Why should I install solar?

Solar can save you money, with a home on the Northern Beaches saving on average $1,474 a year (AVPI 2021). It also saves our planet, with a 7KW system reducing C02 by approximately eight tonnes per year. It’s important to check if solar is suitable for your home before taking the step. See if solar is right for your property

How much does solar cost?

As a guide, the cost for a basic solar installation starts at around $3,500 ( 2021). Depending on the age and type of electrical infrastructure in your home, you could also be looking at some costs for building works (e.g. upgrades to meters, switchboards, extended cabling) in addition to connection fees and any potential permits. Make sure this is included in your quote from the outset or noted as an exclusion.

Note: All systems under 100kW are eligible for STCs. 

Clean Energy Council - Cost and Savings for solar

What solar financing options are available?

You will get the best payback on your investment by outlaying the upfront cost for a solar system yourself. However if that is not possible there are companies offering a range of solar financing options including low interest or interest-free loans. Alternatively, you could consider a leasing arrangement, in this instance the installation should also be maintained by the solar business.

Are incentives available?

Empowering Homes

The Empowering Homes solar battery loan offer closed on 31 July 2022. 

Rebate swap for solar and energy efficient upgrades

  • If you are an eligible homeowner-occupier you can now swap your Low Income Household Rebate for a free, fully installed 3 kilowatt solar system.
  • If you receive the Low Income Household Rebate and are not eligible for the solar offer, you could get a free, no-obligation energy assessment which could help you find ways to reduce your energy bill through energy efficient appliances or minor home upgrades, and then swap your energy rebate for one or more of the recommended upgrades.

Find out more including eligibility and how to apply online.

Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme

The Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme offers a financial incentive for individuals and small businesses to install eligible small-scale renewable energy systems including solar panels.

Now is the time to invest to maximise returns from the Federal Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme, as 2030 marks the end of the Renewable Energy Target period, with the value of incentives for small-scale solar PV systems decreasing each year. Claiming STCs (small-scale technology certificates) can reduce the upfront cost of a system by about 35%, and as a consequence improves the return on investment and provides a much more favourable payback period.

Typically most solar suppliers will take into account the STC's within the quote, they claim the STC's on your behalf (giving you a reduced cost in your quote). You can calculate the number of certificates a system may be eligible for ​using Clean Energy Regulator's STC calculator tool.

What’s the payback period?

A solar system without batteries typically has a payback period of 3 -5 years (Dept Environment and Energy). If a household is suitable for solar, it's usually worth the upfront cost due to the long lifespan of solar panels (possibly more than 25 years) (APVI 2019), but the payback will vary for each household. The average electricity bill saving for a household on the Northern Beaches with solar is $1,474 per year.

The size of your system will affect the payback period. Unless you are looking at installing a battery, your solar system should be sized so that you use the majority of the electricity it produces. Your electricity retailer will pay you for your excess, this is known as a feed-in tariff and is one way of paying off the upfront cost. However the most cost effective option is for you to use the electricity first. One of the main factors influencing how quickly you will recoup the investment is how much of the system’s power you’re able to use throughout the day.

You should check the business case stacks up for your home and don’t forget to consider installation costs when determining your payback.

Is solar right for my property?

It is important to make sure solar is suitable for your property before installing. Its feasibility will depend on a number of factors including:

  • Roof size, shading and orientation
  • The time of day and amount of electricity used by your family
  • Any heritage restrictions

Check out our SunSPoT Tool, which will help you determine if your home is suitable for solar before you get a quote. The tool will provide you with some background information so you can have an informed discussion with your solar provider.

Your solar provider should take into account information specific to your property and your family’s energy consumption. It’s preferable they visit your home and discuss your usage habits before they provide a quote.

If your property is not suitable, consider other alternatives such as switching to an electricity provider who offers GreenPower, or perhaps joining a community solar project.

Be mindful that the solar industry is quickly developing and the panel technology is becoming increasingly efficient, meaning less panels are required for the same output. If your home is not suitable now, make sure to check again in a few years.

What size solar system is right for my property?

It depends on how much electricity your household uses, which can be a combination of, how many people live there, what your usage habits are like, if anyone is home during the day or if you have anything that uses a lot of energy, like a pool. If you are also installing a battery you may need a larger solar array, so you can make additional energy to use at night.

The average size of solar panel installations is now 7kW (APVI 2019).

The SunSPoT tool will help you decide what sized system might be suitable for your home but you should also discuss this further with your solar provider.

Who can I trust to install my solar?

At a minimum, you should ensure your installer is accredited by the Clean Energy Council.

Steps you can take:

  • Consider using a Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer
  • Check if your panels are on the Australian Government’s Panel Validation Scheme
  • Check with Fair Trading for any past complaints made against your preferred company
  • Check their manufacturers have service offices in Australia
  • Consider paying for a post installation inspection by an independent party to confirm the system has been installed to code
  • Ask suppliers to explain how they have sized and priced your system, i.e. the assumptions that went into their calculations. For example, suppliers may assume in their calculations you use 100% of the electricity generated from the solar system all the time, which is unlikely. The solar provider should visit your home before providing a quote and speak to you about your energy use
  • Confirm any exclusions that might be added as an additional cost later

NSW Treasury Energy Saver – Save with solar information

Using your solar power wisely

To get a faster return on your investment, use as much solar power as possible in your home before exporting to the grid.

To maximise your solar power, make use of your timers by setting the washing machine, dishwasher and pool pump to run in the middle of the day. If you know you want the house cool or warm when you get home from work, you could set the timer to turn on a couple of hours before you get home, so you’re using the solar rather than peak period electricity when you arrive home.

You should also choose an electricity retailer with a plan that suits your household. Shop around for the best feed-in tariff on offer.

Energy efficiency
It is essential to make your home as energy efficient as possible before installing solar. Check out our list of suggestions 

What is the lifespan of a solar system?

A solar system can have a lifespan of over 25 years, lasting well after it has paid itself off. However, it is important to maintain your system so it can remain as efficient as possible.

Your solar supplier should also provide you with a full warranty and lifespan details of your system.

Battery storage

Batteries give you the option to store the excess solar power produced by your solar installation rather than exporting it to the grid. This means you can use the energy during the evening when your system is not producing power and energy retailers are charging higher amounts for peak period energy.

Most battery systems, new or retrofitted, won’t pay themselves off within the 10 year warranty period. Which means with current prices, a battery won’t necessarily be a profitable addition to your homes solar installation.

Customers that have ‘Time of Use' tariffs with high peak electricity costs, or that are living in areas with an unstable electricity supply, will often get the most benefit from adding batteries.

Homeowners that are interested in new technologies and reducing their carbon emissions might not see as much profit from batteries but can find a solar and battery system rewarding for those reasons.

Unless you are happy to proceed with a longer payback period you may like to wait until the cost of batteries comes down before installing.

So what should I do?

The sooner you install solar on your roof, the sooner you’ll pay it off and be saving on your energy bills, so you may want to install solar now and add a battery later when prices fall. In this situation, many customers wonder about how to ensure their solar installation is ‘battery ready’. 

Batteries can be added to existing solar installations, but it is likely that a second inverter will have to be purchased.

Alternatively, when you install solar, you could add an inverter that is appropriate for a battery as well. These ‘hybrid’ inverters come at a premium, about $1,500 extra. You could do this if you think you will install the battery in the next two years. Any later than that and the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) advises the risk of the technology being obsolete is too high.

Department of Planning and Environment - NSW home solar battery guide

Do I need a Development Application (DA) to install solar?

In most cases residential solar installations are classed as ‘Exempt Development’ under the State Environment Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007 (Policy), meaning an application is not required.

Residents should review the Policy to determine if their solar installation requires a formal application, for Development Consent or a Complying Development Certificate.

Some examples of systems requiring an application are those:

- built on a heritage property

- involving reflective mirrors or lenses

- protruding more than 0.5m from the roof, facing a primary road or if not facing a primary road, protruding more than 1m from a wall or roof or

- closer than 1m to the property boundary.

Should you require any assistance on the process please contact one of Council’s Planning Enquiry Officers on 1300 434 434.

What’s the deal with meters?

A gross meter sends all the electricity produced by your solar system straight to the grid. This system used to be common when the Solar Bonus Scheme was on offer. The Solar Bonus Scheme, which closed in 2016, paid households a feed-in tariff for their solar power, which was significantly higher than the cost of electricity and so it was profitable to use this method. People with gross meters pay a flat rate for their electricity, as it cannot determine time of use.

A net meter allows your household to use the solar power it produces before the excess is sent to the grid. This system is preferable now the Solar Bonus Scheme is closed. It also collects interval data throughout the day and so you can access discounts for electricity used off peak. However, an older style net meter still requires the meter reader to visit your property in order to download the data.

A smart meter operates as a net meter but can also send the electricity consumption information to the electricity provider in 30 minute intervals. This system also offers customers a wider range of pricing options. Smart meters are being rolled out in NSW when a new meter is required.

What’s the purpose of an inverter?

An inverter is an essential component to a solar system. It changes the solar DC power into 230V, AC power so it is suitable for use in your home and for feeding back into the grid.

The type of inverter you choose depends on how you set your panels up. If you set your panels up in a string system, the panels are connected together and one string inverter converts the entire system’s DC power to AC.

String inverters don’t work as well if your roof has a lot of shading, because they are all connected, so if one panel is affected by shade the overall performance is reduced.

An alternative system uses multiple microinverters which are attached to each panel in your system. This option comes at a premium (typically $2,000 more) but allows you to monitor the amount of electricity produced by each panel individually, which could save you more in the longer term. This system would help you determine if one panel is not performing as well as it should.

You could also consider ‘panel optimizer inverters’ if you have quite a lot of shading affecting your panels - these have an extra optimising function and are designed to increase your management of the panels performance.

What is a feed-in tariff?

If your solar system produces more electricity than your household requires, like in the middle of the day when you are at work, the rest is exported to the grid and your electricity retailer will pay you for it. The rate your electricity retailer pays you for this excess is known as a feed-in tariff.

You should shop around for the best feed-in tariff. The amount offered can vary from one retailer to another and can also vary depending on where you live. The feed-in tariff forms part of how the solar system pays itself off, but you are better off using as much of the power as you can first.

Who is the Clean Energy Council?

The Clean Energy Council is Australia’s renewable energy association. They are a not-for-profit who run the accreditation process for solar installers. They work to raise the profile of clean energy as well as the standards and integrity of the industry.

They also run an Approved Solar Retailer program. Authorised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), this program aims to lift the bar higher than the minimum requirements set by government and regulations, fostering commitment to responsible sales and marketing activities.

What kind of warranties do I need?

A solar system normally carries four important warranties:

- Performance warranty: Good quality panels should only reduce their efficiency by a maximum of 10% in the first 10 years of use

- Solar panel product warranty: This product warranty will cover you typically for 10+ years

- Inverter product warranty: A small proportion of inverters can fail, so it’s important to check this warranty. Most warranties will cover you for five years, and some manufacturers will allow up to 10 years

- Workmanship/installation warranty: ​This is provided by your solar installer to reflect their confidence in their workmanship. Check warranty periods, if they offer replacements or repairs, the location of their service centres and any call-out fees

What can I do if something goes wrong with my installation?

Research tells us that the majority of homeowners who have installed a solar system are satisfied with the result. However, on occasions things can go wrong. Depending on the issue, there are a number of organisations that you can contact to make a complaint, or lodge your concern. In most instances, if the product is under warranty, you should attempt to resolve the issue with the solar retailer or manufacturer first.

If your attempt to resolve the issue with the retailer or manufacturer is unsuccessful, or if the complaint is a commercial matter, contact Fair Trading on 13 32 20.

If you are unhappy with the work of the person who installed the system, contact the Clean Energy Council.

If you are concerned about the safety of the system contact SafeWork NSW on 131 050.

If your solar retailer has become insolvent and you are unable to speak with the manufacturer, you can lodge a complaint with the retailer’s administrator. You can check with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) or speak with Fair Trading or Consumer Affairs.

If the administrator fails to deal with your complaint, you can refer it to ASIC on 1300 300 630.

Clean Energy Council – Guide to installing solar for households

How much maintenance of a solar system is required?

The amount of maintenance required for solar panels is relatively small. However, there are some good habits to have to ensure you get the best results out of your solar panels. Your supplier should give you a maintenance schedule for you to follow and consider getting the panels checked every five years by a Level 2 electrician.

If it has not rained in a while, or if there is excessive dirt build up you might like to give the panels a rinse with a hose. You can do this from ground level or hire a solar panel cleaning company, but please do so in line with water restriction guidelines. If it has been raining the tilted panels will clean themselves.

Use the monitoring equipment provided with the panels. This will show you how much electricity they produce and is your best bet of noticing if something is wrong with a change in efficiency.

Solar panel recycling

Panels contain small amounts of hazardous materials which can produce leachates in soil, groundwater, rivers and oceans. Solar panel recycling is a growing area, however there are currently companies operating in Sydney who will collect your solar panels once they reach their end of their life or are no longer wanted. They aim to minimise the number of panels going to landfill by collecting, deframing and then breaking the panels down to recycle the components, all of which are able to be reused in manufacturing onshore. There are many ways a panel can reach 'end of life'. Weather events such as severe hail storms or strong winds can cause fallen branches and potentially cause damage, while some people may simply upgrade their system for a more powerful one. For more information, simply search 'solar panel recycling'.

Solar for apartments

It can be challenging to work out a plan for installing solar within a strata building, but it is possible.

There are a number of structural and management options you can choose from - each have their pros and cons.

You need to be aware that there may not be enough suitable roof space for each unit in your apartment block to have their share of the solar system’s energy. The taller the building, the more likely this is the case. 

If there is not enough roof space for each unit to have their share, consider installing solar to power the common property only. These areas typically use a lot of electricity and it is simpler to install.

Begin a discussion with your strata management. Be prepared by building a business case that highlights the potential payback on investment.

In the meantime, you could make the switch to GreenPower, or join a community solar project.

Don’t forget to review your apartment’s energy efficiency. Significant savings can be made by installing sensor lights and adjusting the temperature range on air-conditioned common property.

What about solar hot water?

Solar hot water systems are different to your solar power. They work by having cold water from the mains enter a solar collector on the roof. As the solar collector captures heat from the sun, it physically transfers this heat to the water. The hot water is then transferred into your storage tank. All systems come with a gas or electric boost system that will produce hot water on overcast days or during the night.

Water heating is usually the largest energy-using appliance in most NSW households. Altogether, heating water can make up nearly 30 per cent of your household’s energy use.

Solar hot water is more expensive to install relative to other hot water systems, but for most households this may be the cheapest system in the long term due to low running costs.

Solar hot water systems are also eligible for a discount through the Australian Government’s Small Scale Renewable Energy Scheme. Your hot water system retailer or electricity retailer will usually take care of the certificates and give you a rebate on the purchase price.