Using solar energy in your home

Written by in First Home Buyer

Solar panels sitting on a green background.

Using solar energy in a residential sense has been growing ever since the introduction of a Renewable Energy Target in 2001. Since then, the price of installing photovoltaic solar cells (PV systems), onto predominantly roofs, has gradually decreased to become an affordable and financially smart decision.

The solar electricity industry is still a young one, but there are clear savings for consumers to make. The states differ in the rebates they offer in relation to feed in tariffs (energy you don’t use that you return to the grid), which has meant the time taken for your energy savings to pay back the cost of installation has increased. However, further decreases in installation costs are expected. A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency noted that the overall costs of residential PV systems (including installation) fell by over 50% between 2010 and 2014. These dramatic drops will ultimately reduce the time it takes to pay your solar system off.

Solar panels on the roof of a home


What does a solar energy system in your home look like and can you use it to power your home?

When solar cells were first invented in the 1800s, their efficiency was less than 1%. Today, this has increased to approximately 20% for residential solar, with plenty of room to become more efficient in the future. But what does this mean for the average home?

Despite Federal rebates on the installation of solar panels (which can be on average 30% of the installation price depending on a variety of factors, such as location and size), there has been a slight rise in time it takes to make back the cost of installing solar energy panels because of the lack of a feed-in rebates. Because of this, it is best to analyse your energy consumption patterns, through your energy bills, to see what size and type of solar panel best suits your needs.

The most common choices you have as a consumer are between 2kW, 3kW, 4kW and 5kW systems, depending on the size of your property. The average household installs 2kW systems. These come in the form of solar panels, which are comprised of these smaller PV cells, which feed solar energy into a solar inverter, which converts this energy into AC (Alternating Current) electricity, usable in your home.

There is the option to store solar energy in batteries, such as in Tesla’s now famous Powerwall. However, these are still expensive systems, so it is a good idea to always tailor your installation to match your consumption habits where you do not rely on feed-in tariffs or the ability to store energy, but still using solar to provide your energy needs.

What about cloudy days?

A cloudy day has as much effect on a solar panel as it does on a person. A bright, sunny day will have you out and about and feeling great. The same goes for solar panels. While they won’t stop producing solar energy on a cloudy day, clouds will reduce the output of energy. However, this is not the same for all clouds. When the sun shines through lighter clouds, the solar panels benefit from both the direct sunlight as well as light reflected from the clouds, which offsets the dampening influence the clouds may have during the day.

Can you install solar energy panels yourself?

You may be able to install your own solar panels, but it is not a job for the faint-hearted. The main reason why you should buy and have your solar panels through an accredited provider is that it is the safer option. The second is that you are not eligible for government rebates if you don’t have your system installed by an accredited installer.

For DIYers there is the possibility of using a relatively new technology, micro-inverter technology, where there is a separate inverter attached to each separate PV panel. This has its own benefits, such as being able to optimise for each panel, have solar panels in different areas and start small with an idea to grow.

What can you power in your home?

1-2 People:  Usually a small home, a 1.5kW system can power your fridge, TV, washing machine (1 load a week), dishwasher (2 loads a week), LED Lights.

2-3 People: A 3kW system can power your fridge, TV, LED lights, washing machine (3-5 loads a week), dishwasher (5 loads a week), small air conditioner.

4 + People: A 5kW system can power LED lighting, TVs, washing machine (5+ loads a week), dishwasher (5+ loads a week), computers, air conditioner, standby appliances.

It is worth analysing how much you spend on electricity per year and weigh this against the potential long term savings of solar power.