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Father and data learning about solar

How do solar panels work?

Do you love the Australian sun? You will love it even more when it helps to power your home.

Are you looking to make your home more sustainable? The addition of solar panels to your home and in turn generating your own energy is a great way to make your home more sustainable. 

Solar panels convert sunlight into DC (direct current) electricity. A solar inverter will convert this electricity into AC (alternative current) power for use in your home, in turn powering your appliances.

Check out our glossary of terms.

There are 8 main components of a solar panel system:

  1. Direct sunlight: During daylight hours, direct sunlight creates electricity whenever it hits your solar panels.
  2. Solar panels: The most visible part of a solar system, solar panels are made from silicone. Since silicone produces electricity when UV light touches it, your solar panels convert sunlight into DC (direct current) electricity
  3. Inverter: Since your home’s appliances require AC (alternating current) electricity, your solar panels send their DC electricity into an inverter that converts it into AC current. Inverters come in two types:

    - String inverter (one for the entire solar panel array)
    - Microinverters (one for each solar panel)
  4. Switchboard: Your inverter sends AC solar electricity to your main switchboard, which in turn sends it to your home’s appliances.
  5. Home appliances: Since you’re now using free solar electricity from your own array, you don’t have to pay your power company for it!
  6. Smart meter: Your smart meter will record and track all energy flows, so you don’t have to. This includes noticing when your solar panels are producing more electricity that your home needs at any given time. At such times, your smart meter will automatically feed the excess solar electricity back into the grid, and you may be eligible for a Feed in tariff.
  7. The Grid: Your smart meter’s connection to the grid allows your electricity retailer to credit you for that excess electricity (in the form of feed-in tariffs) and also allows your home to automatically draw power from the grid when needed (i.e. at night).
  8. Solar battery: Solar batteries store excess energy generated from solar panels. This stored energy can be used at night to power your home, helping you to reduce your reliance on the grid.

When choosing a solar panel system, look into the warranty and maintenance checklist.

Source: AEF guide - Your Guide to choosing the best solar panels for your home

Grid-connected solar system

The average Sydney household can save up to $900 a year by installing a 4-kilowatt solar system on their roof (Energy saver).

Due to the flexibility provided by a grid-connected system, they are the most popular system installed. As a homeowner, you have the benefit of generating your own energy and utilising the grid connection when and if required.

What makes a solar system effective?

  • Position is everything: In Australia, Aa north-facing roof is optimal because it gets most of the days sunlight. While it’s not essential, you may need more solar panels placed on the roof to follow the sun throughout the day.
  • Limit shade: Trees, power lines, and shade from other homes can all impact performance. It’s best to talk to an installer or one of our local vendors and they can help answer any tricky questions.
  • We’ve created a guide to help you have the best solar system for your home.
"Even after months of rain and cloudy weather our solar input credits have been phenomenal, resulting in big dollar refund from our electricity provide" - Nina (QLD)

Feed-in tariffs, what do they mean?

Depending on your system size, location and household, your solar system can produce excess energy, in this instance, your energy retailer may pay you a feed-in-tariff (Clean Energy Council)

If you are using more energy than your system generates, the additional requirements will be pulled from the grid to which your energy retailer will charge you, and consumption and generation are tracked through a smart meter.

Grid-connect with battery back-up

As batteries become more affordable, including a battery in your system is a great idea to store the excess energy you have created, to be used at night or at times when your generated energy is depleted, check out what solar rebates are available in your state

Brighte tip: Find out if your energy provider will be including a feed-in tariff to your plan, then weigh up which would be better for your family, exporting energy back into the grid and using the grid for requirements at night, or storing your own energy and using it when required.

Looking for other ways to reduce your energy bills, we’ve got you covered with four ways you can reduce your energy bills, and a guide to making the switch to electric appliances

Stand-alone solar systems

Stand-alone systems are not connected to the electricity grid and typically are installed in remote areas where there is limited connection to the grid or areas of low electricity demand. These systems must have batteries or a backup generator (or both) to supply all energy requirements.

Whilst each option has it's own benefits, a sustainable home has to work in with your household requirements, talk to local solar installers to see which option is best for you.

The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs and, where appropriate, seek professional advice.