Solar is becoming increasingly popular thanks to financial incentives and potential savings

Solar panels are becoming a
Solar panels are becoming a "must-have" for people looking to lower their electricity bills. Image: Elesa Kurtz.

MORE people across Western NSW are looking to solar power to help reduce household bills.

While communities across the Central and Far West continue to fight against large scale solar farms taking up prime agricultural land, it appears solar panels in their own backyard aren't seen as such an issue.

Mudgee and Gulgong had solar farm developments rejected this year, while Bathurst is still in the middle of a debate regarding a proposed solar farm at Glanmire following similar proposals at Brewongle and Eglinton.

Yet solar panels on residential roofs appears to be an acceptable option and one that many Western NSW residents are taking up with a reported 17 per cent of NSW homes now having solar panels installed, up from 9 per cent five years ago.

Despite the impacts of COVID-19, the amount of household installations across the region has increased, thanks in part to a range of financial incentives available for people looking to take up solar.

Solar system installs (below 100kW) across Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange have spiked over the past three years. Image: Australian PV Institute

Solar system installs (below 100kW) across Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange have spiked over the past three years. Image: Australian PV Institute

In the nine months from January to September 2020, Dubbo had the highest rate of solar installs with 533, followed closely by Orange on 531 and Bathurst on 468.

Director of Western Plains Electrical & Solar, Ben Gemmell, said that people working from home because of COVID-19 may have actually increased demand for solar in homes across the region.

"In the last few months we have certainly been receiving a lot of enquiries," he said.

"A decent solar system will definitely save you money in the long run.

"The most popular sized systems around the region are probably your 5kW to 6.6 kW based on their energy yields and value for money.

"It's important to get someone to look at what is best suited to your household based on things like your electricity bills, the size of your roof and what the maximum system size network providers like Essential Energy will allow you to install.

Since 2007, the most popular systems installed across Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange range between 4.5kW to 9.5kw. Image: Australian PV Institute.

Since 2007, the most popular systems installed across Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange range between 4.5kW to 9.5kw. Image: Australian PV Institute.

While batteries are a way around the system limits, Ben said they are still probably too expensive for the average user.

"Batteries will eventually come down in price," he said.

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"Until then the best idea is to get a good system set up now and save money on your power bills, then upgrade later when batteries become more affordable."

Robert Biviano, owner of Central West Solar, agreed saying batteries will come down in price just like solar systems have.

"Batteries aren't cost effective for a lot of people just yet, but neither were solar panels originally," he said.

Central West Solar owner, Robert Biviano, said that households need to look at a specific solar system for their individual needs. Image: Jude Keogh.

Central West Solar owner, Robert Biviano, said that households need to look at a specific solar system for their individual needs. Image: Jude Keogh.

"Solar has become very affordable and there is a lot of financial support available for those looking to install one at home.

"A lot of companies are providing finance for systems that you can pay off of 36 or 48 months and there is also the Government's STC rebates which will continue through until 2030 at a diminishing rate each year.

The NSW Government also implemented the Empowering Homes program in 2020 which offers interest-free loans of up to $14,000 for solar battery systems, and up to $9,000 for adding batteries to existing solar PV systems.

The Empowering Homes programs covers Local Government Area's (LGA's) including Bathurst, Blayney, Orange, Oberon, Lithgow and the surrounding regions.

Mr Biviano said that potential savings for each household would depend on individual circumstances but there was a major focus on providers.

"What people save really does depend on the size of their solar system, when the use electricity, whether they have battery back up," he said.

"A major factor is who your electricity provider is because the feed in tariffs and buy back limits have a big influence on exactly what financial return you receive."

Forecasts from the Australian Energy Market Commission's (AEMC's) latest electricity price projections expect NSW households to pay about $30 less in 2023 than they currently do based on supply costs, however the closure of the NSW Liddell coal-fired power station could add up to $100 a year to average household electricity bills from 2022, negating any savings.

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This story Affordable solar is on the rise with more homes looking to renewable energy first appeared on Western Advocate.