That big ol’ ball of gas in the sky is useful for more than just giving you some sweet tan lines – it’s also an excellent source of energy. Significantly better for the environment than conventional sources of electricity, solar power has steadily become a more feasible option for conscientious energy customers across Australia. As the price of solar energy continues to drop in line with advances in technology, it’s important to review your entire utilities setup on a regular basis, to ensure that your current retailer is the most suited to your needs, lifestyle and budget.

However, there are many things you should know before making the switch to solar power. Read on to discover how it all works, the benefits of going green and what you need to do to make the transition to solar energy.

How does solar power work?

In case you weren’t at school for that particular science lesson, solar power systems harness energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. As Geoscience Australia explained, there are two primary solar energy technologies used in Australia:

  • Solar thermal: Takes sunlight and turns it into thermal energy, which is then used for heating or producing electricity via steam and turbines. This type of energy generation is typically reserved for large-scale systems.
  • Solar photovoltaic (PV): Converts solar radiation into electricity through PV panels, which can be installed on a variety of different surface types. Solar PV systems can be augmented with mirrors and lenses in larger systems to boost generation.

Naturally, the effectiveness of these technologies is entirely dependent on the weather. However, as you probably know all too well, that isn’t too much of an issue in Australia.

While climates do vary between regions, by and large, the country is a fairly sunny place. In fact, Australia receives enough solar radiation per year to power the entire country 10,000 times over, according to figures collated by Geoscience Australia.

How common is solar energy in Australia?

Australians are slowly warming to the idea of solar energy. As of October 2015, around 1.5 million households up and down the country were equipped with solar PV installations, according to the Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA). It’s estimated that total PV capacity in Australia will reach 5,000 megawatts during the second quarter of 2016.

As renewable energy continues to play an important role in Australia’s electricity production, Australians are taking steps to take charge of their utilities bills and save cash in the long run with solar. That means that many are happy to pay the (sometimes) significant upfront costs to install panels in their home.

Regardless of the costs involved, the majority of Australians believe that solar power is the way of the future. The Australia Institute found that around 90 per cent of people rate it among their top three energy sources of choice, making solar a far more popular choice than less clean alternatives such as coal (35 per cent) and coal seam gas (38 per cent).

It appears as though the future may be powered by the sun, but what exactly are the benefits of solar energy, and how might they impact you as an electricity customer?

Understanding the advantages of solar energy

It goes without saying that solar energy is substantially better for the environment than conventional sources of electricity. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimising the country’s fossil fuel dependency are critical targets for Australia and countries around the world, and it’s likely that solar and other renewable sources will play a key role in meeting these objectives.

A cleaner, greener environment is better for everyone, but perhaps more noticeable – at least in the short term – is the impact moving to solar energy will have on your power bill. In fact, as the Climate Council noted, electricity customers in some parts of the country are already able to recoup the initial up-front costs involved with investing in PV within seven years.

Considering that such systems have a 20-year life expectancy, you could potentially enjoy 13 years of free electricity. Before switching electricity providers or moving to solar energy, be sure to weigh up the costs involved to identify which option is best suited to your specific household.

Are you eligible for a solar energy rebate?

In addition to saving the planet and improving your power bill, state governments may have rebates in place to further incentivise electricity customers to move to solar power. According to the Clean Energy Regulator, you could be entitled to such a concession if your small-scale renewable energy system:

  • Is in line Australian and New Zealand standards
  • Complies will all applicable laws and regulations
  • Was installed within the last year of the creation of its certificates
  • Was designed and installed by a professional accredited by the Clean Energy Council

The exact amount of money you could be entitled to could vary depending on where you live.