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Checking solar battery usage

Kevin's guide for solar

Advice for solar and battery systems and taking control of your energy.

By Carly Nichols

12 March 2019

When I first considered PV Solar Panels for our house, I did some checking around to find a good installer and shopped around to see which installers had the best value for money. I soon realised you can get cheap panels and inverters, but they were not efficient, nor did they have a good warranty.

I did some research on-line, rang up a few installers with some questions and requested a few quotes. I wanted panels that were the most efficient and had the longest lifespan. I looked around for what battery options were available (e.g. GE, Tesla) and if they could automatically switch over to battery when mains power fails.

So best to ask your chosen installer the differences between the panels and inverters in terms of efficiency, warranty period, and local support. Before signing on the dotted line, find out if the panels and battery you want are available and when they can be installed. See my checklist below for more tips.

I didn’t realise how easy it would be to install, and the limited amount of servicing that is required.

What's all the hype about batteries?

If your energy supply fails, which happens way too often for me now, consider battery storage, which will supply the house with power when the grid fails. While some installers recommend a larger solar system to offset your bill, the additional of battery storage gives your investment additional benefits when the sun does not shine. Being able to store energy during the day, and use it at night means you are not at the mercy of your electricity provider, as the credit you get paid for feed-in varies. I strongly recommend considering battery backup, and the Tesla Powerwall 2 is about the best out there. Check with your installer if they will provide a payment plan.

Taking control of your energy

I find myself constantly looking at the app that shows my battery level and energy production. I am always amazed at how the house is running during the day time and at night almost totally off the grid. To ensure that the system is working correctly, I then check my weekly and monthly usage. I love to show it to my friends and family just to convince them to also go for solar.

These days I am more conscious of the household power usage than I ever was, and try to alter my habits to fit in with the new energy source. During the weekend or when I am home and find the solar energy production is good (i.e. the sun is shining), I try to use as many of the household appliances that need to be used i.e. dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryers, or even topping up the electric vehicle battery. I avoid feeding the excess solar into the grid as I am only making my energy provider profitable, as the credits for the feed-in tariff is quite low.

Impact on the household budget

I have had my system for over a year, and by far the payment plan was the deciding factor. After all, why pay an electricity bill when I can invest in my property and be energy efficient. A payment plan made complete sense to go for compared to a low-interest loan as it makes cash flow simple and easy. The payment plan has been even better than I expected as Brighte reduced the small amount charged (account keeping fee) for providing invoices / on-line access and so on. The experience has been amazing, easy, and the online portal has all the details of my payments. When I need to contact support it’s been almost an instant response.

I have been surprised how efficient the system is, and how our electricity bill is so low. The largest bill has been around $220 a quarter, even after charging our electric vehicle.

Thinking ahead, I am looking at a second Tesla Powerwall 2 as the current unit may be just a little too small. I tell all my family and friends about Brighte, so naturally, I will be looking to re-use my Brighte payment plan.

Kevin's Checklist to take control of your household energy

  • Calculate your average household energy usage (your last 3 to 6 months electricity bills will give you this).
  • Find installers who can provide free quotes for panels and batteries.
  • Check if the installer can provide interest-free financing.
  • Do some checking online on the reputation of the installer.
  • Get the installer to do a site survey so you know the exact number of panels, and determine the best battery option.
  • Choose where the panels, inverter and battery will be installed.
  • Confirm the installer will sort out the new electricity meter if required.
  • Discuss how you will monitor your system including solar production, household consumption and grid import/export
  • Get all the details of the installation on paper i.e. Number and make/model of panels, make/model of inverter & battery