Solar power is clean, renewable energy. And there’s a lot of it.  It’s estimated that in just one hour, the planet receives enough solar energy to meet global power demands for a whole year. So why doesn’t everything run on solar power? Surely with this much energy available, we’d see solar  panels of every house and building? Not so fast! There are reasons why solar isn’t yet adopted as the main power source the world over. If you’re considering moving to solar power, read on to learn what you’ll need to know going in.

There’s a big initial investment

Getting set up with solar isn’t cheap. You’ll need to think about how to collect solar energy (panels) how to use that energy and how much of that energy to store in a large battery. Answers to these questions will dictate the budget to an extent, but we’d recommend saving at least $10,000 to get solar up and running in a standard residential house. 

Installation  costs are typically packaged up with a solar power system you purchase. Many NZ providers supply the equipment and get you up and running. Make sure you check the quote to get an understanding of what you’re paying for – you shouldn’t have to deal with hidden costs.

You may not collect enough solar energy to meet all your power needs year round

Without sunlight, solar panels are some pretty expensive roof ornaments. It really pays to sit down and consider where you live and map out the daylight hours you’ll have throughout the year. In winter, for example, you’ll need to factor in the shorter days, and lower direct sunlight – cloudier, rainier days in the middle of NZ’s calendar year will mean you just won’t collect as much power as you will at Christmas time. 

Check out Time and Date’s sun hours tool, which gives you an estimate of daylight at different times in the year. 

None of this is to say that solar panels don’t work in winter - they do. Sunlight isn’t just collected on a clear sunny day (although cloud cover does reduce how much energy you’ll get). It just means that you’ll probably want to still combine regular mains power with solar if you’re a reasonable residential or commercial energy user. Solar power systems are available that manage the combination of regular power from ‘the grid’ with PV panels.

For the humble shack or remote structure, reliance on solar should still be fine in most cases. If not, we’d suggest a generator as a backup.

You’ll need a bit of space for solar to be effective

Here’s the thing – solar panels in 2019 still require a reasonable surface area on your roof to generate usable amounts of daily power. The different kWh grades of solar power solutions will often dictate how many/what size of panels. Most providers will tell you to find out the available roof space as part of the research process. If you’ve got a small home, or limited usable roof space, then you might need to set your expectations accordingly.

If you live in a rural area, this may not be as much of an issue. If you enjoy an abundance of space around your home, you might consider mounting panels in a different place – i.e. not just on the roof of your house.  Being able to have larger panels (and more of them) installed helps generate more power. In the country, this can be especially useful where power outages might take a bit longer to be resolved than in the city. 

Solar panel fields

Provided you’re looking to just partially take up solar energy, most urban freestanding properties will accommodate a degree of solar power. Just remember to factor in space for both converter and battery.

Living in an apartment? Unless your building as a whole opts in to solar power, this might not be an option for you.  

Moving house soon?

As you might expect, installing solar panels onto a roof, and connecting them into a converter and battery is somewhat of mission. Securing the panels to a roof requires some fixtures that may not be simple to uninstall later.

When it comes time to move house, solar panels will probably require a professional to disassemble unless you’ve got a handy family member. Check too, the warranty details as DIY could compromise this. Some homes are sold with solar panels as part of the package – while this is attractive for many buyers, it’s often also just simpler than tearing it all down. And it’s not just panels to think about – if your system is feeding back energy into the grid or storing it in a battery, you’ll want to get a professional electrician to manage the process of ‘de-solaring’ your home.

Moving with solar panels isn’t impossible – it’s just something to think about if your current home doesn’t feature in your future plans.

Consider aesthetics

Solar panels can give a modern futuristic look to a home. However, some installations can be a bit jarring, especially if the design of the home isn’t factored in to how panels are mounted.

It’s worth consulting with professionals on how solar should best be incorporated into your property. Ask questions like:

  • How far off the roof do the panels need to be?
  • Is the roof  visible to anyone during the day?
  • Do the panels  clash with the exterior of the home?
  • What’s the best way to install solar panels  without negatively impacting on the presentation  of the home?

Make sure your solar provider works with you to resolve these and other questions you may have.

Solar panels sky

What else is on your roof?

Solar panels need room – so do think about what’s currently there. Common things include satellite TV dishes, chimneys and flashings, windows, decking, drainage and design features. If you look to add solar panels, you’ll need to have  enough space to include these without getting in the way of anything else.

It’s still pretty new – standards are still being developed

Solar power has been  available for decades. But it’s really over the past 10 years where the cost and technology has made this a viable option for Kiwi homeowners. There are some good, knowledgeable solar providers in New Zealand,  sowe’d suggest researching online and getting a number of quotes. It is still, however, an emerging industry.

Solar green field

While there are government standards in place, we’d expect these to evolve over the next 10 years as a better understanding of solar energy in New Zealand is developed. Technology, installation and safety precautions should continue to mature as more Kiwis adopt solar. 

If you deal with a reputable solar provider, we don’t anticipate you’ll  have issues. Just ensure they have a full understanding of your home and requirements before agreeing to any work.

Further reading

Interested in learning more about the pros and cons of solar? Here are some other online resources you may want to check out:

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