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How many solar panels should you buy?

My answer to this question has changed considerably compared to just a few years ago.

This is because prices for solar installation have fallen considerably, electricity prices have risen, and feed-in tariffs (what you’re paid for exporting excess electricity generation) have also risen.

The only limitations now are your budget, what your roof can properly fit, and the amount your DNSP (Distributed Network Service Provider) allows you to install.

For most homes, the minimum you should consider is buying 6.6 kW of panels (approx. 20 in total) with a 5 kW inverter.

The biggest regret I’ve heard from solar power owners is they didn’t factor in how winter and overcast days limit their savings. They wish they’d installed more panels when they had the chance.

It’s expensive and complicated to add panels after the install, while adding solar panels to the initial quote can be surprisingly cheap.

I’ve written about this topic in more detail.

The solar rebate: still very much alive and kicking – and generous

The famous Australian federal ‘solar rebate’ (technically known as the ‘STC scheme’) acts as a point-of-sale discount off the final cost of a solar power system installation. The subsidy is worth about $550 per kW of solar panels installed, but this will vary depending on where you live.

As an example, a 6kW system attracts around $3,300 in rebates.

Anyone can claim the rebate, even if you’ve already bought solar power systems in the past and want to buy a new system.

The only restrictions on claiming the rebate are:

  • Your system installation must be less than 100kW in size.
  • You get it installed and designed by a Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited professional (you can ask the installer on the day to provide proof of accreditation!)
  • You use panels and solar inverters approved for use in Australia by the Clean Energy Council (such as the ones I mentioned in #1).

The federal solar rebate is slowly being phased out. It reduced by one tenth of today’s value every January until it goes to zero

What price-range can you expect to pay for quality solar power, and why can quotes vary wildly in price?

As of October 2020, approximate prices for good quality solar panel systems in Australia (Tier 1 panels + quality string inverter), including full installation, are:

3kW: $3,500 – $5,000

5kW: $4,500 – $8,000

6kW: $5,000 – $9,000

10kW: $8,000 – $12,000

To be clear – the upper end prices are for top-end systems

Note the above prices also include the discount from the solar ‘rebate’.

If you want to downgrade to a reputable budget inverter you may be able to save around $800 to $1200 on these prices.

Costs can increase if you need an electricity switchboard upgrade or other electrical work to make your home suitable for solar power, or if the design of your home makes the system installation more difficult.

If you decide to go with installing micro inverters or an optimiser-based system over a string inverter, costs will also increase by approximately 20%.

Installing battery storage (for an off-grid or hybrid system) will at least double the price of the system.

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