solar panels

Is solar power for homes worth it?

Australia has a lot of sunshine. We'd be mad not to use it. But is it worth going to the expense of installing solar panels and harvesting this boundless source of energy?

It is probably inevitable that all houses built in the near future will be required to have solar power, which makes sense as part of a strategy to combat global warming and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Installing a system now, though, needs careful consideration. There are wide variations in the cost and effectiveness of domestic systems, and government subsidies that made going solar a no-brainer a few years ago have all but dried up.

Here are some things to think about before deciding to follow the sun:

1. How much power do you consume?

If you have a family with young children and the washing machine and dishwasher are used daily and your bills are substantial, the case for solar is much stronger than if you are empty-nesters with basic electricity needs. Work out how much power you use, and understand when your peak usage periods are and why.

2. Can you maximise your energy usage during the day?

Once you've identified your power-hungry habits, ask yourself if you can transfer them to mostly daytime use. Since the generous feed-in tariffs (the money you were paid for solar power you generated but did not use) were slashed, the smart strategy is to consume as much power as you can during daylight hours when your solar panels are sparking up. By having the pool pump, hot water system, washing machine and anything else you can think of running during the day and dormant at night, you can generate big power bill reductions. 

3. Is your house suitable for solar power?

All sunshine is free, but its distribution is not fair. There can be wild variations in the amount of sunshine some places receive. Do you have enough roof area for the panels required to meet your energy needs? And aspect is a factor. North-facing houses will reap the sun's harvest all day long, while houses on a south-facing hillside may be in the shade for much of the time.

4. What are your motives?

Big decisions should have compelling reasons to proceed. Be clear about why you want to go solar. It may be that you want to convert to sustainable energy to reduce your environmental footprint, or you see it as a way of cutting your power bills through targeted usage.

Some people become disillusioned with solar power because it doesn't deliver the savings they envisioned, not understanding that leaving the air-conditioners on all night and putting the dishwasher on after dinner instead of the next morning is not going to help you save.