The Solar Panels Go On!

First the brackets:

installing the first brackets

Don’t be fooled by the blue(ish) sky. It was windy and with occasional sprinkles of rain, and made it to 8.7 degrees C that day. When they started at 7am it was 4.8 degrees.

brackets all the way along the roof, but no panels on yet

A few of the panels waiting to go on:

Solar Panels

The first row goes up – before the wind picked up and they had to take a break:

the first row of panels going on

Rugged up to watch:

two kids rugged up in jackets and beanies and standing on chairs to be able to see

All the panels are on! Now we just need to get ACTPLA to approve it so we can turn them on…

42 solar panels on the roof

We ended up getting a pretty big system, 42 panels in all. I’ll talk about how we decided on it in a different post. For now, I am pretty pleased each time I come home and see those panels on the roof. But I’ll be even more pleased when they are actually doing something! Edited to add: Here’s why we decided on such a big system.

Solar power in 2011 update

So the Mr has been talking to people about getting solar power installed, and the advice we’ve got so far is that it’s not a good idea to get a smaller system now (just to get in while the feed-in tariff is high) and add to it later when we have north facing roof. But that it is a good idea to get a system now.

There were two issues: firstly the person he spoke to yesterday said you can’t really add more panels later (no explanation for this at the moment), and secondly, apparently if we got a inverter now that would do for a larger array, it would be make the system significantly less efficient than if we have an inverter matched to the output of the array. The advice that you can’t expand a system later is contrary to what I have read elsewhere, so I will be following that up.

The other thing he was told by this same company was that they don’t put the tilted brackets (to balance out not being north facing) on tiled roofs (which we have), but that putting the solar panels on our west facing roof would only be be 0.08% less effective than if we had a north facing roof. I can’t really believe that, so I’ll be interested to hear what other people say. We have an installer coming out to give us some advice on Wednesday.

In my research into solar power systems I think I’ve established that, with the amount of sunlight we have here and the current rebate and feed-in tariff available, it shouldn’t take more than five years for it to pay itself off, whatever size system we get, whether it’s because it’s reducing our electricity bills or because it’s paying us an income. So if the advice we’ve got so far is right, it seems like we should get the maximum size we can possibly afford right now. Of course, with me on (unpaid) maternity leave right now, finances are a little tight, but… I am going to speak to my friend next, the one who is getting interest free finance to pay for hers. If we could pay it off over three years, and it’s paying itself off almost that quickly, well – that might be quite feasible.

I’m going to blog this whole process (assuming we do go ahead), partly just to keep a record of what the various different people tell us. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to remember everything in your head the way people were trained to do in the bad old days before paper was abundant?

PS Update on loss of efficiency from being East-West facing and having a bigger inverter than you need (initially) on the next post.

Looking at getting Solar Power in 2011

Part of a solar arrayWe have been looking into getting solar power to reduce our carbon footprint here in our suburban home. We have a West/East facing roof and we expect to extend our house in maybe three or four years and gain some North facing roof, so we’d been leaving solar panels on the back burner thinking we’d worry about them then.

But. At the moment where we live in Australia there is a very good feed-in tariff, set for 20 years from the time you sign up, and also a good (federally provided) subsidy for installation. And both of those things are set to go down this July. The feed-in tariff has already been reduced once, and is set to do so every year for the next few years.

So we’ve been considering whether it would be more cost effective to buy now, even if only a small set up, and get hooked into the grid, and then add more later when we have a North facing roof. There are brackets you can use to lift up the panels on the West facing roof, to get better efficiencies. Of course, that costs more and also takes more space, since you need to have them further apart to ensure one panel is shadowing the next one. However, to be locked into a better feed-in tariff rate for the next 20 years, not to mention having and extra three or four years of solar power, it’s probably worth it from a cost perspective.

At the moment the federal subsidy works about to be about $6200 in Canberra for a 1.5 kw system or bigger (how much it is depends on where you live, as it is based on the energy produced by your system). Also this year the ACT conservation council has organised a discount for people booking through them with a particular installer – how much depends on your system size, but it’s $150 for a 1.5 kw system. Not a huge amount when you are talking several thousand dollars, but better than nothing. Maybe it will cover the cost of one of those brackets. So for the minimum sized system we’d be paying less than $4000, plus whatever extra it costs to install with the brackets.

To get a slightly bigger system the price goes up significantly, since $6200 is the maximum subsidy. But then I have a friend who is getting a solar system installed who has managed to swing an interest free loan (through the installer I think) to be paid back over three years. By her calculations the system will have completely paid for itself in five years, so basically she’ll have a small extra expense for the next three years and then it’s all roses from there. It’s looking rather attractive really.

Of course, the cost of residential solar power systems keeps going down – which is the justification for the government reducing their subsidies – so maybe the cost difference won’t be that great whether we do it now or later. But in that case, why not get the extra few years of green energy? We’ll be calling to get some quotes this week.

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