Sustainable step – Get rooftop solar or green electricity

Sunshine. We get a lot of it where I live.

Driving around the suburbs there are a lot of houses with solar panels taking advantage of all that sunshine to produce electricity.  And it is easy to see why.  Our rooftops are a large expanse of unused real estate so it makes good economic sense to use that space to capture the power of the sun and reduce our electricity bills.   

Over 2 million Australian households have rooftop solar, which is about one in five households.  In Australia, rooftop solar systems pay for themselves in approximately 4 years and households with rooftop solar save on average $450 a year on their power bill.  

Solar panels work by converting light from the sun into electricity. The solar panels on your roof generate DC (Direct Current) electricity. This is then sent to a solar inverter which converts the DC electricity from your solar panels into AC (Alternating Current) electricity that can be used in your home. 

If the solar system produces more electricity than your household needs, the surplus can be exported back into the electricity grid. In some places electricity fed back into the grid attracts a tariff which means money back in your pocket. 

Alternatively, excess electricity can be stored in a home battery storage unit. If stored in a battery unit, you can draw on the stored energy at times when there is little or no solar input, such as at night. 

There are a number of factors that will influence how much energy your solar panels will generate. These include:

  • The amount and intensity of the sunlight
  • The number of daylight hours
  • The position of the panels (known as the orientation and tilt)
  • Shadow or shade that may obscure the solar panels.

Many people are unclear about how much electricity a rooftop solar system will generate or the size system that would be right for them.  Household electricity consumption varies greatly around the world and your rooftop solar supplier will be able to determine the system that would best suit your needs.  As an example however, and subject to a wide range of factors, a 5kw rooftop solar system can generate approximately 20kWh of electricity per day.  This would meet the average daily electricity requirements in most countries.

But let’s get real. Rooftop solar is not an option for everyone. It is a significant upfront investment, and if you are renting you can’t simply add your own panels to the roof of your rental property.  

The good news is that even if you can’t invest in rooftop solar, you can choose an electricity retailer that sources your electricity from renewable sources.  Check to see how your energy retailer’s green credentials stack up.  If your retailer doesn’t align with your values you can switch to one that does.  

The Sustainable Steps series provides quick and easy tips about how to make more sustainable choices in your everyday life.

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