Choosing solar panels

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Solar power has been on our to-do list for a while now. There are two main types of solar power systems:

  • Solar hot water. This uses the sun to heat water directly, and is most commonly installed on new houses. (We decided to get a super-efficient gas water heater instead.)
  • Solar power (photovoltaic, PV). This uses the sun to produce power, which is either used in the house, or fed back into the grid.

At the beginning of 2010, everything changed regarding solar panels, at least for those of us in NSW. Fomerly, you would get paid for any energy you produced in excess of your own usage. In practice, unless you had a big set of solar panels, this meant you got back nothing (although your bills would be lower). In this model, it could take upwards of 15 years to pay back a system; not a good investment.

Now, there is a “gross feed in tarrif”, which means you get paid for all the power produced. Better yet, you get paid at 60c/KWh, in contrast to the normal energy cost of approx. 15-20c/KWh. Based on the maths, it typically means it takes only 6 years to pay back the solar panels. With an expected life of 15-25 years, the rest is profit.

(I’ll cover how the figures stack up in greater detail in a later post.)

As usual, we shopped around, and obtained quotes from 3-4 providers. Interestingly, they were all offering similar solutions, for roughly comparable prices.

For us, the limiting factor is space. Ideally, you want a west-facing north-facing roof, with no obstructing trees. Our side roof at the front more-or-less meets this requirement, although there is some shading from next-door’s trees.

This is what we chose to install:

  • 8 x 205W Suntech solar panels (total capacity = 1.6kW)
  • Sunny Boy 1700 inverter
  • (expected to cover roughly 50% of our energy usage)

These are the costs:

  • Total system cost = $14,000
  • Solar credits from the Government = -$4,740
  • Final cost = $9,260
  • Expected energy produced per year = $1,600/year
  • Years to payback = 6 years

In the end, we went with Green Solar Group. Their prices were pretty much the same as everyone else, but we liked several things:

  • they cover some (hopefully all) of the cost of getting a new energy meter in
  • they provide a free wireless energy meter (which is very handy)
  • we only have to pay the net cost, and they handle getting the rebate back from the government
  • they are very organised and professional, from beginning to end of the process

This has been an interesting process, and it’s clear that it’s all very new for everyone, including Energy Australia. It’s going to take a number of months to fully understand how it all works, so I’ll try to write some summary posts when the details become clear, as well as charting the process step-by-step.

Next post: installing the panels.

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3 thoughts on “Choosing solar panels

    Marc said:
    April 12, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Why west facing? Wouldn’t North have been better?

      James responded:
      April 12, 2010 at 11:39 am

      You are, of course, right. Correcting the post now (our roof faces NNW).

    Installing our solar panels « Lewisham House said:
    July 13, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    […] of posts, this is the next in a series of entries on our new solar panels, following on from our initial decision. Installing the "rails" that the solar panels are bolted on […]

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