More than 1.5 million households and businesses in Australia have installed solar panels, happy to have enough panels to power at least some of their electricity need, and to reduce or even eliminate their bills.
But as the premium feed in tariffs expire in some states, and households look to other options such as battery storage and electric vehicles, or even going off grid, roof space is also at a premium.
This is the argument put forward by leading solar panel makers who say that high efficiency solar panels are going to play a critical role as roof space becomes a primary asset for pro-sumers, homes and businesses looking to generate enough power to satisfy their electricity and even their transport needs.
Over the past 7 years, since the solar boom took off in Australia in earnest, the efficiency and the output of solar panels has nearly doubled. Many of the first solar modules on Australian rooftops had a rated output of just 160w.
In recent years, the common output has been 260W or 270W. Now the leading manufacturers are producing modules with 310W, 315W and 320W, and over the next 12 months are looking to release 360W and even 400W units.
The drive in efficiency is being driven by technology known as PERC, and “bifacial” panels, which means they can generate electricity even from sunlight reflected from the roof on to the back of the panel.
The efficiency of the panel is becoming one of the biggest factors as manufacturers try to differentiate themselves on quality, and as the industry faces new round of intense competition and rationalisation in the market.
Those at the “premium” end are concerned that cheaper, less efficient panels will be dumped on the market by struggling second and third tier manufacturers.
“With the market contracting panel manufacturers are pushing to differentiate themselves, those with the technology will survive the glut,” says Blair Pester, the head of Australian sales at Taiwanese solar manufacturer Winaico.
Pester says efficiency, and not lower cost, is the new focus. This graph above shows the huge shift in producing from th standard cells dominated by Chinese manufacturers to the new high efficiency cells coming on to the market.
He says it is a factor, not just of the needs of the battery storage market, but also the shifting from being a utility market to a residential and commercial market.
Why is this important? According to Markus Lambert, the national sales manager for LG Solar, the roof space on homes will be an important asset to combat climate change because residents will have solar on their roof to charge the battery system for their home electricity consumption and their electric cars.
“Despite the fact that world leaders have been slow to act possibly due to self-interest by influential industries like coal and mining, the day is rapidly approaching when politicians will be forced to act.
“One of the quickest and easiest ways for them to act on climate change will be to move from fossil fuelled cars to electric cars in the next 5-8 years. It will only make a CO2 difference if the power for these electric cars is gained through renewable energy, otherwise they would just be shifting from oil to coal powered electricity.
“Most people would need a range of around 80 -100 km per day for their electric car, and using the current electric car as an example that would need a minimum of 12kWh charge to travel this distance.
“So, most homes, especially the ones with 2 cars would need to generate at least 24KWh for the cars and they would also aim to get a further 20-25kWh for use in their home.
“In the near future people will are likely to have battery storage charged by their solar system during the day which would then recharge their cars at night. Many people may actually choose to be disconnected from the grid or operate within micro grids.
“So, if we add up the minimum energy requirements with a comfortable buffer for cloudy days etc. we would need a solar system that can generate at least 50kWh per day.”
Lambert says that to create 50kWh would need a 10-14kW solar system, depending on the location in Australia. But the current standard of 250 – 270W panels will not allow such a big system to be installed on many local roofs.
“So by choosing the highest output panel today, the customer will be preserving valuable roof space for future expansion. It’s a bit like buying a more expensive upgradable computer, rather than a cheaper one that becomes obsolete, the next time Windows does an update.”
LG is currently offering a 320W NeOn2 and in the first quarter of next year will launch a new step forward which is their 60 cell – 365W – NeON R. This is being accompanied by a new generation of micro inverters under development right now would also allow you to add 350W or even 400W panels in the future.
LG is also releasing its new battery storage products, a range of 3.3kWh, 6.8kWh. and 9.8kWh models which will increase options for households, depending on their consumption patterns and solar system.
“Very shortly, thanks to the new high efficient panels coming to the market, and the improved battery technology it will be a feasible proposition in 2017 to go solar, storage and electric car and completely leave the grid behind,” Lambert says.
“The future energy revolution is much closer than many people imagine. So get an efficient panel now and save your valuable roof space, for future system and battery expansion.”