SA Power Networks Planning for Solar PV? Customer information guide to network connected solar PV inverter systems

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1 SA Power Networks Planning for Solar PV? Customer information guide to network connected solar PV inverter systems

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3 Contents Introduction 3 How solar PV power systems work 4 Solar modules 5 Is solar power suitable for your home? 6 Things to consider when choosing solar panels 8 Steps to organising a solar system installation 10 Government incentive schemes 12 South Australian Government, PV feed-in incentive scheme 12 Where to find a solar provider? 13 Maintenance of solar power systems 13 Frequently asked questions 14 Glossary 16

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5 Introduction Household use of solar photovoltaic (PV) panel systems has grown significantly in Australia over the past decade due to the community s growing awareness of the implications of climate change and the search for ways to reduce energy costs. The increasing popularity of this technology and the support of a range of government incentives to encourage its use, means solar power is now a more affordable option for Australian households. With the ever-increasing range of products and suppliers in the market and the constantly changing political environment and government-endorsed incentive schemes, being an informed consumer has never been more important. It is important to understand that, by installing solar panels, you are entering a new world in which you are generating electricity and exporting any excess into the grid. This means you have legal and other obligations, different to those of a customer merely importing electricity from the grid. These obligations and requirements are in place to protect you, other customers, and the electricity network. Throughout this brochure we have listed a number of websites as recommended sources for additional information to ensure you are fully informed about the legal obligations, industry conditions and requirements, as well as potential costs and benefits to you as the owner of an embedded generator connected to the SA Power Networks distribution grid. In addition, this guide contains some useful information on how to apply to SA Power Networks for approval to connect a solar generator to the grid. As a starting point, the Clean Energy Council of Australia is a recommended source of general information about the renewable energy industry. In particular, their Consumer guide to buying household solar panels is a useful resource. This document and other fact sheets can be downloaded from: PLANNING FOR SOLAR PV? 3

6 How solar PV power systems work Solar energy is light or heat that comes from the sun. Solar power is generated by collecting this energy and converting it into usable electricity. There are various types of solar power (often called photovoltaic or PV) systems for you to choose from. They generally consist of solar panels, an inverter and a metering system. Solar power systems (photovoltaic) are often confused with solar thermal technology, which is usually used for water heating (solar hot water). Most solar power systems use PV modules installed on a rooftop to create and collect energy from sunlight. An inverter converts the direct current (DC) generated by solar panels into alternating current (AC) the form of electricity conventionally used in homes and businesses. Because you are changing from being simply an importer of electricity to potentially generating and exporting any excess electricity to the grid, you are required to connect to the network through a special meter, called an import/export meter. You will be charged for this meter, which will be supplied and installed by SA Power Networks. Grid Connected Solar System Solar Panels SA Power Networks Low Voltage Distribution Network Inverter Home Power Appliances Switchboard SA Power Networks Import/Export Meter SA Power Networks Service Fuse Box 4 SA POWER NETWORKS

7 Solar modules Solar cells are produced from thin wafers of silicon. When light falls on the cells an electric current is produced. A collection of solar cells connected together forms a module. Most homes or commercial buildings will need around 10 square metres of unshaded, north-facing roof space to mount the modules for a 1kW solar system. Ideally the modules should be located on an unshaded north-facing roof and be tilted towards the sun at around 30 degrees to maximise the solar collection. If the roof s slope is not at the right pitch, a suitably qualified and accredited designer may be able to create a special mounting frame for the modules. Cloud cover and shading can dramatically reduce a solar power system s output. Types of solar cells There are three main types of solar cells. Monocrystalline silicon is the most efficient type of solar cell. It produces the smallest solar cells, and therefore the smallest panels. Monocrystalline solar panels are also the most expensive. Polycrystalline (or multi-crystalline) silicon produces the next most efficient type of solar cell and is the most popular choice as it provides an excellent balance of performance and economy. Recent improvements in polycrystalline panel technology are bringing these modules closer to mono-crystalline panels in size, efficiency and heat tolerance characteristics. Amorphous (or thin-film) silicon uses the least amount of silicon and also produces the least efficient solar cells. This means thin film systems take up more area than the other two types. PLANNING FOR SOLAR PV? 5

8 Is solar power suitable for your home? There are a number of questions you need to consider before deciding whether to invest in solar panels. Is my property suitable for solar power? You will need an unshaded north-facing roof to be able to collect enough solar power to make a system efficient. Do you have the right site? Consult with your solar provider, as they should be able to advise you on this issue. How much money do I want to save? In the short term the money you save on your energy bill is unlikely to justify the financial investment. Many customers who decide to install solar systems do so to supplement their long term energy needs and for environmental reasons. In choosing a system that is right for you, your solar provider should be able to help you assess your potential savings. Every customer s situation is different as your day-to-day energy usage requirements and patterns will impact on the overall energy savings you may be able to achieve. In addition, the size of the system to be installed, the available roof space, how and where panels are located and installed, as well as many environmental factors will impact on the overall efficiency and generating output of a solar system. These environmental factors include your geographic location, the number of unrestricted sunlight hours available per day, the level of cloud coverage and exposure to high temperatures, and the amount of shade that nearby or overhanging vegetation may cast over the solar panels. Are there other ways to reduce my energy consumption without investing in solar power? Reducing household energy use or installing solar, gas or heat pump-powered water heating systems are generally lower-cost ways to reduce your household greenhouse emissions. Can I participate in the PV feed-in schemes? In most cases, excess energy generated by a solar power system can be sold back into the grid, thereby reducing your energy bills. Conditions do apply for eligibility for the State Government PV feed-in credit scheme and reference should be made to the Electricity Act, which is available from the State Government website, to determine if you meet those criteria. Not all electricity retailers participate in feed-in schemes, so it is important to talk to your particular retailer about their requirements before you enter into any contractual arrangements. Whether eligible for the State Government feed-in scheme or not, a feed-in tariff premium will be payable for all solar energy exported to the grid. 6 SA POWER NETWORKS

9 Will I have to cover the full cost of the system until I receive any eligible incentives? Check the conditions of the Federal and State Government incentives for solar power systems. In addition, your solar provider may have specific payment conditions stipulated within their purchase contract that you will need to comply with. You may have to cover the entire cost of installing the system before you will be entitled to receive any applicable rebates. You should take special note of what costs, fees and charges are included in your solar provider s contract. In addition to the fees payable to the solar provider, you will be required to pay for the installation of an appropriate import/export meter. In all cases, SA Power Networks will invoice you directly for the cost of the meter change, not the solar provider. To find out more about SA Power Networks fees and charges please refer to Section 9 of the Network Tariffs and Negotiated Services Manual on the SA Power Networks website at: Am I informed enough to manage the process? We recommend that you consider engaging a reputable and experienced solar provider who is willing and able to manage the process, including the various applications, for you. If you inadvertently miss steps in the process you may lose money or not be able to benefit immediately from your investment. Can I be fully self-sufficient? Because of the nature of solar energy, you can not generate electricity 24 hours a day. To be self-sufficient, you would require a large PV installation and some kind of storage system (such as batteries). Even then, you would need to remain connected to the electricity network if you want to export power back into the grid and have a back-up if things go wrong with your PV system. Which solar PV system is best for me? There are various brands of solar power systems, all of which involve solar modules collecting the sun s energy and an inverter converting this energy into 240 volt electricity, which is used in your home or building. Be prepared to do some research. The Clean Energy Council (CEC) maintains a list of accredited designers and installers who can assist you. PLANNING FOR SOLAR PV? 7

10 Things to consider when choosing solar panels When choosing solar panels for your solar power system, there are a number of factors worth considering. Cost The cost of a solar panel is determined in part by the size (in Watts), the physical size, the brand, the durability/longevity (or warranty period) and any certifications the solar panel might have. Choosing a solar panel on price alone is not wise, as, for example, it may not fit the area you wish to install it, may not have the necessary certifications to qualify for government incentives, or may not have a satisfactory warranty. Warranties and Guarantees There are a number of warranties and/or guarantees that may apply to your solar panel system. Solar panels usually come with a performance warranty and a materials warranty. The performance warranty generally provides that the power output of the panels will be of a particular level and the materials warranty relates to any defects which may arise in the manufactured components. Solar panels will also often come with a guarantee relating to the workmanship of the installer. The warranties will generally be provided by the manufacturer if the product is made in Australia or by the importer if the product is imported. It is important that you carefully review the terms of the warranties offered in relation to the products you intend to purchase and that you are also aware who is providing the warranty. We recommend that you make enquiries to determine whether they are reputable and likely to remain in business. If the entity responsible for providing the warranty ceases to trade, the warranty will be worthless. A system manual that provides operation, maintenance and safety information should be provided by your installer. This should also include a system energy output (kwh) estimate. We recommend you check the terms and conditions of your contract carefully and ensure you obtain written confirmation of statements made by your supplier and installer, including performance claims, guarantees and warranties. Documentation will be essential if you need to make warranty or insurance claims in the future. Size and Watts The size of the solar panel in Watts will directly affect its price, as solar panels are usually priced (and compared) in dollars per Watt. Watts are related to the output of each panel; meaning a 100 Watt panel under ideal conditions will generate 100 Watt hours (Wh) of electricity, and a 200 Watt panel will generate 200 Watt hours. Therefore it is common to pay around double the price for the 200 Watt panel, compared with the 100 Watt panel. 8 SA POWER NETWORKS

11 The output of a panel also determines its physical size, meaning the 200 Watt panel will be larger in size than the 100 Watt panel. The type of solar cells used in its production also determines the size of the panel. The key issues to consider are that your system overall has enough Watts to power your appliances, and that the solar panels will physically fit in the area you wish to install them. While thin film panels are cheaper than monocrystalline and polycrystalline, they do require a great deal more roof space. If you believe at some stage you might wish to add more panels, you need to ensure you ll have the space to do so. Otherwise you may find you ll need to replace thin film panels well before the end of their serviceable life. Inverters You will need an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) power generated by the solar modules into alternating current (AC) power for your home or building, or to send back to the electricity grid. The inverter can be placed inside or outside your building, but should be well ventilated and protected from the elements. Meters and the grid You still need to be connected to the SA Power Networks electricity grid to ensure you have electricity at night when no solar energy is being collected, and when the power output generated by the solar system is not sufficient to meet all your energy needs during the day. An SA Power Networks import/export meter capable of recording the energy going into (import energy), or coming out (export energy), of your home or building is required for all grid-connected solar systems and to enable you to export any excess electricity into the grid. For safety reasons, when your electricity supply from the grid is interrupted, your solar PV system must automatically and immediately turn off. It is possible to have a system that will provide emergency electricity when the grid goes down; with the use of a suitable inverter and battery bank, however this can be expensive. An inverter for a grid connected solar system must be approved and must comply with the Australian Standard AS4777 Grid connection of energy systems via inverters (parts 1, 2 & 3). PLANNING FOR SOLAR PV? 9

12 Steps to organising a solar system installation If your solar system has a generating capacity of under 30kW and is connected to the electricity network, it qualifies as a Small Embedded Generator (SEG). The following is a step-by-step guide to having your SEG system installed: 1. Do your research Conduct your own research into the benefits of having a solar SEG system installed. In particular, you should understand what will happen to your meter, your electricity bill, your contract with your retailer, and any additional costs (that are above and beyond the solar provider s solar system installation costs), as well as your legal obligations, before you agree to have a solar system installed. In some situations property owners may need to undertake additional upgrade work to their electrical installation and switchboard before the solar system and new meter can be installed. In addition, depending on the output capacity of the proposed system, the location in the State and type of electricity distribution network your property is connected to (especially in rural and remote areas), your existing service connection to our infrastructure may need to be upgraded to enable your system to be connected to the grid. You should consult SA Power Networks for advice on this matter, prior to finalising the purchase of a solar system, as costs for infrastructure upgrade work can be significant. 2. Find the right solar provider We recommend you choose a solar provider with appropriate accreditation, who can help you design a solar system that will suit your household needs. They should also be able to assess any additional electrical works that will need to be undertaken. Visit for a list of accredited solar designers and installers. 3. Apply for relevant incentives You, or your solar provider, will need to apply for any applicable government incentives under the Solar Credits Scheme or other applicable schemes. 4. Apply for approval to connect You, or your solar provider, apply to SA Power Networks for approval to connect your proposed system to the grid. In some situations you may be required to enter into a specific Small Embedded Generator Connection Agreement with SA Power Networks before approval will be granted. 5. Is it a SEG or LEG system? If the generating capacity of the proposed system is greater than 30kW, ie a Large Embedded Generator (LEG), SA Power Networks will need additional information from you to determine the system s suitability to be connected to the grid, and will have additional requirements for your installation above those of a SEG installation. Refer to the SA Power Networks Customer Guide for Large Embedded Generators on the SA Power Networks website. These systems can have a significant impact on the network and neighbouring customers. SA Power Networks will need to undertake a detailed engineering investigation, which can take several months to complete, before a determination can be made. There is a charge for SA Power Networks to undertake an investigation and a fee proposal will be provided to you prior to commencement. So, if you are planning to install any sort of embedded generator (large or small), as part of a new connection, or an upgrade to an 10 SA POWER NETWORKS

13 existing installation already connected to the grid, contact SA Power Networks as early as possible in your preliminary planning stages. In some cases our investigation and approvals processes can take a considerable amount of time because of the technical complexity involved, and you may be required to provide additional control, protection and monitoring capabilities to enable your generator to be connected. This process could impact the viability of your project and could delay the connection of your installation to the grid if not undertaken soon enough. In all situations involving the connection of a LEG to the grid, you will be required to enter into a specific Large Embedded Generator Connection Agreement with SA Power Networks prior to approval being granted. 6. Finalise approval to connect from SA Power Networks Once SA Power Networks approves the connection of the proposed solar system to the grid, we will provide you with an approval number. 7. Apply to your retailer for a new meter Upon receipt of your approval number from SA Power Networks, you or your solar provider can apply to your energy retailer for the installation of a new PV import/export meter. You will need to provide the approval number to your retailer before they will process your application. 8. Check any additional requirements of your retailer As the installation of a solar SEG or LEG system enables you to generate electricity back into the grid, this constitutes a change to your electricity supply contract with your energy retailer. As mentioned previously, you should consult your retailer to determine their requirements prior PLANNING FOR SOLAR PV? to committing to purchase a solar system. Some energy retailers do not accept solar customers, which means that you might need to change energy retailers before you can arrange for an import/export meter installation. 9. Authorisation of meter installation When you have satisfied your energy retailer s requirements they will notify SA Power Networks and authorise the installation of a new import/ export meter. 10. Book your meter installation SA Power Networks conducts all meter installation work on a customer requested appointment basis. You or your solar provider must book an appointment with SA Power Networks to have the new meter installed. This can be booked any time after SA Power Networks has received the retailer s authorisation. To avoid any possible delays in being able to use your solar system, we recommend that meter installation appointments should be booked as early in the process as possible, even before the solar system is installed. If your provider is organising the meter installation on your behalf, speak to them about booking this appointment early. 11. Get your solar system installed Your solar provider completes the installation of your solar system. The installer is required to provide you with an Electrical Certificate of Compliance for all the electrical installation and alteration work undertaken on your installation. 12. Meter installation SA Power Networks installs your new import/ export meter. 13. You re up and running! Your solar system is now ready to generate electricity. 11

14 Government incentive schemes Installing a PV system is a method of generating your own electricity by harnessing solar energy via panels placed on the roof of your house. The Federal and South Australian State Governments have introduced various schemes to help people offset the cost of installing a solar power system. South Australian Government, PV feed-in incentive scheme On 1 July 2008, the South Australian Government introduced the first PV feed-in incentive scheme which guaranteed that qualifying customers of small solar (PV) embedded generator systems (SEG) would receive a credit off their electricity retail bill for any electricity fed back into the SA Power Networks distribution network. To qualify for participation in this scheme, certain specific criteria must be met: The qualifying customer must be classified as a Small Customer as defined by the National Electricity Market (ie must consume less than 160MWhrs of electrical energy per annum) A qualifying generator must: Be an exclusively photovoltaic (PV) system with a generating capacity of up to 10kVA for a single phase connection and up to 30kVA for a three phase connection Be operated by a qualifying customer Comply with Australian Standard AS4777 (as in force from time to time or as superseded from time to time) Be connected to the SA Power Networks distribution network via an active energy consuming connection point Be connected to the distribution network in such a manner via an appropriate meter that will allow the net energy that is excess to the installation s needs, to be recorded as it is fed back into the network. The SEG system must be approved by SA Power Networks for connection to the SA Power Networks distribution network. The qualifying customer may be required to enter into a specific Embedded Generator Connection Agreement with SA Power Networks before approval to connect the SEG system to the distribution network is granted. Generators operated primarily for the purpose of generating a profit are excluded from the scheme. Rebate bonus payments are limited to the first 45 kwhrs of energy exported into the grid per day, calculated based on the average daily export for the standard energy billing period. Eligibility is limited to one generator per customer or entity. In 2011, the South Australian Government introduced amendments to the original 2008 feed-in scheme which changed the criteria for eligibility to participate in the scheme, changed feed-in credit options and introduced a future end date for the scheme. Customers who qualified for the feed-in scheme prior to 1 October 2011 will continue to receive feed-in credits until 30 June Customers qualifying for the new feed-in scheme between 1 October 2011 and 30 September 2013 will receive feed-in credits until 30 September The feed-in scheme will close to all new entrants on 30 September From more information on the PV feed-in incentive scheme and the Electricity Act refer to the following websites: SA POWER NETWORKS

15 Where to find a solar provider? Maintenance of solar power systems A quality, Clean Energy Council accredited solar designer and installer can help guide you through the decision-making process and help determine whether your home or building can support solar modules. Check out the following websites for more information: Clean Energy Council: After installation, you will be responsible for ensuring that your equipment is maintained in good working order. Your installer should be able to provide appropriate instructions along with maintenance information in the system manual. Australian Greenhouse Office: Yellow Pages: PLANNING FOR SOLAR PV? 13

16 Frequently asked questions What is the difference between net metering and gross metering? A gross metering arrangement is where the full output energy produced by the solar generator is recorded prior to any energy being used within the household or being exported to the grid. A net metering arrangement is where only the energy that is excess to the internal needs of the household and is exported back into the grid, at any point in time, is recorded. In South Australia, the PV feed-in credits only apply to the energy that is excess to a household s needs. For example: Export Mode (putting energy back into the grid). If your solar-powered system generates 1000W and you are using 600W, then 400W will be put back (exported) to the grid. Import Mode (importing energy from the grid). If your solar-powered system generates 1000W and you are using 1200W, then you are using (importing) 200W from the grid. What is a Small Embedded Generator Connection Agreement? The Small Embedded Generator (SEG) Connection Agreement outlines your obligations and liabilities and the terms and conditions for the safe connection of your system to the SA Power Networks electricity network. An agreement, when required, must be in place for your solar power system to be connected to the network and feed power back into the electricity grid. The SEG Connection Agreement has been approved by the Essential Services Commission of South Australia (ESCOSA). What does SA Power Networks approval to connect mean? The SA Power Networks approval to connect an embedded generator to the network means that the proposed equipment meets technical compliance requirements and conditions. The approval does not imply that the applicant meets the eligibility criteria necessary to receive any government or retailer-sponsored grants or the PV feed-in credits. Will the solar system always be connected to the network grid? No. Your solar system is connected to the grid through your household meter and service connection point. From time to time SA Power Networks may need to interrupt or disconnect supply to your premises due to planned maintenance, or disconnect supply as a result of a request from your energy retailer. Our protection equipment may also interrupt supply in the case of an unplanned fault on the network. For safety reasons, when your electricity supply from the grid is interrupted, your solar PV system must automatically and immediately turn off. It is possible to have a system that will provide emergency electricity when supply is not available from the grid with the use of a suitable inverter and battery bank, however this can be expensive. Refer to the SA Power Networks Customer Guide to Small Embedded Generation, which can be found on the SA Power Networks website. 14 SA POWER NETWORKS

17 Will my solar system be able to generate power for use during a power failure to the area? No. For safety reasons, when electricity supply from the grid is interrupted, your solar PV system must automatically and immediately turn off. Can I retain my old mechanical or digital meter? No. It is a regulatory requirement in South Australia that any embedded generator connected to the grid must have an appropriate meter installed that can accurately measure both import and net export energy flows from and into the grid. The old-style mechanical meters and SA Power Networks standard electronic meters are not capable of recording the export energy flows as required by the legislation. These meters need to be changed to a special electronic import/export PV meter. There is a fee payable to SA Power Networks for the installation of the new meter. What type of PV meter will I require? If your property is supplied by a single phase low voltage service connection, you will require a single phase import/export PV meter. If your property is supplied by a multi-phase low voltage service connection, you will require a multi-phase import/export PV meter. When is the best time to have my import/ export meter installed? We recommend that once you have approval to proceed with your proposed PV installation, you or your solar provider make the appointment for the new meter to be installed. This can happen even before the solar system is installed. Do I have to arrange everything myself? No, you may engage a solar provider to manage all aspects of the process for you if you wish. Due to the complexity of the process, many people find it useful to do this. Some older models of digital meters may add the net exported energy generated by your system to the energy consumption register of the meter, as they were not designed or intended to be used in situations needing to measure reverse energy flows. If this occurs, your energy retailer will not be able to distinguish between what is normal energy consumption and what may have been added by your solar system. Under the conditions of your energy contract, the retailer is entitled to charge you for all the energy recorded as consumption. As a safeguard, SA Power Networks recommends that solar systems are not turned on until the new import/ export PV meter is installed. PLANNING FOR SOLAR PV? 15

18 Glossary AC CEC DC ESCOSA Inverter kv kva LEG MW MWh PV REC SEG V W Wh Alternating current (the type of current used in South Australian homes and businesses) Clean Energy Council Direct current (generated by solar systems) Essential Services Commission of South Australia Converts direct current to alternating current for use Kilovolt Kilovolt Amp Large Embedded Generator Mega Watt Mega Watt hour Photovoltaic Renewable Energy Certificate Small Embedded Generator Volt Watt Watt hour For more information, please contact: SA Power Networks solar enquiries SA POWER NETWORKS

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