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Five most commonly asked questions homeowners ask about solar power

By Kristy Hoare of My Solar Quotes

Residential solar power systems are still a relatively new type of household expenditure in New Zealand, and I regularly get asked questions that I thought would be worth sharing the answers to. Below you will find 5 commonly asked questions about home solar power, and my best attempt to answer them.

The most popular question; how much does solar cost?

The more solar panels you put on your roof, the more the system will cost you. It also depends on the type of roof you have, tile roofs will cost more than metal roofs because there is more mounting gear and labour involved. New Zealanders go for the common system size of 5.5kW, which produces about the same amount of power in a year that the average New Zealand home uses. However, this system will not necessarily eliminate your electricity bill, but I’ll explain that later. On todays prices, a 5.5kW system goes for around $20,000 to $23,000, starting at $7,500 for a 1.5kW system.

What size should I install?

Prior to Meridian making changes to their buy back price of grid connected solar power, working out how big your system needed to be was simple. It was roughly working out how much power in a year that the household uses and matching it with a system that produces roughly the same amount. It wouldn’t hurt to get a little more if you wanted your line charges to be covered by the credits you earned from exporting power. 

Meridian at one time did have a one to one pricing arrangement, where if the price you were charged for power was 28 cents per unit, then every unit that you exported was 28 cents. This pricing has changed to 25 cents for the first 5 units (or kWh) that you export in a day, and then 10 cents for every other unit. Although this new arrangement comes with a benefit of being able to guarantee those prices for a few years, by signing up to this deal you lose the prompt payment discount around $220.

This arrangement works out well if you are using most of your power that you are producing, businesses or people working from home would fit into this category. But if you are like the common New Zealand household, who uses the majority of their power during the morning and evenings, or are at work during the day or just don’t use much power between 10am and 4pm, then you are better off having a smaller system that doesn’t export that much power. Therefore, if you fit the category of the average New Zealand home, then you might want to go with a system a bit smaller than a 5.5kW, so maybe a 3kW or 4kW.

Contact Energy have an arrangement where they buy all of your power exported to the grid at 17.5 cents per unit, so again, you should try to use all of the power the system produces, or maybe go with a slightly smaller system.

Both Meridian and Contact Energy will restrict you to their pricing agreements to system sizes of 10kW or less, unless an individual agreement has been reached.

How long will it take to get installed?

From the time you sign up with a solar power company to the time it is installed, it generally takes between four and eight weeks. The reason why it can take a while is because most councils require building consent. All grid-connected systems require you to get approval from your local lines companies. Once you have the lines approval, you can apply for an export meter to be installed. It is not until you have this export meter that you are officially allowed to turn on the system. This is the last part of the process (often the longest) and can take up to 30 working days.

Don’t worry if this process sounds daunting, most solar power companies will at the very least will tell you what steps you need to take and how to fill out the forms, if not, they may just do it all for you.

Is it easy to scale up the system size in the future?

You can add more panels onto your system at a later date. If you think this is something you would want to do, let the solar power company you are buying a system from know, as they can pick a larger inverter for you that allows for more panels to be added in the future. Otherwise you will essentially have to add another system, which can be done but of course will cost more.


Should I pick Meridian or Contact Energy as my energy retailer?

If you don’t use much power during the day, and you install a 3kW system size or less, it will probably be best to be on Meridians pricing arrangement. If you go for a system larger than 3kW then you will be better off with Contact Energy. If you are expecting to use most of your power when it is created (during the day) then it won’t make much difference as to which one you pick.

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