Beginner’s guide to going solar

installing solar panels

This post was produced in partnership with A1 Battery Pro.

Have you thought about going solar? Considering the relentless sun we have been enjoying this year, it sure seem like a good idea. But the cost! And how do you choose which company to go with? Are solar panels reliable? Is my roof suitable? There are so many questions…

Today’s post is a back-to-basics guide to installing solar panels. I can’t give you all the answers on solar power for your home, as there are many variables, but with the help of Paul Heel, director of solar-installer A1 Battery Pro, I hope I can answer at least some of your questions.

What are the different kinds of solar energy systems?

There are three main solar systems commonly used in Australia:

Grid connect: This system has no storage. The solar panels on your roof cover your energy requirements first, then feed the excess power back to the grid. At night, your power comes from the mains, the cost of which is offset or negated by the power you have provided to the grid.

Stand-alone: You are off the grid, man! Solar panels feed power to a bank of batteries and an inverter makes the energy useable in your home. You can always see how much power you have in the batteries, and can use a generator as back-up.

Grid hybrid, also known as battery backup: With this system, there is a battery bank where excess power can be stored for future use. Once the batteries are fully recharged, any surplus power produced at any given time is channelled back into the grid.

Do solar panels only work on sunny days?

Paul says, “Thankfully no. Solar panels will still function and generate power even in overcast weather, albeit at a reduced capacity.”

Here in Oz, we have more solar radiation per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. That burning ball of gas provides 10,000 times the energy Aussies currently consume.

Is my home suitable?

In a perfect world, your roof will be pitched (sloping) and north facing with no shade from trees or other buildings. North-east and north-west facing are okay, but due east and west-facing roofs will generate around 15% less energy. Flat roofs can utilise a mount to get the pitch right.

Shade from trees and buildings can be a problem: just like tomatoes,  solar panels need to get at least six hours of sunlight a day.

What your roof is made from is another factor: due to the health risk, solar panels cannot be installed on asbestos roofs.

How much does it cost to install solar?

Aha, the million-dollar question. This is where all the variables come in. First, it depends on what size system you get – 1.4kW, 3.99, 5kW, 8.4kW, the list goes on. Then it depends on the quality of the components you get; when buying a solar system, you’re buying the panels, an inverter, which adjusts the energy coming into your home to AC, the mounting system or rails, and batteries (unless you stick with grid connect). And finally, you have the labour costs, which will change depending on your installer.

Instead of  looking at how much your system will cost, find out how long it will take for you to make your money back. We looked into installing solar for my husband’s business, for example, and the return-on-investment was five years. When you’re gathering quotes for solar power, you’ll need to know how much energy you’re currently using and what it costs you, this information is available on your bills. Gather a whole year’s worth, and  remember to ask for a conservative estimate.

When I asked Paul how long it takes to break even, he gave this example: “With a 5kW system, the average customer can expect annual savings of about $1533.80. The cost of installing the 5kw system is approximately $10 753. If we divide annual savings by the cost of system, it will take about 7 years to repay the cost of purchase, assuming that electricity use stays the same.”

Remember, the initial investment will depend on the size and quality of your system, and the annual savings will depend on your energy usage and price.

When you’re calculating your solar investment, remember that your house insurance will rise slightly, so get a quote for that and factor it into your decision.

Breaking even

Assuming, in the example above, the lifespan of the panels is 25 years and fantastising that energy costs are going to stay the same, after you’ve paid off your solar system you’re still going to be saving $1533 per year for 18 years. That’s more than $27,000 potential savings over the lifetime of your solar power system.

What are the ongoing costs of solar?

Solar panels require minimal maintenance, but they do need to be cleaned occasionally to remove any grime and ensure they are working their best. Paul recommends cleaning them at least once or twice a year, which may be a job you have to outsource.

Mechanical maintenance needs to be carried out at some point. Depending on the products you buy this could be after seven years or as early as two, so be sure to ask. This service should be done by a Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited installer. When you’re getting quotes for installing solar panels, ask about the ongoing service and costs of maintenance.

Remind me of the benefits of solar power?

Well… Aside from producing clean, renewable, silent and emission-free energy, solar power reduces your reliance on energy companies and insures your family against price rises of gas and coal-based energy. This fossil-fuel based energy draws on a dwindling supply of ancient matter, the burning of which is completely screwing up our planet’s thermostat. That is all.

Got any more questions about solar?

This post was written in partnership with A1 Battery Pro, a family-owned and operated installer of solar power systems and batteries.  Please support businesses that support Down To Earth Mother (what’s that all about?)

photo credit: Jeannette E. Spaghetti via photopin cc


  1. Cindy Hoffman says

    I have been thinking of going solar but I have been receiving different quotations for a similar plan which makes me a little skeptic. I am now still researching. don’t know if the company that quoted a smaller package is crappy, but I guess i will find out with time. Thanks for sharing these tips, at least it helped brighten me up.

    Cindy Hoffman recently posted..Why Every Industrial Business Should Have the Right Thermal Professional on Speed DialMy Profile

  2. DBM Solar says

    When it comes to solar power, every house is suitable as long as your house can be reached by sunlight. Wondering what benefit can solar power gives, you’ll be amazed as it lowers your electricity bills. Also you can depend on solar powered technology when power shortage comes. There are so much benefits a solar power can give you. Just install and be guided by this blog and you won’t ave any problem at all.
    DBM Solar recently posted..Fossil Fuels – Is Coal Fuel Good or Bad?My Profile

  3. Micah Suarez says

    In terms of services, I believe all solar panels follow a standard pattern. However as per pricing, Prices will be really high at first. but consider thinking it’s a long-term investment. It’s actually frugal :)

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