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Costing Your Solar Power Project

Last Updated Jul 13, 2015 · Written by Rob Schneider

Australia has an ideal climate for solar technology. In fact, Australians who have installed solar power systems enjoy lower energy bills and have the satisfaction of knowing they are doing their part to reduce greenhouse emissions. Why doesn't everyone install a solar power system? It's largely because many Australians believe that solar power systems are prohibitively expensive to buy and install. If you know how to cost your solar power project, though, you'll see how solar power makes good economic sense.

Costing Your Solar Power Project*

Prices for solar panels (usually called solar photovoltaic or PV panels) have come down substantially over the years, but their initial cost is still much higher than simply connecting to mains electricity. How is the cost of the panels and system justified? Basically, when you install a solar PV system, you are installing your own power supply. If you do your homework, you can find out how quickly your system will pay for itself and for how long you will be able to benefit from the energy your system produces.

The rebate system has been phased out, but a government incentive in the form of Small-scale Technology Cetificates (STCs) still exists. When you get quotes for solar power systems and installations, make sure the products and installers are approved. If they are, you can receive STCs after your system is installed. The STCs have a cash value, often as much as $2000 or even more for larger systems. You can sell them on the open market, but most prefer to assign them to their supplier/installer in exchange for a discount.

When you get quotes for solar power, ask for the price of the system, the installation cost and the cash value of your STCs. With this cost as your base, you can start looking at the factors that make solar power a good investment. Your most important considerations will be:
  • The workmanship guarantee: your installer should stand behind their work with a substantial workmanship guarantee
  • The performance guarantee: solar panels degrade over time. Good quality solar panels should have an efficient lifespan of 20 to 25 years.
  • The "payback period" is the length of time it will take for your system to pay for itself. Your local supplier should be able to tell you how long that period is in your area.

Questions to Ask Solar Power Suppliers

Solar panels are the most expensive components of a solar PV system. There are 3 types of solar panels currently available:
  • Monocrystalline
  • Polycrystalline
  • Amorphous or "thin film" solar panels.
Each of these has its advantages or disadvantages under differing circumstances. There are also price differences between them, but their initial cost should be balanced against their long term benefits. Ask suppliers about these options and get their opinions about which type of solar photovoltaic panel would be best for you.

Also ask what the ideal size of your system should be. The "size" is actually measured in watts and not the size of the panels. While a system that produces more watts of electricity per hour will cost more, it may be better value in the long run.

Quotes for solar PV systems can be confusing because there are many variables to consider. Some things you want to be sure to know include:
  • Is the installer accredited in your state or territory?
  • Is the value of STCs listed separately in the quotes? Are other incentives available in your area?
  • Is low interest financing available in your area?
  • If you are connecting to the electricity grid, is the cost of the connection included in the quote? Can you sell your excess energy to your mains electtricity supplier?
  • If you want a stand-alone system (a system that is not grid-connected), does the cost include the storage battery and other necessary components?
Solar power installers will also be able to help you find the best way to install your solar panels. While roof installations are most common, there are other alternatives today, such as solar carports and even solar skylights in some locations.

In some areas, the pay-back period for a solar PV system can be as little as five years. It may be as long as 10 years in another area, but if your panels are going to last for 25 years or more, you have still made a wise investment.

*This article was updated 08 July 2015
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