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Solar power has come a long way.

Only 20 years ago, solar-powered houses were considered something only the fringes of the mainstream were interested in or could afford. But these days, thanks to a massive technological shift and government financial incentives, the future of renewable energy has never looked brighter.

20 per cent of the nation’s homes have solar installations, with an average of 9500 solar panels installed every day

Last year, figures from the Clean Energy Regulator revealed more than 20 per cent of the nation’s homes have solar installations, with an average of 9500 solar panels installed every day, smashing the previous record set in 2012. According to CSIRO and Energy Networks Australia, it’s predicted between 30 per cent and 45 per cent of the country’s future energy generation will be local and customer-owned – resulting in solar panels on most homes and batteries in households and commercial buildings.

David McDonald lives with his partner on a picturesque property run on solar power on the outskirts of Melbourne’s CBD.

“We love the idea of being independent, managing our own energy needs and hopefully contributing less greenhouse gases,” he says.

The Solar Powered house

Solar hot water

Generally speaking, water heating is the second biggest energy user in a typical Aussie home. A quality solar hot water system is like a big battery — it stores your energy, ready for when you need it. Solar water heating involves either a stand-alone solar hot water system or a heat pump, which heats water using energy from the ambient air. Installing a solar water heating system will reduce the average household’s carbon emissions and save hundreds of dollars every year compared to an electric hot water system.

Back in 1988 when Mr McDonald first installed the property’s solar panel and battery system, the household could only run a few electrical appliances at one time, and the system couldn’t power appliances like irons or electric kettles.

“Our system today has little in common with our initial 12-volt DC system,”says Mr McDonald. “The change to our system over time as technology has developed has been incredible. The panels and accompanying technology is more efficient, less expensive and has increased capacity. We can now operate refrigerators, dishwashers, hair dryers, toasters and air conditioners.”

He says the technology converting, monitoring and managing the photovoltaic (PV) electricity has substantially improved, and solar hot water technology is even more efficient than solar power.

“Inverters and regulators are more efficient and now produce high-quality AC currents,” he says. “LED lights use less energy. It’s easier to manage but more difficult to understand. We now need professional expertise to assist in maintaining the system.”

While the system has saved the family thousands of dollars in power bills over the years, Mr McDonald says the environmental benefits are the most important factor in their decision to install renewable power.

Warwick Read, Solahart’s product marketing manager for PV and energy storage, says Australians are feeling increasingly uncomfortable about their impact on the world and are becoming more energy conscious, especially around the use of renewable energy technologies like solar hot water systems and photovoltaic panels.

“Electricity prices are going up but people are also really are concerned about their children and their children’s children. They want to do the right thing for the future and they want to do something about it,” he says.

“People are also really are concerned about their children and their children’s children. They want to do the right thing for the future and they want to do something about it”

“There’s so much abundance of fantastic sunshine we have, it just makes so much sense to utilise it, it’s free,” he says.

Warwick Read

Mr Read says solar energy, particularly in sunny Australia, is a “no-brainer”.

“There’s so much abundance of fantastic sunshine we have, it just makes so much sense to utilise it, it’s free,” he says.

Solar panel systems, installed to new or established homes, convert the light or the sun into electricity via the inverter (usually a box on the wall of the house, like a meter box) and provide a discount to power bills via a feed-in tariff for excess energy not used by the house.

“The product should be able to set everything up, and it will operate in a way that saves you money.

Sean Box

Sean Box, Solahart’s product marketing manager for advanced controls, says the cost of installing solar panels by Clean Energy Council-accredited installers has reduced by “at least 70 per cent” since he started working in the industry in 2011.

“Solar power systems are designed to operate autonomously in a way that saves you money. And the market behind it all just operates in the background,” he says.

Of course, the financial benefit of solar panels is they eventually pay for themselves, saving money in the long run. The break-even point, which is when the savings start to be greater than the price of the system itself, occurs at different points in time depending on a number of factors, such as where the house is located.

Australia has installed over two million solar systems. Here’s where they are.

Source: Australian Government, Clean Energy Regulator, 5 Dec 2018

WA

10,861 installed

Generally speaking, a solar system will start to pay for itself:

  • If you’re in lower Victoria or a southern, less sunny area, 6 – 7 years as a general minimum.
  • If you’re in the sunnier areas of SA, WA, NSW, NT and QLD, it could take as little as 3 – 4 years.

“Most of the fossil-fuel generation in Australia is due to retire in the next 10 to 20 years, and the simple fact is renewables are actually cheaper than fossil fuels at the moment, even right now,” Mr Box says.

Although government subsidiaries have decreased, Mr Read says solar panel and solar hot water systems have become more affordable in their own right thanks to improved efficiencies and market forces. Futurists are toying with concepts like solar windows, integrated solar roofs, backyard biogas generators and even algae biofuel farming, but Mr Read describes himself as a “realist” when it comes to making predictions about how soon the solar-powered future will adopt these emerging technologies.

“I believe in market forces,” he says. “Technology has got to drive the market. If you provide a product that makes sense to customers financially and environmentally they will pick it up, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.”

He says new technology, like Tesla’s flashy solar roof tiles, have a way to go before they become a mainstream option. He says battery systems, on the other hand, are poised to become more affordable much sooner.

“You can monitor your system from your Smartphone. You know exactly what’s going on“

Sean Box

“Today, without any subsidies, it’s still an expensive thing to put in,” he says. “But in the next 12 to 18 months, we will certainly see battery prices start coming down and it’s going to become more and more affordable to the average householder.”

In most cases, batteries don’t force homeowners to go completely off-grid — they can complement a feed-in system to avoid blackouts and slash large power bills. A battery can be added to any grid-connected solar system, and an increasing number of hybrid ‘battery-ready’ inverters are making it easy to add battery storage in the future.

Previously working in traditional gas and electricity, Mr Read took a somewhat unlikely career path in renewable energy. He says he’s excited working in green energy “because there are so many opportunities”.

“I guess we’re all amazed on how far the industry has progressed in the last 10 years,” he says. “In the early days, all you could ever see was a little screen on your inverter on the side of your house displaying some pretty insignificant numbers, which wouldn’t mean much to anyone. But now you can monitor your system from your Smartphone. You know exactly what’s going on with your system at any time, as well as historic information.”

For over 65 years, Solahart has been helping Australians reduce their energy bills through energy free from the sun. And right now, we’ll also give you a $500 Trade-in on your old water heater when you purchase a Solahart Solar Water Heater, Heat Pump or PowerStore system. Plus, get 4 years interest-free on all residential Solahart products. 
Find out more here.

More in this series

The biggest things you can do to make your home eco-friendly in 2019

News Pty Ltd Copyright © 2018 – Story by Amy Marnie