EnviroGroup’s Solar Power Guide
How does solar work?
Power is generated from sunlight falling onto rooftop Solar Panels and is passed through an inverter that will match the voltage to your home and the local grid. The power is then consumed in the house by any appliances that are operating at the time, with any excess solar power sent to the grid. If the solar generation does not meet all the needs of the home, the deficit of electricity is simply purchased from the electricity grid as normal.
The science basics of a solar system
Solar panels are made of many silicon photovoltaic cells – which are the building blocks of solar energy production.
When sunlight reaches the solar panels on your roof, electron flow begins in each cell and is collected by the tracks connecting the cells together. This is direct current (DC). electricity and not useful for houses or the grid which is alternating current (AC). At the inverter the DC is transformed into AC which is used to power households. From the inverter the electricity is then supplied to the main switchboard where it is then distributed throughout the home for all the electrical needs.
Any unused electricity generated by the solar power then flows on through to the electrical grid supply, known as electrical export. The household’s smart-meter measures your electrical export, here your energy retailer credits your export back into the grid?
Solar and Money
Will solar power help me save money?
Yes! Of course. It all depends on just how much energy you consume, as this will affect how much you save. At the end of the day you have control of your ROI (return on investment). The more solar power you use during the day the greater the returns, reducing your overall reliance on the energy grid and fossil fuels.
For example, when you have a solar system installed on your home and you tend to do your washing at night time you will be importing energy from the grid.
By making lifestyle choices and doing your washing during the day you will be using the electricity generated by your solar power, meaning less importing form the grid and saving you money. Every household is different and it is difficult to say exactly how much you can save with solar power, but everybody does! So, make the switch to solar energy for savings on your next electricity bill.
To explain how the financial savings work, the chart below shows an example of household energy consumption measured in blue and typical (North facing) solar energy production in orange. This shows that depending on the energy usage in the building and the size of the solar system installed, solar may not always be able to provide the energy required. This is not a bad thing, because any surplus energy will be automatically credited through the smart meter for a credit of 9.9 c/kWh to help reduce the remaining energy bill.
It is also important to note that this orange curve is based on a North facing solar system, so the peak is around 12 noon. Solar panels facing East and West can provide energy production in the morning and afternoon.
The sunnier the days there are, the more energy is produced. Speak to one of our sustainability experts to see how you can make the most of your solar power by calling 1300 430 430.
If I’m on a budget, can I still get solar?
EnviroGroup understands that everyone has a budget. If your budget is restricted and you’re thinking about getting a solar system, the prospect can seem daunting spending thousands of dollars on something that once it’s running you won’t even realise the difference (until you get your next energy bill that is).
Different products cater to different budgets based on a few select criteria. Where the products are manufactured and owned, how long the company/manufacturer has been in operation and quality products.
To find a system suited to your needs our sustainability experts will work around your budget to find something that’s right for you
How much does it cost to get solar power?
There are a range of different costs for systems based on predominantly three things – your system needs, quality and budget.
The out-of-pocket costs range from around $2000 for a small, basic system right up to $30,000 for a large premium system. We have found that our customers generally are paying between $6000 – $15,000 for a premium system. Keep in mind there are state rebates and different financing options available* for solar system buyers.
Installing Your Solar
How long does it take to install a solar system?
To answer this in short, for a standard residential home installing solar generally takes about one day. However, if your home includes some of the following the install may take longer to complete.
- Steep roof pitch
- Double storey
- Roof access issues
- Unforeseeable changes on the day of install, usually due to household structure
- Asbestos potentially identified by installer
Weather and installer availability may also affect the completion of the install. When working at heights and with electrical equipment it is unsafe to install during the rain or extremely hot conditions. Your solar installers are people too and get sick occasionally, EnviroGroup values employee health and wellbeing encouraging safe work practices.
If you are wondering just how long it may take to install your solar system, our sustainability experts can provide you with a calculated estimate.
What if I live in a heritage overlay, do I need extra approvals to install my solar system?
Yes, if you live in a home in Victoria with a heritage overlay you must apply for a planning permit prior to installing solar panels on your roof. This process can be done through your local council and usually takes around 10 business days.
The Planning department will decide based on if it can be seen from the street or any local parks. Our sustainability experts are experienced with this process and will gladly help you through the process.
What should I consider when buying a system?
Total energy usage, time of use, orientation of home and what appliances you use. What sort of system and installation warranties are available? Who is the manufacturer of the components? Are any rebates available for buying a solar system? How do I know my solar retailer is reputable?
You get what you pay for when purchasing a solar system for your home. Some solar system providers and retailers may offer you a cheap system but this end up costing you more in the long run.
How do I store solar energy instead of exporting it?
To store the solar energy that you generate from your solar system you can invest in a solar battery storage unit. There are many benefits for storage solar energy to energy efficiency and if chosen correctly your savings.
Without a solar battery storage unit, all the electricity you are using at night time is imported from the grid (which you are paying for). With a solar battery any of the excess energy that your solar system produces during the day that you do not use at the time will be stored in a battery unit instead of being exported to the grid. Not only could this save you money on your electricity bills it will decrease your overall reliance on the energy grid and fossil fuels.
Investing in solar storage unit has typically been uneconomical. However, more and more products are coming on the market making solar battery storage an option for many home owners with a solar system.
What if I have asbestos in my home?
If you are aware that there is asbestos in your home, please make sure you inform EnviroGroup as we will need to take special precautions when installing your solar system. Some of these precautions could involve an asbestos inspector assessing where the material is contaminated, and also removing all or parts of the asbestos to create a safe work area.
If you are unaware if there is asbestos in your home and on the day of install your installer identifies potential contamination, then work in that area will stop until a qualified asbestos inspector has tested the area and organized for its removal. Installers may also partially redesign some of the solar system to work around asbestos however, we recommend its removal.
The owner of the home is responsible for covering the cost of asbestos removal and we encourage that if you have any doubt, getting an asbestos analyst to check your home prior to the installation day.
If you’re concerned about asbestos in your home and you want to invest in solar power, our sustainability experts would gladly help you through the process. Give them a call on 1300 430 430.
I am building a new home, what should I consider if I want to install solar power?
Building a new home can be a long and arduous process. When you are adding systems to your lifestyle that lower your carbon footprint or increase your savings on your energy bill, it’s a good idea to consider solar for your new home. Technologies for energy efficiency are ever advancing and EnviroGroup works in consultation with builders, engineers, architects and industry experts to provide the best solar system for your home.
If you are thinking about installing a solar system in your new home build there are few things you should think about – panel location, pitch and orientation, inverter location, pre-wiring your home for solar and more. EnviroGroup can even help you work out roughly your ROI depending on your current energy consumption, taking into consideration any changes to your lifestyle or appliances in the home.
On the EnviroGroup end, it is important to notify your solar consultant and designer with a minimum one month lead-time if your planning on incorporating a pre-wire into the build for your installing solar panels.
Can I put panels on my shed?
Possibly. Your shed has to have a good solid structure like a hardwood frame or C-channel steel. It also needs to have power to it in the form of a sub-mains. You can tell if a shed has a sub-mains to it by looking for a small distribution board mounted inside. This is a little box with switches and circuit breakers. If it doesn’t have this it might just have a light and power coming from the house. This won’t do.
We can’t connect solar to these circuits. Sometimes it is possible to cut a trench from the shed to the house and either install a sub-mains or run the solar cable back to the main meter box. This can vary in price depending on distance and whether there is any cement to cut through. Our consultants will be able to assess all this for you when they visit your house.
Rebates and incentives questions
Are there rebates available for solar panels or solar battery storage?
Generally, yes. Various governments, whether State or Federal and sometimes local, might run an incentive program using rebates depending on their policy plans. In Victoria, the Solar Homes program is underway offering a $2225 rebate for new installations as well as an interest free loan for the same amount. See our Rebates section for more information and if you’re in another state, check you state government website for rebate information.
But don’t confuse rebates with the STC process which is different and applies to all systems, new or old, across the entire country. This is not a rebate as such but an instrument of the Renewable Energy market. See below for more detail on this.
There has also been an increase in government financing schemes such as Environmental Upgrade Agreements (EUA) which allow customers to pay back council or the state for the cost of their solar system, with low or no interest. Again, this is a wonderful incentive furthering the possibilities for people considering buying a solar system.
Get in touch with one of our experts to see what rebate schemes that you are eligible for!
What is a feed in-tariff?
All electricity retailers will pay you for your exported power, but usually in the order of 5 – 10 cents for unit of energy (kWh) for installations after 2011. Be sure to check with your current energy retailer and shop around for a better deal if you are not happy as some offers from electricity retailers are better than others in terms of the ‘peak’ electricity rate, supply charges and also the feed-in tariff rate.
Why do they do this. Feed-in tariffs are a policy incentive designed to encourage people and energy retailers to invest in renewable energy technologies like solar power.
It is most easily understood as receiving credits on your energy bill or payment proportional to the amount of solar power you generate in your home/business that it fed into the energy grid. This occurs when you have a solar system generating power and if there is any excess power generates (unused within the home) it will be exported back into the supply. When doing so your homes meter will measure the amount of export, which will then be converted to savings on your electricity bill. What a great system, investing into the sun’s energy, reducing your reliance on fossil fuel and saving you money!
How do STCs work? What are these prices based on?
Small-scale technology certificates (STCs) are like shares. Shares represent a piece of a company but STCs represent a quantity of energy produced by a renewable energy source. They literally represent 1MWh of generation over a deeming period which varies each year but in 2019 is 12 years. So, a 5kW system will accrue approximately 71 STCs. Now, these STCs are traded on a market and have a value. The value is capped at $40 each but is constantly changeable up to that value depending on the market activity. For some time now the value has hovered around $34 but has dropped as low as $12 in the last 10 years.
Therefore: For a 5kW system 71 STCs accrue at $34 each so the value is $2414. This may change as the STC market changes daily.
So, when your system is installed you will get a certificate showing the number of accrued STCs. You can’t trade them because you never have enough so the intended procedure is to hand them over to your installer who accumulates all the STCs they install and they pass that value back to you in the form of a discount on the total cost of your system. You’ll see this on your quote.
The easiest way to understand STCs are to view them as subsidies or discounts to the final price of your system.
Are STCs really reducing?
Yes, but relatively slowly! Over the next 15 years (ending 2030), the number of STC’s (Government rebates) that are awarded for solar power installations is reducing by a factor of 1/15 at the end of each year. This may equate to only $100-$200 per year in lost certificates.
Solar system and technical questions
What components are needed for a solar system?
Inverter, solar panels, electrical isolators, rail, inverters. In some systems other components may be installed such as micro inverters, DC optimizers or a solar battery unit.
What size solar system do I need?
Exactly how much solar you need depends on your electricity bills (or consumption), your roof space and your budget. We generally recommend a system that has the ability to provide at least 80% of your daily electrical use.
To choose a size of solar system it is important to be clear on what you would like the solar system to achieve. For those wanting fast financial paybacks smaller systems are sometimes preferred, whereas maximum environmental benefits are achieved with a larger solar power system. Most of our customers want a mixture of both these things. This chart serves as a guide only so please consult with one of our professional solar design staff to discuss your situation.
|System Size||2 kW||3.5 kW||5 kW||10 kW|
|Suits No. Bedrooms||1-2 br||3 br||3-4 br||4+ br|
|Roof Space||14 m2||24 m2||34 m2||68 m2|
|Average Daily Energy||7.2 kWh||12.6 kWh||18 kWh||36 kWh|
|CO2 Savings Annual||3.9 t||6.8 t||9.6 t||19.3 t|
|Possible annual savings (savings increase every year with rising power prices)|
|Heavy Power User||$900||$1500||$2200||$4300|
|Average Power User||$700||$1200||$1700||$3500|
Should I get a technical inspection before I install solar?
A technical inspection is not always needed before installing your solar system. However, to avoid issues on the day of installation and added costs to your systems installation, EnviroGroup advise opting for a technical inspection prior to your install. The technical inspection most commonly involves:
- Identifying the level of safety measures that must be implemented for installers to safely access and install the solar system
- Identifying any access issues to the residential property and roof
- Inspecting the switchboard and assessing if there is a need for an upgrade prior to installation
- Assessing the roof condition for installers and solar system designer
- Finding the best location for the inverter to best protect the product
- Clearly defining cable routes for the solar system
- Identifying if there is asbestos at the property
To book a technical inspection prior to having your solar installed call EnviroGroup on 1300 430 430.
Do I need a switchboard upgrade?
Generally, during the process of designing your solar system our sustainability experts request a photo of your switchboard to identify any issues where you may need to get a switchboard upgrade in order to install solar. It is recommended that you get a technical inspection prior to install so you aren’t left with additional charges on the day on installation. Here are a few reasons why you may need a switchboard upgrade.
- There is no space left in the switchboard to add a solar main switch in
- There is no main switch for the homes power supply (typically old homes)
- No safety switch (RCDs attributing to other circuits near them)
- Your switchboard is an old federal or ceramic board
- If the switchboard does not meet current safety regulations (may only need rewiring not necessarily a full upgrade)
- If you have any cracks or visible degrading of the switch board more generally
- If you think you might need a switchboard upgrade our sustainability consultants will likely be able to let you know (please supply a photo).
What affects my system performance?
As a solar investor it can be difficult to find reputable and independent comparisons of solar equipment. EnviroGroup’s solar system designers and engineers have spent over 15 years developing a thorough selection criteria to ensure that our products outperform and outlast many others on the market. These criteria have contributed to EnviroGroup being awarded many projects for large commercial installations for businesses, universities, schools and government buildings.
EnviroGroup relies on a combination of installation experience (15 years; 10,000+ systems and counting) and objective data to make its panel choices. Of course, your budget is important, too. We look for verifiable quality indicators, genuine performance data and that ‘something extra’ that differentiates a panel from its competitors in its category.
|Product Defect Warranty
|10 years||15 years||25 years|
|25 years to 80.7%||25 years to 80.2%||25 years to 87%|
|Power per panel
|320W to 360W||310W to 330W||320W to 420W|
|Installation experience||Possibly millions installed. Our workhorse panel.||A more efficient and more advanced panel highly respected in the industry for reliability.||The best. An almost negligible fail rate. Sunpower panels have no peer.|
|Technology||Monocrystalline silicon, with low PID||New generation PERC, monocrystalline silicon||N-Type mono cells, copper backed, partly flexible.|
|Environmental Scorecard||“above average”||“above average”||Global winner, 98%|
|Something extra?||Outstanding, highly transparent manufacturing process, regularly in the top 10 for efficiency, durability and global volume shipped||Leading performer at Australia’s only installed test site, Desert Knowledge. Regularly in top 10 for other tests including efficiency, durability, volume||Best panel in the world for decades (won many tests). Used on: NASA robots, solar powered aeroplanes (Solar Impulse 1 and 2), solar boats|
|Country||China||Taiwan||USA based; made in France, Mexico and China|
Monocrystal or Polycrystal?
The vast majority of solar panels are made from silicon crystal. Silicon ingots are made and then sliced into thin wafers or cells. In the past, there was a big difference in performance between mono and poly but over time so much development has gone into the manufacturing that there’s really no difference between them now. Mono crystal is almost black in colour and you can easily tell them because of the diamond shaped blank spaces between the corners of each cell. We call these ‘diamonds’ and they have no purpose.
Poly cells are blue and have a mottled effect. Poly panels have no diamonds because the ingots are rectangular so when you cut the wafers, they are square. There is a new type of panel arrangement called ‘shingles’ which are monocrystal and they don’t have diamonds either. Don’t lose too much sleep over any of this as really doesn’t matter. Since Envirogroup prefers to use the latest equipment like Sunpower and these are monocrystalline, most of our range is mono but we have used poly in the past and may again.
The inverter is the brains of the system and as such requires the most reliability. If a string inverter fails then the whole system goes down. We choose inverters with solid reputations for reliability such as Fronius, SMA, Enphase and Sungrow. The inverter we choose for you will depend on your budget and your design. A feature of increasing importance is monitoring. Up until recently, monitoring was never seen as important but these days it is. If you choose an inverter with basic monitoring, you can often upgrade it or add a third party service such as Solar Analytics or Carbon Track.
The ability to monitor the generation of your solar system and plot it against the household consumption is becoming increasingly important as batteries are become more widely used and the uptake of electric cars has commenced. With such a heavy emphasis on your energy use these days it makes sense to be able to see what’s going on. Another major benefit to monitoring is that Envirogroup are able to log into your monitor and check performance or problems.
If Envirogroup monitors your system, we will see faults before you do and have a response immediately; often before you know what’s going on. This is a service most commercial solar installations use but is now becoming more popular with residential systems. If you have an old system with no monitoring at all, consider using one of the great third-party products like Solar Analytics or Carbon Track. Call us for advice.
Roof pitch and orientation
The economic and environmental performance of solar power systems is influenced by the direction the solar panels are installed. However, less so than people might think. While installing solar panels on a north facing roof provides the best annual solar generation, it is not always architecturally practical or aesthetically suitable to do so.
The chart below shows the percentage losses for solar systems with roof angles based in Melbourne. These losses are applied to all solar generation and financial savings estimates.
Although perfect solar performance is achieved by a roof pitch of 30 degrees and facing north (0% loss in the table below) it is clear that it is perfectly acceptable to face solar panels in other directions at different pitches. In the early days of the solar industry, it was important to get the panel pitch right as the Angle of Incidence (AoI) i.e., the angle sunlight hits the panel, was an important factor in achieving decent generation. These days, solar cell efficiencies and crystal design mean that the AoI is less important and the losses incurred from different pitches are less relevant. This gives us a lot more flexibility in our designs and we can get better use out of your roof, now. We still don’t like to lay panels flat even though we do all the time in commercial installations. Sure, you lose a little bit of efficiency (not much) but the real issue is cleaning. Flat mounted panels accumulate dirt and dust which does not wash off with rain. Over a short time, system efficiency drops and panel life is shortened. When we install flat mounted systems on commercial jobs we generally have a maintenance schedule included in the contract.
In some applications, the solar panels can be installed on tilt frames to modify the installation angle and therefore improve the performance, although with added cost. These are generally cost effective for tin & Kliplok roofs with flat pitch or up to 10 degrees.
In doing the design, we have to always be mindful of the outcome we are chasing. If we use tilt frames then each row of panels has to be far enough away from the next row to not shade them so we get fewer panels on the roof than if we lay them flat. Solar design is a trade-off between efficiency and generation.
Shading cast by neighbouring buildings, trees, vents and any other solid structure can interrupt the efficiency or production of solar power. Shade is bad and hard shade permanently on a panel can end up burning it out over time. This can be solved by eliminating the shade from hitting the panels all together or specialized components which will allow your system to operate with better efficiency. These components are microinverters or DC optimizers.
Solar systems like any large electrical unit will operate with more efficiency with regular servicing and general maintenance. Keeping panels clean will affect the production of solar energy. Regular maintenance and system servicing may help with regular solar energy production and system lifetime. If you would like your system service EnviroGroup offer a range of service options to help you get your system to its optimum capabilities, call 1300 430 430
Do I need to clean or maintain the panels?
Most solar panels are ‘self-cleaning’ meaning that natural rain is enough to keep them clean. If your panels are soiled simply spraying them with water should be sufficient. But if your panels are heavily soiled or your system is over 3 years old – we offer a service inspection program where a technician will inspect the system to make sure it’s running as it should. We also offer a panel cleaning service.
Can I mount the panels on any roof, no matter which way it faces?
Mostly, yes. In the southern hemisphere panels facing due north receive sunlight at the optimum angle in the middle of the day so north facing systems produce the most power. BUT! If the goal is for your solar energy to offset as much of your bill as possible then north facing panels might not be the best option. If nobody is home throughout the day then your solar is not being consumed and goes back to the grid where it is worth much less than what you are being billed. Most households use more power in the afternoon and the sun is in the west in the afternoon so for most people, putting panels on the west is a better option even though you will lose a few percent in peak generation. It’s better to have 80% of something when you need it than 100% when you don’t. East facing panels are less desirable because household loads are minimum in the morning when the sun is powering these systems but if you have a pool or you can run equipment in the morning then sometimes it’s a good option.
We can even put panels on the south in certain circumstances. It is certainly the least desirable option and in Victoria, the winter generation will be terrible but if you have very high summer bills from air-conditioners or you are just plain desperate to reduce your bill even with an inefficient system and the only option on the roof is south, then we can consider it but it is really a last resort in Melbourne. If you are in Brisbane or Darwin where the winter sun is much higher in the sky then south is far less lossy.
What sort of roof can solar be installed on?
Solar can be installed on most roofs, normally tin, tile or kliplock. Some materials like slate can be problematic and asbestos is basically a no-go zone. There is a rare occasion where a roof may be made of a new or alternative material other than those mentioned. It is important that EnviroGroup is informed prior to installation to best understand the roof and the design of the solar system. EnviroGroup works with architects and engineers in understanding the best possibilities of installing solar on new roof materials. Ask our sustainability consultants if installing on your roof is possible.
If you have identified that your roof is over 40 years old with terracotta tiles or of poor-condition make sure you have at least 30-40 spare tiles to ensure that the installers can replace tiles if they are cracked or damaged during installation.
What sort of warranties does the system have? And why are they important?
EnviroGroup has been in operation since 2004, longer than many solar retailers in the market. EnviroGroup has a 10 year warranty on the installation of the system. For the products and components stocked by EnviroGroup, the warranties range from 5 – 25 years with the lowest solar panel warranty being 10 years.
When choosing your system components consider this; warranties should exist for at least the time of the company’s operation so that they are around if anything goes wrong.
If I sell my house, can I take the solar system with me?
Yes, it is possible.
However, the process is difficult and it is likely to end up costing more to uninstall and install again the system than it is to get a new one. Why not add to the value of your old home, leaving the solar system for the new owners or occupants to use and participate in the renewable energy movement.
Are the panels fragile?
Yes and No. The panels are specifically designed and certified to withstand impacts from harsh weather such as hailstones. The aluminium frames are anodized for extra durability and long life. A direct lightning strike or extreme hail event is about the only weather likely to create significant damage to a solar power system. However, micro-fracturing of the silicon crystal is common when panels are incorrectly installed. Manufacturers specify the correct clamping zones on panels for maximum protection against wind loading effects and if these are not adhered to then a panel can vibrate with the wind, stressing the crystal and living a very short life. Sunpower panels are built with back-of-cell tracks and are therefore able to withstand incredible punishment whilst still producing energy.
Will the installation involve any significant alterations to my house?
All hardware is installed with virtually no alterations to your house. For tin roofs the frames are mounted directly to the roof and for tile roofs, a few tiles are removed, the frame is mounted into the rafters and then the tiles are replaced. The cables are normally installed inside the roof, walls, or underfloor, sometimes inside of conduit depending on the system type, and only as a last resort on an external wall. We strive to ensure minimal aesthetic impact to your home. But we have to operate within the rules and if we have to run d.c. cable inside a wall then it has to be inside metal conduit and this may simply not be possible to do so an external conduit might be required. We try to inform you of these things well before your installation date so you know what you are getting.
Can I increase my system size in the future?
Generally, yes, if you have enough room but there are many limitations. Many Network Providers limit the size of a system to 5kW per phase so if you already have been approved for 5kW on a single phase house then it may not be possible to go any larger. Also, if you have an older smaller system, you probably won’t be able to buy the same panels and adding newer panels to an old system is highly problematic. Your inverter might also not be able to take more panels and will have to be replaced. If you have a micro-inverter system such as Enphase, then adding extra system size is far easier provided you can fit it on the roof.
Can you estimate my power output and financial savings if I want to invest solar system?
Yes, we can. Based on how many panels you install as well as the inverter.
We also need to see your bills. The bill tells us what rate plan you are on and also your consumption each month. Some of the better bills also tell us when you are using electricity and this makes analysis much more accurate. We can also tell you whether you are paying too much for power and we might recommend shopping around for a better plan. This, plus adding solar power, will help smash that dreaded power bill.
What is interval data?
Interval data is the data recorded by your smart meter. The meter takes a snapshot of your power level at 15 or 30 minute increments around the clock all year round. You can request this from your retailer and it is usually emailed to you as a .csv file which you can open in Excel. When our designers have this file they can do very accurate modelling of how a solar project will perform and proved an accurate financial calculation based on actual historical figures. We generally do this for larger commercial projects rather than residential but if you have the file we would be happy to do the modelling for you as part of your quote.
Is my property single-phase or three-phase?
You can identify whether your property is a single-phase or three-phase by taking a look in your main switchboard. The circuit breaker which controls your main power supply for the house is essentially the type of phase that you have. One circuit breaker (or pole) is a single-phase property, the most common for residential properties.
However, if you have a large home needing more supply you may have a three-phase property. This is identified in the same way as a single-phase by looking at how many circuit breakers control your main power supply. At a three-phase properties switchboard there will be three circuit breakers controlling the power mains power supply. Have a look at the image below and if you have any doubts give EnviroGroup a call on 1300 430 430.
Single Phase on the left Three Phase on the right
Another way to identify the number of phases is to look at your meter. On the label it will say either 1P or 3P
What is battery ready?
Battery ready is a marketing phrase that can often be meaningless. All solar systems are battery ready since there are battery systems like Tesla that are ac coupled and can go onto any existing system. However, if you wanted a dc coupled system like Delta or LG Chem then the inverter on the existing system must be a type known as a hybrid which can not only take the solar array but also control the batteries.
These hybrids are like having a PV inverter and battery inverter in the one box. The Tesla and similar have the battery inverter built into the battery case. Battery systems require a good deal of consultation to ensure you have the appropriate system for your needs. They are NOT all the same. For more detailed explanation on battery deployment and “battery readiness” please call our consultants.
Grid and connection questions
When will my solar power be connected?
Your solar power system will be working from when your installer finishes the installation. However, it will be turned off until an electrical safety inspector issues a certificate of electrical safety (CES). This usually takes 1-4 days for the system to be inspected, depending on your availability for the inspector to have a look at the system
How long does it take to be grid-connected and start receiving my feed-in tariffs?
There is much variation in the industry for the amount of time that it takes to be connected to the grid. It relies on the processing time of all paperwork supplied to the solar retailer (EnviroGroup) and your energy retailer (eg. AGL).
Here at EnviroGroup we generally see a 2 – 5 weeks turn around for solar feed-in tariffs to start (sometimes even as fast as 1 week!). We pride ourselves on getting you connected quickly so you can start receiving your export discounts on energy bills. This is due to our quality internal processes and our strong commitment to service excellence. If you have questions about this process get in contact with one of our sustainability experts on 1300 430 430
What are grid-voltage issues?
If you are experiencing problems with your inverter, we advise calling EnviroGroup directly to resolve the problem as it could be a number of issues. However, we have noticed a common problem with inverters in Victoria where they are periodically shutting down due to grid-voltage issues.
The energy grid is not always stable, it is subject to supply and demand of electrical energy. Grid-voltage issues are generally caused by a large amount of solar production during the day, whilst a low amount of consumer consumption of the energy. When grid-voltage issues occur with your solar system the factory safety fault settings of your inverter shut down the system, this can lead to efficiency and solar energy production issues.
The issue is often resolved by one of EnviroGroup’s solar technicians adjusting your inverter’s settings. However, in some cases where the issue has persisted, the energy distributor is contacted as the energy supply may need adjustments or upgrades.
Quality and Safety Questions
Many companies stress they have Tier 1 panels. What does that mean?
In short, not a lot. A Tier 1 ranking was a metric devised by Bloomberg, a finance reporting and news service, to classify solar companies by their current bankability. Even by Bloomberg’s own admission, it was never meant as a measure of a company’s quality or their products so you absolutely cannot use this term as a classification of solar panel quality. It’s not even a ranking as there is no Tier 2 or 3. It only refers to a company’s stability as lender for large scale projects as a metric to assess lending risk. Since the solar industry has had some very volatile times over the last ten years, plenty of respected manufacturers have popped in and out of the Tier 1 list as they adjust to global cycles. The problem with the term in our industry is that so many companies market heavily around the idea that they have Tier 1 panels that it has become a shorthand for the panel quality. However, there is a correlation between a highly bankable and stable manufacturer and the quality of the panels they produce but this not the result of being awarded a Tier 1 status and there have been many Tier 1 listed companies who have gone into bankruptcy and who have had global panel failures. So, if you are getting a quote from a company that doesn’t disclose the panels they plan to use but keep telling you they are Tier 1 quality, then avoid them. Here’s Bloomberg’s own statement of the issue:
Here’s some more information about Tier 1 nonsense from Solar Review:
So just remember, if you are buying your panels because you were told they were Tier 1, you have been misled and could end up with junk. Companies are Tier 1, not panels.
Why should I choose an accredited and solar approved retailer?
A solar power generator is not like buying a new television or an air-conditioner. You are putting a tiny power station on the roof of your house and connecting it up to the energy grid. This is not a job for beginners or the unqualified. To even have a grid connection approved your designer must be certified by the Clean Energy Council and the installer must be as well. Your installer must also comply with the ever expanding OH&S requirements such as fall arrest harnesses and guard rails. Once installed, your system must be assigned a Certificate of Electrical Safety (CES) which guarantees proper compliance.
Then an inspector will come out and check the system. Many low-cost systems are defected at this point and then you will have to have the installer return to fix the problem. Being approved and accredited is still no guarantee of quality however, but it does ensure that the installer is trying to operate within the rules.
How do I know that I am getting a good quality system?
For most customers, buying a solar system is a new experience and unlike buying a car, computer or television, you will come across brands you’ve never heard of. Some of these are gigantic companies with very long pedigrees and others are new start-ups. Any solar installer with a good reputation will carry products that are known performers. These companies make choices in panels and inverters that suit their business needs but in general they will choose products in the top 5 of the best available.
Brands like Fronius, SMA, ABB, Delta and Sungrow are common inverters and panels like Trina, Yingli, Jinko, Canadian Solar, SunPower and Winaico with a couple of others are the most frequently seen. We choose these products because we are confident they will last and perform as claimed and because we have confidence in the support from those companies. The last thing we want is ongoing warranty issues that can wreck our business and your support.
However, more importantly than panels and inverters, the really important part of a solar system is what we call the balance of system (BoS). This is the cabling, conduits, isolators and railing that form the infrastructure of the entire system and it’s here that low cost operators cut corners. Isolators are for protection and cheap isolators start fires. Cheap rail and mounting systems fail in wind or weather and panels start coming off roofs. Roof penetrations must be correctly sealed and conduit must be compliant and properly finished. A good solar company will have a great reputation with customers, government and business and will do everything to protect that reputation. Ask about this when you get your quote.
When will my solar system pay itself off? Payback periods?
For many people, a solar system is an asset with a financial benefit. Payback periods are a metric people often uses as an indicator of value but it’s not always so. A perfect payback scenario is when the energy load of a building perfectly coincides with solar generation. This means that all the load of that building is supplied by the solar system and nothing is imported from the grid.
Businesses with 9-5 operations and schools fall neatly into this type of situation and can have payback periods under 2 years but most households have a high percentage of their energy usage at night when the solar is not working. Learning to load shift by running things like washing machines and dishwasher in the day helps reduce the payback time.
In general, a typical household with 2 or more people would have a payback time between 4 and 7 years depending on the level of equipment being used. If your return on investment ROI is over 9%, a solar system beats almost every other type of investment you can think of. International shares can have average returns of 12-14% but with the risk of loss. There is no risk of loss with solar and there are plenty of installations returning 20-30% ROI or more.
So, the real question isn’t how good your payback period is, it’s whether you want to keep giving your money to the energy retailer or do you want to keep it for yourself. Not installing solar ensures you never keep that money and you are always at the mercy of the energy market.
Solar Installation Safety Concerns
Roof Heights, access and fall arrest requirements
In Victoria, workplace safety is governed by WorkSafe Victoria. There are rules for working at heights and workers have to be ticketed for working on rooftops. We can’t have workers tumbling from heights and dying or being critically injures so all efforts must be made to prevent falls. This generally means, at the very least, safety harness and tethering so if there is a slip, the fall is prevented. On heights two storey and higher, a fall over an edge could mean a worker dangling by the harness for an extended period of time whilst a rescue is put into effect and this delay could cause further injury. In these situations, safety guard rails are now required.
There is also an issue regarding access to the workzone. Above two storeys, a scissor lift is generally used provided there is a suitable point for it to be stationed. It is not acceptable to expect installers to carry panels and equipment up a ladder beyond a single storey. On more complex sites, a crane may have to be used to get materials to the roof and generally, if there is a crane then there is risk road traffic will be blocked so a traffic management plan has to be implemented. This is the type of event more common on commercial rather than residential sites but if you are in an apartment block or are on a main road it could still happen.
At the end of the day, Envirogroup is committed to the rules of safety and quality and we always, always meet or exceed them. Sometimes this means saying NO to a job and walking away where another company might take on the risk but we will never compromise the safety of our installers or our customers.
Commercial Solar Systems
Small-scale Solar Systems up to 30kW
Small commercial solar systems up to 30kW are treated with the same care as residential systems but there are often considerable variables that affect the design and quote. Due to the requirements of the network distributor, 30kW (at the inverter) is a cut-off point for many sites because beyond this size, network protection systems are mandatory and this will add considerable cost to the system; typically around $8000 including fees. For this reason a common commercial system is a 40kW array powering a 30kW inverter or set of inverters. We call this a 40 on 30. This gives the maximum allowable system for just about every distributor before network protection is required.
Another consideration for commercial systems is the type of building you often find businesses in. Unlike a house with a timber or steel trussed roof, many commercial buildings are open sheds or factories with large flat roofs or with c-channel steel purlins and trusses. These were never designed for solar panels and the additional load on the roof can cause problems so it is becoming mandatory for a structural engineering assessment and certificate to be added to the quote. More on this later.
Medium-scale commercial solar systems 30kW to 100kW
Once a commercial system gets above 30kW, network or grid protection is required and this involves an additional board or box with relays that disconnect the solar system from the network once certain conditions occur. Each distributor also has a number of fees and tests for large systems so your quote gets a big hit from these costs. Structural Engineering assessment also becomes more detailed and possibly more costly because the weight of the entire system and the distribution of that weight over the roof has to be calculated to understand the impact of it on the structure. A 100kW system typically uses about 312 panels which, together with racking and cabling, weighs nearly 6t. This is a lot of weight for a shed roof designed to keep the rain out!
Just like residential solar systems, commercial systems need to have the switchboard and cable routes properly assessed. There are thousands of commercial sites with ancient switchboards that are not compliant with current standards and the cost to upgrade can be extremely high. We spend a lot more time on site checking these things and sometimes multiple visits are required.
Large-scale commercial solar systems above 100kW
Once you go above 100kW everything changes. You now fall outside the Small Scale Renewable Energy scheme and enter the Large Scale component of the Renewable Energy Target. This means that STCs no longer apply and the cost of your system is no longer reduced by the STC amount. However, you do generate LGCs or Large-scale Generation Certificates. Like STCs, LGCs represent 1MWh of energy generated in a year but unlike STCs they are produced annually and provide a revenue stream. So, when we quote large systems you will see the total price for the system and also the annual revenue created by your LGCs. This figure is variable, though, because LGCs, like STCs are a tradable instrument and the price of them fluctuates with market demand. Go to this Federal Government website for some light reading on LGCs.
Ground Mounted Systems
Envirogroup do ground mounted systems as well as rooftop. There’s a whole lot of considerations to ground mount that must be satisfied before proceeding. First, a ground mounted solar system is always at a distance from the load and the metering. It could be on a paddock powering a farm or winery or even a remote pump house. To get the power to the load, trenching is generally required and cable sizes usually increase a lot so the costs of installation can be large. Then there’s the cost of the mounting system itself and mounting in the ground. Soil testing is done and there’s frequently structural engineering assessments as well. But if you have a lot of land with some spare to use, a ground mount system can be a useful way to make unused land productive.
Structural Engineering Considerations
It has become increasingly common for a structural engineering certificate to be required for larger commercial systems and mandatory for most. The reason for this is that most commercial buildings have never been designed for solar on the roof and by adding several tonne onto structure designed to keep out the rain the integrity of the building can be compromised with roof collapses occurring at the extreme end of the risk. This has happened several times in Victoria already so having a structural engineer assess and certify your solar design ensures that the risk to your customer is hopefully zero.
When we design your commercial solar system, we use the principles set by our engineers to make the process as smooth as possible. The weight of the system and its distribution over the roof is calculated and these calculations are applied to the building’s structure. We will often ask for architectural drawings of the building or, if not available, go out and measure everything by hand. Only when we are confident the building can take a large system will we design a solution for you.
But it’s not only weight that is a problem. A large solar array also acts like a sail when wind blows over it. As wind travels over the roof and under the panels, a very high updraft occurs which can tear the panels from the roof or even the roof itself. So roofs have exclusion zones where wind effects are highest and we either leave panels out of these or use extra mounting equipment for panels in those areas. We put a lot of effort into the selection of roof mounting systems and have a close working relationship with companies like Clenergy who are active in solving structural problems with their gear.
The upshot of all this is that you may not have the amount of space you think you have for solar. What looks like an enormous area of free rooftop may actually be structurally weak and unsuitable for solar. The quality of the mounting system is extremely important and suitable for the roof sheeting in use. Cheap systems break roofs.
We are happy to help with any questions you might have regarding a solar system installation. For a no obligation discussion, fill out the form below and a helpful team member will be in touch.