Despite the high rate of adoption for photovoltaic (PV) solar panels in Australia, a new study has found most households are not getting the most from their residential installation.
Over two million households, or more than 20 per cent of homes in Australia, now have PV systems installed.
However, there are still a number of challenges to overcome and some of these problems can be attributed to the electricity industry, according to University of South Australia (UniSA) solar researcher, Kirrilie Rowe.
“One key problem currently facing home PV stems from the discrepancy between the times of peak use and peak production,” Rowe said.
“Solar panels on residential dwellings are typically installed facing the equator to maximise the energy collected, but the power generated by an equator-facing panel peaks at around midday, whereas residential loads typically have peaks in the morning and afternoon.”
Under the current ‘feed-in tariff’ model, households are paid for excess electricity they send to the grid, but as the number of homes producing electricity increases, the viability of exporting to the grid is reduced.
“In some markets at certain times we’re already seeing over-supply during peak production times, which can cause grid instability and is leading to reductions in feed-in tariffs,” Rowe said.
“The real challenge now facing the solar industry is finding ways to balance production and consumption by maximising self-consumption for the solar panel owner.”
One solution is to rethink the orientation of rooftop solar panels to match production to patterns of consumption, even if that means a slight reduction in overall energy generation.
“Traditionally, PV panels are mounted facing the equator as this creates more energy per square metre of PV panels, but this orientation does not necessarily maximise use prior to excess energy being exported to the wider grid,” she said.
“By orienting panels in different directions rather than just facing the equator, it’s possible to minimise the shortfall between load and generation.
“This benefits the end-user by decreasing the amount of electricity required to be imported, and the stability of the grid by decreasing the amount of variability between peak and low loads.”
A recent study by Rowe and Associate Professor Peter Pudney calculated the optimal self-consumption panel orientations for a community of 29 individual dwellings and a residential building with 42 apartments in Australia.
“Our analysis uses detailed load data and detailed irradiance data and shows that optimal panel placement for self-consumption is never towards the equator,” Rowe said.
“In both cases, if the panel area is small enough so that the household will not export, then facing the panel north is best. But as panel area increases, it becomes better to face the panels facing north-west to meet the afternoon loads, and if even more panel area is available then panels should be faced north-east and west.”
Over the next few years solar uptake will increase, feed-in tariffs will fall and the cost of solar batteries will not be as prohibitive as they are today, that is when the real value of solar self-consumption will rise.
The strategy developed by Rowe and Professor Pudney offers a simple approach to improving self-consumption without increasing set-up costs on new PV systems, and the method could also be easily adopted for those seeking to remodel existing systems.
“The information on how to orient solar panels to minimise power shortfall is useful to groups developing housing precincts and has been used to design a renewable energy system for a retirement village with 24 dwellings; future work will incorporate energy storage into the model,” Rowe said.
Just last week, Andrés Gluski, the CEO of Fortune 500 company, AES, said it is time to rethink the way solar installations are undertaken.
He said the focus should be on increasing solar generation while using less space.
The AES Corporation has invested in Australian clean energy company, 5B, to accelerate the rollout of the Maverick solution.
5B developed the Maverick solution, platform and ecosystem claiming it will drastically reduce the cost of solar.
AES is in the power business with over 35 gigawatts (GW) of power generation under operation globally.
As part of the strategic partnership, Maverick solutions will be delivered to AES projects across the globe.
The Maverick solution is 5B’s flagship offering - a modular, plug & play solar solution which is pre-fabricated in a factory and rapidly deployed onsite - streamlining the delivery of solar projects.
Gluski said solar is the most abundant clean energy source in the world, and 5B’s innovative design produces twice the energy for any given area.
“In addition, a project using 5B’s technology can be built in a third of the time when compared with conventional solar,” he said.
“These significant advantages will help us meet our customers growing needs in today’s everchanging environment”