Solar buyers guide - WATTever
Solar Guide
Buying Solar  
WATTever logo
Energy Saving Guide
Solar Energy Saving Guide
Solar Guide

Solar buyers guide

By far, the biggest move that most households can make to save money on energy is adding solar.
While the price of electricity has more than doubled over the last decade, the cost of solar PV panels has fallen by 80%*. So it’s no surprise that over two million households have installed solar, making Australia a world leader. To help you get it right, WATTever’s Solar buyers guide unpacks what you need to know. For information about how to get the most from your solar set up, see our Solar owners guide..

*Source: energycut.info/economy-report

Get informed and buy better solar

Whether you are investigating if solar might be right for you, how much you’ll need or want to know the questions to ask along the way, it’s worth doing your research. To make it easier we’ve put together the essential information we share with family, friends and customers when they ask us about going solar and how to get it right.
  1. Why go solar in 2019
  2. Solar explained
  3. Sizing and positioning solar
  4. How much solar do I need?
  5. What does solar cost?
  6. Solar buyers checklist
  7. Finance options for solar buyers
  8. New meters and tariffs

1. Why go solar in 2019

Lower energy costs: Adding solar will cut energy costs from the first day of install. Plus solar owners earn credits (in the form of feed-in tariffs) for excess solar sent back into the grid.

Control and independence: Take command over the costs of living. By relying less on buying electricity from the grid, solar owners reduce their exposure to varying prices and bill shock.
solar offers lower electricity costs
All-electric solar new homes are cheaper to run: The ATA Household Fuel Choice study found that new home builders in all States save between $9,000 to $18,000 over a decade by choosing to go all-electric with solar – compared to dual fuel homes without. Cutting the fixed supply charge on gas and marrying solar with efficient appliances (like heat pumps) makes the electric home with solar a winner.
all electric new home with solar cheaper to run
A bright financial investment: Offering an annual return of 15-20%, tax-free earnings on feed-in credits and an expected lifespan of over twenty years, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better investment. Solar also adds value to a property. When you choose quality products with extended warranties, then solar comes with little risk and the certainty that every sunny day means you’re saving energy and money.
solar is a bright investment

Support renewables: Installing solar makes a real difference to a household’s carbon footprint by reducing fossil fuel use. It all adds up. Now over two million Australian solar owners have changed our energy grid. In September 2019, the Eastern Australian electricity grid (NEM) was powered by 25.9%^ renewables.

^Source: opennem.org.au/energy/nem

Get future-ready: Solar sets up a home up for the future. Like adding a battery to store and use more solar energy or to charge your EV from the rooftop.
solar buyers support renewable energy

How much can solar save me?

The amount that you could save by installing solar will depend on;
  • The size of your solar system
  • Orientation, angle and any shading of the system
  • How much of the solar energy you will “self-consume”
  • The electricity plan you select
  • Likely solar savings
    Where households can add a sufficiently sized PV set up, then solar will be the single biggest action they can take to limit energy costs. In this case, for 6kW system, typical savings can range from 25% to more than 50%. Some households with bigger systems (or very frugal energy use) can achieve $0 electricity bills due to feed-in credits offsetting their night time energy use. Be aware that if you select a bigger system in order to wipe out energy bills, there is a larger outlay and a longer payback period.
    how much can solar buyers save
    Estimating your savings
    Solar buyers can get a quick estimate of potential savings by using the “Add Solar” calculator in WATTever’s electricity comparison. On the comparison results ranking, move the slider to select the kWh system size. This shows the impact of a bigger or smaller system on your projected annual energy bill based on publicly available offers. The self-consumption slider defaults to 50%. Adjust it up or down to see the potential impact of using more or less of your solar electricity.
    solar buyers compare electricity

    2. Solar explained

    How solar works

    How Solar PV Works

    1. Panels of Solar Photovoltaic (PV) cells collect sunlight and produce Direct Current (DC) electricity.
    2. An inverter “converts” the DC energy generated in the solar panels, into Alternating Current (AC 240V).
    3. The inverter connects to the homes electricity switchboard to power the home.
    4. An electricity meter on the switchboard measures the amount of energy taken from the grid (in units called kWh) along with any excess solar electricity that is pushed back out to the grid.
    5. Solar owners receive a feed-in tariff credited back to their account for any excess power sent back into the network.

    Solar panel types

    There are three main types of panel technology.
    Monocrystalline solar cells
    Monocrystalline solar cells are sliced from a single silicon crystal. Panels appear black because of the way that light reacts with the crystals. They often contain angled edges around each cell. (caption) Monocrystalline cells are more expensive because they require more energy-intensive manufacturing.
    Monocrystalline solar panels

    Monocrystalline solar panel

    Polycrystalline solar panels
    Polycrystalline solar cells are composed of small pieces of silicon crystals, melted together before being cut into wafers. The cells are less expensive to produce than Monocrystalline cell. Panels typically appear blue.
    polycrystalline solar panels

    Polycrystalline solar panel

    Thin-film solar panels
    Thin-film solar panels are made from a range of materials and are the cheapest type of solar panel to produce. These cells are up to 350 thinner than the wafers use in crystalline cells, so are a lot lighter. Thin-film solar panels come in both blue and black shades.
    thin film PV solar panels
    Thin-film solar panels for commercial solar installs
    Which cell type is best?

    The ratio of cost to power for monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells is similar. Most solar buyers could choose either – with lower-cost polycrystalline saving money upfront. The benefit of monocrystalline panels is that they offer a higher space efficiency at a higher price. So, if there’s not much space available on your roof, and you want to maximise electricity savings, then pick higher-efficiency, monocrystalline solar panels can help.

    Installers typically select Thin Film panels for installations on large, commercial roofs that won’t handle the added weight of crystalline cells. If you have a lot more room to install panels, some sites can support the lower efficiencies of thin-film panels.

    which pv panel is best for solar buyers
    Two more sides of solar
    Bifacial solar panels: This technology captures sunlight from the front and back. As a result, they generate more electricity than comparably sized, traditional solar panels. Many bifacial solar panels have a transparent back sheet so that sunlight can penetrate through by reflecting off the ground surface and back onto the solar cells on the rear of the panel. Half-cut solar cells: are monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar cells cut in half using a laser cutter. By cutting the solar cells in half, solar panels can experience marginal gains in efficiency and durability.
    bifacial solar panels
    Bifacial panels absorb light from the front and rear.

    3. Solar sizing and positioning

    Making sense of system sizing
    Why is the inverter capacity a different size to the panel system? Panels typically generate around 80% of their rated capacity. So a system with a nominal rating of 6kW of panels made up of 18 panels x 325W capacity, will generate up to 4.8kW at peak output. A 5kW inverter would comfortably handle the maximum output generation of this PV system. There’s no value in extra inverter capacity unless you want to add more panels in the future.
    system sizes for solar buyers
    Location, location: Positioning solar

    Ideally, solar panels should face north to make the most of the sun. They should be angled between 30 to 40 degrees to capture maximum light, varying by latitude. Panels may need to be tilted in a frame depending on whether the roof is sloping or flat. West-facing panels are an option to generate energy later in the day when usage can be high. This especially helps power air conditioning on long summer afternoons.

    positioning solar panels
    Stay out of the shadows
    Avoid placing panels places where there is regular shading. Shading on just one panel can result in reduced output for a series of connected panels (wired in a group called a ‘string’). Where shade is an issue, a technology called Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPP Tracking) in invertors helps to limit losses associated with partial shading and panel output mismatches. Or you could consider a system with microinverters to get around the choking effect of shading on strings of panels. Microinverters allow every panel in solar setup to operate independently, so one panel being in the shade doesn’t compromise the overall systems energy output.
    solar buyers should ensure panels are not shaded

    4. How much solar do I need?

    First up, you’ll want to understand how much energy you are using today. That’s because you’ll get the biggest benefit from ‘self-consumption’. It’s best when the system is sized to supply the energy you use during the day with some potential for you to try to shift more energy use into the solar window (hello timers on appliances, air conditioners and more).

    By using the energy from your solar and sidestepping the cost of buying more expensive electricity from the grid, you stand to make a better return. While any excess solar will provide you with feed-in credits, these aren’t nearly as valuable as self-consumption.

    how much solar do solar buyers need

    Also, it can be worthwhile thinking about how you might use electricity differently down the track. For example, you may be considering purchasing a battery or even an EV in the next couple of years. Ask your system designer to show you what a future-ready system would involve. 

    solar buyers might consider PV requirements for EVs
    Here’s a guide to the average generation for different systems sizes along with how much room you’ll need.
    Solar PV size roof space and daily kWh generation
    System SizeNumber of panelsRoof area required (m2)Average Daily generation*Summer Daily generation*Winter Daily generation*
    2.5kW8-1212 – 1710kWh14kWh4.5kWh
    5 kW15-2026 – 3420kWh29kWh9kWh
    7 kW21-2836 – 4828kWh40kWh12kWh
    10 kW30-4051 – 6840kWh58kWh18kWh

    5. What does solar cost?

    There are lots of variables that influence the cost of buying and installing solar including;
    • government incentives and support schemes such as the Federal STC subsidy or State-based schemes – like Victoria’s Solar Homes,
    • panel quality, type and number
    • inverter quality, type and size
    • roof fixing frames and other systems
    • installation costs relating to height and accessibility along with the kind of roof; whether tiled, metal or concrete
    • any after-sales service agreements
    As a consequence, prices can vary widely for a system of the same size. Add a battery, and costs change again because this will require a compatible inverter, plus additional installation.

    Here’s a guide on the average system costs courtesy of Solarchoice who track thousands of solar installs. The bottom line is, it’s well worth comparing offers and shopping around.

    Average solar panel costs by city & system size (October 2019)

     3kW5kW6kW7kW10kW
    All$4,040$5,180$5,730$7,220$9,810
    Adelaide, SA$3,160$3,970$4,170$5,360$8,010
    Brisbane, QLD$3,830$5,300$5,730$7,050$10,140
    Canberra, ACT$4,010$4,780$5,220$6,700$8,650
    Darwin, NT$7,360$9,410$9,790$11,240$12,050
    Hobart, TAS$4,040$5,640$6,840$7,990$11,660
    Melbourne, VIC$3,950$4,960$5,830$7,610$10,540
    Sydney, NSW$3,420$4,280$4,720$6,430$8,350
    Perth, WA$2,550$3,070$3,510$5,390$9,100

    Courtesy of solarchoice.net.au

    It pays to compare
    Across Australia, there are hundreds of solar retailers and installers offering an array of products from budget to premium equipment. By doing your research and asking the essential questions – see checklist below – you can find the right system and installer for you. Ultimately, you get what you pay for. Deals with prices that seem ‘too good to be true’ are likely to be just that. Will a 7kW system with a headline price of $3,999* with a bunch of disclaimers go the distance? How likely will that be the ‘final’ price when installed. Is it possible for this company to respond if there’s a problem? Equally, it’s possible to pay too much. An experienced solar broker, like Solarchoice.net.au, can assist. They arrange for local installers to provide solar buyers with estimates for comparison to help find the right PV system.
    Compare to find the cheapest plan for battery storage

    6. Solar buyers checklist

    Here are the questions you’ll want to consider when you get closer to buying.

    Ask about your system

    ퟿ What size system do you recommend? How much electricity will it generate each day (summer/winter)? Is there a size limit to how much solar I can install on my property?
    ퟿ How much will it save on my bills based on my current electricity usage?
    ퟿ What’s the forecast payback period?
    ퟿ Can I add more panels or a battery down the track? What if I wanted to charge an EV?
    ퟿ Get a written quote with a breakdown of price to install on your property. Site access, number of storeys, roof type and a bunch of factors will impact the final cost. Make sure this includes all available rebates, and the installer will complete the rebate and regulatory paperwork on your behalf.

    Check out the retailer/installer

    ퟿ Is the solar retailer accredited? Industry schemes such the CEC Approved Solar Retailers provide a 5-year system warranty and agree to a Code of Conduct
    ퟿ Ask how long they have been in business? Will they be around in 2 years to fix a problem?
    ퟿ Is the solar installer accredited? Industry schemes such as the CEC Accredited Installers undertake ongoing professional development and training plus commit to a Code of Conduct.
    ퟿ Read online reviews of installers and request local references.

    Check out the products

    ퟿ Check online reviews of the recommended system components, including the specified panels and inverter.
    ퟿ Review the warranty on offer and look for five years inverters and ten years on panels. Performance warranties are very hard to claim on because it’s not easy for homeowners to validate the performance of an individual panel.
    ퟿ Find out if the panel and inverter makers have an Australian office? A local office could assist you in making a warranty or service claim in the future.

    Contract

    ퟿ Check the fine print in the contact, particularly around the warranty and service offerings.

    After installation

    ퟿ Your electricity switchboard should have a PV label added to identify that your home as a solar energy source (for safety reasons).
    ퟿ Check you are receiving a feed-in credit on your first bill. While uncommon, if the installer hasn’t provided the paperwork to the network, then customers can miss out on their solar feed-in tariffs as a result.

    7. Finance options for solar buyers

    When it comes to paying for your new system, solar buyers have a range of options.
    Sweet schemes
    Some may be eligible for State Government schemes – such as Solar Homes Victoria that include interest-free loans and additional incentives.
    sweet incentives for solar buyers
    Buy or Borrow
    Purchasing outright is a choice for many solar buyers but finance is also widely available. Bear in mind; if you decide to finance solar, you’ll ultimately pay more to borrow funds. Commercial interest-free loans will impact the cost or value of what you’re buying.
    Buy outright or borrow when buying solar
    Put it on your home loan
    If you’re buying, renovating or building, then adding solar to the home loan could offer a lower cost option. With interest rates down, and solar providing a 15-20% annual ROI, in around five years, the savings have paid for the systems. Along the way, you could make extra repayments afforded by savings from lower energy bills, using solar to help chip away at the mortgage.
    Put solar on the home loan

    8. New meters and tariffs

    Hello smart meter

    A meter upgrade may be required when you install solar. That’s because, if you have an accumulation meter, it can only keep track of total electricity use. An interval or smart meter, which is bi-directional will measure the amount of electricity imported from the grid every 30 minutes plus any electricity you export back into the grid.
    If you opt for a smart meter, these have the advantage of being read remotely avoiding missed meter reads and estimated bills. Also, some retailers share the smart meter’s data with customers via apps. This information can assist you to monitor your energy use.

    Smart meter
    Tariff shift
    Customers installing solar will usually be required to move to a Time of Use (ToU) tariff, without the option of anytime rates. If this a requirement, don’t panic. Solar will offset much of the higher daytime peak rates. You’ll then have access to lower cost shoulder and off-peak electricity rates.
    Time shift laundry appliances to save on energy

    To discover how to get the most from your new solar – including finding the best electricity deal – head to the Owners Guide to Solar.

    Switch with WATTever Get a $25e Gift Card
    HOW IT WORKS
    1. Use the Switch and Sign Up links on WATTever.com.au and sign up to a partner electricity retailer (Dodo Power & Gas, Energy Locals or ReAmped Energy) using the same email address.
    2. Receive a BONUS $25 Prezzee e-gift card via email from WATTever within 28 days from verified switch.
    3. Hang on to the first bill from your new retailer as proof of a switch, as we’ll request a copy to verify a completed switch.
    4. If you withdraw from a retailer during the ‘cooling off’ period you will be ineligible for the gift card.
    5. Limited time only. WATTever reserves the right to vary or withdraw this promotional offer at any time. See terms and conditions.