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SolarQuotes Founder Finn Peacock recently caught up with ABC Radio Nightlife’s Philip Clark to chat at lengthy about home solar power and batteries; and answered questions from callers.
You can listen in to what was discussed using the player below, or read on for a summary of some of the topics covered.
The discussion kicked off with Philip commenting on solar uptake in Australia hitting 3 million systems recently. Finn reminisced on when he started in the solar energy industry, there were just a thousand grid connected systems across Australia.
Another recent significant milestone was in South Australia, where rooftop solar systems supplied 95% of the state’s electricity demand on November 21 – albeit for a short period. But Finn says such events will become more common.
Last year, solar energy accounted for around 11 – 12% of electricity generated in Australia.
Philip commented the popularity of solar in Australia is changing the economics of installing panels in terms of feed-in tariffs, that were previously very high. Finn sees feed-in tariffs continuing to remain low, but rooftop PV systems are so cheap now that even in Western Australia where the feed in tariff rate is just 3c, solar system payback in Perth is around just 5 years.
Finn addresses confusion concerning reports solar owners would be charged to export surplus solar electricity during periods when the grid is saturated from 2025.
“You’re not getting fined for putting it into the grid, just getting less”.
The other point that hasn’t been widely reported is hand-in-hand with these changes, solar owners will be paid more for exporting electricity when the grid needs it.
“I’ve run the numbers and I’m fairly confident savvy solar owners, if they change how they use their energy and have a smart solar system, should be able to come out ahead.”
Philip asks Finn what a basic solar system costs in Australia (which would be 6.6kW). Finn says around a dollar a watt – or a thousand dollars a kilowatt – for a good quality system. A system of this size would get the average family’s power bill down to zero over a year.
Simple payback can be anywhere from 2.5 – 5 years, depending on electricity consumption profile and location. To estimate payback on a system, try the SolarQuotes solar calculator.
Finn’s asked about the expected life of a solar system. He notes solar panels purchased today come with between a 10 – 25 year product warranty.
“Good modern solar panels should last 25 – 30 years”
A caller said prices of Australian-made solar panels were double that of Chinese panels and too expensive. He won’t go solar as he refuses to buy Chinese products. It was pointed out to him the phone he was calling in on likely had Chinese components.
But on the topic of Chinese solar panels – and as with everything – Finn said some were definitely better than others. You can check out SolarQuotes-approved brands of panels and inverters here.
Finn was asked how difficult it is to retrofit a home battery to a 10-year-old solar system.
“It’s actually relatively easy. Every solar system ever installed in Australia can take a battery as a retrofit. There’s a technique called AC coupling; where you – well, it’s a bit more complicated than this – essentially get two wires; you connect them into your switchboard,  and from the battery system – and you’re good to go.”
Another caller asks if a solar power system is covered by household insurance policies.
“Yes, check with your household insurer. But most household insurers, if you tell them about your solar panels, will ensure them and that’s a really good idea.”
The most common damage to occur to systems is from large hailstones, such as those experienced in parts of South-East Queensland in late October last year.
A Queensland caller is on a previous high-paying feed in tariff and has a 1.6kW system. Upgrading that system would mean losing the premium rate.
Finn advises having a solar installer run the numbers on what upgrading to a larger system under the current lower feed-in tariff rate will have as it will vary household to household based on how they consume energy.
Philip reveals he is yet to install panels on his home’s roof.
“My roof’s 20 years old, what should you do in that situation?”
Finn says if Philip’s roof is going to need replacing in the near future, to do that first as it’s a real pain to pull panels off a roof and then reinstall them. That pain includes forking out for the cost of doing so.
A caller asks Finn about optimum solar panel direction/orientation; i.e., which way they should be facing for the best results.
“The perfect direction to point your panels in Australia, to get the most energy through the year, is north. But lots of people face them east and lots of people face them west. East or west facing panels, you’ll lose about 15% of your annual energy yield, so that’s no biggie. But the great thing about east and west facing panels is you’ll get more energy in the early morning (east) and the late afternoon (west) – and that’s when you generally tend to use your electricity.”
Finn points out self-consumed solar electricity is the most valuable energy when you consider feed-in tariffs are significantly less than retail consumption rates.
“East and west facing panels can make a lot of sense despite the 15% hit.”
Finn says given the low cost of solar these days, even panels on a south facing roof can make financial sense.
Philip asks Finn how much space a 6.6kW system occupies.
“Most houses will get 8 – 10kW on the roof – not using the south facing roof – in my experience”.
A caller asks what happens with solar panels once their service life is over. Finn says in the last year or so more solar panel recycling plants have been popping up.
“Solar panel recycling has taken too long, but we’re just starting to get a handle on it now.”
An industry-led nationwide scheme design for properly dealing with solar panel waste is to be finalised by June next year. Recycling aside, as for how much space a bunch of solar panels stripped of their valuable aluminium frames take up in landfill – not much.
While panels may last 25 years, solar inverters do not, comments a caller. And he’s correct.
“The inverter is the box of power electronics that sits on the wall. Generally these days they are warranted for 10 years. With luck, they’ll last about 15,” says Finn. “If you’re doing a 25-year assessment of the savings, you should factor in replacing the inverter.”
The cost of a good quality inverter is around $1,500. You can compare inverter specifications and estimated pricing using our solar inverter comparison table.
Philip asks if solar batteries are worth it if you’re already getting a zero bill.
“So, it depends on why you want the battery,” says Finn. “If you want to buy a battery to only save money, then for almost every situation in Australia right now, no – they’re not worth it.”
“If you want backup for your house, then they are a fantastic way to back-up your house without having a generator. If you want insurance against rising electricity prices, falling feed-in tariffs, they’re great.”
“If you have zero bills with panels – why get a battery”.
Finn says his battery saved him $500 last year – that’s a 30-year payback.
“I did not get a battery to save money.”
While the cost of energy storage for electric vehicles and large-scale battery projects have dropped considerably,  home battery prices remain stubbornly expensive.
“We’re talking at least a thousand dollars a kilowatt hour for storage”.
A caller’s inverter is ramping down or tripping when grid voltage gets too high. Finn says this is a fairly common problem and Distributed Network Services Providers (DNSPs) have a duty to fix this. The caller mentions the transformer has already been replaced, but now the problem is even worse.
“They need to come back and have a look if you’ve still got high voltage in the street,” states Finn.
If you’re having similar issues, you can determine who your DNSP is here.
Philips asks about using an electric vehicle’s battery to power a home.
“There’s no technical reason why you can’t use a car battery to power your house,” states Finn. “The only vehicle in Australia that I know of that is capable of it is the Nissan Leaf – second generation.”
But regulations would need to be changed and auto manufacturers need to make it possible with their cars. Bi-directional chargers also need to come down in price significantly.
 “When you think about how much storage will be rolling around on four wheels come say 2030, it does seem kind of crazy not to make use of that to stabilise the grid.”
On the topic of charging, Finn says an electric car with a 60kWh battery will take around 30 hours to fully charge from a standard socket.
“Generally, you want to upgrade your sockets where you are charging.”
This will enable an overnight recharge. But Finn says many people are making do with standard socket charging at home, as they rarely empty their battery each day. If a fast charge is needed on a low battery, they then make use of DC fast charging stations that can top up the battery in 30 – 40 minutes.
If you’re interested in learning more about electric cars, check out Episode 10 of SolarQuotes TV: The Ultimate Guide To Electric Vehicles
Finn was asked about installing solar panels on shared roofs such as townhouses where the body corporate controls the roof.
Finn mentioned his own experience where he approached a body corporate for permission to install solar on around a quarter of the roof, and also an Australian invention called SolShare, the world’s first behind-the-meter solar sharing system – made right here in Australia too!
Philip asks how Australians can guarantee they’ll get a quality solar installation given the number of cowboys still in the industry.
Finn says don’t buy the cheapest – make sure price isn’t your only criteria. He also advises checking out solar installer reviews. But be careful as some companies game reviews sites, but generally will focus on doing so on only one site where they can get away with it. Look at a variety of reviews sites and make sure they have similar scores across the sites.
Discover how SolarQuotes ensures the integrity of reviews, and learn more about choosing a good installer.
Philip asks how far solar can go in the future in Australia.
“I think the economics of it are that every homeowner will have solar on their roof in the not-too-distant future,” says Finn. “The challenge is getting it on rental roofs, which I think is 40% of housing stock.”
“It’s already on around half of owner-occupied homes, but it’s on almost zero rental homes.”
Finn mentions the introduction “solar sponge” tariffs where you can get the cheapest electricity around the middle of the day.
“We’re starting to get to the stage where it could make sense for renters to actually have their own battery, plug it into the switchboard in their rental home. Charge up from other people’s solar during the day on these cheap tariffs and then use the battery to power through the night when electricity is much more expensive. Then when you move house, they take the battery with them.”
Finn says he’d love to see a standard making switchboards more “plug and play” when it comes to home batteries.
Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He’s been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.
If I may add some points to the discussion.
On the topic of solar panel placement
I have a decent number of panels on my standard pitched tiled roof, which faces west. No shading. I do have panel level monitoring, so I can see how many Watts each panel generates. On an overcast day, it doesn’t matter which direction the panels face, my west panels generate at pretty much the same rate throughout the (totally cloudy) day as my north panels (also no shading).
On a fully sunny day, my west panels generates pretty much the same as my north panels by the end of the day’s generation. Literally no difference.
If it’s a partly cloudy day, then it depends on what times of the day the clouds interrupt the sunshine.
On the topic of solar panel waste, why can’t working panels first be repurposed as a first option. Good to see the emergence of recycling plants, which would be the second option, well before disposal.
re Inverters and Grid Voltage Issues – Not long after it was installed, I realised that there was a problem with my system ramping down a lot at weekends, the inverter would show an error message for over voltage. I’m not sure why weekends but I guess grid demand in the street could be different then. My solar production chart showed all these interruptions, on a clear day instead of a smooth lump it showed a profile of stopping and starting. My recommended solar installation company told me to contact SA Power Networks, who came, tested and told me the power was within guidelines. I was at a loss what to do but I researched on line and looking through the Grid parameters set up on my Fronius, it looked to me that the Grid parameters weren’t showing what they should. I went back to the solar installation company, who finally put me in touch with their installation subcontractors. They rang me and talked me through changing some of the Fronius Grid parameters. Since then the system has worked smoothly. So far from it being a network issue, I believe it because the Fronius hadn’t been set correctly and wonder how many others haven’t been either.
Please keep the SolarQuotes blog constructive and useful with these 4 rules:
1. Real names are preferred – you should be happy to put your name to your comments.
2. Put down your weapons.
3. Assume positive intention.
4. If you are in the solar industry – try to get to the truth, not the sale.
5. Please stay on topic.

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