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Making solar simple

Solar power is a hot topic with some complex terms. From currents to kilowatts, we’re breaking them down, one by one.


More households in the capital region are choosing to go solar, every day, and we know that sometimes the terminology can be complex. As your local energy retailer, we’ve taken the time to make solar simple. We’ve unravelled the most common solar slang to empower your vocabulary, answer those tricky questions, and make it easier than ever to figure out how you can harness the power of the sun to save on your energy bills.

The answers to your solar questions

What is solar energy?

Energy from the sun takes two main forms, heat and light. This energy is captured and converted to electricity by solar panels, then used to power up your home or the grid.

How is solar energy produced and how does it work?

Typically, there are two processes used to generate solar power—solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal

Solar panels made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells absorb sunlight, creating direct current (DC) electricity, which can’t be used by your home. The DC electricity is then inverted into alternating current (AC) and fed to your house and the grid—ready to light up your day and our city. Your solar system is then connected to a meter (typically a smart meter), which measures your energy use and the amount of power you generate.24

What are the advantages of solar energy?

Lower your energy bills

When the sun is shining, you’re generating solar power. By understanding your energy, your plan and your usage habits, you can use your solar system to help lower your energy. If you’re home during the day, consider completing your household duties during your peak sunlight hours. You’ll maximise your solar investment by using more solar-generated power, and less energy from the grid.

If you’re not home during the day, consider adding a battery storage system to allow you to store your solar-generated energy, ready to use later on in the day. The less power you draw from the grid, the more you can save—and if you can feed energy back into the grid, that’s great too!

Forget about singing in the rain, you’ll be singing when the sun shines! 

It’s low maintenance

Once your system is installed, it really only needs semi-regular cleaning and annual inspections. These minor, low-cost activities will help prolong the lifetime of your system, and ensure you are getting the best saving possible from your investment. 

Add value to your home

Installing a solar system is a long-term investment, and unlike that pool you’ve always wanted, it won’t add to your bills—but it will help decrease them. As well as paying for themselves through your energy bills, solar panels are a future-focused asset that may also increase the value of your home.

Does solar produce CO2 emissions?

Nope. You can rest easy knowing your solar system isn’t putting any additional CO2 emissions out into the world—plus, the power you generate can add to your carbon-offset contributions

Is it renewable?

Yes! Solar power is considered a renewable energy source, alongside wind and hydroelectric power.25

Will solar power make my home more energy efficient?

Energy efficiency is all about using less energy to perform the same tasks.26 While the addition of solar power won’t mean you’re using less energy, you’ll be purchasing less from the grid because you’re generating your own power.

Do I store any excess energy?

This depends on your system setup. If you have a battery storage attached to your solar system, you’ll be able to store excess energy and use it during peak demand hours instead.

If you don’t have a battery storage attached to your solar system, your solar system will automatically feed any unused energy back to the grid, and you’ll receive a credit on your bill, as per your FiT agreement.

How can I calculate the energy needs of my home?

Your solar system should be tailored to your household’s needs, so, having a good understanding of your energy habits is a great place to start. You can use a tool like the Home Energy Assessment web tool, or you can calculate an estimate of your energy usage by using your existing bills. 

To do this, start by collecting your bills from the past year and add together your listed electricity consumption. This will be listed in kilowatt hours (kWh). Once you’ve calculated your annual energy consumption, divide it by 365 to determine your average daily usage.

By using a full year of consumption data, you’ll account for high-use periods—like summer and winter. Of course, this is when your heater and air conditioner are working overtime.

Now that you know your average daily consumption, you can begin to explore what size your solar system will need to be. If you’re unsure of your calculations or are looking for an extra opinion, the team at SolarHub & ActewAGL Smart Energy Hub can assist you.

Do solar panels withstand heavy storms?

Solar PV panels are designed to withstand the tough Australian climate, but as we know, our region is renowned for legendary weather events. So, while your panels are designed to withstand regular weather, it’s important to know your panels' warranty terms and explore insurance coverage to protect your investment.  

How much solar can I have on my property?

Your budget, the type of property you have (commercial building, house, townhouse or unit), your roof material and the angle of your roof, will all influence the size of solar system you’ll need. There are also certain requirements put in place by network operators on how much solar can be connected to the grid from a single site. Your solar installer will take these requirements into consideration when designing your solar system—but one size does not fit all.

How do I know what company to purchase my solar from?

As a proudly local organisation, our operations are based in the heart of Canberra and we’re committed to empowering our community with local knowledge and advice—just like our partner, SolarHub. As the largest solar and battery providers in the region, the team at SolarHub understands your needs. They’ll deliver honest, tailored advice, so you can take charge of your energy and choose the right solar system for you.

Why is my neighbour’s system performing better than my system when we have the same size system?

Every system is tailored to the individual property, so it’s best not to compare your system to your neighbours. 

If you just can’t help but wonder why the grass seems greener - and their system seems superior, there are a few factors that might cause a gap in performance from one system to another. Aside from roof pitch and direction, if you live in one of Canberra’s tree-lined suburbs, you may want to check that your panels aren’t being shaded by leafy trees throughout the day. If a crackle of cockatoos, or a wet and windy day, has left your panels dirty and dusty, this could be affecting your generation capacity, also. Regular maintenance of your panels is crucial to making the most of the sun’s power!

The solar glossary

  • An electrical current that occurs when the directional flow of the electrons changes back and forth at regular intervals. Most household appliances and ‘the grid’ use AC.1

  • A solar battery stores generated electrical energy, allowing you to release electricity on demand.By adding a battery to your solar system, excess energy generated by your solar system is stored for later use. Once your storage battery is full, any excess energy will be fed into the grid. Your excess energy supports a more stable and more resilient grid for your community, and you get rewarded with a feed-in tariff (FiT), paid by your energy retailer—win-win! Similarly, if your battery is empty, you’ll draw energy from the grid. You may also be able to use your solar battery to back-up vital appliances like your fridge or modem during power outages.

  • Your capacity is the maximum power output of your system, in optimal conditions. Capacity is measured in either watts (W) or kilowatts (kW) and is used to describe the ‘size’ of the system. For example, a '5 kW system’ can generate up to 5 kW in any given hour of the day when working in optimal conditions.3

    The accumulated generation for a given period, is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). Based on the above example, the system can produce 5 kW every hour. If the panels are exposed to optimal conditions for 6 hours, it can produce up to 30 kWh of electricity on the measured day (5 kW per hour x 6 hours = 30 kWh).

  • An electrical current whereby the electrons flow in the same direction, consistently. The electrical current produced by solar panels is in DC.4 Fun fact: batteries are also charged using DC current!

  • A specified payment made from the energy retailer to you (the customer), in exchange for the energy generated by your solar system that is then fed into the grid.

  • A type of solar billing structure where you’re paid for all the energy produced by your solar system, but you aren’t using your solar energy as it’s produced. This is in contrast to net metering schemes where you only export (and are paid for) your excess solar power. 

    At one point in time, gross metering was common due to government incentivisation. Today, gross metering has become rare, in favour of more net metering alternatives.6

  • A PV-solar system connected to the electricity network (the grid), as opposed to being self-supplying, i.e. an off-grid system. A grid-connected PV system will take electricity generated by the PV panels, and feed it into the home or grid, through an inverter and meter. This is the most typical solar system setup for suburban households and businesses.7

  • A device that converts DC power (produced by the PV-solar panels) into AC power, making it compatible with most household appliances and the grid.8

  • A measure of electrical power, equivalent to one thousand watts.9

  • A measure of electrical energy, equivalent to consumption of 1000 watts per hour. 

    For example: 1 kWh = 1000 Wh (watt-hour)10

  • Your solar panels need to be securely attached to your roof using mounting equipment. Depending on your roof material, your modules will either be installed with a mount or integrated into the building fabric.11

  • Net metering means that the energy your solar system generates will power your household first, and only excess energy will be exported to the grid—the excess being what you’ll receive a feed-in tariff for.12 This has largely replaced other solar billing systems, such as gross metering, which feeds all of the energy you generate straight to the grid.

  • Used interchangeably, these refer to the maximum power requirement, at any given time.13

  • A measure of the available solar energy.14 In Canberra, the peak sunlight hours vary from 7.4 in the middle of summer, down to 2.1 during our legendary winters.

  • A PV-solar panel converts sunlight directly into electricity using solar PV cells. A solar PV cell is an electrical device that converts the light into electricity via the photovoltaic effect (creating an electric current).15 Fun fact: Albert Einstein won the Nobel prize for his work on the photoelectric effect!16

  • The Australian Government designed the STC scheme to drive uptake of renewable energy generation systems. A Small-scale Technology Certificate (STC) is a form of currency related to your renewable energy source that can be sold to recoup a portion of the cost of purchasing and installing the system.17 As a guide, each certificate is equal to one megawatt hour of eligible renewable electricity generated or displaced by the system.18 Your solar system price will often note the listed price is after the STC is discounted. The value of STCs for solar systems is now decreasing, and the scheme is expected to end in 2030.

  • A smart (or advanced) meter measures and records electricity use in 30-minute (or less) intervals.19 Because it’s digital, this type of meter can be read remotely. This provides accurate, up to date information on your usage and also eliminates the need for a contracted meter reader to manually record your usage.

  • The orientation of your solar panel will be considered to maximise the amount of sunlight your panels are exposed to. This will depend on your roofline, location of the building and any surrounding shading structures or plants.20 Generally speaking, north-facing solar panels generate the most amount of energy in Australia.21

  • Similar to orientation, the tilt/pitch of your solar panel will optimise your system’s sunlight exposure. This will depend on your roofline and location of the building.22

  • One watt is the equivalent to electricity flowing at a rate of one joule (unit of energy) per second.
    Every standard electrical appliance in Australia will note the watts it consumes on the appliance or the packaging. Take note of this to identify any power-hungry appliances hiding in your home!

Whether you’re new to solar or wanting to maximise your solar investment, see what our solar plans could do for you.

Are there a few renewable energy words that you still get stuck on? Our green glossary is here to explain your carbon offset from your carbon footprint, and more.

Become an energy triple threat—great solar panels, great plan and great energy efficiency. Here are our tips to reduce your energy use and save more.


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