How to maximise your solar power usage and savings

Published: 8 July 2021

To increase the savings achieved by solar panels, you must use more of their electricity while reducing the amount that gets exported to the grid.

Solar power is an excellent investment in Australia, since local electricity prices are among the highest in the world, and the country gets abundant sunshine. However, to maximise the savings achieved with solar panels, you must maximise solar power consumption as much as possible.

  • Solar panels reach their highest productivity around noon, and all the electricity that is not consumed gets exported to the grid.
  • When using solar generation, you save the full value of each kilowatt-hour consumed. However, if that electricity is sent to the grid, you are only paid a feed-in tariff (FIT) that is lower than the kilowatt-hour price.

To increase the savings achieved by solar panels, you must use more of their electricity while reducing the amount that gets exported to the grid. For example, assume you are charged 35 cents/kWh, but the electricity provider only pays an FIT of 15 cents/kWh for surplus solar power. 200 kWh of solar generation will save you $70 if consumed, but you will only get $30 if they are exported to the grid.

Two solar systems can have the same electricity production, but their savings can vary depending on how their electricity is used. In this article, we will discuss some ways to increase your solar power usage, which will also increase your power bill savings.

Maximise solar power consumption by using your electrical devices around noon

Some electrical devices are necessary at certain times of the day – for example, you need lighting at night and the refrigerator can never stop. However, other appliances are not subject to a schedule, and you can take advantage of solar generation by using them at noon. This strategy can be used with appliances like dishwashers, clothes washers, clothes dryers and ice makers.

If you have a water heater with an insulated storage tank, you can also use surplus solar generation to store hot water. At night, you can use the hot water stored in the tank instead of running the heater with expensive electricity from the grid.

  • According to the Energy Rating website from the Australian Government, water heating represents 25% of household energy consumption in the country.
  • You can increase the savings achieved by solar panels by running your water heater with their surplus generation whenever possible.

Hot water storage is even more efficient if you have a heat pump water heater. An electric resistance heater only provides one kWh of heat for every kWh of electricity, while a heat pump can deliver 2-4 kWh of water heating for every kWh of electricity.

Using a solar battery to store surplus generation

If you are using more electrical appliances around noon, but there is still plenty of surplus generation from solar panels, your system can be upgraded with batteries. The stored electricity can be used in the evening, when most electricity providers are charging their highest tariffs. Solar batteries can also be used as a backup power source when there is a blackout, something that is not possible with solar panels alone.

There are now peak electricity tariffs that exceed 50 cents/kWh in some parts of Australia, and solar batteries can be used to avoid them. Currently, Australia does not have a nationwide incentive program for battery systems, but many states have developed local programs. The following are some examples:

  • The Solar Victoria program offers $4,174 for home battery systems.
  • The South Australia Home Battery Scheme offers $300/kWh for energy Concession holders and $200/kWh for all other homes, up to $3,000 per installation.
  • The ACT Next Gen Battery Storage program offers $825/kW, covering up to 30kW for residential batteries and 50kW for commercial batteries.

Since feed-in tariffs are low compared with retail kWh prices, solar generation is more valuable when consumed and not exported. This can be achieved by using your home appliances around noon whenever possible, and you can also store hot water if your heater has a tank. Any surplus generation that is left after these measures can be stored in a solar battery system.

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