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Energy from the sun can be captured in two ways: as heat energy (thermal energy) or as light energy. Photovoltaic (PV) technology, also known as solar panels, converts the sun's light energy into an electrical current.
Solar power systems have become very popular with Australian home owners, with more than 1.6 million roof top systems installed across Australia (as at 1 December 2016).
While the upfront cost of a solar power system must be met, once installed they require little maintenance, can be expected to last 20 years or more, and the electricity they generate is free. The cost of solar panels is coming down quickly and systems are becoming more affordable for many households.
New developments in lithium-ion battery systems for the home will enable households to get more out their solar power system. Being able to store excess energy you don’t use during the day and access this at night means you will be less reliant on buying electricity from the grid.
The process of converting sunlight into electricity using PV systems produces no greenhouse gas emissions. Any excess electricity above your needs can be fed back into the mains power grid or into a storage system like a battery bank.
Depending on your location, electricity consumption and the system size, installing solar panels may produce part or all of your household electricity requirement and could represent a substantial saving on your electricity bill.
To get a more accurate idea of the benefit, you can use your electricity bills to add up your annual consumption or get an estimate on the amount of energy consumed per year by a typical household of your size in your area. The Clean Energy Council's Solar PV Guide for Households has useful information, including the estimated power that can be generated by different system sizes in each capital city.
To maximise consumption of the solar power you generate you may also wish to consider installing a combined solar panel and battery system currently being offered by a number of suppliers and energy companies. The Clean Energy Council has information and a safety checklist for households as well as installation guidelines for Grid-connected Energy Systems with Battery Storage (which become mandatory on 1 October 2016).The rate of feed-in tariff you receive and a range of other factors will affect how economical a battery storage system will be for your household. Do some research including talking to accredited installers, and check the Choice guide to get an idea of payback times and how much additional power you can access. With storage of around 7kW, a battery will not be sufficient to make an average household independent from the grid but can help to manage peak electricity demand and costs. Overall prices for solar panels and batteries are expected to continue to fall in coming years.
See install solar power for a step-by-step guide to installing your system.
Rebates are available to help with the cost of installing solar power. Renewable power incentives in the form of Small-scale technology certificates (STCs) can save thousands on the cost of a new system. You can also find out whether an electricity feed-in-tariff is available in your state or territory. If it is, you will want to know the amount you will receive for any electricity you generate and feed back into the grid, and whether you will be offered a gross or net feed-in-tariff.
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