2021 – Hints for living a sustainable life
Time to be part of the people’s rooftop revolution! It’s official – the International Energy Agency (IEA) has confirmed that Australia has the highest installed solar PV (photovoltaic) capacity per capita in the world: 2.6 million Australian homes now have rooftop solar, up from just 26,000 in 2007. Small-scale solar electricity production is the quiet revolution happening on Australia’s rooftops, but if you’re one of the 80 per cent of households yet to install a PV system, here’s a quick guide to the basics. A solar photovoltaic system needs panels, an inverter, and (optional) batteries.
silicon, while the most efficient and durable panels are monocrystalline – the most expensive but the best long-term option. Second-generation Thin Film Solar Cells are the least expensive; but while cheap and flexible they suffer in high temperatures and have a shorter lifespan of around 20 years. On the horizon are biohybrid solar cells, aka photo-bioelectrochemical cells, harnessing the power of photosynthesis to generate electricity. Still in development, biohybrid panels are predicted to be 1,000 times more efficient than traditional silicon panels.
First-generation silicon solar panels – basically silicon semi-conductors in glass in a metal frame – have a functional life of 25–30 years, deteriorating at around one per cent per year. A panel twenty-five years old will still produce at 75 per cent of its original output. The world’s most popular panels are polycrystalline
Solar electricity needs to be stored for use at night, and there are many battery storage systems on the market. With a lifespan of about ten years, solar batteries are expensive and notoriously unreliable. An independent test of eighteen solar battery systems reviewed by consumer group Choice found only 30
Solar panel cells. Photo Charles Boyle per cent of batteries to be reliable and fault-free. Solar battery storage is a rapidly evolving industry and many companies have already left the industry leaving consumers without warranty. Going off-grid with a battery system is still not cost-effective, but will change as technology evolves and prices fall.
Inverters The inverter turns the DC power from panels into AC for household use and export to the grid. The most sophisticated element of the solar PV system, it is the
most likely to fail. Expect an inverter to last ten years, but prices vary depending on requirements. The standard inverter for a grid-connected residential solar PV system is a string inverter. Grid-connected panels and a battery require a hybrid inverter and an off-grid system needs a specialised battery inverter. When buying an inverter look for a ten-year warranty.
wǔȒīſĶĎşſ ĈşŕŕĕĈƐĕĎȃ The grid is a community resource, and every kilowatt
of exported renewable energy reduces our reliance on coal-fired power stations. However, successive governments have failed to predict the phenomenal uptake of solar PV and our electricity grid wasn’t designed for solar feed-in. The grid was designed to send electricity in one direction – from the power station to the consumers. While electricity can easily move backwards through the grid, net reverse (upstream) power flows cause voltage spikes that damage infrastructure and consumer equipment and thermal overloading of substation transformers. To maintain grid stability, infrastructure needs to be modified to cope with increasing solar PV – but who should pay for adapting the old technology? Those who don’t have rooftop solar PV shouldn’t subsidise those who do. In an effort to control customer-generated exports, governments are reducing feed-in tariffs, imposing export quotas and even proposing to charge customers to export to the grid.
An elegant solution to grid overload is the emergence of the Virtual Power Plant (VPP). A VPP is sophisticated cloud-based software system that taps into the existing grid collecting residential PV for sale and distribution, ensuring grid stability. VPPs are dynamic, responsive, and deliver in real time. Tesla and AGL Energy both operate VPPs in South Australia, encouraging consumers to join their network by offering free or subsidised hybrid PV systems.
¨ĲĕƐĶŔĕĶƆŕşƱ When buying a solar PV system, look for established companies that are likely to be around to honour your warranty when things go wrong. Remember, the better quality your equipment, the longer it will generate renewable energy. Solar PV has come of age; it’s now efficient, reliable and cost effective. Don’t hesitate. There’s never been a better time to be part of the solution.
Taking on the climate challenge together. BUILDING THE SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE THAT DRIVES CHANGE ˀ˨˟˟˨ˠˆʸʸʷ˜˦˔˖ˢˠˠ˨ˡ˜˧ˬ˥˨ˡˡˢ˧ʠ˙ˢ˥ʠˣ˥ˢЁ˧˪˜˧˛˔ˠ˜˦˦˜ˢˡ˧ˢ ˘ˠˣˢ˪˘˥Change Makers˪ˢ˥˞˜ˡ˚˪˜˧˛ˢ˨˥Natural Environment ˔ˡ˗˖˥˘˔˧˜ˡ˚ˠˢ˥˘Sustainable Ways to live. Our projects and partners include: • BeardsOn for Conservation
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