With electricity prices on the rise and millions of Australians now living in homes with Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on their rooftops, there has never been a better time to consider going solar. But, with the varied range of products and retailers on the market, being an informed consumer and doing your research has also never been more important. This solar guide to installation assists householders with their solar system purchasing decisions and provides an overview of the installation process.
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1. Do Your Research –
A) TYPES OF SOLAR PV SYSTEMS – A solar PV system is made up of a mounting frame with PV modules and an inverter that converts the power from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current), so it can be used in your home or exported back to the grid. There are three major types of solar systems available in the market.
1.GRID-CONNECTED SOLAR PV SYSTEMS – This is the most common form of solar system installed in Australia. The inverter converts the electricity generated by the solar system – which is direct current (DC) – into AC electricity so that the power generated is compatible with the grid. Most houses with grid-connect solar systems use solar power first before sourcing electricity from the grid. When the panels are not producing electricity at night, electricity is supplied from the electricity grid.
2. GRID-CONNECT WITH BATTERY BACK-UP SOLAR PV SYSTEMS – Grid-connect PV systems with battery back-up (sometimes referred to as uninterrupted power supply or hybrid solar PV systems) are becoming increasingly popular. With solar customers in many states now receiving a low price for electricity sold back to the grid, battery back-up systems can be a viable alternative as they use the electricity stored during the day to run your house at night. They also have the advantage of being able to supply power during power outages.
3. STAND-ALONE SOLAR PV SYSTEMS – Stand-alone systems are not connected to the electricity grid and typically are installed in remote areas where there is limited connection to the grid, or areas of low electricity demand. Unlike their grid-connected counterparts, these systems must have batteries or backup generation to provide supply at night. In many cases they will also include a diesel or petrol generator to
supplement energy supply.
B) HOW MUCH DO SOLAR PV SYSTEMS COST?
THE PRICE OF YOUR SOLAR PV SYSTEM CAN BE AFFECTED BY A NUMBER
OF FACTORS, INCLUDING:
• Government incentives and support schemes
• Contractor installation costs
• Type and number of panels
• Type and size of inverter
• Type of framing equipment and other system components
• Height and accessibility of roof and whether it is tiled or metal or concrete
• Any after sales service agreements.
You can expect to pay more for stand-alone and grid-connect battery back-up systems with more in-depth design requirements and the added cost of batteries and equipment.
Extra costs to be aware of that might not be included in your initial quote:
• Application to connect to the grid
• Meter change or reconfiguration
• Upgrades to your switchboard or cabling
• Removal of trees or other shading
• Site preparation needs (for example, condition of roof or ground)
C) GOVERNMENT INCENTIVES
SMALL-SCALE TECHNOLOGY CERTIFICATES (STCS) – Government incentives in the form of Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) help reduce the upfront cost of installing your solar PV system.
STCs are an electronic form of currency and are allocated to you when you install a solar PV system. One STC is equivalent to one megawatt-hour of electricity generated by your solar PV system. The price of STCs changes according to market conditions. The total level of subsidy you receive will depend on a number of factors, including the location and size of the solar PV system and the price of STCs at the time the system was installed.
There are two ways you can be paid for your STCs:
1. Assign your STCs when you purchase your solar PV system to a registered agent in exchange for a financial benefit, which may be in the form of a delayed cash payment or upfront discount on your solar PV system (most consumers take this option, and
your solar retailer will usually make the arrangements on your behalf),
2. Create the STCs yourself by finding a buyer and then selling and transferring them in the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) Registry.
HOW MUCH OF A DISCOUNT WILL I RECEIVE FROM THE STCS? – Australia is divided up into various zones based on how much renewable energy can be generated by a solar panel in a given area. The same size system installed in Melbourne or Hobart (zone 4) receives fewer STCs than those installed in sunny Sydney (zone 3) or Darwin (zone 2), where systems can produce more energy.You can use the REC Registry calculator on the Clean Energy Regulator’s website to determine your approximate level of subsidy: rec-registry.gov.au
ELECTRICITY RETAILER PAYMENTS – Your electricity retailer might pay you for the electricity you export back to the grid. Rates vary between electricity retailers. In some states the government regulates a minimum rate and some state governments leave it to consumers to negotiate a deal with their electricity retailer.
2) CONTACT YOUR ELECTRICITY RETAILER –
BEFORE YOU AGREE TO HAVE A SOLAR PV SYSTEM INSTALLED, IT IS IMPORTANT YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR ELECTRICITY TARIFF AND YOUR ELECTRICITY BILL IF YOU INSTALL SOLAR. CONTACT YOUR ELECTRICITY RETAILER TO FIND OUT ABOUT WHAT FEED-IN TARIFFS ARE AVAILABLE AND HOW SOLAR WILL AFFECT YOUR CURRENT ELECTRICITY TARIFF, AND CAREFULLY WEIGH UP THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES BEFORE MAKING A DECISION.
3) FIND A SOLAR RETAILER AND PLAN YOUR SYSTEM –
IT’S IMPORTANT TO SHOP AROUND IT’S IMPORTANT TO SHOP AROUND WHEN BUYING SOLAR.BEFORE YOU SELECT A SYSTEM, TALK TO DIFFERENT SOLAR PV RETAILERS ABOUT OPTIONS AND OBTAIN SEVERAL QUOTES. IF POSSIBLE, SPEAK WITH OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR LOCAL AREA WHO HAVE INSTALLED SOLAR POWER SYSTEMS. YOU MAY BE ABLE TO PICK UP SOME TIPS FROM THEIR EXPERIENCES.
WHO’S WHO IN THE SOLAR PV MARKET? – The main parties involved in the sale and installation of solar PV are the solar retailer, designer and installer. Sometimes these roles are filled by one individual, which is typically the case with small retail businesses run by a qualified installer/designer. However, two or three different entities can be involved with medium- to large-sized companies that subcontract out their designs and/or installations. Many solar PV retailers in the industry
now sell systems directly to consumers and subcontract the installation of those systems.
ARE THEY REPUTABLE? – When selecting your solar retailer, make sure you go with a reputable company with proven experience. You should find out things like how long they have been in the solar industry, and whether they are an established company that will be around in the future if things go wrong. Warranties and workmanship guarantees cease if the company goes out of business. Contact the solar retailer/installer/designer’s former customers to find out if they were knowledgeable, easy to work with, and took the time to explain the system’s operation. Also find out if their systems are working well, if there have been any problems, and, if so, if their installer returned to fix them. Online and mail-order solar retailers that never visit your home or business may have difficulty recommending the most appropriate equipment. A comprehensive, on-site solar and load analysis and two-way interview can help ensure a thoughtfully-designed and well-planned installation.
CHOOSE A CLEAN ENERGY COUNCIL APPROVED SOLAR RETAILER – The Clean Energy Council Solar Retailer Code of Conduct helps consumers choose a retailer that has committed to offer a high level of quality and service. Selecting an Approved Solar Retailer is one way to make sure you will be dealing with a company that prides itself on being an industry leader.
Approved Solar Retailers:
• Provide a 5-year whole of system warranty
• Use ethical sales practices
• Only use Clean Energy Council accredited installers
• Meet the very high standards of the Code of Conduct.
The Solar Retailer Code of Conduct has been authorized by the Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission.Companies that have signed on to the
code can be identified by the ‘Approved Retailer’ .
4) SIGN A CONTRACT
AFTER YOU ACCEPT A QUOTE, YOUR SOLAR PV RETAILER, DESIGNER AND/OR INSTALLER WILL PROVIDE A CONTRACT FOR YOU TO SIGN.
The quote will often form the basis for your contract. Remember that once you have received the quote, you do not necessarily have to go ahead with installing a system. It is important that you are aware of the system design and performance estimates for the system before signing the contract. Once you have signed the contract, any variations to the system design must be documented and signed off by you before installation. If it is an unsolicited sale, you are entitled to a 10-day cooling-off period after signing a contract.
ON TOP OF STANDARD CONTRACT CONDITIONS, YOU SHOULD ENSURE THAT THE FOLLOWING ARE INCLUDED:
• Clear itemization of the component costs and whether the total price includes STCs
• A site-specific full system design including the proposed roof plan
• System performance estimates (daily,monthly and annual)
• The expected efficiency losses due to shading or orientation
• Full disclosure of all assumptions made in relation to systems and finance offerings
• The responsibility of each party for all aspects of the process (e.g. metering changes, grid connection, retail agreements, other paperwork)
• Warranties and guarantees, including installer workmanship
• Schedule of deposit and progress payments
• Service agreement
• An agreed time frame for installation
• Any site conditions or circumstances which may result in extra chargeable work required that is not covered in the initial contract
• If signing a solar lease or PPA, you should request clear and accurate information about the conditions of finance.
– The name of the lender to whom the consumer will be contracted
– Comparative cost of the same product purchased outright on that day
– Clear statement of fees and charges, including dollar values, whether the rates are fixed, and details of any exit penalties
– Clear statement on whether the consumer owns the system at the conclusion of the plan/agreement
– Who to contact with questions or complaints about finance terms
AFTER YOU ACCEPT A QUOTE, YOUR SOLAR PV RETAILER, DESIGNER AND/OR INSTALLER WILL PROVIDE A CONTRACT FOR YOU TO SIGN.
5) INSTALL YOUR SYSTEM –
Your solar retailer or installer should let you know when your system will be installed and provide you with all the necessary documentation on the day.
DOCUMENTATION – Make sure you receive everything you need when your system is installed.
Documentation will be essential if you need to make warranty or insurance claims.
A system user manual should be provided by the installer on the day of installation.
It is the responsibility of your solar retailer or installer to ensure that you have been
provided with the system documentation.
YOU SHOULD RECEIVE:
• A list of equipment supplied
• The shutdown and isolation procedure for emergency and maintenance
• A basic connection diagram that includes the electrical ratings of the PV array and the ratings of all overcurrent devices and switches as installed
• System performance estimate
• Recommended maintenance for the system
• Maintenance procedure and timetable
• The commissioning sheet and installation checklist
• PV array frame engineering certificate for wind and mechanical loading
• Installer/designer’s declaration of compliance
• Warranty information
• Equipment manufacturer’s documentation and handbooks for all equipment supplied
• A list of actions to be taken in the event of an earth fault alarm
6) CONNECT TO THE GRID –
CONNECTING YOUR SOLAR PV SYSTEM TO THE GRID IS A TWO-STEP PROCESS THAT INVOLVES:
1. Making an application to connect your system prior to installation (where required), and
2. A meter change/reconfiguration and connection to the grid.
Your solar retailer will usually arrange connection of your solar system to the network on your behalf, including preparing and submitting all relevant documentation required from the electricity retailer and/or distributor for meter installation and connection to the network. It is important however to be
aware of the process involved, who to contact to follow up on progress, and to ensure that all parties are acting in a timely manner.
The grid connection process differs from state to state. Our grid connection guides provide a step-by-step process for your state and are available here: solaraccreditation.com.au/consumers/small-scale-generation-connection
APPLICATION TO CONNECT
Most distribution companies require pre-approval to connect to their network. This should be done prior to sale and installation. Depending on the size of your system and the characteristics of the local grid you are connecting to, the technical requirements of your distributor may vary. Make sure your solar retailer or installer lodges this application early on in the process as the approval process can take up to eight weeks in some areas.
METER CHANGE AND CONNECTING TO THE GRID
Your existing meter will either need to be reconfigured or replaced by a new import/export meter before you can connect to the grid. This may need to occur before or after installation, depending on the requirements in your state. Your solar retailer will need to notify either your distributor or electricity retailer to organize a meter change/reconfiguration. You will be charged for any costs associated with the meter change. This can be charged to you by your solar retailer or billed to you through your electricity retailer. Make sure you are aware of these costs and how they will be charged.
AFTER YOUR SYSTEM HAS BEEN INSTALLED CHECK
1. That you have you received all the necessary documentation from your installer that your meter has been changed or reconfigured (where required)
2. That the correct tariff has been applied to your electricity bill by your electricity retailer.
7) MAINTAIN AND ENJOY YOUR SOLAR SYSTEM –
A solar system is a complex electricity generating piece of equipment, and to keep it safe and operating efficiently, it is vital to both maintain your system and operate it safely. A maintenance schedule will be provided by your solar retailer or installer that you must take note of and follow.
This is necessary to ensure that:
• It is operating correctly
• The system performance is maintained
• The system is safe for everyone in the premises as well as for any electrical workers working on the distribution network.
Make sure you engage a CEC-accredited installer to undertake maintenance work on your solar PV system. Maintaining your system means much more than just cleaning your panels. An accredited installer will check that the system is functioning safely and efficiently, allowing you to maximize the savings on your power bills for years to come. Some distributors may request that an anti-islanding test of the inverter be carried out periodically. Check with your distributor as each will have different requirements.
Following the installation of your solar PV system, safety inspections may be carried out by the relevant electrical authority. Depending on which state you live in, these inspections may be mandatory or may occur on a random audit basis. In some states, your installer is responsible for organizing the inspection of your system. The inspection may need to be carried out before the system can be connected to the grid.
UPGRADING YOUR SYSTEM
Your ability to upgrade your system in future may depend on receiving permission from your distributor, on suitable PV modules still being available, and on any upgrades meeting current Australian Standards. Upgrading your system may also result in losing your feed-in tariff. You will need to check with your electricity retailer and distributor to find out what the requirements are for upgrading your system. The requirements may differ from state to state.
SOLAR PANEL RECYCLING
When your solar panels eventually reach the end of their life, panel recycling programs are being set up to ensure the materials are disposed of correctly or re-purposed.‘Reclaim PV’ is one organisation that has set up a take back and reclaiming scheme. Reclaim PV has set up recycling partnership programs with several solar panel suppliers. When purchasing your solar panels, ask your supplier whether they have a panel recycling program in place. Visit reclaimpv.com for more information
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