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Residential Solar Starter Guide

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Welcome to our Residential Solar Starter Guide

Written by

Shaun McGowan

In the sections below, we’ll cover:

  • What solar energy is
  • How solar energy works
  • The benefits of using solar energy
  • What makes up a solar energy system
  • How to choose the right components for your home

In each of the main sections in this guide, you’ll also find breakout guides that cover each topic in greater detail. Now, let’s get started with solar!

What is solar?

Solar is power generated using the energy from the sun. Solar energy is renewable and sustainable, which means it will never run out and is entirely clean.

Solar electricity is generated by installing a solar energy system in a home, which consists of panels to generate energy and an inverter to distribute it in the home.

Advanced solar energy systems may also incorporate solar batteries for storage, or energy monitoring systems to maximise energy production and savings.

Energy in Australia with Money Matchmaker

How does solar work?

A solar system consists of:

  • Solar panels to capture energy from the sun.
  • A solar inverter to turn the collected energy from DC current to AC current, which then feeds this into the building's fuse box to be distributed to appliances.

Solar energy prioritises solar energy, and if there is any additional energy required then that can seamlessly continue to be drawn from the grid. 

Excess energy you don’t use is then sold back to the grid for use elsewhere on the network, or stored if the installation includes a solar battery. 

Understanding your solar energy system thanks to Money Matchmaker

Benefits of home solar panels

Have a look almost anywhere on the internet, and you'll find people singing the praises of solar energy. Below are just a few reasons that could help you make the move to solar today. 

  • Clean, free energy - Infinitely renewable and clean energy you can generate for free.
  • Goodbye to Blackouts -Generating your own electricity provides security in a blackout if you have a battery storage system.
  • You can save even more money - Many states in Australia offer rebates when you choose to install a solar system. 
  • Solar has never been more affordable - Solar panels have steadily increased their efficiency and decreased in price.
  • Solar also stands the test of time - Solar systems installed over 20 years ago are still performing well today.
Find out the benefits of solar panels for your home with Money Matchmaker

What makes up a solar energy system?

A solar energy system can generally be constructed of five components:

Core Components Optional Components
  • Solar Panels
  • Solar Inverter
  • Solar Panel Mounting
  • Solar Battery
  • Energy Monitoring Device

The core components are essentially the framework of every solar power system; solar panels to absorb energy, the mounting to secure the panels, and an inverter to use your generated energy.

Solar panels

Solar panels are large collections of solar cells that are placed on a roof or other outside surface to absorb the energy produced by the sun. 

In Australia, solar panels are available in 60-66-cell residential panels and larger, 72-cell commercial panels. In most cases, you can install either type on the roof of your home. 

There are some simple pros and cons to either:

  • Residential panels are smaller, take up less space and weigh less. They also produce less electricity but are easier and cheaper to replace. 
  • Commercial panels are larger, produce greater amounts of electricity, but require considerable support and space to maximise their potential. 

Read more about solar panels

Understand solar systems with Money Matchmaker

Solar Inverters

The second main component of a home solar power system installation is the inverter:

  • String inverters go on a wall, and all the solar panels connect to it. Microinverters go underneath or beside each solar panel.
  • Microinverters, which are around the size of a book, cost more than string inverters, but bring a number of benefits.

Avoid installing your inverter in direct sunlight as this is one of the fastest ways to destroy this essential component. Instead, choose to install it inside or under a custom sun cover. 

Read more about solar inverters

The second main component of a home solar power system installation is the inverter

Solar Batteries

A solar battery stores excess solar energy to use at times when your panels cannot generate electricity (i.e. night).

Solar batteries can also allow you to access Virtual Power Plant (VPP) schemes to receive discounts or benefits on solar installation for agreeing to produce energy.

A solar battery can be either connected to the solar inverter (DC) or to the switchboard (AC).

Some batteries (like the Tesla Powerwall) have an internal inverter that converts the AC power back to DC to store it.

Read more about solar batteries and VPPs

A solar battery stores excess solar energy to use at times when your panels cannot generate electricity (i.e. night).

Panel Mounting

Solar panel mounting is what connects your panels to your roof and ensures your installation stands the test of time.

While there are a variety of panel mounts to choose from, the differences are mostly cosmetic unless you venture into the extreme ends of premium pricing.

Speak to the professional installing your solar energy system about the panel mounting used to secure the solar panels on your home.

Solar panel mounting is what connects your panels to your roof and ensures your installation stands the test of time.

Consumption Monitor

If you’re looking at getting solar in your home to save money, presumably by reducing your electricity bill and redirecting energy to the grid to earn from feed-in tariffs, you’ll want to look at a consumption monitor.

Solar energy systems already allow you to see how much energy you generate, but often don’t allow you to see how much of that energy you use, or at what times.

A consumption monitor provides a far greater overview of your solar energy system, which will allow you to use and sell your solar energy with far greater efficiency than without one.

Get a battery back up for your solar battery

How to find a solar professional to install your system

Your solar energy system should be installed by a qualified professional for so many obvious reasons, but finding a great solar pro can be difficult. 

Here are some tips:

  • Understand the types of components you want and the exact system you’ll need first
  • Get multiple quotes on installation and compare these based on your plan estimates
  • Avoid installers who try to offer zero-interest finance or other too-good-to-be-true deals
  • Research and read reviews from multiple sites (look for an average score across multiple sites to avoid fake reviews)

Learn More about Solar Energy in Australia

 There are three core elements to a complete residential solar energy system:

  • Solar Panels capture sunlight and convert it to electricity.
  • Solar Inverters manage the converted electricity to your home or the grid.
  • Solar Batteries store excess solar electricity generated by your panels.

You can learn more about each of these components in the guides to help you decide on what type of solar setup is most suitable for your home. 

Ready to Save with Solar?

Before you go ahead with installing solar to reduce your energy bills, it’s worth taking a look at the available solar rebates in your state. 

Australian Solar Rebates (state-by-state latest)
Find out about how to save the most on your energy bill with Money Matchmaker

About Money.com.au

Money.com.au want to make managing money easy and fun! By giving Australians simple tools so they can make the best decisions they can about their money.

We understand that the world of finance is complex, and offer free, extensive guides on Personal Loans, Car Loans and Business Loans, along with tools like our Budget Planning Spreadsheet to help you better manage and understand personal finance.

About the Author

Shaun McGowan from money.com.au

Shaun

McGowan

Shaun McGowan

Shaun is the founder of Money.com.au and is determined to help people pay as little as possible for financial products. Through education and building world class technology. Previously Shaun co-founded CarLoans.com.au and Lend.

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