If you follow solar industry news, perhaps you are aware that the public perception of solar power is very positive in Australia. Photovoltaic technology reduces your power bills significantly, and you help the environment in the process. Coal is still the dominant energy source in Australia, and it releases over 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour delivered, while solar power has no emissions during operation.
However, there are more clean power sources other than photovoltaic systems, and they can also provide electricity at a low cost. You may be wondering what makes solar power so appealing for homeowners and businesses? There are three main factors – adaptability, simple maintenance and safety.
Regardless of their capacity, all solar power systems use the same building blocks, which are photovoltaic modules. The rated capacity of these modules changes depending on the model and manufacturer, but most products are in the range of 250W to 330W. Even if you compare small rooftop installations with utility-scale solar farms, you will notice that individual modules do not vary much in terms of capacity.
This design flexibility makes solar power useful for households and commercial buildings of any size. Once the ideal capacity in kilowatts is determined, the number of solar modules needed can be calculated accordingly. For example, if you are using 300W modules, 20 of them give you a 6 kW installation, while 300 of them give you 90 kW. In both cases, you only have to configure the racking, wiring, protections and inverters according to capacity.
Like solar photovoltaic systems, wind turbines also offer very low electricity costs with zero carbon emissions. However, this only applies for large units rated in the megawatts; as you reduce the scale of a wind turbine, the price per kilowatt increases dramatically.
If you compare solar photovoltaics with other generation technologies, you will notice that solar systems stand out for not having any moving parts subject to mechanical wear. Of course, this does not apply if you have equipped your PV array with a solar tracker, but a tracking system is optional and only viable for some sites.
When dealing with solar photovoltaics, the most demanding maintenance activity is keeping the surface of PV modules clean. If dirt and small objects such as leaves are allowed to accumulate, the solar array suffers a gradual reduction of its output over time. You should also keep an eye on shading issues – growing branches may cast shadows that were not present when the solar system was first installed.
Solar panels from reliable manufacturers normally come with a 25-year warranty for energy production above a specified value, but other system components have a shorter service life. For example, inverters are normally rated for 10 years, so you have to plan for two replacements during the rated service life of solar panels. There is also a small risk of having some system components fail prematurely, but this is not a major issue if you are covered by a warranty.
Modern solar installations normally come with built-in monitoring applications, which let you track production day by day. If you see a drop in energy output that cannot be attributed to cloudy weather, it is likely that some issue needs to be fixed. However, don’t immediately assume that one of your system components failed… maybe you just have a loose connection or solar panels covered with leaves.
In short, the maintenance activities associated with solar power system are much simpler than those carried out for other generation equipment. If you read about the maintenance needs of wind turbines, hydropower facilities and fossil fuel-fired steam turbines, you will notice a drastic increase in complexity compared with solar systems.
Consider that solar power systems are installed very close to areas occupied by people, and not everyone has a technical professional background. For comparison, all the staff in conventional power plants has been trained extensively on how the system operates and the safety procedures they must follow. There are many reasons why solar systems are much safer:
However, there is still one risk you must keep in mind: solar array have modules connected in string circuits, which can have an output of several hundred volts of direct current. In other words, the connections of a solar array should not be tampered with, and inverters and protection equipment should be placed in a safe location. With respect to the inverter output, you should follow the same precautions as with any AC device.
If batteries are added to the system, their operation is safe as long as you use products from a reliable manufacturer and installed by a qualified contractor. Like with any other electrical device, batteries should only be manipulated by properly-trained personnel.
Solar power systems are highly suitable for homes and businesses, which require adaptability, safety for occupants without a technical background, and simple maintenance in cases there is no dedicated technical staff.
A final reason why Australian homeowners and businesses deploy solar power systems is to avoid the hefty electricity tariffs billed by local energy retailers. You can get a payback period of less than four years if you purchase a solar power system; and you can expect a kilowatt-hour price discount of up to 50% if you opt for “solar as a service”, where you sign a Power Purchase Agreement and the system provider assumes responsibility for financing and maintenance.