Solar power explained: Everything you need to know
Make sure you choose a Clean Energy Council-approved solar retailer to install your home solar system.
How do solar panels work?
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels absorb the energy in sunlight and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity that you can use in your home, or sell back to the grid. Each solar panel is made up of many individual solar cells which in turn are made from thin wafers of silicon sandwiched together. Sunlight hitting these silicon cells provides the energy for electrons to move between the silicon layers and this flow of electrons is the electricity the panels produce.
How many solar panels do I need?
This depends on available roof space and household usage. A typical solar system would be about 15 to 20 panels. For more on the basics of solar, check out our beginner’s guide.
How long do solar panels last?
The panels themselves should last 10 years-plus, and often up to 20. Inverters probably won’t last as long – most have a five to 12-year warranty.
What is the role of the solar inverter?
Solar panels generate electricity in the Direct Current (DC) form. The solar inverter converts the DC electricity to the Alternative Current (AC) form which can be used to power your home.
Are there different types of solar panels?
Yes, there are many different technologies and brands.
Solar power is mainly generated in the middle of the day, so you’ll want to ensure that your roof is not heavily shaded when the sun is in its prime position.
Do solar systems need much maintenance?
Solar systems require very little maintenance. Rainwater will clean panels adequately in most cases and good-quality hardware, installed correctly, will last in the elements. Keeping an eye out for trees growing and shading panels or heavy dirt build-up is a good idea, and tree pruning or professional cleaning may be necessary in some cases.
I have an existing solar system but I’m not sure if it’s working. How can I check?
The easiest way to check is to look at the solar inverter (box on the wall). It should have some lights or a screen that you can check. Green lights are generally good and if the screen is showing power output the system is probably working. However, this is only confirmation the system has no major fault, not that it is performing well. Red lights or an error on the screen are signs of a problem. Another way to check is to look at your power bill to see if you are feeding in power. RACV also offers solar health checks.
What happens if there is a blackout?
Australian standards require that grid-connected solar systems shut down in the case of a blackout. This is to prevent power flowing back into the grid and posing a risk to electrical workers who may be fixing the problem. Many newer battery systems can operate in a blackout by first “islanding” the whole system and the house from the grid.
What are solar monitoring apps?
Solar monitoring apps – developed by inverter, battery or other hardware manufacturers – allow you to view solar energy produced on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. With additional hardware they can also show home energy consumed, excess energy exported, and energy stored in your battery (if installed). They are generally available on iOS, Android and web. They help you track your energy usage and show you how you are benefiting from solar and battery storage (if installed).