Choosing The Right Solar System Components

Choosing the right components for your solar system is a crucial decision and can mean the difference between having a reliable system that makes a real contribution to reducing your bills and having a lemon on your roof that causes nothing but headaches.

The good thing is that the solar industry has now been around long enough that clear market leaders have emerged and it’s not hard to find out what these leading brands are. These brands aren’t that much more expensive than the low quality brands and will pay for themselves in a very short time frame through greater production and lower maintenance costs.

Solar Panels + Inverter + Mounting System = Solar System

Solar Panels

solar panel

Solar panels are the core component of a solar power system, they collect photons from the sun and then turn them into DC electricity.

Easy ways to check for solar panel quality:

Does the company have a website?

If the company doesn’t have a quality website and you can’t find anything about them via a simple Google search, exclude them from your list. If they don’t have information about themselves online, you can be pretty sure that they’ll be hard to find if you have a warranty issue in the future.

Have the panels been used on utility scale solar farms?

If a large corporation is investing hundreds of millions in a large scale system, you can be sure that they’ve done due diligence on the panel and the company who made the panel. Check their website and if they’ve done large scale systems, you’ll be able to easily find info on these.

Are their warranties serviced in Australia?

Check if the company requires you to send the panels back to the country of manufacture at your own expense if you have a problem. If you do, run a mile in the opposite direction, there are plenty of manufacturers out there who will pay to have a panel replaced for you. This should eliminate a few choices. 

Power Tolerance

This refers to the percentage variation in the panel’s power production. A positive power tolerance means that the panel will produce at or above what it is labelled. E.g. a 200W with a 5% positive power tolerance will produce anywhere between 200W and 210W. The same panel with a negative power tolerance will produce anywhere between 190W and 200W. Solar cells with a positive power tolerance are selected by higher quality manufactures and generally indicates a higher quality panel.

Temperature Co-efficient

As counter-intuitive as it sounds; solar panels don’t work as well in higher temperatures. A measure of how much production a panels loses once it gets hotter than 40 degrees is the Temperature Co-efficient. For every 1 degree over 40 degrees, Suntech panels for example will lose 0.45% production – This is around what most panels lose so don’t be too concerned, plus this is factored into the productions figures given for each city. When looking at panels, go for one with a lower percentage or temperature co-efficient as it indicates a better quality panel.

See highly reviewed solar panel brands here.

Inverter

solar inverter

The solar inverter is responsible for taking the DC electricity generated by the panels and converting it into 240V AC electricity which can then be used by your home appliances. The inverter also registers how much energy you’ve produced and some higher end models even allow you to connect to your computer via Bluetooth and view much more in depth information.

Over the last few years, thousands of homeowners have seen inferior quality inverters fail. As well as the hassle of having to call the installation company, who may or may not charge you to have it replaced (see Choosing a solar installer) you’ll also lose money as you may not realise straight away that the system isn’t working. In this case, compare the solar inverter prices offered carefully. A few hundred dollars more to go for a good quality system would have been more than worth it.

See some highly reviewed inverter brands here.

IMPORTANT: The inverter isn’t an area you want to skimp on as this is the first thing to fail in a poor quality system.

Micro inverters are another form of technology that you may be offered in your quotes. They represent a small proportion of systems installed nationally and are best used in situations where you roof may receive a lot of shading at certain times of the day. You can read more on choosing between a standard string inverter and micro-inverter here.

 

Mounting system

Mounting System

The solar panel mounting system is extremely important as this connects the system to your roof. There are generally 2 ways of attaching a system to your roof and this depends on whether your roof is tin or tile. Most mounting frames in Australia meet Australian standards and this hasn’t been a problem so far.

The video below provides and excellent explanation of how mounting systems are installed on tile and tin roofs and the components involved.

 

 

Where in your solar journey are you?

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Understanding Batteries

Off-Grid Systems

For some households a battery system can be of great benefit and minimise a home’s reliance on the grid. However, it’s important to understand for a battery to be useful your solar system needs to be generating excess energy for the battery to store, which you can then use at night or when the sun is not out.

When selecting a battery, you’ll want to invest in a system that is most suited to your home and can drive the best return on investment (ROI). Despite a larger upfront cost, a higher quality battery may significantly increase your ROI.

    Battery systems start from $6,000 and costs can vary greatly based on the following factors:

  1. Cycle Life-Time

    The number of times a battery can fully charge and discharge.

  2. Battery Power (kW)

    How fast it can be charged or discharged.

  3. Storage Capacity (kWh)

    The maximum amount of energy a battery system can store.

  4. Battery Management System (BMS)

    An electronic ‘smart’ system that gathers data and manages the battery ensuring it does not overload or operate outside of its safe functioning zone..

  5. Inverter

    Battery systems require their own inverter if your solar system does not have a hybrid inverter.

  6. 'All-In-One Unit’

    A system which includes the battery, BMS and an inverter all in one unit.

  7. Warranty

    Length of time or cycles the battery system is under guarantee.

  8. Blackout Protection/Backup

    It’s important to note this is not a common feature of a battery system and could cost thousands of dollars to include. Blackout protection not only requires additional components but also a specialised installation and rewiring. For grid-connected homes, the cost for blackout protection can outweigh the benefit.

Additionally, if your purpose for adding battery is to go Off-Grid and become completely independent from the grid you will need to ensure your solar system can generate enough energy to power your home and your battery system is large enough to store this energy. For homes in metro areas going Off-grid is not cost effective and is only recommended for those in remote areas with limited access to the grid. Off-grid solar systems with battery start at approximately $30,000.