Faqs

FAQs

Solar power costs and savings

How much does it cost to install solar panels?

The price of solar systems has dropped dramatically over the past few years, making it an increasingly attractive option for homes and businesses.

The upfront cost of your solar PV system is affected by a number of different factors, including:

  • Government incentives and support schemes available
  • Contractor installation costs
  • Type and number of solar panels, which affect the output of your system in kilowatts (kW)
  • Type and size of inverter (the part of the system that converts the electrical output of your solar panels into AC electricity for use in your home or business)
  • Type of framing equipment and other system components
  • Height and accessibility of roof and whether it is tiled, metal or concrete
  • Any after-sales service agreements

How much money will I save with solar panels?

The amount of money your household will save on power bills by going solar is affected by a number of factors, including:

  • Your energy consumption and the size of your solar power system – if you use more power than your system is capable of producing, your savings will be reduced. This can be avoided by choosing the right-sized system for your needs.
  • Your feed-in tariff – this is the amount your electricity retailer pays you for any excess power your solar panels generate.
  • Your usage patterns – solar panels can only generate electricity while the sun is shining. This means that households that use a lot of power during the day may attract greater savings than those that consume most of their power at night. However, you will still receive a feed-in tariff for any excess electricity you generate during the day.
  • Where you live – some areas of Australia receive a lot more sunlight than others, so a solar PV system in Brisbane will usually generate more power than one in Hobart.

Businesses have a couple of other things to take into account, including the tax implications of any revenue received from feed-in tariffs.

A Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer must provide a site-specific estimate of your system’s energy generation. Many solar companies will also calculate the impact this has on your bill.

For more information on the factors that affect solar savings, download our free guide to installing solar for households or businesses.

What is a solar feed-in tariff (FiT)?

A feed-in-tariff is the amount your electricity retailer pays you for any electricity your solar PV system generates that you don’t use, and is instead fed back into the grid.

Feed-in tariffs differ between states and retailers – our guides to installing solar PV for households and businesses have more details.

Solar safety and reliability

Do solar panels work at night or during cloudy weather?

Solar panels do not generate power at night. Once the sun goes down, your home or business will start to draw power from the main grid as usual.

Solar panels still work on a cloudy day; however they will not generate as much electricity as when the weather is clear and sunny.

Is solar power safe?

The Australian solar industry is well regulated and safe.

Solar panels and inverters sold in this country must comply with a range of standards that maximise safety and reliability. The Clean Energy Council maintains a list of currently approved solar panel modules and inverters.

The Clean Energy Council’s Solar Accreditation scheme ensures that the people who design and install solar PV systems are across all the latest safety requirements. Accredited installers are qualified electricians who have undergone additional training and assessment in the installation of solar PV systems. Systems must be installed by a Clean Energy Council accredited installer to be eligible for small-scale technology certificates (STCs).

Initiatives such as the Clean Energy Council’s Approved Solar Retailer scheme are also ensuring that the Australian solar PV sector stays safe and reliable.

To keep your system running safely and effectively for many years, you will need to maintain it correctly. See our after installing solar PV section for details on inspecting, maintaining and upgrading your system.

What should I do if my solar PV system stops working?

If your solar PV system is still under warranty, you should contact the retailer you purchased your system from to arrange repairs. If you bought from a Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer, you can rest assured that every part of your system is covered under warranty for at least five years.

If your system is out of warranty, you should contact your retailer or an accredited solar installer. However, you may be responsible for the cost of any repairs.

For more information on what to do if your system stops working, refer to solar PV warranties, complaints and disputes.

General questions

Can I go off grid?

Installing battery storage in your home does not necessarily mean that you can disconnect completely from the electrical grid. Generally speaking, going off grid is not practical for the average urban consumer because:

  • it might be difficult to store enough energy to reliably cover your use during cloudy days in winter
  • you would not be able to sell any surplus energy back to the grid
  • there are likely to be significant extra costs (e.g. special additional equipment like the installation of an air-conditioning system) for the battery enclosure.

Technical questions

What is the difference between AC and DC?

As shown in the figure below, the power that comes from a grid power station and is available at your household power point is called alternating current (AC). Batteries and solar panels produce direct current (DC).

In a typical household system of solar panels and batteries, your solar array will produce DC power. This DC power is then converted to AC by the solar inverter, to make it compatible with the AC mains power coming into your house from the grid.

A battery system also uses DC. The batteries are usually connected to the AC mains power in a similar way to that used for the solar panels. Thus, an inverter converts DC power from the batteries to AC power. This makes the system suitable for connection to the grid, and allows the batteries to charge and discharge depending on your household usage.

How much storage do I need?

Every household is different. In the same way that you match the number of solar panels to your household’s energy requirements, your battery storage capacity also needs to be matched to your needs.

Typically, residential battery storage systems range from 3 to 12 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in size. For small-scale commercial installations, the storage can be up to 200 kWh. The kWh size of your storage system will be influenced by:

  • Your budget
  • Where you live, your house orientation and type of house
  • Your average household energy consumption
  • The time of day when household energy consumption occurs
  • The size of your solar panel installation and the energy generated by those panels
  • Ambient weather conditions
  • Customer feed-in tariffs available to you
  • How you intend to use your battery (i.e. to supplement your energy supply, or to allow you to become entirely self-sufficient).

An accredited designer will be able to advise you on the most suitable size for your needs and local conditions.

What happens if I move house?

It is possible for a storage system to be moved if you change residence, in the same way that solar panels can be moved. However, if the system is to be moved, it must be carefully uninstalled and reinstalled by an accredited installer.

What considerations should I be aware of when installing?

Battery systems for day-to-day household use are about the same size as a small fridge or water heater. The cabinet or housing of the battery should be built to comply with the standards and building codes applicable in the relevant jurisdiction. For example, in the Australian Capital Territory, the battery enclosure must comply with fire and building regulations. Your accredited designer will be aware of these requirements.

What about disposal and recycling?

Batteries contain harmful materials such as acid, lithium and heavy metals (e.g. cadmium, cobalt, iron, lead, nickel and zinc). How much of the material can be recycled depends on the type of battery; for example, the materials of a lead-acid battery are generally 98 per cent recyclable.

The metals inside batteries can be valuable, and many recyclers will pay for old batteries. When you replace a battery module, dispose of the old batteries at a battery recycling station or other suitable site (look for Australian battery recycling initiatives in your local area).

Lithium batteries must not be recycled in the same way as lead-acid batteries, because they may cause fire or explosion if they are mistakenly included in the lead-acid battery recycling process.

It is possible that one or more cells may fail sooner than the expected life of the system as a whole, and these individual cells will need to be replaced and recycled. The responsible disposal or recycling of one cell is just as important as that of a module of cells or an entire battery bank.

Presently, lead-acid batteries are the only type of battery that can be recycled within Australia. Recycling of lithium batteries is emerging. All other battery types need to be sent offshore for recycling. This situation may change with the increased uptake of battery technologies, technological advances, and new standards and environmental regulations.

More information on battery recycling can be found on Australian Battery Recycling Initiative’s (ABRI) website (www.batteryrecycling.org.au).

How do I avoid incidents?

The best way to avoid an incident with your battery storage system is to be proactive. It is important to have an accredited installer install your battery system because that person will be familiar with relevant standards and building codes, and will ensure that the installation complies with the requirements. The system should be serviced every 12 months. You should also visually check your battery system once a month.

Keep a monthly maintenance checklist. At the time the system is installed, your accredited installer can show you how to do the monthly checks, and any other maintenance that needs to be performed.

Install relevant warning signage – including, in particular, the type of batteries installed. Also ensure that you have emergency and safety signage protocols, in case an incident does occur.  The installer will supply you with installation and product manuals. As the consumer, it is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with the content of the documents supplied to you by your accredited installer.

Keep the battery system tidy and clear of obstructions. Be particularly mindful of electrically conductive and flammable materials such as personal jewellery, watches, solvents or spray paint.

What happens if an incident occurs?

In the case of fire or an explosion of your battery storage system, please call 000 immediately (for Australia). For minor incidents, such as a fault alarm or a malfunction, the system should be serviced by your accredited installer.

How do I keep up with the latest technology?

The technology of batteries is always improving. It is important to revisit your installation design periodically, to make sure it is meeting your requirements. If you find your needs have changed or if you are interested in upgrading part or all of your system, please talk to your accredited installer.

What is a small-scale technology certificate (STC)?

STCs are government incentives that help reduce the upfront cost of installing your solar PV system. The value of STCs your system receives differs depending on its size and location.

To be eligible for STCs, your solar system must be installed by Clean Energy Council accredited installer.

For more information on STCs, visit the Clean Energy Regulator website or download our guide for households or businesses.

More solar energy FAQs

With a renewable energy system, will my power stay on during an outage?

No, if there is a power failure, a grid connected renewable energy system disconnects from the grid and energy from the inverter is not available.

Which energy inverter can I use?

Ensure your inverter is on the Clean Energy Council approved products list

What does a battery storage system look like?

A battery storage system for a typical residential home looks like a small fridge or hot water system. For small commercial applications, they can be larger ranging in size from a large fridge to a 20-foot shipping container.

How does a battery storage system work?

Battery storage uses a chemical process to store electrical energy, which can then be used at a later time. For example, a solar-powered torch stores electrochemical energy during the daylight hours that can be used to provide light at night.

What are the benefits of battery storage?

The increasing number of solar panel installations in households around Australia is providing a new market opportunity for energy storage. Large batteries or multiple batteries joined together in battery banks can store the energy produced by solar panels. The household can then use that stored energy at a later time, or sell it back to the electrical grid. For home owners, there are three main benefits of storing energy:

  • maximise energy savings (by being able to store the solar energy and thus use it more effectively)
  • offset consumer feed-in tariffs (by being able to avoid using the grid at peak times when electricity is more expensive)
  • provide continuity of supply (if the site has unreliable grid supply).

Is battery storage safe?

Battery storage is perfectly safe if it is used properly and is well looked after. There are potential risks, but these are no different to the many electrical hazards already present in the modern home. However, it is important to be aware of the risks so they can be properly managed.

Safety aspects of battery storage to consider include:

  • general hazards of electrical wiring (as are already present in your premises)
  • chemical and fire or explosion hazards (these are similar to the hazards associated with bottled gas or a natural gas service)
  • possible escape of nonflammable gases when charging or discharging lithium batteries (which may cause risks of inhaling noxious gas that are similar to those of a natural gas leak if there is no ventilation)
  • production of chemical leakages (similar to those from the corrosive fluid of a car battery or household chemical cleaning products).

What types of battery storage are available, and which is the best?

The main options currently available for household energy storage are lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries. Both of these are described in below question ‘Which type of battery is right for me?’.

Other less common options include nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride and flow batteries. The latter may be more costly, but can still offer value, depending on how much energy you want to store and how you want to store it. The best battery storage for a given situation will depend on a number of factors.

What maintenance is required for my batteries?

Different battery systems have different requirements. Most battery maintenance is not difficult or onerous, and is very important for ensuring the best performance of your battery storage system. The maintenance should be performed by the accredited installer. In addition, it is a good idea to carry out visual checks at least once a month, to keep your system in top condition. If you notice something is not right, call your accredited installer.

Once your storage system is installed, the installer will provide you with basic information about how it operates. You will need to understand how to interpret critical system health information, and recognise when your storage system needs attention. Your installer should provide you with a log sheet or table to record the system’s critical measurements.

When doing maintenance on the system, the accredited installer can provide you with feedback on the system’s performance, and help you to understand your usage and the system’s limitations. If there is an internal failure in an individual battery cell, that cell can begin to perform poorly long before the system as a whole has a problem. Again, this is something that the accredited installer can identify during maintenance of the system.

The lifetime of a battery is strongly dependent on how the system is used.  Poor or heavy usage may mean the product does not last as long as the manufacturer’s specifications. The lifetime also depends on ambient temperatures. All battery types should be checked during extreme hot or cold weather to see whether they are still performing as required.

Your electricity consumption may also change over time, which can alter the long-term performance and life of the battery system. Check with your installer when the maintenance is undertaken, in case your consumption has changed significantly (e.g. if more people are living at your property or you have purchased new appliances).

If you are unsure of anything about your energy storage system, please contact your accredited installer, who will be able to assist you.

How does battery storage work?

Batteries store electrical energy (e.g. the electrons generated from solar panels) in a chemical form. When the energy is required, an electro chemical reaction releases the flow of electrons to be used as electricity.

Different battery types (e.g. lead-acid and lithium batteries) store and release electrons in different ways. Hence, the various types of batteries need specific kinds of treatment to ensure they work properly in a household or commercial situation.

A battery has three basic components, as shown in the figure below:

  • Anode (negatively charged electrode)
  • Cathode (positively charged electrode)
  • Electrolyte (medium through which ions move).

Wires and devices (loads like lighting) external to the battery completes a circuit, allowing the electrons to flow from the anode to the cathode, providing electricity as the battery discharges. When the battery is charging, the electrons flow in the reverse direction. Once the anode and cathode have returned to their original state, the battery is fully charged.

What does battery capacity mean?

The capacity of a battery is the total amount of charge that it can deliver, and it is expressed in the units of ampere-hours (Ah). The energy stored by a battery is defined by the charge it can deliver at a given voltage. Hence, a battery’s stored energy is the product of Ah and V (volts), which is equal to watt-hours (Wh). Typically, household energy demands are of the order of several thousand Wh; thus, kilowatt-hour or kWh is the common unit of measurement.

The battery capacity quoted by the manufacturer is an ‘ideal’ number that is useful for comparing batteries. In reality, once installed in your home or commercial premises, the capacity will be somewhat less when the batteries are used. This is because, for the batteries to perform well over many years, they must not be completely discharged to an empty state. The management system that controls your battery storage system will prevent the batteries from being completely discharged. However, if your batteries are being charged from solar panels, they will supply less energy during times when solar generation is low, such as rainy days in winter.

Which type of battery is right for me?

Lead-acid batteries

The technology behind lead-acid battery storage is similar to that of a car battery, but with thicker electrodes. Lead-acid batteries are commonly used with solar panels in remote rural homes, where connection to the grid is prohibitively expensive. Thanks to advances in the technology, low-maintenance, sealed lead-acid batteries, well suited to solar power storage, are now available.

Many lead-acid storage systems have been installed across Australia. This uptake has mainly been driven by a combination of advances in the technology and the availability of cheaper solar panels.

Advantages
(compared with lithium-ion batteries)
Disadvantages
(compared with lithium-ion batteries)
Well-understood technology Require regular (albeit simple) checks and maintenance
Relatively cheap
Easy to acquire Limited depth of discharge (i.e. only a small percentage of the energy stored can be used)
Readily recyclable

Lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are becoming a popular choice for use with household solar panels, and may become the main technology used in the future. Lithium-ion technology has been used for many years in portable devices, such as laptops and mobile phones. Due to falling costs and increased production, they can now be manufactured in larger sizes and are well suited to storing solar power.

Advantages
(compared with lead-acid batteries)
Disadvantages
(compared with lead-acid batteries)
Higher capacity and storage Potentially higher (and less well known) safety risks than other systems; for example, fire hazards
Lighter weight
Smaller space and environmental footprint
Reduced maintenance, due to inbuilt battery management systems

Other technology types

Other technology types include nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride and flow batteries, but these are less common. If you are interested in these types of technologies, the manufacturer or accredited designer will provide you with more detailed information.

Where should batteries be installed?

Some batteries may produce gases that can be a fire hazard if allowed to build up. Batteries must therefore be installed in a well-ventilated space or enclosure away from the living areas of the house. Ideally, the battery enclosure should be located, for Australian conditions, on a south or east-facing side of the residential or commercial premises. Also, the enclosure should be purpose-built to ensure it has the right specifications for the battery size and weight, and for battery performance and safety. Battery performance is affected by temperature variations. The design of the enclosure should therefore take into account temperature stability through insulation or ventilation, or both. The enclosure:

  • must be readily accessible for safety and emergency response should an incident occur, but only by authorised personnel such as emergency responders and accredited installers.
  • must not be accessible by children
  • should be vermin-proofed
  • should display appropriate signs relating to safety, warnings and shutdown procedure.

The top of the enclosure must not be used to store heavy items such as pot plants, garden tools or other household metallic equipment.

How do I get my inverter on the approved list?

Western Power does not maintain an approved inverter list. We refer you to the Clean Energy Council approved products list.

Can you tell me how my rebate will be affected if I upgrade my inverter?

You will need to speak with your electricity retailer about the Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme to find out how your rebate is affected.

My inverter is not working properly so can you fix it?

No, contact the installer or engage a licensed electrical contractor.

I want to increase the number of roof panels, without changing my inverter. Must I re-apply?

While you do not need to apply for approval to increase your panel numbers, you need to speak to your electricity retailer.

How long is my embedded generation approval valid?

Approval to connect an inverter system is valid for 90 days.

Since my inverter was connected, my power trips. What should I do?

Contact your installer or electrical contractor. If they establish it is caused by fault of Western Power they can call 13 13 51 to log the fault.

I’m moving house; can I take my panels and inverter?

Yes you can, however you need to reapply to us as the connection point has changed.

We are responsible for approving the network connection of new embedded generation systems.

The inverter must not be connected until you have approval from us.

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