How to Boost your Solar System’s Output Year-Round in Australia
Solar panels consist of many photovoltaic cells which collect energy from the light of the sun and convert it into solar energy. This is an extremely ingenious form of energy production because sunlight is completely free and practically unlimited. However, the only glaring shortcoming with this system is also its greatest advantage i.e., it depends on the sun. The advantage, as we mentioned earlier, is that the sun is both cost-free and also unlimited. The disadvantage is that it is only available for 12 hours at a time (and not always at peak intensity). Anyone who knows anything about the rotation of the earth knows this. In addition to time, the atmosphere presents another restriction. Atmospheric conditions can hinder sunlight through cloud cover, precipitation and dust storms, depending on where you live. Needless to say, without access to the sun’s light, it is impossible to actually run any appliances on solar power.
Efficiency (in terms of solar panels) means getting the maximum energy out of your solar panels. It is directly proportional to the productivity and output of solar panels.
So, here is a step-by-step guide to help you make the most of your solar energy system.
How to Maximise Solar Panel Efficiency
Before we talk about specific points regarding efficiency, it is important to align our expectations with reality, so that we know what to expect when talking about improved output. For instance, it is impossible to have as much output as when the sun is at its peak during a clear day. Also, output increments which may seem insubstantial may not be inconsequential in the long term. Though increments may seem small, it is important to remember that the effect they will have on the overall reduction of your energy bills over time may be well worth it. The point of this guide, after all, is to help you get noticeable improvements out of your soar energy systems. Other factors that will affect you, and which are best kept in mind are as follows:
- How many of your appliances are connected to solar panels?
- Where is your premises located?
- How many hours of sunlight do you get in a day on average?
- Is there local flora in your area that may obstruct sunlight to your panels?
- What type of solar panels have you installed?
That last point is one to consider. Solar panels come in various designs, sizes and types. They differ in their functionality and generation efficiency. For example, modern solar panels are designed to work in low-light conditions and the most advanced ones even produce some energy at night. Advanced solar panels will produce more output than cheaper ones. This is a given. Another thing to keep in mind is the price. The more you pay, generally, the better your product will be. Also, throwing dollars at a solar panel system means that you can also have a larger system, which again translates to increased output. However, it is worth mentioning that with the prices of solar panels dropping all over the world, it is now possible to have a decent solar energy system without having to shelve out thousands on thousands of dollars. Modern solar panels are efficient and cheap. Nonetheless, no matter how much you paid for your solar energy system and no matter its size, here are some tips that will help you make the most out of it:
1 – Prioritise Your Needs and Reduce your Devices
During the winter months or in general whenever solar power output is low, it may be a good idea to consider what is essential and what is not. You may want to reduce, or at least manage, the devices you use on solar power. This might mean giving up on some comforts, but that may be a price you have to pay for increased efficiency. Another way to look at it is that you might want to limit energy demanding devices to daytime use, when the sun is shining and the output is high. A standard user chart could help you reduce the number of devices consuming solar power at one time. This is the singular, most effective way to increase the efficiency of a solar panel system.
Some management tips are as follows:
- Limit the number of devices idling and on standby mode. This may not seem like a lot but in the long run, it is a proven and effective way to reduce energy bills. For example, you may not need to use your TV and laptop at the same time. Why not power one off and disconnect it from the router when it is not in use? The few seconds you will have to waste turning them back on may be worth it in the end.
- Another good habit is to religiously turn off lights during the day, and also nay that you are not using at night. This is another proven and time-tested way to reduce energy demands and bills. This will surely reduce the stress on your solar energy system.
- Try to minimize the number of high-consumption devices you use at the same time. For example, never using the hair drier and vacuum at one time is a very good way to reduce energy consumption. The same goes for dishwashers and electric razors. In addition, always turn off the any electronics that are not in use.
Another advantage of following these good habits is that voltage will remain consistent throughout the day and you won’t have to worry about reduced voltage at any point.
2 – Install Battery Storage Systems
Make room for batteries in the budget. Battery systems, like solar panels, are getting cheaper and more efficient with time. Batteries are the second-best way for you to make the most of your solar energy system. As with solar panels, batteries come in many varieties and getting better batteries is always a good idea.
So, how exactly do batteries help?
To begin with, you can store your solar energy, meaning that most of it will be available for use when you need it. This gives you some options.
- Firstly, if the residence is mostly empty during the day, the solar panels won’t just have turned into glorified roof sheds. Your panels can keep harvesting energy and storing it for later use.
- Most energy is usually consumed in the late afternoon and in the evening when lights are needed and when people are usually home. Batteries will ensure that you won’t end up using electricity from the grid when you need it in the night.
- If solar output is low because of the weather, batteries can make up for shortfalls in supply. This is the best way to “proof” yourself against sudden or unexpected shortfalls in supply.
- Another advantage of batteries is that they afford you no small degree of protection against power outages. If the grid fails in your area, a battery system will ensure that your lights remain on. Residents in areas prone to power outages will appreciate a steady supply of electricity like few other people.
Another good investment in the same vein is any appliance with a built-in solar panel. Solar umbrellas, solar lamps and solar torches come with attached panels. It might be a good idea to make use of solar lamps, as they can charge during the day and be used at night, thereby freeing up the solar energy stored in your battery system for other appliances.
3 – Consider Feed-In Tariffs
Feed-in Tariffs are something you might want to consider should your local government make it available. Feed-in tariffs are a good alternative or supplement to solar storage systems. Also referred to as net-metering, feed in tariffs allow you to sell excess energy produced by your solar energy system to the local government. This is an excellent way to both bolster the national grid, and also make a profit on your system. Local governments may offer suppliers of solar energy a rate on which they can sell their excess energy to the grid. The money earned can then go directly to bill reduction or it can be claimed by the solar energy supplier as cash. Now, you might be wondering why this lucrative option is on number three in this list, whereas it can clearly make a difference in dramatically increasing the efficiency and financial viability of you r solar panels. The reason behind this is that not every municipality offers solar the option of having a feed-in tariff. Most states in Australia do offer it, but this isn’t necessarily true for other countries, like China, America and others in Europe. Nonetheless, governments in developing countries may look favourably on this in the future, if they are not already. This is a practical and cost-effective way to establish a robust energy supply system. Net metering on a large scale can act as a redundant failsafe for the grid of a developing country, or even in Australia.
There are two ways one can go about net metering.
- The first is by making use of a grid-tied solar system. This will, as mentioned before, allow a customer to sell excess energy to the grid directly. By the end of the month, the energy company will read the meter and determine how much energy the solar panel system provided to the grid. After this, the customer will receive an adjusted bill for the month, to make up for the excess energy. This can drastically reduce your energy bill in Australia. Maybe even bring it down to two digits!
- Another way is that you might want to be a Good Samaritan and share your excess energy with your neighbours. You can share your energy completely, i.e., any excess energy is automatically siphoned off to their meter, or you could send energy their way should their grid electricity fail. This can be ideal in a situation where your neighbours usually have all the energy they need, but your area may be suffering from power outages.
- Another equally fruitful is to install a mutual solar panel between residences. This will not only provide you and your neighbours with a reduce bill, but will also reduce the cost of your solar panel by splitting it in two. Either way, net metering and feed-in tariffs are well worth considering.
4 – Invest in High-Quality Products
For your own sanity and for the sake of your peace of mind, choose high quality products. In the short term, you may be tempted to buy cheaper products and you may want to consider skimping on quality in favour of cost, but in the long run, you will most definitely feel the lack of quality set on. Your solar panel will begin to develop microfractures sooner and lose its efficiency sooner if it is lower quality. You may begin to see noticeable losses in efficiency a lot sooner than you may have expected and your panels may be increasingly less able to generate power on less-than-ideal days. Integra Solar offers the finest quality solar panels both from China as well as Europe. These panels are a true fusion of quality and affordability, and you simply cannot go wrong with our offerings. Integra Solar’s panels are designed to last no less than 25 years, and they retain their efficiency far better than panels from competing companies. Regardless of which company you choose, here are some things to keep in mind when purchasing a solar energy system:
a) Ask About Efficiency
Efficiency is a word you should constantly be looking for when discussing solar panels with a potential supplier. Any panel that has 19%-20% efficiency can be considered a high-quality solar panel. Many of the panels offered by Integra Solar offer 21-21.9% efficiency. But don’t take our word for it! Feel free to fact-check everything you read here, and we’re confident you will not be disappointed.
b) Check the Solar Cell Type
We have already determined that solar panels are a combination of various solar cells. Cells can be of various types and arrayed in various fashions. You might want to compare polycrystalline cells to monocrystalline cells and check their efficiency. Also, shingled arrays are usually the best way to go as far as layout design is concerned. In addition to this, bi-facial panels are going to considerably improve solar panel output, so you simply must consider bi-facial modules when purchasing a solar energy system.
c) Consider the Cost Per Watt of Your Potential Solar Panels
Closing your eyes and buying the most effective panels on the market is usually not a good idea. Yes, more expensive panels tend to be more efficient, but they do not guarantee increased efficiency. Be sure to calculate how much you will end up paying per watt with a solar panel before you purchase it. Now, these are things Integra Solar’s staff are more than willing to help you do, should you walk into one of our stores. We deliver all over Australia, and the chances are that we have a store near you. If not, feel free to give us a ring, and we’ll take you through these processes step by step.
5 – Solar Concentrators!
Solar concentrators do exactly what you expect them to do. They concentrate the sun’s light on the solar panels, making sure that you get the most efficiency for the longest amount of time. The device makes sure that regardless of where the sun is in the sky, its light will be falling on your panels as much as possible. Through solar concentrators, you can expand your peak efficiency greatly, and not be limited to when the sun is at the right point in the sky. This should also help during low-sunlight days, as the concentrator will make sure that any beams that do make it through, will fin heir way onto your panel. Concentrators are a good way to increase energy output all year-round. Another way is to invest in sun-chasing solar arrays. These arrays adjust the position of your solar panel during the course of a day to maximise your energy output. However, moving arrays can be expensive. Even though their prices are dropping as the solar industry booms, they are still more expensive than solar concentrators, and that’s why we recommend concentrators over moving arrays – for now.
6 – Pay Attention to Position
Most solar panels will be installed once and then be left in the same place for their lifespan, unless some untoward incident causes their untimely removal. Therefore, it is vital for the panel to be installed in a correct position, direction and angle. Position and angle are more than just about keeping the panel under the sun. You want your solar panels pitched at the correct angle, for it to have maximum exposure to the sun throughout the day.
Some key points to remember when installing a solar panel are:
- Pitch: This indicates the slope of the solar panel. Solar panels are sloped for two reasons. The first is to maximise exposure to the sun, so that they can start harvesting sunlight at dawn. The second reason is that the slope acts as an automatic cleaning mechanism, allowing for dust, dirt, water and snow to simply slide off the panel. This prevents obstruction to the solar cells and also keeps any unnecessary pressure from building up on the panels.
- Orientation: The direction a solar panel is facing is the orientation. Orientation in Australia is ideally northwards, which will ensure that the solar panels will receive six to eight hours of sunlight.
- Shade: Shade is the enemy. The more shade your solar panel is subjected to the less energy it will be able to produce. When installing a solar panel, be sure to avoid any and all types of shade from objects and trees.
7 – Clean Panels are Efficient Panels
Keeping your solar panels clean is vital for their efficiency. Energy production can become compromised if the face of your panels is obstructed by dirt, grime, dust, snow or even water. Dust and dirt in particularly can hinder the operations of a solar energy system by blocking access to the sun. Fortunately, it is not very hard to clean your solar panels. You need only wipe off any foreign debris from the panel face and you’re good to go. If you live in a snowy area, be sure to pay particular attention to cleaning off snow from your panels. Snow can build up and not only obstruct your panels from working effectively, but can also cause significant weight to build up over time, which can be a huge problem if left unattended. If weight is allowed to build up nonstop on your solar panels, the chances that they will develop microfractures increase drastically. Microfractures are very small fractures that develop in solar panels over time because of environmental stresses like show build up.
Now, the good news is that fortunately, solar panels are not hard to clean at all. Most solar panels come in glass casings, which afford them a degree of protection from the elements. In addition, glass casings make cleaning your panels without scratching their surface considerably easier. All you have to do is climb up and wipe off any dirt/snow which may have collected on your panels.
Another thing to keep in mind when cleaning your panels is that you do not need to clean them daily or even regularly. On the contrary, cleaning them once or twice a year will suffice. Cleaning your solar panels once a year can result in an average annual efficiency rating of 21%. This will drastically increase your return on investment and also extend the life of your solar panels. It is usually a good idea to pay attention to cleaning during the winter months if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow. If you’re in Australia, you’re likely not going to have that problem, and you will have to worry more about dirt then snow. Not that dirt is much to worry about.
8 – Keep Your Panel’s Temperature Low
Solar panels operate ideally during a specific range of temperatures. This range will vary from product to product. We at Integra Solar advise our customers about the ideal range for our solar products. One thing to consider is that you probably do not need to stress too much about temperature. Modern solar panel systems are robust and can easily withstand the blazing Australian sun. But if you do wish to eek out some extra performance from your panels, you might want to consider some temperature reducing mechanisms.
A recent study led by Peter Irga of the University of Technology in Sydney, and funded by the City of Sydney Council found that surrounding solar panels by plants on rooftops can meaningfully reduce the temperature of a solar panel system and improve its performance.
The study found that on a hot day, solar panels on a regular rooftop could reach 38.1 degrees centigrade. If the panels were surrounded by small plants with green foliage, the temperatures could be brought down to 24.3 degreed centigrade. The study spanned eight months and found that foliage could improve solar panel efficiency as much as 20% at peak hours. During the length of the experiment, the performance improved by 3.6%. Solar panels work better when not too hot according to Dr Irga. One thing to keep in mind is that the plants were small and their foliage remained under the solar panels at all times. Having any long-stemmed plants that can grow above the panels and obstruct the sunlight is counterproductive. Dr Irga found that temperatures above 25 degrees adversely affect the performance of solar panels and make them much less effective. Recall that at the beginning of the article we said that we need to have realistic expectations? Well, this is where that applies. 3.6% may not sound like a lot, but for solar panels, it is. An increase in efficiency of 1 – 2% is decent, as well. For reference, Dr Irga’s study further found that the roof with foliage generated an additional 9.5MWh worth of electricity. This comes to around $2,595 worth of energy in eight months. Other benefits of the plants include the fact that they absorbed 9 tonnes worth of greenhouse gases and helped reduce the temperature of the building overall. If the building isn’t heating up as much, less of the solar energy is spent trying to reduce temperature. This also freed up electricity generated by solar panels to be used elsewhere. During storm season, the plants soaked up storm water and helped reduce the risk of flash flooding. About 600 litres per second of water were sequestered by the plants on the green rooftop instead of ending up in the drainage system. And in just a few months, the plants attracted a wide variety of local bird and insect life, making for a spectacular view. The study was such a success, that it gives us hope for the cities of the future if they have green rooftops. These areas provide excellent spaces both for plants, animals, insects and also humans. One potential drawback may be that increased wildlife may result in the panels needing more regular cleaning, but this remains to be seen. At most, it will be a minor inconvenience for most, and will pale in comparison to the many, many advantages.
Solar panels, should you choose to invest in them, will serve you well and for a long time. This technology is designed to last almost 30 years, and as it improves, its lifespan will only increase. Without a doubt this is one of the best investments you can make for yourself and your children. Not only is it a financially sound solution, but also a thoroughly responsible one. Solar panels can provide you with not only a source of clean energy, but also a better environment, closer to nature. If you follow the above points, you can also keep your panel up and running at peak efficiency throughout the year.