There's never been a better time to install solar – energy prices are going up, solar panel prices are coming down and the technology is as good as it's ever been.
But if you're feeling overwhelmed by all the technical information out there, you're not alone. It's hard to know where to begin.
We explain the four steps to getting solar, to help you decide if it's right for you.
Is solar worth it?
For most households, solar is worth the upfront cost.
"Households paying hundreds of dollars per quarter for electricity will definitely benefit from looking into solar. So will households with low electricity consumption, though their payback time might be a bit longer," says Chris Barnes, CHOICE's solar expert.
How much does solar cost?
It's cheaper than ever to install solar – prices have fallen by around 58% in the last six years. A 6.6kW solar system (which is the typical size requested currently) can cost you around $5200-$9600 in a capital city, depending on your choice of components.
How large a system you need – and therefore how much it'll cost – depends on a number of factors. Our article on sizing your solar panel system can help you figure out what you'll need.
How long do solar panels take to pay for themselves?
Working out your payback times is complicated and unfortunately there's no one-size-fits-all calculator.
A 6.6kW solar system can take between three and five years to pay for itself, depending on where you live and your energy use.
Estimate my solar system
Find out how much a solar system might cost you and what you'll save
Solar will generally work anywhere in Australia, but it will work better under certain conditions. You'll need to consider:
- Location: Southern regions like Hobart will receive less sunlight than northern areas like Darwin.
- Roof: Check which direction your roof faces. North-facing panels catch the most sunlight, but even south-facing panels can still produce about 80% of their rated power.
- Shade: Make sure there are no trees, power lines or other structures shading your roof.
- Council: Find out what approvals you'll need from your local council.
Renters and apartment dwellers might assume that solar isn't an option for them – but it is possible to get on board with some lateral thinking.
Solar PV systems seem complex, but there are just two main components you need to worry about: the panels and the inverter. You can also add a battery to store any surplus energy.
How many panels you need depends on your energy use. A typical home uses 20kWh per day, which equates to a 5kW system (though most people now opt for a bigger system, as panels are relatively cheap and powerful, and any excess electricity generated helps pay off the system through your feed-in tariff). If you're getting a quote, make sure to look at the price of the whole system and installation, not just the panels.
Our solar panel reviews reveal that most brands perform around the same, so you can feel confident in most of the panels we've tested. The main difference is price.
"However, panel price alone isn't an indicator that one panel will be better than another. More expensive panels may work better in the long term, but with cheaper panels you might be able to put more on," says Chris.
You need to consider warranty too. Solar panels generally have two warranties – one for the panels themselves, and another for the panels' performance. Make sure you're clear on which warranty a retailer is talking about. A 25-year warranty sounds great, but if it's only for the performance you could be left in the lurch if the panels themselves are faulty.
When the sun hits a solar panel, the panel turns the energy into direct current (DC) electricity; the electricity from your power points is alternating current (AC) electricity. An inverter converts the DC to AC so you can use that energy to power your house.
"The inverter is the most complex part and the part most prone to failure," says Chris. "It's important to know what you're getting."
See our solar inverter buying guide to help you decide what's best for your home.
For most homes, batteries don't make complete economic sense yet – they're expensive and have long payback times. Keep an eye on the market, though, as battery prices are falling and electricity costs are rising, so they could soon be a good option.
If you think you might install a battery in the future, you should ensure that your solar PV system is battery-ready.
"If you're thinking of getting a battery, you should look at upsizing your solar PV system by at least 1–2kW, depending on your needs," says Chris. "And find a good installer who can analyse your needs and advise you properly."
If you're interested in batteries, our battery storage buying guide has all the information you'll need.
"Finding a good installer is a really important part of the process; it shouldn't be underestimated," says Chris.
"Solar PV systems are a complicated bit of technology and most people don't understand how they work – so you need to make sure you can trust your installer."
If you're tempted to DIY, think long and hard about it. There's a lot of electrical work required so you need to be a licensed electrician (or at least have one inspect the work afterwards), and you won't be eligible for some rebates if you're not an accredited solar installer. "Overall, it's beyond most people to DIY," says Chris.
To find a good installer, look for:
- CEC (Clean Energy Council)-accredited designer, installer and components
- CEC Approved Solar Retailers
- Companies that have been in business more than five years
- Companies with sales and technical support in Australia