The Benefits of Going Solar

While residential Solar power is now common across Australia it is good to go back over why investing in Solar is so worthwhile and why it will offer even more benefits in the future.

  1. Solar Power can save you money – Installing Solar power enables you to generate your own electricity. By using your own electricity rather than buying it from your electricity company, you will save money as every kW/h of electricity you can use from your solar system is a kW/h of electricity you do not have to buy from your electricity company.
  2. Environmental Benefits – By using electricity generated from solar panels, we reduce the need to generate electricity from fossil fuels like coal and gas which create carbon dioxide (CO2). This can reduce the potential for global warming and can create a more sustainable cleaner energy mix, as long as the solar panels will last a long time.
  3. Energy Independence – By owning your own Solar system, you have the capacity to create your own electricity. This reduces your reliance on the electricity grid and electricity retailers etc and increases your control over your future electricity needs, expenses and lifestyle especially if you add batteries to your system in the future.
  4. Property Value – there are increasing studies that show that installing a quality solar system on a home may increase property value. Home buyers are increasingly recognising that a home with quality solar panels installed will have lower electricity costs.
  5. Energy reliability – High-quality solar power systems are a reliable power source. The sun rises and sets every day, while the sun shines, solar panels will make electricity. While the weather and the seasons will vary, the amount of electricity that the panels make are predictable. You can also increase the financial benefits of your solar system by changing the times you operate your household appliances. For example, turning your washing machine on as you leave the home in the morning and avoiding washing your clothes at night allows your solar system to power your machine during the day. With the help of lithium-ion batteries, which are becoming more affordable, one can also harvest solar power during the day and use it at night

BUY OR UPGRADE NOW WITH THE FUTURE IN MIND.

A few years ago, many buyers of residential solar did not consider the efficiency of their panels. If they wanted a 5kW system they could buy 20 panels with 250W or 23 less efficient 220W panels. Most customers never imagined they would in the future need more than 5kW of solar and in many homes around 20 to 32 panels will fit on the roof. That was the old solar.

But with the emergence of battery storage as a smart way to harvest the light during the day and then to use this electricity at night, panel efficiency has become a very important consideration.

Considering that the future of electric cars is coming fast, with most vehicle manufacturers announcing electric car models in a few years; you might want to expand your solar system in the future to power the electric car. The worldwide CO2 reduction could be enormous if we are able to utilise our roofs to generate some of the fuel for our cars. In short in the future one might want 4-5kW of a solar system for daily use and 1-2kW of solar for the batteries to use at night and then to fuel the car one would need another 4-6kW of solar to power the car(s) via solar. Overall suddenly there is the need for a 10 -12kW system. With 260W panels, this would mean one needs to fit at least 40 panels.

So, it is important today to buy a system with future expansion capability in mind, both for batteries and future Electric Vehicles.

The same applies if you are looking to upgrade your current system, and this may be brought about by system failure or the changing needs within your family. Rather than just replace inverters and panels based on your original need (which may be 5 to 8 years ago) look ahead to the future (more kids, fewer kids at home), and the opportunity to embrace new technologies (batteries, electric cars)

HOW LONG SHOULD MY SOLAR SYSTEM LAST?

The key components susceptible to failure in your solar system are the solar panels, the inverter and some components like fuses and isolators. This is often because cheap lower quality products have been sold at low prices, but have been made to look like high quality via long “warranties” and other claims.

High-quality solar products overall tend to have longer life-cycles as they undertake more quality control steps, use higher quality cells and solders, have stronger UV protection on backing sheets and ensure the water sealing of panels withstands decades of weather-induced deterioration. Very low-cost panels with less UV stabilised backing sheets, cheaper sealants and more fragile framing can deteriorate faster and some have failed in Australia in as little as 2-3 years.

Cheap inverter solutions also have higher failure rates than quality solutions. Unfortunately, often lengthy warranties on cheap products have been unobtainable as both manufacturers and installation company have avoided liability by going into liquidation e.g. Sunnyroo or Aerosharp inverters. In Australia over 520 installation companies have liquidated their business and escaped warranty obligations since early 2011.

The key warranty for solar panels is the Manufacturer’s Warranty. Make sure you enquire what is covered in the warranty and ask for the detailed warranty document. Standard Manufacturer’s Warranties are usually 10 years for panels and 5 years for inverters.

For a decade of low maintenance to your solar system, it is strongly suggested that you purchase high-quality solar panels, quality solar inverters and ask for a quality balance of system components in all aspects of your solar system. Some cheap solar panels have failed in the Australian and NZ climate in as little as 24 months. Typical issues have been water ingress, corrosion, hotspots, failed bypass diodes or junction box failures. These types of failures lead to the write off of the panel. Often the lengthy promised warranties are hard to claim when dealers, installers or panel manufacturers have gone into liquidation or have stopped operating in Australia.

Do I need to buy European to get the best quality home solar system?

A question we get asked a lot is the one regarding European versus Chinese for home solar systems and it is one I relate back to the general technology sector where Chinese made is now accepted as being of good to very good quality.

In the early days of solar PV panels and inverters from China were cheap in every sense but like most other products they have paid close attention to quality and over recent years they have lifted the game while driving prices down across all international suppliers.

Like cars, the European brands have retained a strong lead in terms of quality even though in some cases this is perception rather than reality. Top brands like SMA, Fronius, ABB and Delta can come with better warranties or provide better local servicing and still retain their tier one ranking but there are many strong Chinese brands that are not far behind them.

Jinko is the top-selling PV panel brand in Australia and one of the largest panels makers in the world. They have got there by having top class quality and innovation and at prices that are very competitive against European / USA manufacturers. Other top panels brands include Trina, JASolar, LG,

Sungrow is another successful brand worldwide, the same with Huawei, both of whom are very large suppliers of Solar Inverters around the world. The difference in quality and warranty is small yet their prices are a lot lower, so both are becoming more popular in the Australian residential market. (Sungrow offer a great 5Kw Hybrid inverter suitable for new battery storage)

So, in short, yes European can still hold an edge to Chinese supply but it’s a very fine line and whether that is worth the premium you will need to pay which can be up to 50%, then that is for you to decide. My suggestion is to get two quotes with the second being a top quality Chinese brand and then you decide which way to go. Also, look at extended warranties which can give you additional 5-year peace of mind coverage for a little extra cost.

Rebates and Incentives

  1. STC’s
  2. State Govt. rebates.
  3. The future of Govt. support
  4. Solar Panels

What is the difference between Poly and Mono Solar Panels?

The primary difference between mono and poly solar panels is the structure by which silicon is shaped and moulded into the panel. In monocrystalline solar panels, silicon is formed into bars, then cut into wafers, whereas polycrystalline solar panels are melted together to form wafers. The process to create mono solar panels was invented in 1918. As a result, the earliest solar panels were of the monocrystalline design.

However, during an oil crisis-induced burst of solar energy research in the 1970s, an Exxon researcher discovered that poly panels could be manufactured more cheaply.

As we are seeing in the greater efficiency and steady decline in cost for mono panels as of late, the cheap manufacturing of poly had its own hidden costs.

As 2018 rolls along, some analysts are predicting that this may be the year in which monocrystalline solar panels make up the majority of solar panels manufactured worldwide. The rapidly declining cost of solar energy, even in the face of resistance by the United States government, demonstrates the possibility that a rapid transition to renewable energy may not be as far-fetched as current reality may make it seem.

Poly Panel Advantages

  • The process used to make polycrystalline silicon is simpler and cost less. The amount of waste silicon is less compared to monocrystalline.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels tend to have slightly lower heat tolerance than monocrystalline solar panels. This technically means that they perform slightly worse than monocrystalline solar panels in high temperatures. Heat can affect the performance of solar panels and shorten their lifespans. However, this effect is minor, and most homeowners do not need to take it into account.

Poly Panel Disadvantages

  • The efficiency of polycrystalline-based solar panels is typically 13-16%. Because of lower silicon purity, polycrystalline solar panels are not quite as efficient as monocrystalline solar panels.
  • Lower space-efficiency. You generally need to cover a larger surface to output the same electrical power as you would with a solar panel made of monocrystalline silicon. However, this does not mean every monocrystalline solar panel perform better than those based on polycrystalline silicon.
  • Monocrystalline and thin-film solar panels tend to be more aesthetically pleasing since they have a more uniform look compared to the speckled blue colour of polycrystalline silicon.

Mono Panel Advantages

  • Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency rates since they are made out of the highest-grade silicon. The efficiency rates of monocrystalline solar panels are typically 15-20%.
  • Monocrystalline silicon solar panels are space-efficient. Since these solar panels yield the highest power outputs, they also require the least amount of space compared to any other types. Monocrystalline solar panels produce up to four times the amount of electricity as thin-film solar panels.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels live the longest. Most solar panel manufacturers put a 25-year warranty on their monocrystalline solar panels.
  • Tend to perform better than similarly rated polycrystalline solar panels at low-light conditions.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels tend to be more efficient in warm weather. Performance suffers as temperature goes up, but less so than polycrystalline solar panels. For most homeowners temperature is not a concern.

Mono Panel Disadvantages

  • Monocrystalline solar panels are the most expensive. From a financial standpoint, a solar panel that is made of polycrystalline silicon (and in some cases thin-film) can be a better choice for some homeowners.
  • If the solar panel is partially covered with shade, dirt or snow, the entire circuit can break down. Consider getting micro-inverters instead of central string inverters if you think coverage will be a problem. Micro-inverters will make sure that not the entire solar array is affected by shading issues with only one of the solar panels.

Although quality technology is important in the selection of solar panels, it is also critical to keep in mind that both monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar cells are proven technologies, and one should not automatically be considered better than the other. Manufacturing equipment for silicon wafers is now more readily available now than it ever has been in the past, however, so panels are relatively easy for companies to manufacture. A key differentiating factor between the quality manufacturers and the bottom-line ones is whether the company in question invests in research and development (R&D). R&D investment by a manufacturer is usually indicative of the company’s commitment to creating innovative and quality products, but it also shows that the company is planning to be in the game for the long-term, and is not a fly-by-night operator.

For most households, balancing affordability with reliability is key. Solar power systems are ordinarily expected to continue operating for 30+ years; solar panel warranties generally cover products for up to 25 years. Warranties are will only continue to be serviceable if the manufacturer behind them remains a solvent company. Although it is impossible to know for sure what will happen a quarter century in the future, when selecting a panel, it is still advisable to try to imagine whether the product’s manufacturer is likely to be around at that point in time, just in case something goes wrong in the meantime. Otherwise, if the panels need repairing, the cost could end up being greater than an initial investment in a more reputable product would have been.

Inverters

What is the difference between a String Inverter and a Micro Inverter?

If looking to install a home solar system you will likely come across the question – which is the best inverter system – string or micro-inverter. Most people will not understand this question let alone how they can make the decision on which to go with.

So what is the difference between a string inverter and a micro-inverter?

Both string inverters and microinverters convert the Direct Current (DC) solar panels generate into an Alternating Current (AC), the type of electricity that is used in your home.

A standard inverter (also known as a string-inverter or central inverter) is a standalone unit that is usually installed close to your electricity meter. There is typically only one, or possibly two, string inverters on each residential solar installation.

Micro-inverters perform the same basic function but are installed underneath each panel on your roof. Each of these micro-inverters is about the size of an internet router. The big difference is that a solar panel installation with micro-inverters will have the same number of microinverters as there are solar panels.

A string inverter functions in a series circuit with their usually being 6-10 individual solar panels in what is known as a “string”.

Micro-inverter functions in a parallel circuit. Simply put, a standard inverter will cap the electricity production of each panel by the lowest producing panel on your roof. A micro-inverter, on the other hand, will take full advantage of the production of each individual panel. It will convert the power generated by each panel to the grid voltage.

Advantages of a String Inverter

  • The advantage of a string inverter is that you only need one of them. If anything is going to fail in a solar system it is likely to be the inverter and so if it does play up it can be a simple job to identify and fix and or replace
  • Cost is another advantage, a single string inverter on a solar panel installation is usually cheaper than installing many micro-inverters.

Disadvantages of a String Inverter

  • If a panel is damaged or part of the string is impacted by shade then a standard inverter will cap the electricity production of each panel by the lowest producing panel on the string.

Advantages of a Micro Inverter

  • The core advantage of using micro-inverters is that theoretically, you can yield more solar electricity as you gain the maximum from each panel. The reason for this is that there are slight differences in voltages between solar panels. When solar panels are in a string the voltage is reduced to the voltage of the lowest voltage panel in the string.
  • If a solar system is facing multiple angles, meaning some panels are facing east, and some west, then micro-inverters are the way to go. Or, if you have shading issues from trees then a micro-inverter would be best. In these situations, the solar panels will be producing different amounts of electricity at different times of the day, but micro-inverters will ensure you harvest all of the energy, while with a standard inverter you will lose some of this production. With solar panels all facing one direction on your system, and you have marginal shading issues, then your best option is a standard inverter. You’ll get about the same production, without paying the higher cost.
  • There are other aspects to consider as well. Micro-inverters typically have 25-year warranties while standard string inverters typically have 5 or 10-year warranties. The reliability of micro-inverters was in questions several years ago, but the technology now has caught up with the industry and the long warranties on the micro-inverters show the confidence the manufacturers have in their products.
  • Micro-inverters and the add-on optimizers both offer an additional perk in system monitoring as well. With either of these devices, you have the ability to track the production of each individual panel, while with a standard inverter you only can track the production of the whole system.
  • If you were to expand your system in the future, micro-inverters are simple to add one at a time. However, with a standard inverter, it would be more costly to add another full unit.

Disadvantages of a Micro Inverters

  • The main disadvantage of microinverters is price. They are typically a $1000 or so more expensive than a string inverter on a standard 5kw residential solar installation.
  • The second disadvantage is that you have as many inverters on your roof as you have solar panels. While manufacturers claim very low failure rates it stands to reason that more components mean more risk and unless you really need the flexibility of microinverters we would recommend keeping to a simple system with fewer components. Because micro systems will still operate if individual panels fail you may not notice the drop off in energy until months later when your power bill increases. At least with a string inverter, you tend to pick up issues far quicker due to the bigger impact it has on your power generation.

To sum it all up, micro-inverters are definitely a value-add but are only recommended if you have panels facing multiple orientations or you have shading issues. Otherwise, the less expensive standard inverter is usually a more cost-effective option.

The SolarEdge DC Optimiser Alternative.

The SolarEdge power optimiser is a DC/DC converter which is connected by installers to each solar panel, turning them into smart panels. The SolarEdge power optimisers increase energy output from PV systems by constantly tracking the maximum power point (MPPT) of each panel individually. Furthermore, the power optimisers monitor the performance of each panel and communicate performance data to the SolarEdge monitoring platform for enhanced, cost-effective panel-level maintenance.

Each power optimiser is equipped with the unique SafeDC™ feature which automatically reduces panels’ DC voltage to a safe level whenever the inverter or grid power is shut down (unless connected to a StorEdge inverter operating in backup mode).

The MPPT per panel allows for flexible installation design with multiple orientations, tilts and panel types in the same string.  When working with SolarEdge inverters, the power optimisers automatically maintain a fixed string voltage, allowing installers even greater flexibility with longer strings and strings of different lengths in order to design optimal PV systems. The SolarEdge power optimisers are compatible with c-Si, thin-film, and high current panels, and have a 25-year warranty.

How long should my Solar Inverter last?

There is no simple answer to this question as it depends on a number of factors.

Several of the early inverters that were installed over seven years ago are starting to fail in a big way. Some of these were the early Chinese models but even some of the European makes are experiencing issues in the 5 to 10-year age bracket.

Inverter warranties vary from 5 to 15 years (e.g., SolarEdge offers a 12-year warranty). The technology associated with central inverters is improving, but they are still the most likely components to experience failures in solar PV systems. Micro-inverters generally have longer warranties than central inverters, ranging from 10 to 25 years. This is due to higher reliability associated with micro-inverters because their switches and energy storage parts generally have lower power processing requirements (e.g., whereas central inverters are typically rated to handle 5 kW or higher, each micro-inverter is generally rated to handle 200–250W. ABB Group offers a 10-year product warranty for their micro-inverter systems and Enphase Energy offers a 25-year warranty for their micro-inverters

A major issue with inverter failure can be attributed to where the inverter is located.

By installing a solar inverter in an unvented location with high temperatures the unit can be exposed to unhealthy levels of heat. Most inverters have a maximum heat tolerance of 60 degrees which can be easily achieved in the many Australian States in peak summer conditions and in unventilated locations (On a hot wall or in a garage with poor insulation)

Some inverters have onboard fans to aid in the cooling process.  These fans can become stressed as they are overworked and again fail prematurely as a result, this has the cascading effect of shutting down or de-rating the inverter.

Blocking air circulation to the inverter or its cooling channels can have the same results as above. Whilst most inverters can cope with high temperatures, what they can’t cope with is their cooling mechanisms being impaired.  Solar inverters require a free flow of air around the units to keep them cool and operating within their design parameters.  Blocking these channels of air can have a significant effect on both yield and service life due to the inverter shutting down or reducing its output by dropping into a de-rate mode.

Water and Dust Ingress.

If your inverter is located outside, in a dirty dusty environment or worse a moist and humid area of a building then it should be rated for that location.  Humidity has been shown to contribute to around 20% of electronic failures.  Most manufacturers cater to such locations by producing an inverter which is capable of dealing with these harsh environments.  If an inverter designed for dry clean environments has been installed in an environment described above, then expect problems.  Not only may the inverter fail early it may contribute towards a dangerous situation from fire or shock risk.  Water damage can also create corrosion.  Where electronics are exposed to both hot and humid conditions 70% premature failure rates can be expected.

Overvoltage – A/C

It is quite common in Australia to see high grid voltages way in excess of the perceived 240V line voltage we have historically transmitted. This is mainly due to weak networks with settings on substation transformers turned up to the maximum to hold voltages within the grid defined limits at the far end of a long cable run. This means that supplies nearer to the substation transformer can expect high grid voltages, in particular at times of low local usage as the voltage rises with low demand. This can result in Solar inverters regularly dropping out on their overvoltage settings which they must have ironically to stop the grid voltage rising above the grid upper limits. This has two effects on the Solar Inverter, firstly there can be significant losses due to the inverter being offline until the grid voltage drops back into limits and secondly the inverter is being overstressed by high grid voltages. This can show up as early failures of the overvoltage relay on board the inverter. Most inverters have an upper limit of 254 volts (see the section below)

Mechanical Damage

Mechanical damage can sometimes be quite obvious, especially where significant impact damage has taken place. Sometimes though what can seem like a small none relevant indent can have pronounced effects on such items as seals designed to keep out moisture and gasses. Where equipment is located in areas with increased risk from mechanical stresses such as where fork trucks and machinery is in operation then it is advised that regular inspection of these items is carried out.

Vibrations

Failure rates of electronics due to vibrations has been proven to be significantly greater than those which are not exposed to such conditions. Surveys show that around 20% of failure rates of electronics is down to excessive vibrations. Any surface where a Solar inverter is mounted should be free from vibrations.

So, to sum up – today’s new inverter models are of better quality and all now come with a minimum product warranty of 5 years with most offering extended warranties up to 10 years. At times the major brands run promotions where they offer the extra 5 years for no extra cost so always ask about any promotions if looking at a replacement or new system.

While quality has improved it still comes down to other factors as discussed above as to how long your solar inverter will last so use an accredited installer who will know best on placement.

How do voltage spikes impact my solar inverter and what can I do about it?

One of the more common issues we are seeing at present is the high number of solar inverters that are failing due to high input voltages from the grid. This could be the result of the very high demand placed on suppliers due to high and prolonged temperatures and the need to push supply down the network.

Whatever the reason the result is many inverters switching off when voltages pass 254 volts or higher. In most cases, this is a safety cut out and can be remedied by resetting the inverter and homeowners contacting their supplier to report the issue and getting the fault fixed at the pole.

In some extreme cases, the voltage spike can damage components within the inverter and these may need to be repaired or replaced. While some damaged components may be cheap to replace the labour cost to do this can add up to many hundreds, if you can find a specialist to do it.

Covered by warranty you say – you may have a product warranty but some will not cover you for the actions of others such as your energy provider and voltage spikes are deemed as not covered by some solar warranties – check your cover. Going to your energy provider may also provide difficult unless they agree that voltage went above 250 volts in the recent past.

So what can you do?

First up check to see if the high input voltage is the issue with your inverter. Check the error reports or red flashing lights.

Second, reset the inverter to see if it settles down and runs as normal. If this does not work get a solar installer into check/ audit your system

Third, contact your system retailer or inverter supplier to see where you stand on the warranty. If you are unsure of your warranty cover (where did I put that paperwork?) and or if your retailer is no longer in business, then photograph the info panel on the side of the inverter. The serial number will assist you with the product importer or local office of the manufacturer.

If not covered by warranty, and not able to reset, then a replacement unit will be required. This could be a good opportunity to review your whole system if over 5 years old as it may not cover your current and future energy needs including the addition of a battery in the future.

Another option that may be worth considering is the installation of a power factoring unit between your switchboard and the inverter. This small unit flattens out the incoming voltage to a steady and consistent 220 volts which will protect your inverter when peaks occur, as they will most likely do so. Apart from protecting your inverter the unit will increase your solar energy production by up to 15% according to the manufacturer and will also extend the life of your appliances which also don’t like voltage spikes (computers, TVs, fridges, and the like)

Solar Service

Recommended Maintenance

Grid-connected solar PV systems have no moving parts and are designed to operate with minimal maintenance

It is recommended that all maintenance and repair work is conducted by your system installer or, if unavailable, another CEC-accredited installer.

To find a CEC installer in your area go to this site and type in your area code:

http://www.solaraccreditation.com.au/consumers/find-an-installer.html

Information for Maintenance Staff

At all times workplace safety regulations and state and federal solar PV installation codes and regulations must be followed.  The following information is provided only as a reminder of some important facets of workplace safety and is not a substitute for proper training.

Working at Heights

  • Safe work at heights is a subject requiring careful planning and execution. Consider the pitch of the surface when assessing the risks.  Training courses in working safely at heights are available in most locations and are highly recommended before carrying out roof work.
  • Ladders: Ensure ladders are set at the correct angle and with a secure footing. Make sure the top of the ladder extends 1 metre above cutter or façade it is leaning against.  Always secure a ladder at the top before stepping off a ladder onto a roof.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Ensure suitable personal protective equipment is used including at a minimum:

o    Safety harness – training is required for proper use of the harness

o    Footwear designed for high grip

Working at Heights on Wet Area

Extra caution must be applied if using water while working at heights, for example when cleaning modules.  Appropriate footwear and a safety harness are essential equipment on any sloping surface.  The need for edge barriers or other protective equipment must be assessed.

Electrical Risks

Solar PV modules are electrically connected to form an array that has a potentially deadly voltage.  Extreme caution should be applied.  It is not recommended to conduct maintenance on an array on a sunny day unless modules are completely covered with an opaque material.  Do not touch cabling and connections and do not pull on or cause pressure to be applied to cabling or connections

Recommended Maintenance (QUALIFIED PERSONNEL ONLY)

Solar PV Modules and Array

Note that even when the system has been shut down, solar PV arrays can continue to produce potentially deadly voltages.  If any electrical maintenance is required it is recommended to cover PV modules with an opaque material and test with a meter for any remaining voltage before conducting such maintenance.

Maintenance

Solar PV Modules require little maintenance.  A visual inspection can be conducted periodically to check for any environmental impacts.  Periodic cleaning of the modules is advisable, particularly in long periods of dry weather where the build-up of dirt and dust may reduce the output of the system.

Visual Inspection

A visual inspection may identify issues before they become a safety concern.  Solar modules are commonly installed on rooftops and areas where severe weather can have adverse effects on the mounting or electrical cabling, and solar UV radiation can damage components over time.

What to Look for:

  1. Check for any obstructions such as leaf litter preventing airflow beneath the modules. Cooler modules operate more efficiently.
  2. Check that module remain securely fastened to mounting rails.
  3. Check that cabling is not exposed to direct sunlight. UV radiation can damage insulation and connectors.
  4. Check that cabling is secured in place and not dangling loosely. Fauna or high winds can cause damage when cables are left with long loops.
  5. Without touching connections, check that connections between modules and cable entry to fixtures such as junction boxes appear to be secure and not suffering damage.
  6. Check that mounting systems and cable entries are not causing any leaks, for example, into roof cavities.

If any issues are discovered that cannot be safely and simply fixed, contact your PV installer or another CEC-accredited installer

Cleaning of Modules

When dust and dirt build-up is likely to affect the performance of a system, cleaning is advised by trained personnel.  Simply us water or if a heavy build-up of dirt necessitates it, use detergent and water with a sponge to remove the build-up.

It is advisable to sue a long-handed wiper so that cleaning can be carried out more safely from a position above the modules and away from the flow of water.

Inverter Maintenance

Ensure that no objects are located around the inverter that may impede the flow of air for cooling.

Trained personnel only may inspect and service inverters in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications.

Trained personnel may clean behind the inverter, check the mounting and qualified personnel only may open the inverter to carry out routine or required maintenance as specified in the inverter User Manual included at the end of or attached to, this documentation.

Maintenance Schedule

This maintenance information is intended for qualified personnel.

Correct and thorough electrical safety procedures must be followed when carrying out any of these tasks.  These tasks are not complete procedures and maintenance staff should be fully trained in each aspect of maintenance that they are conducting.

6 or 12 Monthly Maintenance (ask your installer for a recommended maintenance cycle)

  • Check voltage and current on the dc. side of the inverter, the voltage and current on the ac. side of the inverter.
  • Follow safe work at heights procedures in the following tasks. Visual inspection of the array including module degradation, module mounting, mechanical and UV protection of cables, connectors and conduit secure, frame earth connections, roofing sealants and penetrations, dirt and dust, shading changes. If any modules are found to be sub-standard, replace where necessary.
  • Junction box tests including string open circuit voltage and current, output voltage and current
  • Earth resistance: test earth resistance with dc. and ac. isolators in `OFF’ position
  • At each inverter check for ventilation, check for any error codes in accordance with the manufacturer’s documentation.

Bi-annual Maintenance

  • As above
  • Service inverter in accordance with the inverter manufacturer’s documentation.

Further maintenance procedures may be advisable according to the component manufacturer’s documentation.

Warranties

Solar Panels Warranty

Most PV solar panels come with a limited 10-year product warranty which covers you for quality issues caused in manufacture (Material defects). Note that damage to panels caused by weather events such as hail and or lightning is not covered by these warranties and you may need to approach your insurance company (who may say it is an act of God and not covered – check your policy).

To quote Jinko – a favourite Tier 1 supplier:

Jinko warrants that the Modules and their respective DC connectors and cables, if any, shall be free from material defects in design, materials and workmanship that affect the performance of the Module

(“Limited Product Warranty”). Material defects shall not include normal wear and tear.

Where you see retailers quoting a 25-year warranty this is usually the limited power warranty and it covers how much the panel may lose in efficiency over a 25-year period. Like Jinko below, most tier one panels should still be operating at 80% efficient at the 25-year mark.

LIMITED POWER WARRANTY. Jinko warrants that the Degradation Rate shall not exceed the

following for the periods identified following the Warranty Start Date: (a) 10% by that date

which is twelve (12) years following the Warranty Start Date, at which time the Actual

Power Output shall be not less than 90% of the Nominal Power Output; and (b) 20% by that

the date which is twenty-five (25) years following the Warranty Start Date, at which time the

Actual Power Output shall be not less than 80% of the Nominal Power Output (“Limited Power

Warranty”).

So to sum up. You should expect most quality panels to last at least 20 years excluding extreme weather events though they will start to lose effectiveness after the 10-year mark with this dropping to 90%.

Things to look out for are:

  • Make sure the panels are installed by an accredited solar installer
  • Clean the panels once a year to maximise efficiency
  • Get an audit done every few years to check the panels, isolators, wiring and fixtures to ensure all are ok. Repair or replace if not
  • Check for overhanging branches that may shade the panels or pose a risk of failing in storm conditions

When was the last time you had your panels/system checked?

Inverter warranty

Choose a quality Inverter to go with quality panels: An inverter is the heart of the solar system. It will have a direct impact on the efficiency of conversion from solar power to usable electric power of your system. The more efficient the inverter, the better the energy conversion process will be. The bigger and more established the manufacturer, the more likely warranty claims or required repairs will be dealt with smoothly.

Most inverters come with a standard 5-year warranty though most can be extended to 10years and above as a paid option.

Some manufacturers also offer specials in extended warranty so always ask your retailer what warranty is available across the range.

Warranties in general

Finally, make sure the manufacturer has a local legal entity in Australia. Should you have a dispute in years to come to a company with no link and contact in Australia is hard to pursue when it comes to consumer rights.

How do I get the bests out of my solar system over winter?

With winter approaching solar panel owners should be anticipating the drop in solar power output that comes in the cooler months. With shorter days, more cloud cover and the sun shining at a different angle, you may lose up to a third of your solar system’s usual output. While this will impact on your power bills — there are things that can be done to make sure your panels continue operating as efficiently as possible all through the winter.

Winter weather doesn’t necessarily mean less solar power – as your solar system can function better in cool sunny weather than in the very hot summer days. Solar panels are tested at 25 degrees Celsius — so for every degree, the temperature climbs above that, the panel’s output efficiency is reduced. In that regard, winter weather has an advantage over summer — though it needs all the help it can get with the added challenges of shorter days and increased cloud cover.

With that in mind, there are some ways you can offset that winter drop, starting with the most low-tech solutions and working up to the ones that might require a little extra investment.

Clean your panels

While taking good care of your solar panels should be a regular affair, autumn is a particularly good time to give them some extra attention. Winter is when you’ll be needing that little bit extra, after all.

If you haven’t done so recently — and if it can be done safely — you should give your solar panels a good clean in case of any built-up grime, dirt or other unwelcome additions to your panel like spots of bird poop. You should avoid using harsh chemicals or rough brushes to clean PV panels — instead use some warm water and a sponge wrapped in a cloth, or a soft brush. If you can’t get to your solar panels easily (or if you just don’t have the time) contact us and we will put you in touch with a specialist panel cleaner.

Get the most of the winter sun

Now is also a good time to make sure your panels are still getting access to all the sunlight they need. Generally, your panels should be receiving full sun from 9 am until 5 pm — and taking into consideration the angle of the winter sun, you may find that stray branches or overgrown trees are shading part of your panel array. This is especially important to address if you’re running on a central inverter rather than a microinverter. If you can, trim any branches that may be interfering with your precious sunlight.

Time for a checkup

Like your car, your solar system should be maintained and checked at least once a year, though many works on the ‘set and forget principle. Some early systems may need repair in that isolators, inverters, wiring and sealing may need attention. If you have not had your system checked for a few years then we suggest you do this over the next few months.

What gets measured gets better

Now that you’ve run through the basics of setting your solar panels up for winter, it’s time to look at what more you can do to squeeze every last drop of energy out of your investment in solar energy. If you want to get more hands-on with your power, it’s time to look at monitoring.

While some inverters come with monitoring via Wi-Fi and apps most of these only offer limited feedback. If you are really keen to not just monitor but actively manage your energy, then I suggest you look at a more comprehensive Smart Energy platform. One I recommend is Emberpulse which offers great feedback on the energy produced by your solar system and the energy used within the home as well as appliance automation. It provides real-time alerts for better energy management and if your system goes down with all of these backed with money back guarantees.

Battery Storage

Are you ready for a Battery addition to your solar system?

With ever increasing power prices and the risk of impending shortages, it is a fertile market for those pushing battery storage as a simple solution. A recent news poll of 2,000 households (ABC-21Sept) found:

  • Almost three -quarters of people believe batteries will become commonplace
  • 60% of households with solar panels are considering purchasing a battery in the next few years
  • The price of storage batteries in the first half of 2017 only dropped by 5%

With over 1.7 million residential solar systems in Australia, this represents over one million battery installations.

While this is an exciting development in households taking control of their energy bills it does raise some questions that need to be addressed.

According to the Clean Energy Regulator, 25% of all rooftop installed solar capacity has a fault. This is based on the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) figures gleaned from audits the CER conducts each year.

Of this 4.7 % are faulted to be dangerous and need to be shut down until remedied. There is also another approx.18% of builds with faults that are not dangerous but need fixing. Many of these are caused by poor quality product such as isolators that are not weather sealed. A high percentage of these faulty systems were installed between 2010 and 2015 and most are now out of warranty or the original installers have left the industry. It is the early start of a lot of work that will need to be done over the next few years to fix problems caused by the use of a poor-quality product which includes a high percentage of inverter faults.

So, the question remains what comes first, the battery solution, or bringing your current system up to compliance?

Many systems are currently not working to optimum standard and many are unsuitable for battery installation due to their size (2kW systems were very popular in the early days) or inverter design. My suggestion is to have an audit done by qualified tradespeople of your current system so you can make sure your system is working safely, and optimally, and is suitable for a battery installation in the future.

Is now the right time to install a battery?  Yes, prices have come down but they are still expensive and unless you are a big user of power the payback can be anywhere from 8 to 10 years. Prices will continue to fall, and I expect within the next two years we will see a drop across the range of suppliers that will bring the payback down to around 5 to 7 years which is starting to make sense.

In the meantime make sure your system is working well and you are getting the best feed-in tariff available.

Can I put a battery on my solar system?

A common question being asked today with research showing that over 60% of existing solar homeowners are interested in battery storage over the short term. With ever increasing power prices and most systems exporting over 50% of their energy to the grid it is understandable that interest is so high.

There is no simple answer to this question as it depends on your current setup. If installed many years ago it is likely that you have a standard string inverter which is not compatible with today’s batteries. You will need a Hybrid inverter to link most battery options today and while these are becoming more popular they are more expensive to buy and install.

If you splashed out and installed a Solar Edge or Enphase system, then you are better off as both of these systems are compatible with different battery storage options and we can walk you through this.

Some battery systems such as Tesla Powerwall come with built-in inverters so these can be considered as an option though they are expensive at this time, again we can walk you through these options.

Another point to consider is the feed-in tariff you are on. If you are one of the lucky 40c+ brigades in some States, then putting a battery system in place will likely cost you money not save you as exporting during the day and importing from the grid at night/ morning is the way to go especially if you can find a plan that maximises the difference in rates (25 cents in and 40 cents out). Remember all these generous feed-in rates will drop off in time and energy prices will continue to close the gap.

Another question to ask yourself is the timing of battery investment in that they are still expensive and most show a payback of over 10 years which is at the end of the warranty lifecycle for most batteries. Batteries will come down in price as more competition and volume comes into the market and prices are likely to be a lot lower in the next two to three years.

One thing we do recommend is to start monitoring your energy generation and usage, so you are better placed to make to the best decision on when to add a battery to your system. A great new platform to do this is the Emberpulse system which does the full range of energy monitoring as well as providing a battery ready analysis report after six months.

Finally Solar Misconceptions!

We often hear from some potential solar customers the reasons why they don’t go with solar.

Solar is not worth it now the FIT has stopped.

Well, this one! While we had some very good solar FIT’s of the past (Feed-In Tariff), solar is still the best energy investment you can buy.

For example, a typical 5kW solar system in Brisbane will produce on average 22.5kW per day. At the average of the $0.25c cost of electricity per kWh – that’s a production of $5 approx, worth of solar energy a day. A good Solar Energy company, like Energy Stuff, will help you with Smart Solar Options, such as apps or devices that help you control your loads or energy use in the day to stop or minimise that valuable free electricity going out to the street. The more solar energy you consume inside your home or business, the more you save.

So, in summary, normally a solar system will pay for itself in around 2 to 4 years, depending on your configuration and final options.

Solar truly works and with or without a feed-in tariff, if sized correctly and explained to the customer, the benefits are great for your wallet and the environment.

I need a Hybrid Inverter to be battery ready.

No, you don’t. Some unfair solar companies will pressure you into a Hybrid inverter ( that means you can connect certain types of batteries directly to the inverter.) Actually, most “Hybrid” inverters can only connect very specific batteries, and those batteries are available now, but will the be available in the future?

Many batteries, such as Tesla, Sonnen, Varta and more, offer AC Coupled batteries. This means any solar system or home for that matter can connect a battery, not needing the Hybrid Inverter at all.

SOLAR NEXT steps

A good solar company will ask you to provide or discuss with you the following questions;

  1. Current Bill and Energy Usage ( winter and Summer)
  2. Number of people living in the home
  3. types of appliances, heating and cooling, pool pump or other high load items
  4. Roof type and orientation
  5. The place for inverter and battery ( cool, not north facing)
  6. Switchboard state ( suitability for solar items)
  7. future energy needs ( battery or EV – Electric Car)
  8. Proposed length of time in the home (ie Smart Energy options and future energy proofing)

About the author

Lucas is the Founder of Deal With Stuff. Initially, as a father, Lucas became concerned and focused on how his children would navigate the complexities of a new digital world. The lack of truth, trust and personality of this accelerating medium. With a personal mission to make a positive impact on t ... more