How to install solar panels

G Magazine

Australia has plenty of sun, so how do you harness solar energy for your home?

solar panels

Credit: iStockphoto

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In Australia's climate, the sun is often hot enough to fry eggs. But why stop at breakfast? Capturing the rays with solar panels can provide enough electricity to take care of lunch and dinner, and all the activities in between.

Sunlight is entirely free and, most importantly, extracting it for your daily use has a low impact on the planet - a lot lower than many other methods. But there is a cost in purchasing and maintaining equipment to capture the sun's energy.

Solar panels (or photovoltaic cells) are mostly made of individual silicon crystal cells wired together to generate DC electricity when they are struck by light energy. The more sunlight that hits them, the more electricity they produce.

Typically, panels are between 12 and 17 per cent efficient - which doesn't sound like much, but is a great improvement on the 3 to 3 per cent efficiency of the 1970s.

Solar panels are the much talked about 'clean energy' technology … but what do you need to know before installing them?

The basic system

A solar cell can only generate electricity; it cannot store it for later use (such as when the sun is not shining).

With a simple system, you can use the electricity to run a DC electric appliance, like a fan to ventilate a car or hot shed, while the sunlight hits the cell.

Your roof is a good location for solar panels, but it can be installed anywhere that receives sunlight.

If you have basic DC electricity knowledge, and can use a soldering iron or crimping tool - and don't mind hanging out on the roof - you can install a system like this in a few hours.

There are no rebates for this type of system, but set-up and maintenance costs are generally low, and the cells are very robust, boasting a life of about 40 years.

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