it can be dangerous. If you get up onto your roof to clean the gutters then spraying your panels could be a good idea if you are able to do it safely.

Over 80% of our systems are now installed with Enphase Micro Inverters or SolarEdge DC optimisers. These systems are connected to the internet and allow for panel-level back to base monitoring. If anyone panel or micro inverter is underperforming, the 1KOMMA5° Technical Team will receive an alert notifying us that a service check may be required, providing you with an additional level of support.

We have heard of solar installer charging yearly service fees to maintain your system, but our general advice is why pay for something you don’t need? Especially now that Enphase and SolarEdge systems provide back to base monitoring.

Do I need permission to install solar power?

In NSW, there is an exemption in place for solar PV systems less than 10kw as long as they do not alter the roofline and are not on a Heritage-listed building or in a Heritage area. You should check with your local Council as we cannot be responsible for the local rules in your area, however, it is extremely rare for a residential system to need Council Approval.

What angle do you tilt panels to on a flat roof?

Our main concern when our installers answer this question is your roof’s exposure to strong winds. Wind can create a vortex as it travels over tilted panels and it can literally pull the roof off your house, using the same force that allows QF1 to take off from Sydney Airport. Because of this we generally tilt panels between 5 to 10 degrees, and more detailed information is available here: Should I get tilt frames for my solar system?

How to choose a solar installer?

We would recommend calling a few solar installers to get some advice. See which companies are willing to listen to you, and be aware of the companies that go for the hard sell.

Once you have a better idea of what solar system you need, you can then start comparing prices.

Be sure to check the installer’s history and reputation for after-sales support. A simple Google search can reveal a lot, especially if a company has changed names over the last few years.