Thinking about going solar? Here’s what you need to know.

On the surface of it, going solar makes a lot of sense. But when it comes to making the decision, it’s hard to get the full picture. Here’s what you need to consider.

Solar sounds great. You install the panels, you generate power, it’s better for the planet and better for your wallet. Right. That’s all true. What else do you need to consider?

When are you home?

The best way to get value from a solar system is to use the electricity that you generate. That means being around during the day, or being smart about how you’re using your electricity.

When you’re using your own solar electricity, you don’t have to pay the network companies (the owners of the poles and wires) anything. When you buy power from the grid, you’re paying around 10 cents per kWh to the network, which can make up to 50% of your power bill.

To break this down… say you get wholesale prices from your power company, and receive wholesale prices for the solar you export. If the wholesale price is eight cents per kWh, and the network price is 10 cents per kWh, then you would receive eight cents for everything you export, but pay 18 cents for everything you import.

So, if you’re expected to be at your office during the day, how can you make solar work for you? First you can crunch the numbers. Taking weekends and holidays into account, you probably spend more time in your house than you realise.

How are you using your electricity?

The next step is to look at what you’re using electricity for. Appliances that tend to use a lot of electricity include heating and air conditioning systems, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and pool pumps.

When you take into account your home’s ‘base load’, that is the power that you always use, typically your fridge, freezer, some lighting and other appliances that aren’t turned off at the wall, and add timers to some of your high-drain devices, you may be able to get good value from a solar system. And keep an eye on developments! Battery systems will eventually mean that you’ll be able to stash the power you generate for use later on.

light bulb

What’s happening with feed-in tariffs?

Feed-in tariffs (FiT) are the price you get paid for solar you export to the grid. Prices for feed-in tariffs are dropping, and they look like they will continue to fall. In most states retailers can set their own retail price for feed-in tariffs. Solar energy generates at a specific time period, that is, during the day. A lot of people have opted for solar in Australia, 2 million and counting, and there are lots of new builds on the way that will have panels installed.

So that’s a lot of potential electricity feeding into the grid each day. The more of it, the more wholesale prices will be driven down. Which is great for the consumer, but less good if you’re relying on revenue from feed-in tariffs to offset the cost of your solar installation.

A smart meter is a smart move

If you decide to go ahead with solar, you’ll need to get a smart meter installed. But, it’s actually a great idea to get a smart meter while you’re deciding whether to get solar. This is the best way to understand exactly what you’re doing with your electricity. A smart meter records how much electricity you’re using in 30 minute increments.

Understanding when and how you’re using your electricity will help you to decide whether solar is a good investment for you. Even if you're certain solar will work, knowing how you use power will help you decide the best set up of your solar system - for example changing the panel setup to get more power in the morning or evening.