When it comes to solar power and the options available to homeowners, many of us are still in the dark when it comes to the key questions.
- What solar solution do I need?
- Is there an optimum time to buy?
- What should it cost and how can I save money
- And of course, the sustainability/green factor
These are the questions that are top of mind for anyone considering solar power as a means to lowering our ever-increasing energy bills and permanently reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. For anyone who has started down the path of investigating solar power as an option, it’s often a complicated landscape riddled with tech talk.
Renewables expert and Group CTO of 8 Star Energy, Vincenzo Marciano, has put together a Q&A to assist those in the market considering their solar options. 8 Star Energy is the licensed partner of battery giant Energizer® – a name that many will be familiar with, having grown up with the battery brand being widely on offer.
- #CHOOSING A SOLUTION
So, first things first. We know that solar is an amazing option here in Australia due to our weather. With so many options available to us, which one should I choose?
What kind of solar system should I buy?
If you don’t know too much about solar energy systems, don’t worry. Not too many consumers do! It’s an emerging market; we rely on expert installers to steer us in the right direction. Still, there’s no need for you to walk through a catalogue from cover to cover. Having a few facts about your consumption habits up your sleeve can help you pinpoint the right choice quickly, like your current energy usage from a dollar perspective and when you use your energy throughout the day. Batteries definitely make more sense if you are a very high, late-in-the-day user. If you can commit to using your energy gradually throughout the day and are a low energy user overnight, that can help you get more from less and maybe solar panels alone will work for you.
Which brand should I go with?
Research the best system for you based on your usage habits. By purchasing a single branded solution like Energizer Solar, which offers what we call our ecosystem – an end-to-end solar solution – it increases your ability to take advantage of updates as they occur because your components are compatible. The solar battery technology space is an evolving one and improvements, and capabilities are being developed continuously. However, as we progress, we will see more software layers added to dramatically improve useability regardless in most cases of the hardware purchased. Bolting together separate systems from differing brands may open you up to future expensive and complex integration challenges. So choosing a single brand that can provide the panels, inverter and battery will be beneficial in the long run.
Is a battery solution right for everyone?
Not always. Would someone who bought a solar system in 2011 benefit from adding a battery? Probably not since the solar systems were so small back then that it’s unlikely it would provide enough excess energy to charge a battery.
For those considering adding battery storage to an existing solar system, the first thing to understand is what your power bill is like today.
- How much are you paying a quarter right now? Is it still high, $500+ per quarter?
- Are you a heavy user of energy in the evening?
- How much power are you feeding back into the grid on a daily basis? If this is considerable, then the answer to this question represents a solid case for a solar solution with battery storage.
- Can you shift any energy usage to the middle of the day, for example using delayed start technology on your washing machine and/or dishwasher?
- Are you looking to make any short to medium term further changes to your energy usage (did anyone say electric vehicles?)
- # BUYING AT THE RIGHT TIME
Should I wait for prices to come down?
Solar panels are not new. Solar battery technology is more recent. However, this market is very different from the mobile phone market, where new features are integrated with devices every day. What we are likely to see with solar systems is the development of software solutions (consumer apps) that layer onto your physical solar system to add user flexibility. The actual hardware will be subject to a much slower evolution and minimal price variation. In short, if you wait 12 months for a couple $100 off, you may in fact be worse off financially since you could have saved $2,000 in energy costs in that same period. And it’s important to remember that while the physical hardware prices might reduce slightly, the cost of labour and other components will only increase which would likely see prices rise. Also consider that any rebates or subsidies offered by the government will not be in place forever, the current STC rebate on solar panels is reducing each year. Solar batteries actually make more financial sense as energy prices increase, and feed-in tariffs are slashed and this is unfortunately the current trend.
What if a solar battery system is unaffordable at the moment?
Don’t get duped into going big out of the gates. This is a nascent space, and it will go through changes. Your best option for capitalising on those changes without wasting your investment is to start with the battery size you need and add incremental power as required. Starting small lets you capitalise on low to zero energy bills while minimising your initial outlay. Choose a modularly expandable solution, allowing you to effectively ‘stack’ batteries to increase your storage potential and maximise savings. And as noted earlier, not everyone will need a battery option at this stage so ensure it makes sense for you. There are also a range of financing options available to you which may make sense.
- # COSTS & SAVINGS
How long until my investment in solar pays me back?
Taking solar panels and batteries as separate propositions, you would typically expect your investment in solar panels to be returned in 3-4 years. But you are limited by the energy they produce and how consistently you can apply it across your day. For example, you could struggle if you put your dishwasher and washing machine on every evening while you’re cooking dinner and the kids are on their computers. And should your energy usage increase in the future (did anyone say electric vehicles?), you may be unable to meet your needs with panels alone.
Adding a battery will get all homeowners much better results. With expandable battery solutions, you can start small and meet 100% of your energy needs as they grow. Batteries however are not cheap, on average costing between $8,000 to $12,000 per unit. But having said that, neither are today’s energy bills, so don’t forget to factor those cost savings in as you weigh up the overall cost of your solar solution and what freedom from worry about fluctuating energy prices means to you. Used to maximum effect, your energy savings could offset the cost of your solar + battery system in 5-6 years when you consider both as the complete solution. Solar would normally save the average person 40-50% of your energy costs, including a battery could see you go to Net-Zero.
Should I consider energy providers with significant feed-in tariffs?
Many providers have jumped on board with feed-in tariffs (FiT) for consumers generating solar energy. These are credits applied for excess electricity produced by your solar system. Unless you have a battery, your solar-generated energy needs to be used when it is produced, that means during the middle of the day when a lot of people are not home. Otherwise, it feeds into the shared electricity grid. Feed in tariffs are significantly less that what you will be charged for energy at another time of the day, specifically the evening. Having the energy stored in your battery to meet your evening energy consumption needs will give you the best of both worlds and provide the best outcome for your hip pocket.
Looking into feed-in tariffs is advisable. There are plenty of websites to let you compare the rates – for example, Canstar Blue lists them by state. However, self-consumption should be your top priority. This is when you use the energy you generate to power your home. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is less valuable than some additional services currently on offer, which promise appealing sums of money for providing services to the grid. On the contrary, sizing your system to meet your self-consumption needs means you are not oversizing or paying out more money than is necessary on the promise of something that will have much more intrinsic value in the future.
How long will my battery last?
Another common concern is the lifetime of a solar energy solution, particularly the battery storage component. These are usually under warranty spanning anything from 5 to 10 years, depending on the provider. Our Energizer Solar battery solution has a 10-year warranty and allows for more than two full charges a day. However, they should last a lot longer and “if it ain’t broke”, there’s no need to fix it”. Using the smallest possible battery to meet your current needs and adding extra modules as needed is the intelligent way to grow. This extends the life of your battery solution and ensures you are not wasting money on upfront storage that you are not using yet.
- #GOING GREEN
Do batteries ‘undo’ the green benefit of solar?
We all know that solar energy is a much greener choice than consuming fossil fuels, and batteries maximise your use of clean energy and minimise the need for fossil fuel. Of course, manufacturing processes are a consideration, as with any device or component production. However, it’s worth noting the rise of end-of-life recycling opportunities, where lithium cells are repurposed for second-life applications. For example, EVs (electronic vehicles) require potent batteries. Once they have exceeded their 15- or 20-year guarantee, there’s an opportunity to repurpose them for home solar solutions. Being stationary, these don’t need the speed of charge or discharge that vehicles do. It’s an entirely different profile. It’s worth enquiring about recycling practices and green manufacturing processes when you purchase your battery solution as the majority of manufacturers have implemented green solutions on their facilities to offset and reduce emissions. It’s important to remember that the volume of Co2 emissions a battery saves over its lifetime will take us all to a far greener space. It’s a space to watch, for sure!
Vincenzo Marciano has worked in the renewable energy landscape for over 12 years. He is the Group CTO of 8 Star Energy – the licensed partner of battery giant Energizer®
Energizer® Solar provides a complete solar ecosystem to power residential and commercial properties under one iconic brand.
Built with safety in mind, Energizer® Solar products are durable and easy to install and are comprehensively tested to ensure safe and reliable operation.
Energizer® Solar, which is being launched globally by Australian company 8 Star Energy, a licensed partner of battery giant Energizer®, offers everything from solar storage to solar panels, solar inverters, and electric vehicle charging solutions.