Solar inverter efficiency – how much does it matter?

It’s almost human nature to assume anything above 95% is excellent – and, it is. However over the lifetime of your solar inverter, the difference from 98% to 97% can reveal itself on your power bills. 

Efficiency is a critical specification, that is directly correlated to the production of your system, before you can utilize those solar rays in the form of AC power, an inverter must convert it, and although the core principals remain the same despite using alternative solutions such as a micro-inverter, the power must be converted. So, the higher the efficiency is, the more kilowatt-hours can be created. Simply put this may seem to be  the perfect number, the closer to 100% the better, however it isn’t always.

Solar Inverter Efficiency isn’t as simple as it looks 

Typically there will be two figures when it comes to efficiency, these will be maximum efficiency and European efficiency. European efficiency is the more reliable figure as it outlines average performance, as opposed to the highest level of efficiency possible. Unavailable to us are efficiency figures for Australia, as Europe is very different in terms of conditions, but that is not possible. This leaves us in Australia will slightly less accuracy, however, they are the best indicator available. 

What do the numbers look like?

For the purpose of this article we won’t delve too much into the other possible types of inverters, such as Hybrids or Off Grid, we will focus on the String inverters which are the most common solution. Micro inverters won’t be as efficient as string converters, so they haven’t been included below.

Popular brands for Australian solar panel systems are,

A few of the relevant scores are below, all for a 5kW Inverter,

  • Fronius Primo  5.01-1 : 97.1%
  • SMA Sunnyboy : 96.5%
  • Delta Home Series : 97.5%

Assuming these are used for a 6.6kW system, which is a popular option for larger households, the difference between a SMA and Delta inverter represents a meager 1%. If we translate that to production numbers on the Gold Coast, the difference between using a 96.5% inverter, vs a 97.5% inverter is 96kW in a year – over 10 years let’s say, that makes up a 960kW difference, or in dollars $199.3 over a 10 year span. 

Now these numbers are very far from perfect, they don’t account for a number of factors, and assume all other aspects of your solar panel system maintain in perfect working order for the next 10 years. However, it does show that it does make a difference, not only in production but in the money you spend. 

What else is important in an inverter?

While $200 Is nothing to scoff at, it’s hardly a game changer. There are many other factors that play into installers and consumers’ minds, namely how durable an inverter is. This is a tradeoff, as to increase efficiency, some short cuts may be made in durability, such as effective cooling within the inverters. Removing this, therefore removes the required energy to cool the inverter, resulting in marginally higher efficiency. 

Manufacturers will have warranties associated with their inverters which can provide some insight into the tradeoff. 10 years is considered a minimum for a lifespan, with warranties ranging to around 12 years on the high end. The higher the warranty, the more confident consumers can be in the longevity of their choice. 

When working with a solar installer, it is important to discuss most important factors to yourself. Get them to explain why they have made particular choices for equipment, as there is never a correct answer, only a choice that applies better to some circumstances. 

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Tesla Solar Inverter – first looks!

After an unprecedented 2020, Tesla have been busy in the background and this week have announced the launch of a new solar inverter.

An inverter is an important part of any solar system – it’s used to convert DC power (generated by your solar panels) into AC power (i.e. usable for grid export or usage in the home). For Tesla to dip their toe in this end of the market shows an interesting insight into their overall strategy to help manage renewable energy as widely as possible. Their website has a bit of a spiel about the product:

“Tesla Solar Inverter completes the Tesla home solar system, converting DC power from solar to AC power for home consumption. Tesla’s renowned expertise in power electronics has been combined with robust safety features and a simple installation process to produce an outstanding solar inverter that is compatible with both Solar Roof and traditional solar panels. Once installed, homeowners use the Tesla app to manage their solar system and monitor energy consumption, resulting in a truly unique ecosystem experience.”

Tesla Solar Inverter
Tesla Solar Inverter (source: Tesla.com)

Can I buy the inverter in Australia?

You can’t actually view the Tesla Solar Inverter page on the official Australia Tesla website yet (it just 404‘s) – but according to their press release “(the inverter) completes the Tesla home solar system”. You can use the American link which will show you the (fairly utilitarian) details they are currently providing.

So you still can’t get this in Australia but we’ll keep you posted as soon as there’s any information. Tesla are very US focused so hopefully they bring the party to Australia sooner rather than later! And on that note, no news yet on the Tesla Powerwall 3 but we’re still waiting with bated breath. The site for the new inverter notes that it’s “built on Powerwall 2 technology for exceptional efficiency and reliability” so maybe we are a ways off yet?

Tesla Solar Inverter Specifications

The product 660mm high and 411mm wide. It’s available in two configurations, depending on how many solar panels you have on your roof – 3.8 kW and 7.8 kW.

The new inverter will be compatible with ‘standard’ solar panels as well as integrating seamlessly with the Tesla Solar Roof.

A warranty is available for the product and will be a strangely chosen 12.5 years. Haven’t seen a half year in a warranty in a while!

The product will also feature Wi-Fi, Ethernet and cellular connectivity with OTA (over the air) updates, and has been “designed to integrate with Tesla Powerwall and Tesla app”. Matching inverters, batteries and panels can be quite the mission if you’re looking to get the best result so it’s nice to see Tesla working hard to offer more of a ‘full stack’ approach to renewable energy (not just solar power either!).

Lastly, it has 4 MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) controllers. Most inverters have two so it’ll be interesting to see what we’re in for with the Tesla Solar Home lineup!

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How to Incorporate Solar Into Your Business’s Sustainability Strategy 

How to Incorporate Solar Into Your Business’s Sustainability Strategy 

Australian businesses are more united than ever in the fight against climate change, with 96 percent of companies backing the government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050, according to a survey by the Carbon Market Institute. Businesses contribute more than their fair share to greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s only fair that they be on the front line in the fight against environmental degradation. One of the best ways that you can reduce your business’s carbon footprint is by incorporating solar into your sustainability strategy. Solar energy has become a promising option in Australia as a result of falling prices and its availability in most parts of the country. However, being a costly and long-term investment, you need to come up with a well-thought-out plan on how to deploy solar power effectively. 

Start with an energy and waste audit 

An energy audit should be your first step before making any energy-saving improvements in your business, as well as before adding a solar power system to your business. An energy audit will help you gain a clear picture of how you use energy in your business; the total amount of energy you use, the amount of energy you waste, the areas where your business is losing energy, and the problem areas and fixes that need to be prioritised to make your business more energy efficient.

Knowing your energy requirements, you’ll have a good idea of the number of solar panels and batteries you need. While performing your energy audit, it’s also important to find out if there are other ways that your business is being wasteful or destructive to the environment. For example, all your efforts to install a solar power system may be futile if you are still contributing heaps of plastic waste to landfills. You can look for ways of minimising plastic waste in your business such as banning single-use plastics, encouraging homemade lunches, and promoting a recycling culture in your workplace. 

Work out your finances 

Solar power can be a costly investment, and your ability to deploy will depend on various factors unique to your business; availability of discretionary cash, size of the system, and your desire for fast, dramatic energy cost savings. If the cash is available, purchasing the solar power system outright is the best option since cash deals usually have a higher return on investment. However, cash deals require an upfront capital investment that may not be feasible for all businesses.

The good thing about solar energy is that it’s remarkably scalable. You can start small with a solar array that only contributes a fraction of your total energy requirements and build it out over time to cater for all your electrical needs. As you analyse your finances, don’t forget to factor in the incentives offered by the government. For example, if you are generating more power than you need, you can qualify for a feed-in tariff that pays you a sum of money for feeding energy back into the electricity grid. 

Determine how to deploy your solar power system 

You have various options on how to deploy your solar power system. The most popular option is installing solar panels on the roof of your business premises. If your property is not ideal for rooftop solar, you can install a ground-mounted solar power system instead. Another option that is slowly gaining traction in Australia is solar roof tiles, where you replace traditional roofing tiles with photovoltaic shingles that look and function like conventional roof tiles but have energy-producing capabilities. 

Switching to solar energy is not only good for the environment but also for your business’s bottom line. Businesses can save thousands of dollars annually in energy costs by switching to solar energy. On top of that, businesses that take sustainability seriously are gaining a competitive advantage over those who don’t as more consumers become eco-conscious. 

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Solar Carport for the Tesla Cybertruck?

Australian Startup Poised To Solve Problems For Tesla Cybertruck With Unique Solar Carport

The Tesla Cybertruck has received nearly 150,000 pre-orders, despite its widely-mocked launch. With production set to begin in 2021, the Cybertruck has been widely criticised by skeptics, not least because of its unconventional form, which is incompatible with other truck parts and is unlikely to fit in a standard garage or parking space. Tesla is no stranger to bumps in the road, however, and already creative thinkers are beginning to navigate the issue. At the forefront is Iron Matrix, an Australian startup focused on clean energy buildings. 

A Solar Carport Fit For A Cybertruck

Iron Matrix has unveiled plans for a solar-panelled carport to go alongside its solar construction to support life off-grid, which has recently been patented. The company’s founder and CEO, David Morgan, thought up a straightforward design using bolted steel construction techniques to produce a shelter for the Cybertruck that generates energy. Solar carports have proven successful in other areas, supplying energy to entire businesses and generating their own income in addition to charging the electric vehicles they shelter. Morgan plans to target the Californian market, and the Cybertruck-friendly solar port has been granted a tech patent in the USA. The design plans for the port suggest that the invention will be capable of powering the Cybertruck for approximately 100km per charge.

Charge Anywhere

What’s really special about Iron Matrix’s design is that the port is to be flat-pack, with each steel piece able to fit into the Cybertruck for easy transportation, allowing you to construct the port and charge the vehicle wherever you are. The design takes a fundamental problem with the Cybertruck’s design and turns it into an advantage: the garage space travels with you. “All of a sudden that Cybertruck sounds like a fantastic idea,” said Morgan, whose patent for the solar construction method allows Iron Matrix buildings to be built anywhere – cranes, footings and scaffolding are not needed due to the specialised joint connections used.

Power For 100km A Day

The Cybertruck will require a significant amount of energy to charge, but Morgan estimates that the solar carport will be capable of outputting approximately 30kWh per day. He says the port will get a standard electric vehicle about 150km a day, and the Cybertruck roughly 100km a day. The idea is that the truck could be left to charge for a few days while you take the weekend to live off-grid. The Iron Matrix system was inspired by the falling cost of lithium batteries, which can now “deliver a kilowatt hour for half the price of the grid,” said Morgan. The Cybertruck carport can already be ordered: production of the steel began in October 2019 and became publicly available once Iron Matrix received its patent.

There is international competition for Iron Matrix though: Lars Büro, a design and research agency in New York has unveiled a ‘Cyberbunker’ designed to solve the same problem for Tesla’s Cybertruck. Iron Matrix’s unique system of solar charging, however, is sure to keep it a step ahead of its competitors.

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Australia’s wineries go green using solar energy

Australia’s wineries go green using solar energy

More Australian wineries are turning to the sun, making the switch to solar power to help in wine production. Driven by rising costs of electricity from non-renewable sources, lower costs of solar power installation, and the potential benefits of producing own power, many wineries haven taken the bold step of investing in more renewable sources. By utilising solar energy for growing grapes and producing wines, wineries in Australia can both save on major costs and reduce their overall carbon footprint.

Photo by Mariana Proença on Unsplash

Electricity is the biggest expense in wine production

For most wineries in Australia, electricity is their largest expense item in the production of their wines. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates that around 40% of expenditures of wineries go towards electricity, whilst the South Australian Wine Industry Association (SAWIA) says that refrigeration eats up 50-70% of total power costs. Thus, it is no surprise that vineyards look for ways to reduce energy expenses.

Investing in renewable sources makes sense that will drive electricity expenditures down, lower overhead costs, and improve margins. For producers of quality Australian red wines, solar power not only reduces energy costs, but also maximises commercial roof space and reaffirms their commitment to a lower carbon footprint.

Incentive to attract investments in solar power

Solar power adoption surged in Australia in 2008, and even though costs of materials and installation were high, government incentives were also widely available until 2011. Between 2011-14, the prices of solar systems fell. From 2014 to present, there is relative stability in the solar system industry. Photovoltaic (PV) system prices are down significantly and there are existing incentive schemes for solar panels and batteries that are offered at state level, making investments in the area still attractive.

For 2020, interest-free loans up to $9,000 for a solar battery and $14,000 for a solar PV and battery storage system for households with an annual income of $180,000 or less are available. Under the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme, both households and smalls business in Australia that install small-scale renewable energy systems may be eligible for assistance to help with the purchase cost. Eligible participants may be entitled to small-scale technology certificates which can be sold to recoup a part of the purchase and installation cost.

Wineries adopt renewable power sources

An independent report produced by AgEconPlus revealed a 13% increase in the economic contribution of the wine industry since 2015 or an increase of roughly 3% per year. Strong wine exports are largely responsible for recovery in the wine sector. But, the competition is tough and the over 2,000 wineries in Australia have to stay competitive.

In fact, wineries were some of the earliest adopters of solar energy, with dozens in South Australia harnessing solar energy for wine production. Some wineries that have in excess of 100kW solar systems include D’Arenberg, Wirra Wirra, Sidewood, and Peter Lehmann. Recently, Pernod Ricard has become the first large wine company in the country to achieve 100% renewable electricity with the completion of Australia’s biggest combined winery solar installation. According to the winery’s chief operations officer, Brett McKinnon, “being sustainable and responsible is an important part of their business and they want to reduce their impact on the communities where they operate”.

Australian wineries recognise the opportunities to tap into solar energy and enjoy the cost-saving and environmental benefits. Using renewable sources not only lowers electricity costs, but also fulfils a company’s global-minded goals.

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