What is the grid?
The grid refers to the network that transports power from generators (coal plants, solar and wind farms, hydro projects, etc), through the high-voltage transmission network (HV powerlines), then the low-voltage distribution network (street power poles) and to consumers (homes and businesses).
Can I disconnect from the grid?
While it is possible to go completely off-grid, it is not the best solution for most homes. In periods of cloudy or rainy days, it is possible to deplete your energy supplies and you may find that you need to reconnect to the grid to sustain power to your home. Alternatively, you would need to invest in a very large solar-and-battery system that would be under-utilised most of the time, producing significantly lower savings than what it would cost to install.
How does battery storage work?
Batteries allow you to store excess electricity generated when the sun is shining and use it at other times when you need it. Because the value of excess electricity that you sell back to the power grid (feed-in tariff) is generally lower than what you are charged when you consume electricity, it is more efficient to store your own energy for later use.
Do I need a battery?
Batteries provide several benefits, mainly around maximising the amount of solar power that can be used in the home, and most can provide protection from blackouts. Whether or not these benefits are worth the cost of battery installation is a case-by-case question for households. The price of batteries is likely to come down as they become more common, but for now, most households install solar panels without a battery.
Will my battery cover me in a blackout?
Many home batteries have blackout protection, but not all. In the case of a blackout, power to the home will be cut for around 30 seconds while the system recognises the blackout and switches to blackout mode. Back-up systems fall broadly into two categories:
- Whole-of-home backup: where everything in the house can be powered in a backup. The risk is that this will drain the battery quickly if the household continues to use large loads like air-conditioners.
- Essential-load backup: when installing the battery, the electrician can isolate only certain circuits in the home to be protected in the blackout, to ensure things such as lighting and fridges can keep operating. This means the battery powers only these loads in a blackout, so as to maintain charge for much longer.
How long could a battery power my home?
Battery power varies depending on the type of unit and the amount of power you expect to draw from it. As a guide, a typical $10,000 battery being sold today will hold about 50 to 75 per cent of an average home’s daily electricity usage.
Maintenance and troubleshooting
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).