Going solar explained

RoyalAuto magazine

With the Labor State Government recently promising $1.3 billion in subsidies for rooftop solar power, solar hot water systems and battery storage if it is re-elected, solar power in Victoria is a hot topic right now.

By Peter Barrett


To help demystify a market that includes hundreds of providers we chat to the RACV’s Kieran Davies, Smart Living senior product manager, who has been selling solar systems since the RACV entered the fray in October 2017.

Why is now the right time to go solar?

Over the past five-to-ten years we’ve seen quite a reduction in the price of panels and inverters. That, coupled with the three incentive schemes that are available to households, and particularly the latest one, means in terms of financial incentives it’s the best we’ve had it since 2009 and possibly ever. 

How do I work out if solar is a good option for me?

The easiest thing to do is get a copy of your electricity bill and speak to a solar provider. With that they should be able to give you a good idea of what you can save and if you can install solar – they’ll look at your roof using imaging software and work out if they can fit enough panels to match your power consumption.

How much does it typically cost?

Systems range from $5,000 to $50,0000-plus, depending on size and quality. I’d say the average for a quality 5kW or 16-18 panel system here in Victoria is around $7,000-to-$9,000. 

How long would it take to pay off a $10,000 home solar system?

As a general rule of thumb in Victoria we’ve been looking at less than a seven-year pay-back term, depending on how the home uses power, but that was before the latest rebates were announced. We’ve even seen systems with sub-four-year pay-backs, so they are starting to be really quick. If you’re eligible for these latest ones you’re probably looking around five years.

What kind of roof do you need to have?

If you’ve got a tin or a tile roof, lots of north, east and west sun, and few obstructions that’s perfect. More exotic roofs can change the cost benefits around. For example, slate roofs are real doozeys to install on, and most solar providers will tend to stay away because of the risk of breaking tiles.

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Do you need planning permits to put the panels on?

Generally speaking, no. If you’ve got a heritage overlay there can be some constraints about what’s visible from the street. As part of the new solar package the Government announced changes where people who own solar panels can now object if people try to build high-rise buildings next to them that will shade the panels. So, it’s actually going the other way a bit. 

What should I be looking for in a solar system?

Quality, a tailored solution and ongoing support. Start by choosing long-lasting systems with 10-year-plus product warranties, along with high panel-outputs and high inverter efficiencies. Find a provider who is going to work with you to match your consumption (it should be bespoke, not pre-packaged). Finally, both the household and the provider should have access to a monitoring platform to make sure anything untoward is fixed and the system stays efficient.

What else should you be looking out for?

Be wary of any provider offering a really cheap price compared to everyone else. I’m not a fan of door-to-door sales tactics or anyone who’s cold-calling. Also, the longer the conversation – the happier people are to listen to you and work with you to find the right solution – that’s the sign of a good installer.

What about maintenance?

They’re pretty self-sufficient. Sometimes the panels may need to be cleaned but the monitoring means that the systems will send an alert if they spot anything. The next cost you’re looking at is maybe an inverter replacement and if you get a good system that should be at least 10-years-plus down the track. 

When is solar a bad idea?

Renters and landlords find it hard to see the benefits of installing solar. Then, if you’ve got a very small roof, or you’ve already filled your roof up with solar hot water heaters, it might be hard to get around that. Finally, there’s a group of people who have such exceptionally low energy use it might not offset the upfront costs. The average household uses about 15 kilowatt hours a day, so if you’re using 5 or less you might not get the financial benefit of solar.