This article was edited in April 2015 In this post, I want to introduce the readers of SSM to a tennis mate of mine Brett Adams who is the Queensland State Manager of Green and Gold Solar, which is an Australian national solar installation company. Brett has been kind enough to answer a number of my questions (20 to be exact) primarily about the residential installation of solar panels.
Now, before any international readers click-off I just want to let you know that although this solar article is Aussie-centric, lots of the information will be relevant and interesting to anyone around the world considering solar energy to power their homes, so, please keep reading.
Gloomy outlook for consumers with rising cost of electricity
It's time to investigate the feasibility of solar once again
When I first started investigating solar energy for my home, several years ago now (and started writing about it over 12 months ago) the cost of a 5kW solar system was about 20k. Today, the cost is considerably less but is it still too hefty? That depends on several other variables and some important ones are:
how or can the costs of a residential solar system be off-set?
are electricity prices likely to keep rising fast?
who do you trust to install a system, which not only lasts but actually produces sufficient power?
will this purchase stand the test of time or will the technology become redundant causing me to regret spending thousands of dollars 5 years (or so) down the track?
For me, the answers to the above questions are still ambagious but as I keep researching solar energy I feel I'm getting closer to making a decision.
Honestly, just like many other people around Australia and the world I'm fed up with my electricity bill taking such a chunk out of my income each quarter. Only today, I saw another propaganda segment on TV about an ordinary family in Sydney who's power bill was around 4k annually. The choreographed news report demonstrated how by modifying her (the mother's) lifestyle like turning appliances off at the wall etc, her family was able to knock $500 off their electricity bill. Some may say, “how fantastic!” But, I say $3500 per annum on electricity for a family on the minimum wage is still too much, criminal, and corporate greed at its most proudest.
Therefore, because of rising electricity prices (due to corporate greed and the recently introduced carbon tax) I am investigating the feasibility of solar panels…again. And this time, I'm taking the readers of SSM along with me so they can get the same answers to the questions I asked.
Cost of living pressures realised as economy breaker
Before I get to the solar questions, I would like to mention another thing I saw on the news and read online. The former BHP Billiton chairman and National Australia Bank chief executive Don Argus wrote a politically stinging article last week about the Australian economy and indeed the world's current economic position. This prominent Australian businessman knows economics better than most, but I won't bore you with the politics or the finer detail because; quite frankly, these details aren't very interesting to struggling families and pensioners around this country and the world.
Nevertheless, I'm going to mention one small point Don Argus made in his essay, which illustrates to me that some people at the “big-end” of town are starting to understand the battlers plight in the lower wage brackets or even the fast growing middle-class poor. Don Argus made it clear last week that Australia's wages have not kept up with the growth in household expenses and this is one BIG reason why our economy is slowing.
Put directly in my words, the cost of living (electricity, water, rates, vehicle registration, parking fees, gas, fuel, fooood, yadda… yadda) is crippling the world economy and the average person or family has much less money to spend after all these expenses are accounted. That's why there's less money going around and that's why businesses small and large are suffering.
Too much profit is going to too few people in this world at the moment and this imbalance has been showing for many years now and our politicians have not done a heck of a lot to improve the situation faced by many low/middle income earners.
Why do we pay so much more for electricity?
One of the biggest utility rip-offs I see is the cost of electricity; particularly, in the western world where prices have rocketed. Did you know the cost of electricity in China for households is less than 1/3rd of Australian households? For example, if a home in Australia has a quarterly bill of say $600AU the equivalent power bill in China would cost less than $200AU – and where does China import most of its coal to power its electricity generators from… Australia. Australia has some of the biggest deposits of coal in the world yet Australian's pay more for power than most other countries.
It's definitely thought provoking isn't it? But, what can we all do about it? Maybe solar energy is the answer. To help me through some of my concerns about solar energy, I asked my tennis mate Brett from Green and Gold Solar the following questions.
Disclosure: I play tennis with Brett and last season I was his doubles partner and our team won the 1st Division competition, so I guess I'm partial to his point of view because I know and trust him. Also, I approached Brett (he didn't approach me) and requested he participate in an interview for a solar article I was writing for Self Sufficient Me and he readily accepted.
Furthermore, I personally am considering buying a solar system (not necessarily from Brett’s company, it's likely though) but I haven't committed to anything and I will not be receiving any special discounts, favours, or advertising payment from Brett's company by including Green and Gold Solar in this post.
Finally, any information presented in this article is to be used as a guide only – whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information in this article is correct, no responsibility will be taken for the accuracy of any information given at the time of publishing or which subsequently becomes outdated or incorrect in the future. If you are after an accurate quote and further information for your own solar system install then please consult your solar representative.
Solar questions & answers
Q1 – Are there different types of solar panels, if so, are they pretty much all the same?
Answer – Yes there are 2 main types: monocrystaline and polycrystalline, but they are pretty much the same as far as I am concerned for our customers in South East Queensland and Central Queensland. In regards to all the different manufacturers, yes there is a lot of difference between some of the cheaper Chinese panels compared to the Japanese and German ones that we use.
Q2 – The new feed-in rate under Queensland's Solar Bonus Scheme has dropped, as at 10th July 2012, from 44c per kilowatt hour (kWh) to 8c/kWh. What does this mean for people without a solar system but who may be considering one in the future?
Answer – The drop in the tariff certainly puts an end to the days of people installing huge solar systems on their rooftops (when they only really needed smaller ones) and making great profits from the government subsidised feed in tariff scheme.
The industry will not be as “crazy” as it has been; however, the introduction of a carbon tax in Australia has certainly made this industry viable. People will be getting systems to minimise their electricity bill especially with power prices going up 30% from 1st July 12. So, to re-iterate, people will be getting systems to minimise or off-set future price increases.
Q3 – Did I need to have a solar system installed or just ordered to beat the tariff cut-off on the 10th July?
Answer – Those people who lodged a network application to buy a solar system prior to the cut-off have until 30th June 2013 to have it professionally installed and they will still receive the government tariff at the rate 44c/kWh for power they send back to the grid.
Q4 – What if I've physically missed the government tariff cut-off date and can only get an 8c/kWh feed-in rate for the extra electricity I send back into the grid – should I just give up on solar then, will it be worth getting?
Answer – No, don't give up. Please see my answer to question 2.
Q5 – What does the drop in feed-in tariff mean for Green and Gold Solar QLD – sad, happy, indifferent?
Answer – As a company, we are ok because hopefully now there will be some sustainability in the industry as the 44c/kWh was not sustainable. I would, however, liked to have seen a 1:1 feed-in tariff (FiT) which basically means the electricity the home solar system feeds back into the grid is equal to the rate consumers pay for their electricity (roughly 22c/kWh at this present moment).
The power grid (image above)
Q6 – Why is it illegal for me to get a system bigger than 5 kWs for my home in Queensland? I've heard the Govt infrastructure argument, they say, the electricity grid would not cope if households got systems greater than 5 kW but an informed “birdie” (a source of mine who works for a prominent Govt Dept) told me that isn't true – what's the truth?
Answer – The truth is, the limit of a 5kW solar system per household was designed to stop people making HUGE money out of the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme. The infrastructure, as far as I am concerned, has nothing to do with the 5kW solar install restriction.
Q7 – Is there such a thing as an off-grid solar system? If so, does your company install them?
Answer – Yes, there is and yes we do them. (Editor – An off-grid solar system is a system which does not get fed back into the public electricity grid.)
Q8 – Is it possible to have excess power generated by a home solar system stored in batteries instead of going back into the public grid?
Answer – Not by a home system at this stage, but for rural customers, YES!
A 2 kW modern solar panel system on residential roof
Q9 – What is a rough cost estimate for installing the largest system possible for a home – a 5kW solar system (understanding all installs are different for different homes).
Answer – About
$13,000AU, $7,500 – $8,500 (as at 2012) depending on which part of Queensland the install is required.
Q10 – Can I pay the system off under a payment plan? If so, what is the approval process for finance?
Answer – Yes, you can get a plan and the rules are:
Must have full-time employment;
Must hold a valid drivers license; or
If you are on a pension or veterans affairs you do not need to meet the criteria above.
Obtaining finance for a solar panel system install through Green and Gold Solar, however, is exceptionally easy.
Q11 – Roughly how much energy will a 5kW solar system generate (in a perfect world on a sunny day)?
Answer – A 5kW system will generate 20.5kW hours per day on average depending on roof pitch, orientation and which part of Queensland the solar system is installed as every area has different amounts of solar irradiation.
Q12 – If my house roof is not suitable for solar panels – can I install a solar system on my shed if the roof is big enough and suitable?
Answer – Yes you can, you ideally need a sub board in the shed or you need to dig a trench 600mm deep and run 16-32mm cable from the shed to the meter box.
Q13 – Is it worth installing solar if the location is in dappled shade?
Answer – Depends on each house and trees etc. However trees typically are a no-no because of shade issues.
A 4kW solar system on a treed lot (image above)
Q14 – Does it matter which direction my house faces for solar panels to get the most out of the sun?
Answer – Yes it does and we have a purpose built program, which calculates the "losses" (energy wise) for our installers depending on roof pitch, orientation and shade.
Q15 – If I decide to install solar panels, should I install a bigger inverter then needed in case I upgrade to more panels later?
Answer – Yes you should install a larger one so that you can add panels later on if you require without having to upgrade and buy a completely new inverter.
Q16 – What is the future of solar energy technology?
Answer – See points in Q2 re Carbon Tax increasing people's energy prices! The commercial solar sector will now take off, especially if the 30% price increases applies to business! (Editor – there's no doubt improvements in solar technology are bounding along with respect to efficiency in power production and also aesthetically to improve how solar capture devices, panels, look on a house or building. I believe one day whole roofs/roofing material will be solar conductors and able to power homes and businesses).
Q17 – How many years service should I expect out of my solar system?
Answer – You would expect 5-10 years out of your inverter and over 25years for your panels
Q18 – We know there are dodgy solar installers out there so what does your company offer to safeguard the consumer and what is your after sales service and warranty like?
Answer – This is a good question and certainly every company tells you that they are the best. What we do, however, is train all our sales consultants correctly from the word go as trusting your sales consultant is a must. You do certainly get the dodgy ones out there and all you should ask is this question: how do you calculate my performance levels of my solar system and what are my losses? Then, wait for the “ums and arrs!” If they can't answer you confidently then beware.
In regards to after sales service, most solar companies use the hit and run approach and you never see the sales guys again. We adopt the account management approach and look after our customers from start to finish, which is proven by 65% of our sales coming from referrals. Our warranties are industry standard with 5 years for the inverter and a linear performance warranty on the panels. We are also an importer, so are large enough to take any downturn in residential sales.
Q19 – Commercially speaking is there really any big projects or investments being made to power buildings or small businesses for them to also try and beat the greedy electricity/energy sector?
We also focus on commercial sales and have recently signed a 100kW system for a hotel in Emerald these kind of customers also safeguard us to be around for the long term.
Q20 – Please give me and my readers any other information you feel is necessary about your company or solar energy in general.
Answer – All I can say is that the solar industry (in general) does not look after its people well in terms of payment. That is, many installers do not get paid on time and sales guys do NOT get paid on time ether.
However, at Green and Gold Solar we have an exceptional record in these areas because if we look after our staff and contractors they'll look after our customers in return. Our turnover rate is about 5% compared with the huge churn that this industry produces.
There we have it! 20 solar questions answered and I'm better off for it so I hope you, the reader of Self Sufficient Me, are too.
I'd like to thank Brett Adams, his office personnel, and Green and Gold Solar, for taking the time to answer these questions in a frank manner knowing they will be made public and open to scrutiny.
I'm sure some readers will have an opinion and further questions about this article and you are always free to write in our comments section below. However, if you still want to discuss or debate this issue further, why not visit our sister website www.selfsufficientculture.com and create a thread in the forum section to discuss whatever you wish.
Have I made a decision about my solar install?
Personally, I'm getting closer to purchasing a solar system then ever before and the information in this article has helped shape my decision. As at 29th Nov 2012, I have committed to getting a solar system (through Green & Gold Solar) my 5 Kw system is due to be installed on 6th Dec 2012. I figure prices for solar panel installations have dropped considerably and I reckon prices will drop more; however, I ask myself how long do I hold-off buying a solar system whilst enduring the full force of rising energy costs?
The argument for getting solar panels is clearer for me now and I can see how offsetting the cost or monthly payment plan against the savings in real electricity costs a solar system would give is worth the money.
I'll still reserve my decision but don't be surprised if I start writing about my new solar panel install within the next 6-8 months. P.S I will write a full article about my install soon and give updates in the future on its performance. I'll cover my full installation costs, finance options, decisions I made to get solar and why (do a search top right for our latest solar articles).
Feel free to use the comment section below and have your say (no email is required). Or, go to www.selfsufficientculture.com in the "Energy" forum, join our forum, and discuss it there or ask Qs.
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM