Solar ‘101’ – Tasmanian Edition

Solar energy and Tasmania

Everything you need to know about going solar in Tasmania

By Finn Peacock – Chartered Electrical Engineer, Ex-CSIRO, Founder of SolarQuotes

My “Solar 101” beginners guide has helped well over 100,000 Aussies go solar with confidence. They’ll enjoy the security of tiny bills for the foreseeable future.

And now, after a recent Tasmanian trip, it’s clear to me that Tasmania needs its own guide. There are a lot of things that make you unique, and the situation with installing solar power is no exception.

Think of this as an appendix to my main Solar 101 article. Let’s get to it!

Get up to speed on solar power in Tasmania in just 11 minutes.
  1. An overview of the pros and cons of solar in Tasmania
  2. Solar rebates in Tasmania
  3. Winter generation and energy use habits
  4. How panel direction affects Tasmanian solar energy production
  5. Costs for solar power in Tasmania
  6. Solar systems (and exports) can be large
  7. Who’s the best electricity retailer?
  8. Electricity tariffs and shifting loads
  9. Batteries don’t pay for themselves – unless you’re going off-grid
  10. How long will solar power take to pay for itself in Tassie?

An overview of the pros and cons of solar in Tasmania

I’ll start with the bad news – if you’re thinking of getting a solar power system in Tasmania, you’ve got a few things stacked against you:

  • The Tasmanian solar rebate is lower than most parts of the mainland.
  • Your solar electricity generation is the lowest of any state, especially in winter
  • As a double whammy, winter energy usage is higher than in other states (meaning solar’s impact on electricity bills is lower)
  • Freight costs and regulations for Tasmania make the typical system more expensive.

That’s a gloomy picture I’ve painted.

Despite this, a 6.6 kW solar system installation – which is around 18 panels – will pay for itself in under 5 years in Tasmania.

Try getting that kind of return from the bank!

To make things more positive – there are a few things you’ve got going for you:

  • The average quality of a solar installation is the highest in the country. This is due to an excellent 100% inspection regime run by the Department of Justice.
  • The amount of solar capacity you can install per phase is higher than pretty much everywhere else in the country.
  • East-facing panels produce more energy than in other parts of the country. This combos well with morning home heating needs.

Let’s go into more detail on these points.

Solar rebates in Tasmania

As I explained in my main solar 101 article, the solar rebate is technically known as the ‘STC scheme’. The larger your system (in kW), the more rebate you get.

The rebate is also calculated based on what ‘zone’ you are in, where zone 1 has the highest rebate, and zone 4 has the lowest.

Pro-tip: Most Aussies live in zone 3

As you can see from this map, being in Tasmania puts you in zone 4:

Solar Panel Rebate Zones

In zone 3, a typical 6.6kW solar system installation attracts around $3,500 in rebates.

In zone 4 – this same 6.6kW system only attracts $3,000 in rebates.

So all else being equal, the typical 6.6kW solar system is $500 more expensive in Tasmania.

Winter generation and energy use habits

Spoiler alert: Solar systems produce more energy in the summer, and less in winter.

This chart compares the typical monthly energy generation of a north-facing 6.6kW system installation in Hobart to one in Sydney:

Sydney vs. Hobart solar energy generation

You can see the drop in energy generation during the winter months is much more dramatic in Hobart!

This takes us to:

How panel direction affects Tasmanian solar production

Like the rest of the country, to maximise your annual generation north-facing panels are the way to go.

West or east-facing solar panels in much of Australia will generate about 15% less compared to north-facing panels. But an exception to this is Tasmania. Here, east-facing panels generate a bit more than west-facing ones.

In Hobart, east-facing panels will generate 90% of what north-facing solar panels would. West-facing panels will only generate 80%:

Solar panel direction in Hobart

Pro-tip: If you want to squeeze every last drop of energy out of your panels, face them slightly north-east.

I won’t be surprising anyone when I say Tasmania has some bloody cold mornings. This means it can be better to put panels on an east-facing roof, if you have one, to offset your morning heating needs. Unless, of course, your energy usage habits skew harder towards the afternoon.

Costs for solar power in Tasmania – and brands to trust

Approximate price ranges for a good quality 6.6 kW installation performed by a reputable local installer are:

tas-price-chart

Note that these prices do not include site-specific costs. Scissors lifts, engineering costs, optimisers, etc, can add more to these price ranges.

I’ll also note that these prices are higher than the rest of Australia for four reasons:

  • Less solar rebate
  • Tasmania is a small market
  • A small market plus the water gap means freight costs are higher,
  • Mandatory inspections add to costs.

Pro-tip: There are cheaper mobs who advertise hard on TV and in the paper. My advice is to avoid such operators.

Mandatory inspections keep a lot of the shonks out. There are many less-than-reputable companies operating on the mainland that avoid Tasmania altogether.

But some actually pull their socks up and install systems to a good standard when they cross Bass Strait!

As a word of warning – a classic tactic of the cheaper operators is to quote you a great price on a system. When they rock up to install, they “realise” they’ll need to spend more time on the system to be able to pass inspection. This eats into their margins, so they bump the price up by a couple grand on the spot.

They’re hoping the sunk cost of paying the deposit and having them there will make you likely to cough up. Mentally, it’s a big deal to have to give up and start from scratch, and they know this.

Brands to trust

I’ve made the following charts to show brands of panels and inverters I’d be happy to install on my own home, as well as where they sit on price:

Solar Panels

Solar Inverters

Solar systems (and exports) can be large

The greatest amount of solar power you can typically install on a single phase home in Australia is a 5 kW inverter with 6.6kW of panels.

Some states – such as SA – can allow up to 10kW inverter capacity and 13.3kW of solar panels installed on a single phase. However, they ‘export limit’ the system to 5kW – which can hurt your payback.

But in Tasmania, you’re allowed to install a huge 13.3kW system on a single phase without any export limits at all.

So if you have the roof space and the budget – my advice is to put on as much solar power as you can fit and afford.

The one caveat is if the solar panels cover more than 38 square metres on any one roofing structure. If this is the case, then you need council approval and engineering certification. This can add $700-$1200 in costs.

Pro-tip: Tilt frames, if you need them, will also require council/engineering approval.

Who’s the best electricity retailer?

Up until February 2019, you only had one energy retailer in Tasmania – Aurora Energy.

Since then, three new electricity retailers have entered the picture:

  • 1st energy
  • Energy Locals
  • Future X Power

Of the four, First Energy is paying the best feed-in tariff (13.47 cents per kWh at the time of writing). The other 3 only offer around 8.5 cents.

So if your goal is to get your bill as low as possible with solar energy, First Energy seems to be the way to go – for now.

Electricity tariffs and shifting loads

When you install a solar system in Tasmania, you’re put onto “Tariff 93”, which is a “time of use” tariff. This tariff charges a ‘peak’ rate in the morning and evening, and an ‘off peak’ rate at all other times.

You can switch from tariff 93 back to other standard tariffs if you want. But I’ve run the numbers and tariff 93 is the best bet for the typical Tasmanian solar owner to save the most money.

Pro-tip: The one thing to look out for with tariff 93 is making sure your electric hot water system doesn’t switch on during peak periods. A simple timer, or more expensive (but more intelligent) relay or diverter will help with this.

Batteries don’t pay for themselves – unless you’re going off-grid

At the time of writing, on-grid solar batteries don’t pay for themselves anywhere in Australia.

But – it’s becoming more common for Tasmanians to buy their dream block ready to build that dream home. The cost to bring grid power to that remote, dream block with stunning views can be $100,000 – or more.

How does that compare with the cost of an off-grid solar system? Well, it depends on what kind of lifestyle you want to live.

The kind of system needed to run an energy-efficient, moderate-sized home will cost around $30,000 – $40,000

A larger system installation that can run more creature comforts will cost closer to $70,000+

So this means that even large off-grid systems in Tasmania can be cheaper than connecting to the grid.

How long will solar take to pay for itself in Tassie?

I’ll use my nifty solar calculator to answer this question.

Assuming:

  • A 6.6kW solar system installation facing north-east, costing $7,000
  • An unshaded roof
  • A house on tariff 93 with the averaged cost of electricity being 25 cents per kWh
  • 1st Energy is the retailer with their 13.47 cent feed-in tariff
  • Solar energy self-consumption is 30%

My calculator shows that you’ll save a hair under $1,400 per year – so a simple payback period of under 5 years:

Tasmania solar system payback

If you can think of a better investment, I’d love to hear about it!

The next step

Tasmania is the hardest place in Australia for solar power to pay for itself. But despite this, you can still see a very respectable payback time if you own an unshaded roof.

If you have any burning questions about the information in this guide, my contact details are:

Email: [email protected]
Tel: 08 7200 0177
Snail mail: 3/39 Grenfell St, Adelaide, SA 5000 Australia

If you’re in Tasmania and looking for quotes, SolarQuotes can help you get quotes from high quality, heavily vetted installers quickly and easily:

Happy Solar Power Hunting!

Finn Peacock

Finn Peacock, founder of SolarQuotes.com.au

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