Yes. All installations under 100kW (and systems with an annual electricity output of less than 250MWh) are eligible for Small-scale Technology Certificates, or STCs for short. You’re eligible for STCs whether you’ve previously accessed a rebate or not. It’s also not means-tested and is accessible by everyone. The solar PV system or product you purchase in order to receive STCs must adhere to the Clean Energy Council (CEC) design and install guidelines, only use panels and inverters on the CEC approved list, comply with the relevant standards (like AS 4777), and be installed by a CEC accredited installer. Solargain meets all these requirements. In addition to STCs, your state may offer an additional rebate or program. These rebates differ between regions, so it’s worthwhile investigating what solar rebates apply in your area.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. BEFORE YOU GO SOLAR
In most cases, we can make an effective system using the space available. However, it doesn’t hurt to set aside some space on the north-facing roof for at least 12 panels. A common panel these days tends to be 1.7 m x 1.0 m, so a little over 20m² for 12 panels will give you over 3 kW. However, if you want more panels and a larger system, you will need additional roof space. You’ll only lose approximately 15% of energy yield if panels are installed on the east or west (compared to north-facing panels), so we often incorporate these aspects too to make the most of the roof space you have available.
It’s often difficult to size a system on a new build as there’s no history of power usage. For this reason, we usually stick to common sizes like 3.5 kW and 6.5 kW. Note that for a single storey home, it’s just as easy to install after the build is complete. For two-storey installations we advise that you consult with us directly as it may be advantageous to complete some of the work during the build. Other things you can do to prepare include:
● Allowing for wall space in the garage or under eaves on a sun-free (south-facing) wall for the inverter. If this is on a cavity wall then a surface conduit can be avoided, making for a cleaner more aesthetic installation.
● If you’re smart wiring your home, consider a data point near your inverter to ensure the monitoring devices function without any drop outs. Alternatively, ensure the WiFi signal is strong near the proposed inverter location.
● Consider smart appliances which can be set to run at times when solar production is high. This will increase your self-consumption and the savings generated by your system, as it will help produce less excess and ensure that energy isn’t diverted to the grid or other ancillary systems.
● The best way to save on energy costs is to reduce your consumption, so take the opportunity to build a house that is well insulated and as energy efficient as possible – it will be worth it in the long-term.
STCs are Small-scale Technology Certificates. These certificates are a tradeable item and are created when you install a small-scale renewable energy system, such as solar power systems, solar hot water systems or heat pumps. These STCs fluctuate but are currently worth around $35 each, which equates to approximately $3,750 on a 6.5kW system in most areas. Almost all solar companies will quote you a price with the discount factored in, meaning you only have to pay the remaining amount after these reductions are factored in.
For hot water and heat pumps, the number of STCs is best determined by going to the REC registry website and putting in the details of the system, as they maintain the most up-to-date catalogue of information. For solar power, the following formula is used, which factors in system size, location and when it’s installed:
STCs = System Size (kW) x Zone Multiplier x Deeming Period
The system size is the total kW output of the system you’re installing. The zone multiplier is one of four values assigned to each postcode in Australia. This number is based on how conducive the postcode area is to solar production and includes the average solar radiation as well as other factors. The deeming period is the number of years the system will (on average) be operational, which is set by the Clean Energy Regulator (12 for installations in 2019, but reducing by one each calendar year). You can’t claim part of an STC, so round down at the end, as decimals are not allowed for.
A 6.5kW system will give you 107 STCs, while a 3.5 kW system is worth 58 – assuming both are installed in 2019 in a zone three area (Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide are all zone three). In 2020, the same systems will be worth 98 and 53 STCs respectively due to the yearly phase-out. If you were to install a system in zone four areas, such as Melbourne (VIC), Hobart (TAS) or Albany (WA), you would receive fewer STCs – this is because the same size system in these cities produce less energy comparatively due to climate conditions. Likewise, if you were to install in a zone two area like Darwin (NT), you would attract more STCs thanks to the higher than average energy production.
For more information on creating STCs including the zone ratings for each postcode, click here.
When it comes to how much you can save with solar, this will vary between households. Below are the factors which can impact your savings.
● System production – The more kWh of energy your solar PV system produces, the more you are likely to save. However, system production is not just determined by the system’s size. It also comes down to other factors such as the location of the installation, site conditions (eg. pitch, orientation, direction), and the quality of the components used in the solar installation etc.
● Energy prices – As energy prices increase, the worth of your kWh production will only grow. Your buyback (sell) rate is also a factor in this equation, as the more you can get for excess solar production, the greater your savings will be and overall return from solar.
● Self-consumption – When you produce solar power, you can either use it yourself first or sell this excess energy back to your energy retailer or the grid. The savings generated from self-consumption are usually greater than selling back to the grid, which is why many homeowners try to maximise their savings by using this method.
2. CHOOSING YOUR SOLAR PANELS
While some solar panels may look very similar, there are large differences in features and quality between products. The most commonly mentioned difference is panel efficiency. Panel efficiency helps compare how much power each panel produces for the space it occupies. If you’re short on roof space, you may want to consider higher efficiency panels as these will generally generate more power in less space.
Below are a number of other features you can expect to find in a higher quality panel:
● Better build quality – stronger materials, better manufacturing facilities, proper R&D and a more rigorous testing process are just some of the lengths better manufacturers go to. The end results are panels that better withstand our harsh Australian environment, degrade less over time and reduce the chance of a panel related performance issue – which can be hard to detect.
● Higher performing features – panels are being built with features like PERC, half-cut cells, N-type cells, more bus bars, and rear bus bars. These features, among other things, usually result in greater efficiency, better performance in heat and low light, and less degradation over time.
● Better warranties, backed by reliable companies – A 25-year performance warranty is common with most panels, however, premium manufacturers will offer longer product warranties – these are more important than the base performance warranty. They can also include the costs of labour, not just panel replacement, meaning any repairs will be covered under your warranty almost completely. Lately, there’s been lots of movement within the solar industry, so choosing a manufacturer who has been around for a long time is vital should you need their support down the track in terms of a warranty claim.
The cells on monocrystalline (mono) and polycrystalline (poly) panels are formed by creating a large silicon ingot, which is then sliced up into cells and laid out across a panel. The difference between the two is in the method used to create the initial silicon ingot. Mono cells use a process that consumes more energy and only grows in a circular form, but the result is silicon of higher purity (hence higher efficiency) and a more uniform, darker finish, something many homeowners find appealing.
Polycrystalline cells require less energy and can be moulded into a square shape, which reduces wasted silicon when they’re sliced into wafers. They aren’t quite as efficient as monocrystalline cells and generally have a dark blue, non-uniform appearance. When it comes to choosing the right panels for you, neither monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells are a clear indicator of quality. That being said, most mono panels are more efficient than their equivalent poly counterparts. While this is not the only factor to keep in mind when determining the quality and efficiency of panel, it is well worth keeping in mind when making your panel purchase decision.
Panel efficiency is the amount of sunlight the panel is able to convert to energy. When comparing panels, it’s useful to determine which will produce the most power in the same amount of space, with the same access to sunlight, as well as determine what panel you actually need. The two instances that should prompt you to buy a higher efficiency panel are:
1. Low roof space – panels with higher efficiency will make the most out of the space that is available. Consider future requirements too, as you may need to add a second system if your energy demands increase in the future.
2. Shaded roof areas – while greater efficiency doesn’t improve the performance of a shaded panel, it does allow you to get more production out of the non-shaded areas.
3. INVERTERS & OPTIMISERS
Aside from issues arising from your installation, studies have shown that the most likely fault you’ll have with your solar PV system will be with your inverter. This means that proven reliability is paramount if solar is a long term investment for you and your home and the most assured way you’ll get this is with a better inverter.
Reliability is not determined by your inverter warranty. Many customers have been stranded by manufacturers who had poorly designed inverters, the failures (and costs) of which they couldn’t support and so they soon disappeared from the solar market. Some manufacturers have even been known to offer extended warranties as a way of enticing a purchase, however, these are of no value to the homeowner when the manufacturer is no longer operating to honour them. Manufacturers who have been in the market for a long time (e.g. Fronius) have clearly demonstrated their products are reliable and have shown they will be there to support future warranty claims or issues.
Better inverters have a superior design thanks to their manufacturer’s experience. They generate more energy thanks to better algorithms in their MPPT and are both more efficient and less likely to fail. The online portals and apps that come with them are easier to use and offer greater functionality than those produced by less experienced manufacturers. In some cases, you can even add components like a smart meter to monitor energy consumption, hot water controllers and smart home devices to optimise self-consumption.
Many people will tell you that micro-inverters and optimisers are only required if you have shading or a complicated roof, but even in perfect conditions, they will still provide benefits to your system and its overall energy production.
Most standard string inverters optimise panels in one or two groups via their maximum power point tracker setup (MPPT). This setup has limitations. The panels must face the same way and be on the same pitch (some inverters provide relief here with parallel strings), shading is not managed well and you can’t monitor or control each panel individually.
With panel-level optimisation, each panel is individually managed. This means it can face any direction, be on any pitch and be isolated if it’s subject to any performance issues. The panels are also managed better over their lifespan, particularly as they can degrade at slightly different rates and pick up dirt unevenly – the individual management allows for adjustments when these situations occur. The performance benefits alone of panel-level optimisation are worth at least 5%, even on a shade-free, north-facing install.
In addition to the performance benefits, the production of each panel can be individually monitored, which is great for warranty claims, as well as identifying and isolating issues. Extra functionality, like panel level shutdown, is possible with certain systems. The complete design flexibility also allows you to get a small string of panels on an ideal roof, when a string inverter may not have been able to because of the small string size allowances. So even if you don’t “need” them, there are many good reasons to purchase a micro-inverter, as they will almost always increase your system’s monitorability and efficiency.
Yes, you could export power on one phase and consume power on another, but that isn’t how your meter will read and report what is occurring. More importantly, it’s not how you will be billed. Your meter is designed to look at all three phases on a net basis. So if you were sending 3kW back on phase one and consuming 1.5kW on each of the other two phases, it will return a net of 0kW rather than 3kW import and 3kW export. So there’s nothing to worry about from a billing/financial point of view if you have three-phase power.
While they share the same name, there are actually two components at play here. The first is the energy meter provided by your energy retailer and network operator, referred to as a “smart meter” or import/export meter. This device is compulsory, as you cannot receive a credit for any power you return to the grid without one built into your system. The second is an optional component offered by most inverter manufacturers. This type of smart meter, also known as a smart meter accessory, adds consumption data to its monitoring portals and will give homeowners better insight into their energy usage.
Most inverter brands who offer smart meter accessories also have a free monitoring portal, which allows you to monitor your solar production on most web-enabled devices. Adding a smart meter component its respective brand of inverter will also show you your energy consumption within the portal. This is extremely useful for optimising your self-consumption and planning for future energy storage. It also enables you to calculate the exact savings.
5. ENERGY & BATTERY STORAGE
Yes. Battery systems work independently to solar power systems, so they can be added to any existing system. This method is called AC coupling, and it involves adding a battery and a battery inverter to your home’s existing solar power system. If you’re not currently exporting a lot of power and have evening consumption you would like to cover with a battery, you should consider increasing the size of your solar PV system first (or as part of the battery upgrade).
The most popular alternative to storing energy in a battery is to store energy in the form of hot water. This involves using excess solar power to heat your water during the day, covering your hot water needs through the evening and early the following morning. This is a very cost-effective form of energy storage and is often a more efficient use of the energy than sending it to a battery or returning it to the grid. An increasingly popular battery alternative is the iStore. You can learn more about this heat pump or battery alternative here.
If you have an electric vehicle, you could also charge that during the day with your excess solar. You wouldn’t purchase an EV solely for this reason, as it’s currently very expensive and relies on your EV being parked at home during the day, which is impractical for many people.
6. SYSTEM PRODUCTION
Very harmful. It affects not only the performance of your system but also the lifespan of your panels.
When a cell on a panel is shaded, it stops the production proportional to the percentage of light that is blocked on a cell. This causes the production of the panel and the others on that string to lower to this weakest point (this is a very good example of the phrase ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link). Also, the good cells are fighting the blockage, causing temperatures to rise drastically across the shaded cells. This reduces the panel’s lifespan and can even cause fires in extreme cases. The panels have bypass diodes to prevent this, but these have limitations that certain circumstances can overcome.
Most 60 cell panels are wired in three substrings of 20 cells. Each of these substrings has a bypass diode. If one or more of the cells on that substring is shaded, the bypass diode can activate. This shuts off that substring completely, removing the hotspot and allowing the rest of the panel to perform at its maximum output. The issue with this is that you lose one-third of the production of an entire panel, and bypass diodes don’t cope well with frequent use. Bypass diode failures can then cause major issues, whether through them failing to activate or activating improperly.
Shading can be better managed with panel-level optimisation (micro-inverters and optimisers). These substantially reduce the amount of work required from a bypass diode, while also increasing the performance and lifespan of a shaded panel. On top of all this, it also allows other panels to be unaffected by the shaded panel.
If you have shade on a panel, it’s important to speak to an experienced consultant and installer to minimise the production loses and ensure the longevity of your system by engineering ways around this issue.
As Australia is in the southern hemisphere, panels facing north have greater exposure to the sun year-round. North panels will have an even production curve, peaking in the middle of the day and producing a similar amount in the morning and afternoon (assuming a shade-free, clear day).
Over an entire year, east and west panels will produce approximately 15% less than a similarly installed north panel. This is loss is not evenly distributed over the year (greater in winter, negligible in summer). This loss is also greater on steeper pitched roofs and lowers on flatter roofs, as there will be less blockage from them to the sun during different hours of the day. The production curve for these panels is also skewed to the morning for east, and afternoon for the west. In summer, north, east and west will produce a similar amount of energy. However east-facing panels will start and finish earlier than north and west-facing panels will start and finish later. This later production can be handy for most families, so you see a lot of west panels. However, in winter, east and west losses increase to approximately 30% and the benefit of earlier production on the east and later production on west no longer applies.
Southern panels can be installed, but should only be as a last resort. On a low pitch roof, say 10 degrees, you’re only going to lose about 20% compared to panels installed at 30 degrees. This varies from city to city, so speak to a consultant first before going forward. The point here is that installing south-facing panels shouldn’t immediately be discarded, particularly given the low cost of panels.
Sound a little complicated? Don’t worry. All of Solargain’s quotes are custom designed for every individual roof. They factor in all variables including seasonality, pitch, orientation and present it in a simple monthly production graph. We can even do them online in a matter of hours, so get your quote today.
In most places in Australia, the pitch doesn’t make an enormous difference provided you’re between 10 and 35 degrees. While the ideal pitch is around 30 degrees in most cities, you would never recoup your money in extra production by purchasing tilt frames to increase your tilt from 10 degrees to 30 (you’d be much better off spending it on extra panels). So it’s recommended you stick to your roof pitch in most cases as the difference between these pitches efficiency is largely going to be negligible.
If your roof is quite flat, (5 degrees or less) you will begin to have issues with self-cleaning. When the panels are pitched, the rain drains off the panels and most of the dirt is washed off. However, if your panels are flat, the water dries and some dirt can remain on the panels. This is a big issue, as it can cause shading on parts of the panel which can reduce performance and lead to panel damage.
Many people underestimate the production differences across the seasons. In most cases, you’ll produce three times more in December compared to June – a massive difference, and something you should be mindful of when reviewing performance and savings over the year. This difference can be even greater for east and west-facing installations and most severe in south-facing ones.
Every solar PV panel we sell is covered by a performance warranty, usually spanning 25 years. Additionally, manufacturing warranties can cover your entire solar power system for up to 12 years. As we stock a variety of brands, warranty specifications will differ from product to product, so make sure to do your research about your specific product or ask one of our consultants about it when getting your quote.
For more warranty information visit our resources page and download your specific warranty booklet.
Generally, most mechanical defects are covered during the warranty period as long as they are deemed a manufacturing fault. Most suppliers also guarantee 80% power production for the first 25 years of your solar power system’s life, so dropping below this will likely guarantee replacements.
It is important to understand that warranty terms and conditions vary from supplier to supplier. To determine the official warranty guidelines of our products, you can view the warranty booklets here. Read on for more information on the different kinds of warranties.
This covers the labour component of the installation and is valid for 5 years on systems installed from January 01, 2015, onwards. Installations prior to 2015 had a 2-year workmanship warranty, which will now be invalid.
This relates to the products of the installation, such as the panels, inverter and accessories (including items such as Envoys and smart meters) with each having their own separate warranty periods. Note that some accessories are not covered under warranty, please see the manufacturer’s warranty documentation.
Performance warranty (panels)
The performance warranty relates to the panels and can range from 10 (older installations) to 25 years (current installations). The performance is based on the linear output expected for the age of the system. Please do not hesitate to call us on 1300 73 93 55 for all warranty queries and concerns.
The warranty period
Your warranty commences on the date of installation, it is important to keep the tax invoice as your proof of purchase as most manufacturers will request a copy.
It is also important to note that if a product is replaced under warranty, your warranty period is not extended, i.e it remains from the date of installation until the end of the original warranty period.
Change of ownership
In the event that you acquire a property that has a solar PV system installed, you will require a copy of the proof of purchase in order to lodge a warranty claim. Please note that some manufacturer’s do not allow for the transfer of warranty to the new homeowner.
Solar panels are designed to withstand harsh weather climates, from blistering heat to freezing cold, after all, it’s not like they’re brought inside when a storm rolls around. Our solar panels are also put through extreme hail tests, where they endure an onslaught of ice shards and balls travelling at over 80km/h in 11 different impact locations, to ensure no chance shot is going to break the panel.
So, it’s safe to say that they’re pretty tough, but if you’re still worried that the weather has compromised your solar PV panels, please don’t hesitate to contact us and arrange an inspection. We also recommend annual servicing to maintain optimal efficiency from your solar energy system.
Manufacturers have two options for replacement products under warranty and the customer has the right to choose which option they would prefer.
The customer or technician will remove the faulty inverter which will be returned to the manufacturer for repair and returned to the customer / technician to be installed.
The manufacturer will supply a refurbished, like for like model of similar age from their warranty stock pool as per the requirements of the ACCC. This option provides for a quicker turnaround time and reduced freight charges.
Major components such as boards and relays will be new. At present, given their recent entry into the Australian market, Huawei currently offer new products for old ones – however, this may change once they have sufficient stock for refurbished warranty pool.
8. SOLAR POWER SERVICING
The first sign of high voltage issues will be your system’s production going down in the middle of a hot, clear day, particularly when you’re exporting power to the grid. Hot, clear days have a higher likelihood of increasing grid voltage as solar PV systems in the area produce peak levels of energy. Heat also increases resistance in the grid’s cables, forcing higher voltages out of the inverter than it would normally experience. The inverters must produce higher voltage than the grid itself in order to return power back to it, but they aren’t allowed to exceed 255V. So if the grid voltage reaches high enough levels, the inverter may need to ramp down or shut off completely as it will not be able to exceed this point and will have nowhere to send the excess power.
To help identify when this is occurring, many inverters have a log of events which records when the inverter has reduced production to accommodate for high voltage in the grid. You can view this through online portals, or on the screen of certain inverter models. If the inverter has shut off completely, it should display an error code, such as a 102 error on a Fronius which is the error code which indicates high grid voltage.
If you’ve noticed a substantial change in your energy savings, there are a number of things you should check before you begin worrying about a fault with your solar power system.
Check how many kilowatts (kW) you’ve used in the past, compared with the present by using previous and current bills. The power generated by your solar PV panels and inverter won’t grow with your daily average consumption. Put simply, if you’ve been using more power than normal, you will pay more when your electricity bill arrives.
While you’ve got your electricity bills out, check the rate at which your utility is charging you for power. You may be paying more per quarter not because your solar energy system is working poorly, but because of the additional costs issued by your supplier.
Take a stroll around your property during the day and observe your solar PV panels. Check that neighbouring buildings, trees or other structures aren’t blocking sunlight from reaching the panels. Though your installer would have ensured a non-obstructed view of the sun at the time of installation, new factors may have emerged that are obstructing your panels from working properly. After all, trees grow.
Visit the common problems and solutions page for more information and advice.
Disturbance in the grid, generally caused by voltage spikes, can cause your inverter to automatically shut down in order to protect your property and system (and itself!). This can cause an error notice to display.
It’s recommended you monitor your system overnight, as generally, it will correct itself once it has detected that the disturbance has settled. You may also try restarting your system manually following our easy guide. If you’re not comfortable doing this, or your system continues to display an error message, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our dedicated after-sales service department on 02 8677 0256.
Yes – we recommend servicing once a year. Solar PV servicing is an easy, affordable and important part of ensuring that your solar power system remains safe and effective.
Our service technicians will perform a comprehensive ‘systems health check’ and a detailed clean of your unit. This is also a great time to bring up any questions or concerns you may have about your solar power system with the technician. Alternatively, you can call our service department on 02 8677 0256. To find out more or to book a service, click here.
9. OTHER SOLAR FAQs
This is a common misconception for those who may be new to solar, however, the bottom line is, solar PV systems only work with sunlight (i.e. only during sunlight hours). Solar power systems work tirelessly throughout the day to produce power for your home. At night, however, there isn’t enough sunlight to sustain operation. Accordingly, it’s completely normal for your solar power system to turn off when the sun goes down and then resume work in the morning once it’s risen.
In the event of a blackout, your solar power system will switch off and remain inactive until power returns. This is a mandatory safety feature of your solar energy system. It’s designed to protect those who may be working on the blacked-out grid system. If it didn’t turn off and continued to run, those working on the grid may be at risk of electrocution as your system will continue to send power back through the grid.
You must ensure all of the switches on your solar power system are set to ‘on’ when the grid returns to normal. If your switches are turned off, you will not generate any solar electricity.
This isn’t common but it can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
Your first bill after solar will include your meter upgrade cost, which can be anywhere between $60 and $600, depending on your network operator and the work involved. Note: you can get an accurate idea of what this will be prior to installing solar, so this needn’t be a surprise when it appears on your bill.
Your first bill may only be for a small portion of the time solar has been installed for. Compare the supply dates on your bill to the day your system was installed.
It could be that it’s a winter bill, and solar production was low (particularly east/west-facing systems).
You have a new device or devices, particularly air-conditioners, that are consuming a large amount of power.
Some people take solar as the “green light” to run appliances more regularly (or non-stop). While solar provides a buffer of energy before you need to pull from the grid, this isn’t infinite.
Power prices could have increased for your area.
Your solar power system may not be functioning properly. This can be checked by looking at your production and comparing it to your yield estimates on your quote.
An electrical appliance can be faulty (this is quite rare).
One or more of the items above is normally to blame for higher power bills after your solar energy system is installed. If you’re still unsure, it’s easy to check the production of your system and we’re happy to work through this with you. You can call our dedicated after-sales service department on 02 8677 0256.
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