Solar North East
Solar North East Project Summary
The uptake of solar power installations in Indigo Shire as part of the Solar North East community hub project in 2011-2012 has been very positive. 135 of the 348 rooftop solar systems installed across the project area were in Indigo Shire, that’s 39%, the highest up take of all the seven councils involved, the next highest being Rural City of Wangaratta with 15% (57 installs) of total project installs. The 135 systems installed in Indigo Shire amount to 470.25kW of solar power which is estimated to save 886.69 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually!
The $500,000 project, funded by Sustainability Victoria, ran for 18 months across 7 council areas of North East Victoria, and employed a full-time project manager, solar ambassadors at each council, and a number of local contractors. The key planks of the project were to raise community awareness about renewable energy and demystify the technical and legislative aspects of installing solar power. Residents and businesses were provided a range of support to reduce their energy consumption and to determine the most suitable solar system to help them generate their own electricity, thereby saving them money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This support was underpinned by the cost benefits of bulk-purchasing.
Total Solar North East project solar power installs in Indigo Shire amount to 27.3 Watts per person living in the Shire. And that’s only for installations that occurred through the Solar North East project during 2011-2012 in Indigo Shire, it doesn’t include those in Indigo who chose to install solar through a different installer during that time or in previous years. In 2011, only Hawaii, New Jersey, New Mexico and Arizona of all the United States of America had a higher installation of Watts per capita than Indigo Shire’s 27.3Watts per person in the Solar North East Project (Interstate Renewable Energy Council US Solar Market Trends 2011 Report). This is also higher than the cumulative total Watts per person installed in majority of the States in America through to 2011, with only eight States boasting a higher ‘cumulative total’ Watts per capita installed through to 2011 (Interstate Renewable Energy Council US Solar Market Trends 2011 Report).
Indigo Shire Council Solar Installations
As part of the project Indigo Shire Council funded the installation of solar photovoltaic energy systems on four community venues across the shire. The systems will benefit many community groups that use these venues, and they will all receive the Transitional Feed-In Tariff for energy fed back into the grid.
To see Wahgunyah School of the Arts solar power plant generation overview click here
To see the Baarmutha Park solar power plant generation overview click here
To see the Chiltern Football Club solar power plant generation overview click here
To see the Kiewa Bowls Club solar power plant generation overview click here
Choosing a solar installer
If you missed out on participating in the Solar North East project and are looking into installing a solar energy system, there is a lot to consider. It is important to do your research. Product and installation warranties and their conditions vary widely. Be sure to obtain a number of quotes from reputable installers to compare. When comparing installers and solar power systems consider the following:
The annual electricity yield that a system can produce under normal ‘real world’ operating conditions is one of the most important characteristics when investing in a solar energy system to ensure a return on your investment. Yield is measured in kWh (kilowatt hours) and is the same unit used by your retailer to measure electricity consumption at your house or business and is shown on your power bill. In the Solar North East tender process the claimed yield was found to vary by around 20% on systems offered in the tender. This means that a system with a low up-front cost which performs relatively poorly can be a worse investment than a more expensive system with a higher yield. The effect is amplified when you multiply the yield differences over the service life of the equipment (typically 25 years or more for quality systems).
The panel used by the installer chosen for the Solar North East project had a zero negative output tolerance. This fact is a very important point. Many of the panels available are rated at a specific output (say 200W) with a +/- output tolerance. This means that in the case of a 200W panel with an output tolerance of +/-3%, it’s possible that the true panel output could be 194W to 206W but an average of 200W. Unfortunately, the average is not what counts when the modules are connected in series within the array, as modules with a greater output cannot compensate for those with lower output. Instead the current from the worst module determines the overall current in the array, and hence the output of all modules. This could mean that a 2.00kW system may in fact only be 1.94kW because of this effect. With a zero negative output tolerance panel, you know that the watts per panel output rating is the minimum, meaning that the full rated output of the system can be relied on.
Return on investment
The return on your investment is closely linked to the up-front cost, the yearly energy yield, and yearly panel degradation of a solar power system. The higher the yield of a system in relation to the up-front cost, the better the theoretical return on investment. The only problem with this measure is that very cheap systems can perform better when the quality (longevity) of the equipment is not taken into account. However, if the high failure rate of these cheap systems is taken into account, (the replacement cost of an inverter for example) then these systems do not perform well as the replacement cost and loss of yield during the fault increase the overall lifetime cost dramatically.
Production & installation warranties
Who is responsible for servicing the warranty? And are they easily contactable if something goes wrong with your system? Are the inverter, panels and installation workmanship all covered under the warranty? How long are the warranties for each of these components? Is the company stable? How long have they been operating and are they likely to still be around if you need to claim your warranty?
Customer support from the installer
Check that the installer will complete the required forms and certificates, particularly were you are connecting your system to the grid. This includes Form for assigning your Small Scale Technology Certificates to the installer, a Solar Interconnection Agreement Form to be sent to your distributor (SP-AusNet), a Certificate of Electrical Safety from an independent Electrical Inspector and an Electrical Work Request Form, the later will both need to be sent to your retailer.
Use of local installers
Try to use local installers. Not only does this support local businesses, it gives you some security in having a local contact to service your warranty.
For more information visit: http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/energy/sustainable-energy/solar-energy
Choosing a retailer
Shopping around to find a retailer that offer rates that suit your usage patterns can help reduce your bill. Use the Your Choice Victorian Government electricity retailer comparison website to help identify competitive retailers that suit your needs. Use this as a guide but make sure you follow up with a phone call to the top few retailers if you install solar you may want to find a retailer that offers a good rate for energy fed into the grid.
Understand your energy usage
It’s a good idea to monitor your energy usage so you can understand where the energy is going in your home. Use an appliance power meter to understand what individual appliances are costing you to run, identify inefficient appliances that could be upgraded to a more efficient ones, and prioritise your usage to reduce your bill. Do you need that extra bar fridge running all the time? Or could you just switch it on when required?
Last updated: 14 May 2013