Is It Economical to Put up Solar Panels?

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In June 2011, we put in a 3.0-kilowatt solar array. Our quarterly electricity costs averaged $750–$900 and steadily increased. As a family of four, we utilize our HVAC system for heating and cooling and power our home office and pool pump. The home was outfitted with low-voltage downlights. In the subtropics, we only spend a small fraction of the year using our heaters and air conditioners. The ever-increasing cost of our monthly electricity bill was starting to become a significant issue.

The Australian government subsidizes installing solar panels or PV (photovoltaic) cells to generate electricity. The refund ended up being around $4,000 for us.

An inverter linked to your electric meter allows solar panels in suburban areas to export excess power to the utility grid.

A “smart meter” is also installed to track electrical usage as part of the inverter installation process. The “smart meter” keeps track of the power you consume (bring in) and your solar panels’ power. The meter will deduct your daily electricity consumption from the power generated by your solar panels.

If your home generates more energy than it needs, you may sell the surplus to your utility company for roughly twice what you paid for it. In Queensland, you get paid based on the net amount of electricity you generate.

Actual savings on your electricity cost can be realized by selling your excess electricity back to the source.
During the day, our hourly electricity use averages between 1 and 1.5 kW. This means that we would only be able to meet our urgent electricity needs by constructing a solar system of 1.5 kW.

A more robust setup was required since selling excess energy back to the grid yields the most significant financial benefits. Our roof was just big enough for a 1.5kw system on each side. Using a specialized converter that could draw power from two separate solar arrays, we decided to install 3kW across two roof sections.

Guidelines for optimal solar panel placement:

If you want your roof to get the most sun, you should orient it so it faces north or nearly north. The roofs facing north and west seem to have worked well for us.

The panels in Queensland should be installed at a roof slope of approximately 15 degrees to maximize winter sun exposure while minimizing summer heat gain.

Avoid having trees, other structures, TV antennas, etc., cast shadows over the panels when they produce the most power. A solar panel will not produce energy if it is partially shaded.

The panels generally produce at their highest levels between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. The summer hours range from 8 am to 4 pm, depending on the roof’s direction.
In addition to installing solar panels, we made a few adjustments around the house:

The pool pump is 50% more efficient now hooked to an off-peak tariff.

Off-peak pricing for appliances like washers, dryers, and dishwashers has reduced monthly costs by up to 50 percent.

Between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. daily, the off-peak tariff reduces power to specific devices.

All low-voltage bulbs have been swapped out for more efficient fluorescent tube downlights. About 50 watts of power was used per hour by the low-voltage lights. Each new light uses roughly 15 watts, a 70% reduction over the old ones.
I’m curious as to the price tag.

Installing solar panels, new meters, and wiring for a dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer together cost us $17,500. Since the government offered a credit of $4000, the final cost was only $13,500.

How much cash will we be able to avoid spending?

Our first solar-powered electricity bill for the year’s first three months arrived today. Last year at this time, we consumed 51.7 kWh of power and paid $750.

We consumed only 28.8 kilowatt hours of electricity during that period, resulting in a 361-dollar electricity bill.

We reduced our GHG output by 48%, from 5 to 2.6 metric tons.

When can I expect a refund?

Through installing solar panels and some strategic rearranging of our appliances, we anticipate annual savings of at least $1600. In our situation, it would take 8.5 years, therefore, most people try to figure out how long it will take to break even.

But I think this is the wrong question; a better one would be, “How much profit can I expect to make?” With my initial investment of $13,700, I make at least $1,600 a year. My return on investment in terms of money saved on my monthly electricity bill is 11.7%. I’m still making money because this is roughly twice as much as the interest rate on my mortgage.

When did this occur?

We hired a local electrician with experience installing solar systems, and he gave us advice on how to cut our electricity consumption, new rates for our appliances, and all the materials we needed to get started. After applying, it took us two weeks to get approval from the local utility to become their power supplier. It took 2 days to install the solar panels and rewire the appliances for the tariff switch. Two weeks after that, we put in the smart meter.

Also, we were surprised to see a $950 balance on our first electrical statement with no mention of solar. After giving our provider a brief call, we learned they were unaware of our solar panel installation. Our information in their books was out of date. They revised the price to its current $360 amount, a 62% discount from the original $590 amount.

What do we know?

I wish I had put in the panels sooner; they are an excellent long-term investment that everyone should consider making.

Paul Hindes, Architect of the Soul Space.

Paul has been an architect for businesses for over 30 years. His portfolio includes large-scale commercial and institutional structures, small-scale townhouse projects, and even one-off custom houses. Paul draws on his extensive background to advise customers on the feasibility of their projects. He is the current president of the Building Designers Association’s Sunshine Coast chapter and holds certifications as a Greensmart Professional and an Energy Modeler. He has also taught classes on computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D modeling for architects.

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