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LIFESTYLE

A guide to solar power in Australia

Not so long ago, rooftop solar panels were a novel sight in suburban Australia. Although solar hot water units enjoyed a surge of popularity in the 1970s, powering an entire household from the sun seemed unthinkable — until recently.

Today, Australia has the highest uptake of household solar power systems in the world, as homeowners reap the benefit of clean, green energy while slashing their electricity bills.

Despite the impact of COVID-19, the sale of household solar units surged by 40 per cent between 2019 and 2020, resulting in long wait times for consumers in some capital cities. And although 21 per cent of all houses in Australia have already installed photovoltaic (PV) panels, industry experts believe that demand will continue to grow with the advent of more advanced battery systems and a shift towards electric cars.

“As more and more homes purchase electric cars, they will want power systems at home capable of charging them and powering the entire household,” according to the sustainable power company Energy Matters.

While all of this may sound pretty rosy, choosing the right solar system and storage solution for your home is not easy. The sheer range of product options are mind-boggling. Plus, each state and territory has its own subsidies and incentives, as well as unique ‘feed-in’ programs that allow you to sell any excess power back to your electricity provider.

What will it cost? Well, prices are coming down. PV systems (panels and inverter only) start at around $3,500 — but solar power remains a long-term investment for most homeowners, so it’s best to do plenty of research before you buy.

Do a power audit

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all household solar system. Before delving into the latest systems, battery technology and feed-in options, consider what you really need.

Are you looking for cheap hot water? Or are you hoping to power an entire household, including heating and cooling?

Those wishing to become fully self-sufficient may need to re-configure their property by replacing gas-powered heaters, cookers and other equipment with electric ones.

Do you want to sell any excess power back to the grid? If so, you need to install rechargeable solar batteries. But budget wisely — good quality lithium-ion batteries are pretty pricey.

Which solar panel is best?

Photovoltaic panels are available in a huge variety of wattages and power levels, with new brands regularly appearing on the market. Your installer will be able to take you through the options and find the one most suitable for your roof.

Much will depend on the solar values of the roof. Is it fully exposed to sunlight or partly in shadow? Is it north facing? According to Energy Matters, solar modules should be positioned so that the glass face is 90 degrees to the sun most days in order for the solar array to reach maximum output. “As an example, in Sydney this angle would be approximately 30-40 degrees to the horizontal,” the company says.

What is an inverter?

Inverters are the most mysterious and yet essential part of a household solar power system. In simple terms, the inverter converts the direct current (DC) power from your solar panels into the alternating current (AC) required by your domestic appliances.

Three types of inverters are available in Australia: string inverters, micro inverters and hybrid inverters. String inverters are the most affordable, most common type on the market but are better suited to roofs that enjoy full sun. Micro inverters are ideal if you have intermittent shading on your roof, while hybrid inverters combine the functions of a string inverter and a battery inverter into a single unit. “A solar inverter is an integral part of a system,” according to Energy Matters. “But if your solar inverter is of poor quality, overall system performance can be greatly impacted.”

Ensure your solar system is covered

If you’ve taken a shine to the idea of solar panels at home — we have good news! Suncorp Home Insurance will cover the cost of repairing or replacing them if they’re damaged by an insured event, like storm or fire. Just make sure the cost of doing so is reflected in your sum insured.

 

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Insurance is issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as Suncorp Insurance. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement before making a decision about this insurance. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.

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