Sun Smart: How to make the most of your solar panels

Residential solar panels are increasing in popularity, with more than three million Australian homes now powered through the energy of the sun.

While it’s a great step towards greener living, one of the biggest reasons Australians choose to invest in solar power is to save money by reducing their electricity bills. The more power you generate from solar, the more money in your back pocket, right? 

This is true – provided you use solar panels the right way. But not all Australians are solar savvy, and many people who have spent thousands of dollars on solar panels for their home aren’t actually getting the most out of them.

Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to gain more control over the power you generate at home. Here’s how to maximise your investment and get the most out of your solar setup. 

Make hay while the sun shines

The easiest and best way to take advantage of solar panels is to use as much free electricity as you can during the day – when the sun is shining. 

As solar power is derived from the sun, running big household appliances during daylight hours just makes sense. Energy-guzzling appliances like your dishwasher or washing machine can be switched on before you leave the house, and if you work from home, laptops and phones can be charged during the day and unplugged at night. Got a pool? Run your pump system during the day to maximise your solar consumption. You get the idea.

If you’re not at home during the day, consider investing in smart home technology to switch your appliances on at staggered times throughout the day, making controlling your home power usage even easier. For your devices, try charging a power bank during the day and plugging your devices into it at night. This way you can still wake up with a fully charged battery that is fully powered by your own self-generated solar. 

Not all daylight hours are created equal

While solar power systems will typically generate electricity from 8am to 5pm, the best time to use your power will depend on how the panels are placed on your roof.

In Australia, panels that face north receive the most sunlight, but some rooftops will have an east/west orientation instead.

  • For North facing panels, the best time to use electricity is between 10am and 3pm.
  • For East facing panels, the best time to use electricity is between 8am and 11am.
  • For West facing panels, the best time to use electricity is between 3pm and 6pm.

If you are yet to install solar panels, consider when you are most likely to consume electricity before deciding on which orientation to mount your panels.

Don’t be shady

Solar panels are designed to get the most out of the sun, so their effectiveness depends on having the most access to sunlight. If any part of the panel is covered by shade from overhanging trees, it cannot deliver the maximum amount of energy it is designed to. 

To increase your solar panel output, check the vegetation around your home and trim back any trees or branches that might be creating shade. 

Unfortunately for some homeowners, trees from neighbouring properties can block the sun from hitting your panels at maximum efficiency. This doesn’t mean you should cut down your neighbour’s trees – try asking them if you can trim back any branches to open up some more sunlight. If nothing can be done, don’t fret; your roof will still receive light, so the benefits are still there. 

Keep in mind, too, that trees change their coverage throughout the year, so your solar panels might be more effective at times when the tree is not in full bloom.

Back it up with a battery

When night falls, your solar panels will stop producing energy. This means you’ll have to buy your electricity from the grid – unless you have something working the overnight shift.

Enter battery storage systems, which work by storing the excess energy produced by your solar panels during the day so you can draw on it at night. Adding a solar battery to your household means you can power your home at night and still expect energy savings. Without it, you can only save during the day. 

Since electricity usage rates tend to be much higher than feed-in tariffs, using the majority of your own solar power rather than sending it back to the grid will provide you with the best savings.

Of course, not everyone can afford batteries to get the most out of your solar panels. While they have slowly come down in price, batteries can still be expensive and may not even be viable for your household, so compare the price of a battery to your average electricity bill to work out whether it’s worth the investment.

Regular maintenance goes a long way

Like any good investment, solar panels should be monitored and reviewed, and looking after them well will pay off in the long run. 

To get the most out of your solar panels, keep them clean. They’re out there exposed to things like dust and dirt, leaves, bird droppings, grime and even mould, so hose them down at least once a year for optimal performance (or get a professional to do it). If you live in close proximity to the sea, check for any caked salt as well. 

Remember, a dirty panel is an inefficient panel!

Every watt counts

The more electricity you can squeeze out of your solar panels, the less money you will be paying towards your electricity bills. Now that you have these handy tips, you can maximise your investment and get the most out of your solar power.

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