Energy & Financial Sustainability and Security
By Diana Gosper
Are you one of the millions of people wanting to not only save the planet, but also significantly reduce your power bills? You can start the process straight away by installing solar panels on your rooftop, a nearby shed, outhouse or on specially designed ground mounted frames (or on your mobile home or RV). The structure (roof) that you are putting your panels on needs to be able to hold the weight, and after calculating how many kilowatt hours of power you will need and finding the correct system size, you will know how many solar panels are needed to power your house. Panels are getting cheaper and more efficient, and now the average house will only need 12-20 high quality panels to power their lifestyle- the majority of Australian roofs do have enough space and load bearing capacity.
The very first solar cells, created in the 1800s, were less than 1% efficient, nowhere near enough to make them an affordable power source. It wasn't until 1954 that the first useful silicon solar panel, which was about 6% efficient, was introduced. Since then, solar PV technology has evolved at a steady pace, with scientists achieving 46% efficiency. Since 2010, the price of installing solar PV systems has really dropped, in large part thanks to a significant reduction in solar panel costs, also the government rebates and incentives. The increased affordability of solar panels has seen Australia achieve the highest rate of household solar panel installations in the world (perhaps our plentiful sunshine has something to do with those figures!).
In October 2016, prices bottomed out at around 40 cents per watt and are not expected to drop any further. There is no foreseen benefit in waiting any longer to get your solar power system installed.
Panels, mounting systems, batteries and inverter/chargers and other solar components are all built to withstand years of use and, in the case of panels and framing, high winds, hail and other environmental stresses.
Although the initial cost of installing solar is quite high, Australian electricity prices are on the rise, going up to as much as $500 p/quarter EXTRA in the last few years. This might not sound like a lot, but it adds up; if you were to put that into a solar array, you could pay off your system within 2-4 years, and as a bonus you can safeguard yourself against blackouts and power interruptions, which are becoming more common, especially during our harsh summers when you need your house to remain cool in 40+ degree heat. There are also government incentives still available as well as green 'eco' loans.
When looking at your Return on Investment (ROI) you can expect to pay off a system in between 2.5-4 years (something like a grid-connect 5kW system with 20 panels) and 8-12 years (off grid), so I wouldn't expect your power bill to vanish overnight, but considering the benefits for the environment, and your overall bank balance, it is something you should consider before too many moons pass. If you are paying anywhere upwards of $250 per quarter for your electricity, installing solar would be a wise choice. Generally, the less you are paying for power, the longer it takes for the solar system to pay itself off. On the flip side, installing solar power, whether or not it is used by you or exported to the grid, always helps reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.