Eight simple lessons to learn the basics of solar power

Solar panels on a grey roof


Posted November 06, 2017

If you’re thinking about installing solar panels to save money and do your bit for the environment but don’t know where to start, we’ve put together this Solar Power 101 to teach you the basics.

The basics of solar power

How solar power works

Solar panel systems consist of two important elements – the panels and the inverter.

Photovoltaic cells in solar panels convert sunlight to direct current (DC) electricity. This is then converted to alternating current (AC) electricity by an inverter. If the solar power system produces more energy than the home uses, it can either be fed back to the electricity grid or be stored for your personal use later using a home battery.

What happens when electricity is fed back to the grid?

You’ll receive a feed-in tariff which will then be deducted from your energy bill. In Victoria, the minimum feed-in tariff is 11.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (as of 1 July, 2017).

How to store excess electricity produced by solar

Excess power can be stored using home batteries, which come in a range of sizes and prices. The cost of batteries has fallen significantly over the past few years, making them a viable option for many households.

What to consider when installing a solar power system

Firstly, it’s important to think about why you want to install solar power at home. Is it to save money on energy bills? Perhaps you want to reduce your carbon footprint. If you think you will make thousands of dollars by feeding power back to the grid, you might want to do some further research.

Next, consider how much you want to spend and the quality of the system you want to install. Seek recommendations for suppliers.

Finally, have a clear understanding of the costs to install, replace and maintain the system.

The cost of installing solar power

Not all solar power systems are the same. Like any product, they range in quality, size and price and can cost (including installation) from $5000 to more than $10,000. It’s important to do your research and seek quotes to find the right system to suit your needs.

Installing solar panels on a pre-existing home

Solar power can be installed by simply connecting the new system to the existing switchboard and electricity meter. Talk to your installer for more information.

Where solar power systems are difficult to install

Unfortunately, not all houses allow for simple solar installations. Houses with very steeply pitched roofs or those with specialty materials such as slate tiles can require substantial work and costs. It’s also currently challenging to install solar on apartment blocks due to the nature of body corporates and difficulty dividing feed-in tariffs and bills, but this is something that will most likely change in the future.

The lifespan of a solar power system

The quality of the system you install will determine how long it lasts, but generally speaking the panels should last around 20 years. Different components, such as the inverter and batteries, come with different warranties, so make sure you understand these before choosing a system. Check that your system comes with both a defect warranty and a performance warranty.