By Finn Peacock

Chartered Electrical Engineer, ex-CSIRO, Founder of

Last Updated: 2nd Dec 2020

A printable version is available here, or if you prefer to watch:

Get up to speed on solar in just 17 minutes.

This cheat-sheet is for you if you are thinking of investing in solar power.

If you read this guide, you’ll know more about solar energy than 99.9% of Australians, be able to go toe-to-toe with a solar salesman, and be confident you’re paying the right amount of money for a properly-sized solar system installation for your home.

The rest of this website contains lots more information on everything you could possibly need to know about solar energy. But there is so much information on my website it can feel a little like tumbling down a rabbit hole.

That’s why I created this Solar 101 guide, which should take you about 10 minutes to read (for commercial property owners, read our Commercial Solar 101 Guide – it’s written specifically for businesses).

If you’re feeling pretty confident about solar power systems already and you’re just looking to get quotes from quality pre-vetted Australian installers that I trust, then simply click here.

Otherwise, here’s what you should know before you get quotes for solar power:

  1. The three main components of a solar power system.
  2. The most important thing to measure before you get solar power installed: how much electricity you use in your home, and when you use it.
  3. How many panels should you buy?
  4. The solar rebate: still very much alive and kicking and generous.
  5. Don’t get the ‘rebate’ and the ‘feed in tariff’ confused
  6. Roof direction/angle for optimal solar electricity generation.
  7. Typical payback for solar power.
  8. Costs for quality solar energy systems, and why quotes can vary wildly in price.
  9. Batteries – do you need them?
  10.  How are you planning on paying for your system? Understanding finance.

Beginners Note: kWh stands for ‘kilowatt-hour.’ It is a unit of electricity used to measure how much electricity is used. A typical Australian home uses 16-20 kWh of electricity per day.

Note about pro-tips: These are intended for people who like to get a bit more technical. Feel free to ignore them if they don’t make sense to you.

Email: [email protected]
Tel: 08 7200 0177
PO Box 470, Brighton, SA 5048 Australia

#1 The three main components of a solar power system installation

Solar power systems are comprised of:

The panels, which can either be polycrystalline or monocrystalline.

polycrystalline vs monocrystalline solar panel

The two main types of solar panel technology in use for residential homes – there’s also a third type, cast mono, that’s a hybrid of the two.

It doesn’t matter if you get a mono or a poly panel. What is important is you buy a good brand that will last 25+ years installed on your roof.

There are good budget brands and good premium brands. But there are also ‘no-name’ panels that are re-badged junk, and are unlikely to last more than 3-5 years on an Australian roof. Avoid installing those modules at all costs.

Pro-tip: Don’t stress over solar panel technology. Mono- and polycrystalline are both as good in Australian climates.

You can choose to install a budget (think Kia), regular (think Toyota) or premium (think BMW) solar panel brand. You generally get what you pay for.

You probably don’t know a good panel brand from a lemon, and why should you? Here’s a handy cheat sheet of most of the popular solar panel brands in Australia, so you can see where they sit in the market.

The list is not exhaustive – if you’re not sure about a brand, ask me – but the following chart represents over 90% of what’s being quoted in 2020 in Australia (and is more or less a safe bet):

recommended solar panel brands

If you want to play it safe, stick to the brands on this chart! See the criteria we developed for the chart here. Note: SolarQuotes does not take incentives from manufacturers to promote or give preference to their solar panel brand.

Pro Tip: Find detailed reviews of each brand here : Q-Cells | RisenLGTrina | Jinko | Phono | Sunpower | SeraphimCanadian Solar | Suntech | REC | JA Solar | Tindo | Opal Solar | Longi | Winaico | SolarWatt.

The second main component of a solar power system installation is the inverter, which can be either a string inverter (around the size of a briefcase) or microinverters, which are approximately the size of a paperback book.

string inverter vs microinverter

Microinverters cost more than string inverters, but bring a number of benefits

A string inverter is installed on a wall and all the solar panels connect to it. A microinverter goes on the back of each solar panel.

There is also a third option, power optimisers, that are kind of a hybrid between the two. You can read about the pros and cons of each inverter choice in a detailed article here.

Pro-tip: Never mount a string inverter where it will be in full sun. Choose a shaded spot, a cool garage, or ask the installer to build a simple shade over the inverter. Direct intense sunlight kills inverters, because it cooks them – and Australia’s sun is particularly harsh.

The job of the inverter is to convert the DC electricity solar panels produce into 230V AC electricity, which is what everything in your home uses.

The inverter is the component most likely to fail in a solar power system installation in the first 10-15 years. This is because they work hard all day, and they do wear out.

So even if you are on a limited budget, I’d recommend considering a premium-end inverter.

Here’s a run-down of the popular inverter brands in Australia right now, and where they sit on in terms of price and quality (again – this list is not exhaustive, but any reputable installer has a 95% chance of quoting you one of the following brands):

solar inverter brands chart

These are all inverter brands I’d be happy to have on my own house. You can view the criteria we developed for the chart here. Note: SolarQuotes does not take incentives from manufacturers to promote or give preference to their solar inverter brand.

Pro Tip: Find reviews of each brand here :  ABB | SMA | Fronius | Goodwe | SolarEdge | Delta |Huawei | Sungrow | Enphase | Solis.

Pro Tip: You can, and should, install up to 33% more panels than the inverter is rated at. For example, I would recommend installing 4kW of panels with a 3kW inverter. You’ll get 33% more solar rebate and lots more power in winter, mornings and evenings. It’s a very efficient use of the inverter. Also, in many areas, the smaller the inverter, the easier it is to get permission to connect to the mains electricity grid.

The third main component of a solar power system installation is the racking/mounting. This is what is securely attached to your roof supports, and what your solar panels are mounted on.

There are a wide variety of racking brands out there. The difference between a budget end brand and a premium end brand is around $100 per kilowatt of solar power installed.

The chart below shows brands we’re familiar with, and where they sit in a spectrum of price:

solar panel racking and mounting systems

The main difference between racking brands is how easy they are for installers to work with, especially with difficult roofs. Note: SolarQuotes does not take incentives from manufacturers to promote or give preference to their racking brand.

#2 The most important thing to measure before you get solar power: how much electricity you use in your home, and when you use it.

When solar electricity is generated by your panels, it will first be used by appliances in your home, with any surplus solar energy exported to the grid. Your electricity retailer will pay you a small amount (around 7-20c) for each kWh your installation exports to the grid.

It is better to use the solar power generated by your system than export it. Self-consumed electricity saves about 30c per kWh as you don’t have to buy that energy from the grid. Exported electricity earns a ‘feed in tariff’ of about 7-20c per kWh.

So self-consumed solar energy is about 2-3x more valuable than exported solar electricity.

Pro Tip: Shop around for feed-in tariffs. They can vary from 0c to 20c depending on the retailer.

This means Australian households using a lot of electricity during the day, or can set their appliances to run on timers, are a natural fit for solar panels and can see very short paybacks of 3-5 years (20-25% returns).

If you are at home during the day or have pool pumps that run all day, your self-consumption can be up to 65% (with exports only 35%) and a solar power system installation is likely to be a very good investment.

If you are not at home during the day, you will typically self-consume about 20% of the output of an appropriately sized solar power system installation, pushing the simple payback out to 6-8 years.

Bear in mind that this is still a 12-15% return on your investment.

Avoid any solar energy company that calculates your payback based on 100% self-consumption. Practically no-one has 100% self-consumption. The company is being dishonest in order to get your sale.

#3 How many solar panels should you buy?

My answer to this question has changed considerably compared to just a few years ago.

This is because prices for solar installation have fallen considerably, electricity prices have risen, and feed-in tariffs (what you’re paid for exporting excess electricity generation) have also risen.

The only limitations now are your budget, what your roof can properly fit, and the amount your DNSP (Distributed Network Service Provider) allows you to install. 

For most homes, the minimum you should consider is buying 6.6 kW of panels (approx. 20 in total) with a 5 kW inverter.

The biggest regret I’ve heard from solar power owners is they didn’t factor in how winter and overcast days limit their savings. They wish they’d installed more panels when they had the chance.

It’s expensive and complicated to add panels after the install, while adding solar panels to the initial quote can be surprisingly cheap.

I’ve written about this topic in more detail here

#4 The solar rebate: still very much alive and kicking – and generous.

The famous Australian federal ‘solar rebate’ (technically known as the ‘STC scheme’) acts as a point-of-sale discount off the final cost of a solar power system installation. The subsidy is worth about $550 per kW of solar panels installed, but this will vary depending on where you live.

As an example, a 6kW system attracts around $3,300 in rebates.

Anyone can claim the rebate, even if you’ve already bought solar power systems in the past and want to buy a new system.

The only restrictions on claiming the rebate are:

  • Your system installation must be less than 100kW in size.
  • You get it installed and designed by a Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited professional (you can ask the installer on the day to provide proof of accreditation!)
  • You use panels and solar inverters approved for use in Australia by the Clean Energy Council (such as the ones I mentioned in #1).

The federal solar rebate is slowly being phased out.  It reduced by one tenth of today’s value every January until it goes to zero in 2031. 

For Victorians, the Labor government introduced a state-level rebate that currently offers eligible recipients (up to) an extra $1,850 off the cost of a solar system.

Pro Tip: The federal rebate is based on the number of solar panels, not the size of the inverter in the installation. This often makes adding panels over and above the inverter rating very worthwhile. Don’t worry – it is safe and approved by the regulators (up to 133% of inverter capacity). Ask your installer about ‘oversizing’ your panel array. Any good installer will know exactly what you mean. Untrained commission-only sales people won’t.

#5 Don’t get the ‘rebate’ and the ‘feed in tariff’ confused

We’ve already learned the ‘feed-in tariff’ is the rate you are paid for solar electricity you export into the grid.

Between 2009 and 2012, people signed up to generous feed-in tariffs that paid them anywhere between 20c per kWh and 66c per kWh of electricity exported. These generous tariffs were designed to kick-start the solar energy industry when solar power systems were much more expensive.

Solar energy systems have reduced in price by 80% in Australia since 2008, and the feed-in tariffs have reduced to 7c – 20c, depending on your retailer.

This reduction is why you see so many people screaming ‘solar power isn’t worth it anymore! The rebate has been massively reduced!’

They’re actually confusing the rebate with the feed-in tariff. The federal rebate is still alive and kicking and isn’t being reduced significantly anytime soon.

We’ve run the numbers, and even with these low feed in tariffs it’s not difficult to get a 5 year payback on your solar energy system.

Pro Tip: When you get a solar power system, use the timers on your washing machine and dishwasher so they run during the day. Also put timers on your hot water and any pool pumps, and you can shift significant amounts of energy use to the daytime, increasing the returns on a solar system installation.

#6 The basics of roof direction/angle for optimal solar system placement.

Panel Direction

First – the absolute basics. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west.

This means:

  • East-facing panels will peak in power production in the morning.
  • West-facing panels will peak in the late afternoon.  
  • North-facing solar panels will peak around midday (and provide the most energy overall). 

A working household can self-consume more solar energy with east and west facing panels, because they give more energy before and after school/work, accelerating their system’s payback.

Sadly, I’ve spoken to more than one homeowner with a massive east or west roof ripe for solar energy who thinks it just isn’t worth it if their panels can’t face north.

It used to be true if you couldn’t install panels on a north-facing roof, then a solar power system wasn’t worth it.

Now prices of solar power systems have dropped so much, you can get a fantastic return on investment from east facing panels, west facing panels, or a combination of north, east and west.

In some cases it can even make sense to have south facing panels  – though this would be a last resort.

Panel Angle

The ideal panel angle to maximize the energy produced over the whole year is simply within a few degrees of the latitude of your location:

Canberra Hobart Darwin Adelaide Perth Brisbane Melbourne Sydney
35° 42° 12° 35° 31° 27° 37° 34°

So, for my house in Adelaide, the ideal solar panel angle is around 35° from horizontal.

If you’re not able to install your panels at the ideal angle, don’t worry too much. The solar panels in my own installation are at 15 degrees, and I only lose 4% in annual energy yield compared to the perfect angle.

Generally, unless your roof is flat, the ideal angle is whatever your roof is built at.

Pro-Tip: Flat roofs cause problems with water pooling and dirt build up on the panels. A way around this is to use either tilt frames, or ‘frameless’ panels that have no frame around the edge, so the water will generally flow over the edge instead of pooling and eating the frame seal.

#7 Typical payback period for a solar power system.

A well-designed solar system installation has a typical payback period of around 4-7 years in Australia.

This can vary wildly depending on your electricity usage and your system size, but when you get quotes for solar power systems, the installer should do a payback analysis for you to estimate your payback period.

Pro Tip: If the installer is estimating your electricity self-consumption without half hour usage data, then get payback calculations for worst-case self-consumption and best-case energy self-consumption, and make sure you are happy with the payback range.

#8 What price-range can you expect to pay for quality solar power, and why can quotes vary wildly in price?

As of October 2020, approximate prices for good quality solar panel systems in Australia (Tier 1 panels + quality string inverter), including full installation, are:

3kW: $3,500 – $5,000
5kW: $4,500 – $8,000
6kW: $5,000 – $9,000
10kW: $8,000 – $12,000

To be clear – the upper end prices are for top-end systems (e.g. LG/Sunpower panels with full panel level optimisation), installed by a solar energy ‘craftsman‘.

Note the above prices also include the discount from the solar ‘rebate’.

However, for those of you in Victoria, the above prices do not include the state-level rebate offered by the Victorian government (which provides a further rebate of up to $1,850).

If you want to downgrade to a reputable budget inverter (e.g brands on the left hand side of the inverter chart higher up this page), you may be able to save around $800 on these prices.

Costs can increase if you need an electricity switchboard upgrade or other electrical work to make your home suitable for solar power, or if the design of your home makes the system installation more difficult.

If you decide to go with installing micro inverters or an optimiser-based system over a string inverter, costs will also increase by approximately 20%.

Installing battery storage (for an off-grid or hybrid system) will at least double the price of the system.

Pro Tip: Really cheap solar energy systems cost more in the long run, from repairs and lost output. I tell my friends to avoid these systems. It breaks my heart to see cheap solar panels go to landfill after a few years.

#9 Batteries – do you need them?

Batteries are great for energy security. The peace of mind from knowing that you will still have lights, refrigeration and other essential circuits no matter what happens to the grid can be priceless.

Batteries are also great fun. Seriously! There is something very special about seeing your house run off nothing but battery power. 

Batteries also provide a form of insurance against the risk of electricity prices going up and feed-in-tariffs going down.

A well sized, correctly installed and configured battery can reduce your grid use by up to 95%, making you almost immune to electricity and feed in tariff changes. To be clear – no-one knows which way electricity prices and feed-in-tariffs will go. However, if you have a battery you won’t care!

But these benefits come at a cost.

As an example – without a battery rebate – it will cost around $10,000 to add a decent amount (around 10 kWh) of energy storage to a solar power system in Australia. Take 30-50% off these costs if you live in VIC, ACT or SA and are eligible for your state’s battery rebate.

A typical payback period of an unsubsidised battery of that size is about 15 years. Most batteries have a 10 year warranty.

Compare this with a solar energy installation without batteries. A regular non-battery solar power system has a typical payback of around 3-6 years, and will last about 25 years.

So – if you are buying batteries only to save money, unless you can access a state based battery rebate, installing battery storage isn’t worth it for you. Our advice is to wait 2-5 years for battery costs to come down before investing in energy storage.

Certainly don’t wait for batteries to come down in price before buying a solar power system, because that is locking in more years of high energy bills every quarter.

You don’t even need to buy any special type of system to be ready for batteries. Every grid connect system ever installed in Australia is compatible with batteries using a special box called an ‘AC coupled battery inverter’.

You can buy one of these when you buy your batteries, and solar battery installation will be very straightforward.

But if you want a battery for energy security, insurance against changing electricity prices, and for the exciting technology, go for it. I’ve got one on my home and I love it. 

A note about state battery rebates: In South Australia, some postcodes in Victoria and ACT you can now get a battery subsidy which could halve the cost of an installed battery, potentially giving a sub 10-year payback

A note about Virtual Power Plants (VPPs): A new phenomenon for 2020 is the VPP. In a nutshell, you can get a cheaper battery if you are willing to hand over control of it to your electricity retailer. They will then be able to charge and discharge your battery at will to profit from electricity price fluctuations. These VPPs are very new – so buyer beware! My personal take is if you want more control of your energy use – don’t relinquish control to a big energy company.

Pro Tip: Counter-intuitively, some battery systems will not provide backup when the grid goes down. If you want backup then you must specify this up front, as it requires careful design and some rewiring of your switchboard.

#10 How are you planning on paying for your system? Understanding finance.

Most Australians buy solar power systems with cash. If you are debt-free and have cash looking for a place to go, then investing in a solar power system is worth serious consideration.

A solar system installation currently generates a tax-free, reliable return that, at the time of writing, is far higher than bank interest rates or government bonds. 

However, some of us don’t have the luxury of easy access to thousands of dollars. Many solar installers offer “no interest” finance – and if that sounds too good to be true, it’s because it probably is.

If you see a deal that claims ‘no interest’ your BS detector should be going off. All finance has a cost – the “no interest” deals often charge the installer a fee of around 15-25% on top of the cash price.

That cost is passed on to you.

Now – don’t misunderstand me. Plenty of reputable solar installers, not just the ripoff merchants, offer “no interest” finance because many customers demand it.

But in my experience, you can get a much better deal overall by shopping around for a low interest finance provider and avoiding the easy-sign-up, ‘no interest’ deals.

The next step

So there you have it, my 101 guide to solar power for your home.

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

Email: [email protected]

Tel: 08 7200 0177

3/39 Grenfell St, Adelaide, SA 5000 Australia

If you’re considering installing solar panels or batteries for your home or business, SolarQuotes can help you get quotes from high-quality, trusted installers quickly and easily:

Happy Solar Power Hunting!

Finn Peacock

Finn Peacock, founder of

Disclaimer: This page does not constitute financial advice. Peacock Media Group Pty Ltd recommends you seek independent financial advice before signing any contracts.

About Finn Peacock

I’m a Chartered Electrical Engineer, solar and energy efficiency nut, dad, and founder of My last “real job” was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division. Since 2009 more than 496,000 Australians have used my site to get quotes for high quality PV systems from pre-vetted solar installers.

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