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Q: What is photovoltaic (solar electricity) or “PV”?

Photovoltaics could literally be translated as light-electricity. And that’s just what photovoltaic materials and devices do; they convert light energy to electricity.

Q: Why is there such a big price difference between companies?

If you have had multiple quotes you may have seen prices with more than 200% difference between them for what is supposedly the same product. If you see a 5kW system advertised for $5,000 and another 5kW system advertised for $12,000 that can be quite confusing and intimidating.

The simple fact of that matter is that the difference in price comes down to:

  1. Cost of panels – There are panels out there that can vary from $137 each to $350+ each. They both might be 250w panels and both will claim that they do the same thing but why such a big difference in quality? Not all panels are made equal and buying cheap will simply come back to you.
  2. Cost of inverters – Again, Inverters can range from $500 to $3,000 for a 5kW Inverter.
  3. Cost of mounting system – There may only be a variance of 30 – 40% here and this only makes up less than 10% of your total cost.
  4. Cost of isolators – These can range from $17 to $100 and there are 4 of them per 5kW installation.
  5. Cost of installation – Our highly skilled and fully qualified contractors are paid a good wage and as a result we get the best results. Some contractors that are offered a rate that is based on volume and such they need to install 2 systems per day to make it viable. The only way to do this is to compromise on quality. Some companies even use an apprentice and a labourer to do the installation with the qualified electricians signing off on the work (sometimes remotely).
  6. Installer overheads – Some retailers run a ‘heavy’ business with high operational and marketing costs. Those companies that use doorknockers, telemarketing teams, and outsourced sales contractors will have high overheads and as such will not to charge a bigger margin on their sales. The vast majority of GEM Energy’s business is as a result of referral based work or traffic to our website. As such our marketing costs are less than 1% of our turnover which means we are able to offer you a quality product and service without the price tag.
  7. Insurances – Public Liability and Professional Indemnity are mandatory in this industry and the cost of cover can range from $1,000 per year to $30,000 per year. As we service government tenders and are suppliers to mining giants BHP Billiton our insurances are closely scrutinized so we need to ensure our insurances are geared up to cover everything.

There are a lot of things to think about when choosing suppliers and if you see something that looks too expensive then you are probably paying to maintain a heavy company regardless of the sales pitch. Likewise, if you see a system that is too good to be true it probably is and you should ask yourself if you really getting the quality product you have been told you are.

Q: How do I get solar power?

Many companies install solar power systems including some electricity retailers. It is worth comparing quotes from different suppliers, and any extra costs such as surcharges, panel mounting frames and hardware for your type of roof. It is also worth checking whether the solar PV installer will liaise with your electricity retailer and distributor to ensure that you have the right type of meter and that you will receive a feed in tariff for your excess power.

Q: What kinds of organisations get solar systems?

Major players in almost every industry including various households are jumping into renewable energy. Government institutions, public organisations and private entities are all beginning to experience the benefits of solar systems, savings thousands of dollars a year in bills and projecting a socially-responsible image.

Q: What is a grid-connected solar power system?

Grid-connected solar systems convert sunlight directly into electricity through solar panel arrays mounted on the roof, powering your home. They work any time the sun is shining; at night and in bad weather, your home gets its power from the main network.

When a grid-connect solar power system generates excess power, this electricity can be fed back into the grid, effectively running your electricity meter backwards and saving you money.

Q: What is an off-grid or stand-alone solar power system?

Off-grid solar power systems are most commonly used in areas/countries (such as Australia) that are not connected to the main electricity grid. These systems work by converting the sunshine that hits your solar panel into electricity that supplies your property and charges the battery bank. At night or in bad weather, power comes from the battery into your home; if the battery level gets low, a generator can be used to power your home and charge the battery.

Q: How do solar photovoltaic (PV) panels work?

Solar panels use layers of special materials called semi-conductors that create electricity when exposed to sufficient light. There are different types of solar panel construction. Some panels tend to perform better in high temperatures and low light situations, but take up around twice the space.

Q: What should I look for in choosing a solar power system supplier?

When choosing quotes from GEM Energy Australia you should consider the following:

  • The out of pocket price of the system
  • The payment structure including any deposits required, upfront payments, instalments etc.
  • Does the price include installation?
  • Are there additional charges depending on the type of roof you have (flat or pitched), the type of roof material you have (tiles or steel), the distance of your house from the supplier, whether your house is a single storey or double storey?
  • Will your solar GEM Energy liaise with your electricity distributor and retailer to make sure you have the right meter and that you will receive the retailer’s feed in tariff?
  • The type of solar panels (amorphous or crystalline) and their performance at your location
  • The colour of the panels, in case this matters to you
  • The inverter converts the power from your panels, so it can be used in the house. What functionalities does it have? Does it display current and historical energy production?
  • The size of the system and the inverter (which may not be the same) and what will best suit your needs
  • Contract conditions and warranties on all parts of the system and on the labour to install
  • Whether the GEM Energy Australia uses accredited designers and installers
  • How long will it take to get your system installed?
  • After-sales service in case you have problems with the system

Q: How long will the installation of solar panels take?

The actual installation process should only take 1 day, however some solar PV system suppliers have a long waiting time of several months before they will install your system. Once your system is installed your meter may need to be changed before you can be paid for your exported solar power. If you do need a new meter there can be a delay of a few weeks between the installation of the system and the changing of the meter. The changing of the meter itself takes approximately 1 hour.

Q: How long do photovoltaic (PV) systems last?

GEM Energy PV systems that are designed, installed, and maintained well will operate for more than 25 years. The basic PV module has no moving parts and can easily last more than 30 years. The best way to ensure and extend the life and effectiveness of your PV system is by having it installed and maintained properly. Experience has shown that most problems occur because of poor or sloppy system installation.

Q: How big a solar energy system do I need?

The size of solar system you need depends on several factors such as how much electricity you use, how big is the size of your roof, and how much you are willing to invest. Also, do you want the system to supply your complete energy usage or to supply a portion of your higher cost energy usage? You can contact a GEM Energy Australia to determine what type of system would suit your needs.

Q: How is a solar electric system designed, installed, and maintained?

You could install a photovoltaic or solar electric system yourself. But to avoid complications or injury, you will probably want to hire a reputable professional contractor with experience in solar system installation. PV systems have few moving parts, so they require little maintenance. The components are designed to meet strict dependability and durability standards so they can stand up to the elements. However, they are fairly sophisticated electric systems, so installation usually requires the knowledge and experience of a licensed electrical equipment contractor. This makes GEM Energy the ideal company for your reliable and affordable dollar system.

Q: How much does it cost to install solar panels?

The price of solar systems has dropped dramatically over the past few years, making it an increasingly attractive option for homes and businesses.

The upfront cost of your solar PV system is affected by a number of different factors, including:

  • Government incentives and support schemes available
  • Contractor installation costs
  • Type and number of solar panels, which affect the output of your system in kilowatts (kW)
  • Type and size of inverter (the part of the system that converts the electrical output of your solar panels into AC electricity for use in your home or business)
  • Type of framing equipment and other system components
  • Height and accessibility of roof and whether it is tiled, metal or concrete
  • Any after-sales service agreements

As a very rough guide, the total cost of getting a home solar system up and running is between $2,000 & $4,000 (for a small 1.5 kW system) and $5,000 – $12,000 (for a top-of-the-line 5 kW system).

For businesses installing less than 100 kW the approximate cost of installing solar ranges from around $1,200 per kW to $1,500. This depends on the size of the system, the location, roof layout, grid control requirements and of course your quality preference.

For systems over 100 kW you will not be eligible for the upfront government rebate discounts, instead they are paid to you each year. Therefore the upfront capital cost is a lot higher and can cost from $1,800 per kW to $2,200 per kW.

Generally we find the total capital cost becomes irrelevant. If we engineer the right system for your consumption, on one of our multiple lease options you will be cash flow positive from day one. All you do is reallocate an already existing budgeted cost from electricity to the solar lease and pocket the difference.

Q: Will solar power save me money?

In the vast majority of cases, getting solar power will help reduce your electricity bills through reducing the amount of power you buy from the grid and through the feed in tariff you receive for excess power you sell to the grid. The amount of electricity you save will depend upon a range of factors including the size of the system, whether the system has been installed in the optimal location and your individual electricity use patterns. Be wary of claims that you will never need to pay a bill again or can eliminate your electricity bills.

Further, grid-connected solar systems in most areas of Australia are eligible to collect feed-in tariffs; if your solar power system produces more power than you use, this energy is fed back into the main grid and sold to your energy company.

Q: What Government subsidies are available for solar power?

There are Federal Government rebates – and other financial incentives – available to most Australian customers installing solar power systems and solar hot water systems. There are also State Government rebates available in most areas. These rebates can reduce the costs of a solar system by thousands of dollars. The Federal Government subsidy for solar power in homes, community organisations and small businesses is the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). Under this scheme a solar power system can create Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) that may be sold to partially offset the price of the system. STCs have replaced the former Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Feed in tariffs are a different type of benefit that provide ongoing financial incentive rather than an upfront price reduction. Other solar subsidies are designed for schools and include the National Solar Schools Program and the Victorian Solar in Schools Initiative.

Q: What are Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs)?

STCs are government incentives that help reduce the upfront cost of installing your solar PV system. The value of STCs your system receives differs depending on its size and location.

Q: What is a Feed-in-Tariff?

A feed-in-tariff is the amount your electricity retailer pays you for any electricity your solar PV system generates that you don’t use, and is instead fed back into the grid. For instance, the feed in tariff in Victoria is a net feed in tariff and only applies to the excess electricity that you export to the grid. All large retailers are required to offer their eligible customers both a standard and a premium feed in tariff. You can receive the feed in tariff by contacting your retailer once you have a solar power system installed with the correct metering in place.

Q: What is the difference between the premium feed in tariff and the standard feed in tariff?

The premium feed in tariff is designed specifically to provide a financial incentive for small scale solar power systems up to 5 kW in size. The premium feed in tariff offers a rate of 60c/kWh, approximately 3 times more than a typical residential usage tariff. The premium feed in tariff is subject to eligibility criteria, including that the solar power system must be installed at the customer’s primary place of residence if the installation is at a house. If you are a non-residential customer, annual electricity consumption must not exceed 100 MWh per year. You can apply for a feed in tariff on one system per property.

The standard feed in tariff is a lower rate than the premium feed in tariff but has fewer eligibility restrictions and is open to some forms of generation other than solar. If you are eligible, you are likely to receive the greatest benefit from the premium feed in tariff.

Q: How does installing solar power help the environment?

Solar is the cleanest, greenest and most viable form of energy available. It produces no waste or pollution, does not contribute to global warming, acid rain or smog and reduces our reliance on dirty coal-fired electricity, which causes massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The energy used to manufacture a solar power system is small compared to the energy generated by the system and is paid back many times over the life of the system. Solar power is completely renewable – so it will never run out – and in sun-drenched Australia, there is plenty of it.

Q: How long will it take for a solar power system to pay for itself?

The payback period of a solar power system varies widely depending on the price paid, the size of the system, the usage patterns of the consumer and the price received as a feed in tariff. For homes that use small amounts of electricity and receive the premium feed in tariff, the payback period can be less than 3 years. For homes that use a lot of electricity and are not eligible for the premium feed in tariff, the payback period will be closer to 7 years. Both of these examples assume a 1.5 Kw system and an upfront price discount through the sale of STCs under the SRES scheme.

Q: How much electricity will I generate?

The amount of electricity that you generate depends on the size of your system, which way it is facing, whether there is any shading from trees or other buildings and the local climatic conditions.

In Melbourne a typical average generation is up to 3.7 kWh per day for a 1 kW system (up to 5.5 kWh per day for a 1.5 kW system). In winter months the average daily generation is typically less than 3 kWh and in summer months it is typically greater than 5 kWh for a 1 kW system. For comparison, the average household uses up to 18 kWh daily, but an energy efficient house can use much less.

Q: How efficient are solar panels?

Depending on the type of technology, solar panels typically convert between 8% and 18% of the available energy in sunlight to electrical energy. Crystalline panels have higher efficiency than amorphous panels but also cost more and their performance declines to a greater extent in high temperatures. Efficiency is not the only factor for which type of panel you are best to install.

Q: Are Solar Systems safe and reliable?

Solar panels and inverters sold in this country must comply with a range of standards that maximise safety and reliability. The only issue here that safety requirements are based on laboratory conditions, not real world testing. This is why so many poor quality components make it onto the market in Australia.

The Clean Energy Council’s Solar Accreditation scheme ensures that the people who design and install solar PV systems are across all the latest safety requirements. Accredited installers are qualified electricians who have undergone additional training and assessment in the installation of solar PV systems. Systems must be installed by a Clean Energy Council accredited installer to be eligible for small-scale technology certificates (STCs).  Initiatives such as the Clean Energy Council’s Approved Solar Retailer scheme are also ensuring that the Australian solar PV sector stays safe and reliable.  To keep your system running safely and effectively for many years, you will need to maintain it correctly. See our after installing solar PV section for details on inspecting, maintaining and upgrading your system.

Q: Are GEM Energy solar panels covered by a warranty?

All of GEM Energy’s high-efficiency solar collectors come with a 10-12-year manufacturer’s warranty and a 25 year performance guarantee that offers a guarantee that your panels will be performing at least 80% as well as they do now in year 25 giving you peace-of-mind and smooth operation of your business or home.

Q: What should I do if my solar PV system stops working?

If your solar PV system is still under warranty, you should contact the GEM Energy Australia as soon as possible to arrange repairs. If your system is out of warranty, you should contact your GEM Energy Australia. However, you may be responsible for the cost of any repairs.

Q: What is the energy payback for PV?

Producing electricity with photovoltaics (PV) emits no pollution, produces no greenhouse gases, and uses no finite fossil fuel resources. The environmental benefits of PV are great. But just as we say that it takes money to make money, it also takes energy to save energy. The term “energy payback” captures this idea. How long does a PV system have to operate to recover the energy and associated generation of pollution and CO2 that went into making the system, in the first place?

Energy payback estimates for rooftop PV systems are 4, 3, 2, and 1 years: 4 years for systems using current multi-crystalline silicon PV modules, 3 years for current thin-film modules, 2 years for anticipated multi-crystalline modules, and 1 year for anticipated thin-film modules (see Figure 1). With energy paybacks of 1 to 4 years and assumed life expectancies of 30 years, 87% to 97% of the energy that PV systems generate won’t be plagued by pollution, green- house gases, and depletion of resources.

Q: How do I arrange installation of solar panels?

GEM Energy Australia is one of the leading suppliers and accredited installers of solar systems  in Australia. Simply enquire online or call GEM Energy Australia today to install solar panels today and start getting free electricity straight from the sun.

Q: Why should I choose GEM Energy Australia solar systems for my business, household etc?

GEM Energy Australia only offers premium equipment coupled with solutions that are 100% custom engineered to your requirements. We are chosen by over 50 households per month and more than 10 businesses for their energy efficiency needs because of our reputation, quality equipment, industry leading knowledge and capabilities and competitive finance packages.

All of our warranties are backed by billion dollar companies, not local importers so you have peace of mind that all your warranty needs will be catered for.

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