NewsThe Big Solar Question: What to do Next?

The Big Solar Question: What to do Next?

One of the most winning and straightforward offers I ever enjoyed was installing solar panels on my roof from my energy company.

It was a small array by today’s terms, but they did all the work and, apart from a bung inverter which later needed replacing, it’s delivered non-stop savings to my power bill.

These used to be very substantial thanks to the once-generous government-backed Feed-In Tariff but over time reductions to this bonus saw the dollars drop.

I’ve never worked it out but given the upfront cost a decade ago of a tad over $2,000, and it was well worth the initial investment.

Like many people (and there are 2.6 million homes with solar in Australia, the highest uptake globally), I’m wondering what to do next with solar.

Do I need to install newer and extra-efficient panels on perhaps other parts of the roof where they can move and track the sun as it moves through the sky? Is it time to consider battery storage and if so, what kind and at what cost?

There are many questions as it’s a many-faceted market. The good news is that panels and hardware have become cheaper over time. The more challenging questions are, what should you pay, and who are you going to trust?

Just looking online there’s a range of 6.6kW systems fully installed which vary in headline cost between $2,800 and $4,290. Even if you are not a home-owner, there are various innovative ideas to benefit from other solar setups and depending on where you live government incentives.

It’ll take a little research, but given the returns to you and the planet, the effort and cost are considered worthwhile for those prepared to do the work.

A good starting point is the federal government’s site which explains some of your options and gives useful links.

One of the first questions is how long it takes for the system to pay back its upfront costs? The consensus seems to be 3-5 years for solar alone and 6+ years if you include battery storage.

A big catch is that there are many ‘cheapie’ offers out there and some inexperienced or downright shonky installers. Unlike buying a car, you probably do not have the technical knowledge to tell the difference, so use accredited providers. They might cost more but could save you headaches and money galore.

Then there are panels, their positions, inverters (and there are several types), and batteries to consider. The consumer group CHOICE has checked out the options here and warn the payback time can exceed the warranty period, usually ten years.

They report on an independent battery trial which found while some batteries met their claims, others failed. Sometimes the service level of the installation and support businesses left something to be desired.

Thankfully there is generally no hurry with this one. You may come upon an enticing offer, as I did ten years ago, but while it’s boring to say it - do your homework first. Like a bus, there always be another offer coming long and perhaps a better and cheaper technology.

I’m going to hold on battery storage for the duration but will consider replacing the existing panels with a more robust array. Australia is the world leader, after all.


Any information is general advice, it does not take into account your individual circumstances, objectives, financial situation or needs.

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Anonymous from VIC commented:

Be aware that: Feed-in rates are treated totally differently to electricity selling prices and tariffs. Consumers have to pay anything like up to four times more to buy in electricity than to sell it to the grid, even though the energy provider can then on-sell your electricity to your neighbours at the full rate. Any change made to an existing solar PV installation will provide an opportunity to change the feed-in deal. There will always be differential pricing for day versus night because the energy providers will need to meet the evening peak without help from solar input and so dimension the network accordingly. The only way round this will be to install private (or grid) batteries. Grid batteries will need to be big. There are many battery technologies out there. Some have limited life and some are hard to recycle at end of life. V2G (vehicle to grid) systems are emerging now. These require direct connection of the house inverter into the car battery and so may not be available with non-rapid charge vehicles (such as PHEV?) unless standards are mandated. The present grid will not cope with the increased demand of widespread electric vehicle charging. Being 100% renewable does not mean being free of non-renewable energy sources. It just means that the day to day average is 100% renewable. The evening peak cannot be solar-powered but needs to be met. Graeme (Melbourne) 

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