June 09, 2017

Most of the time, most of us just grab a bill and compare the price of the solar system that is being quoted, doing the calculations on that alone. Some people get a number of quotes and get the mid range option. Alternatively, they go the other way with the most expensive, thinking that will be the best. In Australia, we have installed more cheap solar systems than any other country in the world. 

Unfortunately, this means that most people will never see a return, as the system will not perform as the system was intended to, or even last the warranty period. I have worked in the insolvency industry, and most warranties are not worth the paper they are printed on! In a few years, we will see more unhappy Australians- on top of the ones who have already figured out they were scammed. The reason most Australians had the wool pulled over their eyes is due to their system being connected to the grid. This hides all the faults and errors, and it takes time and education to figure out and monitor the performance of the system to see if it is doing what it was sold to do. Most people have their system installed, then see how much it saved them on their bill and do the calculations from that. The problem with doing it this way, is that most of the retailers do not put on your bill what was produced and self consumed.

You will only see on the bill what was fed back to the retailer, and how much you have paid for the feed in tariffs. This is why it is important to have a look on the inverter, and see what has been produced versus what has been consumed, do that adding and subtracting as required.

The key to seeing if solar is financially viable for you, is to forget about the cost of the charges from your supplier, and work out what it would take to create and store all the energy required to look after your energy requirements.

The best thing to learn and understand is your load and when you consume your energy (time of day). Whether you’re considering staying connected to the grid or adding storage, it's the most important thing you can do either way.

The reason it's important to understand when you use your energy is so that when you’re not producing it yourself, you know where you are getting it from. It simply doesn't make sense (financial or other) to sell all the energy you created to the grid for a wholesale rate, and buy it back at retail a few hours later.

The great thing about learning and understanding what time of day you use your energy is, if you are installing batteries you have the option to install a smaller bank to get you through the night. 

There are lots of tricky things you can do with solar systems. I will give you an example of how my place works to provide some clarity.

I would say we are off the grid completely, however we still have the grid connected- and yes we do use it. We currently have a really large air conditioning unit, our oven and my welder connected to the grid. This has allowed me to be completely self sufficient 95% of the year for our energy needs, and the times in which we want to use these three items we have the option to.

Our plan over time is to buy a secondturbo oven and that will sort out family Christmas. We are replacing our large aircon with a solar powered aircon fromSolar Air, and that will allow us to run all our aircons from our batteries. For the time being, the welder will still just run from the grid.

We have chosen to stay connected to the grid for the reason of resale value, and also we are a demonstration site. This means we are always playing around and teaching people how to install their own systems. Having the grid there allows us the flick of a switch to just go back if we ever require it when we run workshops and are required to turn off the system to work with students and my wife can still make us all lunch.

We spent two years making our home energy efficient before installing batteries, as the less energy you are required to create and store, the faster you will see a return. People always ask how much it cost for us to go solar - this is what I explain to them.

It cost me nothing to get my daily load from 30kWhs to 18kWh. It cost us a couple of hundred dollars changing lights, and a few small things to get it down to 12kWh per day. It cost us $7000 to get it from 12kWh per day to 5kWh, and then $23,000 to get rid of the last 5kWh per day.

If you look at it this way we would have spent $30,000 over the next ten years if we had done nothing- and that's not taking into account price rises on electricity, which you can see the prices due to increase atAEMO. By doing what we have done, we will have our money back in ten years. Also, our energy usage has gone up because we produce more than we use, so we started using it as we were creating it.

We also installed lifetime batteries which areNiFe Cells, so we won't be replacing our batteries every ten years.

The best thing to do financially is understand your load and reduce it first, leave, then educate yourself about how it all works. Energy is not a ‘one size fits all’ type of industry. By having grid feed inverters, and playing silly games with prices and feed in tariffs, it has got a lot of people to install these systems, who will learn some expensive lessons when all the rebates finish about how electricity works.