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Demystifying solar energy

Demystifying solar energy

As Australia creeps towards winter temperatures and shorter days, reaching for the heater switch can pilfer your savings. But are those connected to solar power really soaring ahead?

The impact that winter has on our pockets depends on our habits. It’s undeniable that making smart energy choices will keep bills to a minimum but what happens if we want to make bigger changes? Will households that opted for solar energy in recent months now be monitoring the winter sunlight with the same obsession as those who monitor their bills?

Does less light mean higher electricity bills and does solar power performance reduce in the winter?

The answers can be a mix of light and shade…

Questions from a million Australian households

The Clean Energy Regulator reported the number of Australian homes with solar power systems passed the one million mark in March 2013[i]. According to the Clean Energy Council, these Australians are getting cheaper power and collectively they are saving around half a billion dollars a year on their electricity bills. But for many of the newly converted, this winter will be the first real test.

Will shorter days mean less solar energy?

In short, yes. Less sunlight is going to provide fewer rays to be converted into power. However, as new solar owners obsess over the efficiency of their systems, the first thing they often discover is that longer days don’t always provide optimum performance. Solar panels don’t like it too hot and you produce more power from your home system if cells stay at comfortable temperatures.

Winter temps a friend for solar power

Most panels need careful installation, which means leaving a few inches space between the system and the roof so airflow can cool them down. In fact, the performance of many systems can start to degrade at temperatures of more than 25C. That means a cold day with clear skies will see you getting your best performance.

When winter hurts solar power performance

The real enemy of solar power is shade. Poor solar design can mean even a little shade on one panel can shut down the energy production of your other panels. The same applies in drizzle and cloud. Winter in only effective if you are lucky enough to avoid these weather patterns.

What is the perfect climate for solar power

With cool temperatures and direct sunlight optimum for producing solar power, a cool desert or sunny mountaintop can be ideal.

All about the angles

Roof pitch can have a bigger affect on your solar power production than the weather. In Australia, your roof should face north to catch maximum sunlight. Those panels on the east of your home can be effective in summer while valuable north-facing cells take over in winter.

 The fast rise of solar

The CEC reports 2.5 million Australians live in homes with solar panels on the roof – more than the entire population of Western Australia. Just five years ago in 2008, there were only about 20,000 systems installed across the entire country.

With solar panels fast becoming the Hills Hoist of the new millennium, the race to maximise savings is bound to be everyday dinner table conversation for many households this winter.

[i] http://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/mediaevents/media-releases/April-2013/130405-Million-solar-rooftops.html.html