We have been talking about getting solar for about 10 years and last week our electrician came to set up our new system. I'll tell you all about the system that we chose, but first a bit of background.
A bit of background
When we first started looking at solar around 2011, our electricity bill was paid by my employer, so there was no incentive or cost saving for us at the time. I did read our electricity meter and work out the size system we would ideally need. And at the time the feed-in tariffs were high, so it was tempting, but we decided to wait. I wrote some analysis at the time here, and the calculations might still be useful if you are considering solar.
We lost that electricity payment at few years later, but by then we knew we were moving to Cheslyn Rise eventually, so there still didn't seem any point investing in solar. Also the feed-in tariffs had significantly reduced by that time.
We briefly considered a full solar option for Cheslyn Rise, but at the time batteries were still very expensive. Even though we had to pay for several power poles to bring a grid-connection from our neighbour's property, it was still cheaper than a full solar system with batteries. And a grid connection is better for Pete's welding. We still intended to install a system eventually.
Then after we moved into our secondhand house in 2017, there were so many other things to set up, we didn't have time to think about solar. But we did make sure to orientate one of our bigger sheds with a north-facing roof, with the intention of getting to solar eventually.
Electricity security during blackouts
When I started researching solar options again in late 2019, I was looking for an inverter that would let us have electricity when we lost our grid connection. Most inverters cut off power to the house if the grid connection is lost, this is to protect any lines-workers as they try to clear the faults. In that case, the only way to power the house is to have a battery system.
As batteries are still relatively expensive and we only lose power occasionally (maybe once or twice a year), I just wanted the ability to run a few freezers, not the entire house. Fortunately there are now a few inverters offering the capability to draw a small amount of electricity without the batteries.
The right inverter
The one that seemed to best meet our needs was the Fronius Primo Gen24 (there are a few similar options, but this was the simplest). It allows feeds from multiple generation sources, to charge batteries or feed the house, but also a "PV point" that can be used to power a few appliances if the grid connection is lost. It was due to be approved in Australia in early 2020, so I decided to wait....
Of course, things got delayed, and it wasn't available until early 2021, and even then, it was hard to get. I found a supplier in Brisbane who was able to post the inverter to us. And I used our local electrician to complete the installation.
Strangely, the inverter was supplied without the front panel, and we are still waiting for that to turn up, but its kind of interesting to see the cooling fins behind the panel as that was one of the features of this inverter!
Fortunately our electrician has some experience with solar systems. He went through his normal supplier for the solar panels and other equipment we needed to complete the system. He installed the largest system we are allowed by our network provider. He looked after all the paperwork for, which was also a bonus.
It was difficult to get a photo of the panels, and I wasn't here for any of the installation, so I really can't tell you more about this part!
Making the most of a solar system
Monitoring - when I was first considering solar, I read our meter morning and night to get an idea of how many kWh we were using. Fortunately the new systems come with more sophisticated monitoring systems. Unfortunately our system needs a WiFi connection and we don't have that in the shed yet!
Use electricity when its sunny - our system is a bit oversized for our export requirements, so we can make the most of available electricity by running all appliances during the day. We have been using the timer functions on our washing machine and dishwasher, as well as a timer on our hot water system. This is a bit of a change from just using what we want whenever, but I think we will get used to it.
North-facing, no shade roof is best - if you are building new - try to face a roof to the north, preferably with minimum shading from trees or other buildings, this will maximise the electricity you can generate.
Future-proofing - you might not want batteries now, but when they get cheaper you will need a new inverter if you have not bought one that is battery-ready. Most of the cheap solar-deals are for basic inverters. If you can afford to invest in a better model, that is battery-ready, you will be able to connect batteries later when they get cheaper.
Use a local electrician - if you have someone local with solar experience, it can pay to use them, as these systems can have problems that require troubleshooting and repairs. This can be a nightmare if your installed travelled from a larger city to install and doesn't want to come back to help you when you have problems.
This solar system is just one of the many ways that we use solar energy on our property - from our washing line, solar electric fence energisers to a solar oven, we make use of this plentiful source of energy as much as possible.
What tips to you have for getting most out of solar energy?