If you’re currently in the market for a solar PV system, you’re aware of how much a solar system can improve your home and how quickly they can pay for themselves. Now that you’ve decided on a solar system, only one big question remains, how exactly does the solar panel installation process work?
The solar panel and inverter installation process first involves any necessary approvals from your council or energy network operator. After that, the physical installation process is mounting the panels and inverter, connecting them together and having them connected to your home electrical system.
Approval requirements – including whether you need local council approval or a building permit for solar panels – will vary depending on your state and region. Your solar installer or retailer will be able to advise you on what’s required in your local area.
No matter what solar panel or solar inverter brand you have, the same simple steps for installing them are the same. If you want to find out more, don’t worry! We’ve got everything you’ll ever need to know about solar panel and inverter installation right here.
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What Do I Need to Do Before Solar Panels Are Installed?
To install a solar PV system, you’ll need to start by getting the right approvals. This may include local council approval, a building permit and/or approval from your energy network operator. Your accredited solar installer can assist with meeting all these requirements.
Do I Need a Building Permit to Install Solar Panels?
Building permit requirements to install solar panels will vary depending on your State or Territory, region, and the type of property. The best way to find out if you need a building permit for your solar panel installation is to consult with your solar installer.
A building permit is required for some solar PV installations for the following reasons
- Weatherproofing – This is particularly important for areas that see strong weather conditions, like cyclonic winds. The installation of rooftop solar panels may be a risk to the public as strong winds may send the panels flying.
- Roof Size – This directly affects how close to the edge, how large, and how many solar panels your house is permitted to hold.
- Heritage Listed Buildings – If the structure is a registered heritage building, then significant structural work such as solar installation will require a building permit and/or council approval.
Do I Need a Building Permit to Install Solar Panels in Western Australia?
In most regions of Western Australia, a building permit isn’t required to install solar panels on a detached or semi-detached residential property. However, building permits may be required in coastal areas subject to cyclonic winds, as well as other types of buildings like commercial solar installation.
In Western Australia, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety oversees the building permit requirements for solar panels, which is provided for under the Building Act 2011 and Building Regulations 2012 in WA.
Since Western Australia requires a building permit to add, assemble or alter part of a building or incidental structure, this means permits are required to install solar panels if not eligible for exemption criteria.
The key exemptions include:
- Installing solar panels on Class 1 or Class 10a buildings outside designated cyclonic wind zones
- Installing solar panels in certain regional areas where building permits aren’t required for this nature of work
Many detached houses, townhomes and other semi-detached dwellings (Class 1) qualify for exemptions in Western Australia, meaning a building permit is not required to install a solar PV system. The exemption also includes non-residential buildings like garages, carports and sheds (Class 10a). However, for other types of property – like unit blocks and commercial buildings – a building permit will be required.
Residents in coastal areas of Western Australia are also more likely to live in a cyclonic wind zone and require a building permit. Since Perth is located in wind zone A, building permits are not typically required to install solar panels or a solar hot water system in detached homes.
In addition to the permit, solar panels are required to comply with the current building standards for safety purposes. Solar panels must be wind-resistant, securely fixed, and also meet applicable building standards. If a building permit is required, then a registered building surveyor will issue a Certificate of Design Compliance (CDC) to confirm compliance.
Keep in mind that solar installers are not required to be registered builders for the construction of an incidental structure (such as solar panels). However, if the installation of the panels includes other associated building works that serve as prerequisite for the solar panel installation (such as structural strengthening for the roof) then a registered builder will be required, along with a separate building permit for that component.
Energy Network Operator Approval for Solar Panels in WA
In Western Australia, you’ll need approval from your energy network operator to install a solar PV system. This will be either Western Power (south-west WA) or Horizon Power (the rest of WA).
Before you install solar panels in WA, you or your solar installer need to follow these steps:
- Submit an application to your energy retailer (if located in Western Power region)
- Apply for technical approval from Western Power or Horizon Power
- Provide preliminary notice to Western Power or Horizon Power within 3 days prior to installation
You’ll need to meet capacity limits to get approval for your grid-connected solar installation.
Capacity limits for grid-connected solar in Western Australia:
|Western Power||Horizon Power|
|Single phase||Inverter limit||5 kW||10 kW|
|Export limit||5 kW||5 kW|
|Three phase||Inverter limit||30 kW||30 kW|
|Export limit||30 kW||15 kW|
Note that battery inverters do not count towards the inverter limit.
Western Power has noted that 30KW is rarely approved, while 8 to 22 kW is the range typically approved.
Horizon Power has noted that the approvals process is stricter in rural areas of Western Australia.
What Is the Solar PV System Installation Process?
The installation of a solar PV system involves everything from the installation of the mounting system all the way to the electrical wiring and solar inverter grid connection.
The process may differ slightly depending on the type, exact model, and the number of solar panels, solar batteries, and solar inverters. Below is the general step-by-step process:
- Mount Installation – The solar panels will not stay firmly on the roof without a mounting system. Depending on the exact requirements, the mounts can either be roof-ground mounts or flush mounts. The mount serves as the foundation or the base structure that will provide support and keep the panel in place.
Just be aware that there are many different solar panel configurations, so you’ll need to make sure that the solar panel array you choose will fit across your roof, then choose the solar inverter size to match the capacity required for your home.
- Solar Panel Installation – Each panel is placed on its mount and affixed by tightening a series of nuts and bolts to ensure it can withstand wild weather. After all the panels are placed, they are checked individually to ensure that they are installed properly and have no wiggle room.
- Setting Up the Electrical Wirings – Setting up the wires can either be a quick or long process. This will depend on how the wires were routed from the panels into the house and how complex the integration is with the house’s existing electrical system.
It is common to see universal connectors such as MC4 used during this step, as they are compatible with all types of solar panels. They can be electrically connected via a Serial Connection or a Parallel Connection.
- System Connection to the Solar Inverter – The positive wire of the solar panels should be connected to the positive terminal of the solar inverter, while the negative wire goes to the negative terminal of the same inverter.
After the connections have been made and checked, the solar inverter will then be connected to both the solar batteries and the grid input to enable the production of electricity.
- Solar Inverter Connection to the Solar Batteries – It is then time to connect the solar inverter to the solar battery. Remember that the battery’s positive terminal is always associated with the positive and negative terminal of the solar inverter. Solar batteries are generally used in off-grid solar PV systems to store backup electricity, as well as to provide general battery storage to power the home at night.
- Solar Inverter to Grid Connection – For grid-connected solar, a regular plug may be used to connect to the main power switchboard. An output wire is then connected with an electric board which will supply electricity to the building.
- Smart Meter Installation or Reconfiguration – If your property still has a traditional accumulation meter, it will need to be upgraded to a smart meter. This is because older electricity meters can’t measure electricity specifically imported or exported to the grid, only your electricity consumption.
- Starting Up the Solar Inverter – After all electrical wirings and connections have been made and verified to be safely working, the final step is to start the solar inverter by switching it on the home’s main switch.
- Solar Inverter WiFi Set-Up – Some solar inverters can also be connected to your home WiFi network, and this can be configured once the inverter is switched on. Knowing how to connect your solar inverter to wifi will enable you to check statistics and information about your home solar system anywhere you are via a mobile app.
How Long Does It Take To Install Solar Panels?
The average time it takes to install a solar panel is between one to three days. However, depending on several factors, such as the solar PV system size and application requirements, this process can sometimes span multiple months.
Solar panels alone don’t take much time to install, but external factors and additional components are what can create longer wait times to have your solar system completely installed and running.
Depending on your hardware brand and model preferences, it can take longer for components to be ordered and received. This can add a few weeks to the full timeline for your solar PV system installation.
In addition, different states and councils in Australia have different laws regarding building approvals for solar installation. Because some states have an extensive approval process, you may have to wait a few weeks for your installation to be approved.
After installation, you’ll also need a smart meter installed – or your current meter reconfigured – to manage electricity import and export to the grid. This needs to be done by a technician from your energy retailers, which can take a few extra days after installation.
So although solar panels themselves only take a few days to install, the overall timeline from quote to a functioning solar PV system can be longer. When your solar installer provides a quote, they can give you a timeline on how long your installation will take.
Can I Install Solar Panels Myself?
No, it’s never a good idea to install solar panels yourself, unless you’re a licensed electrical contractor. Solar PV systems must be installed according to Australian Standards, and it’s unsafe for homeowners to DIY solar panel installation.
Depending on the state and local council, it may technically be legal to install solar panels yourself; however, it’s not a good idea. DIY solar panel installation poses a huge safety risk to you, the product, and the structure where the solar panels will be installed.
Here are some key reasons not to install solar panels yourself:
- Installation is high-risk: Installing solar panels not only involves working at heights with bulky equipment, but also working with electricity. Without professional training and experience, it’s unsafe for householders to attempt a DIY installation.
- Ongoing property and safety hazard: A flimsy solar installation on a residence may cause electrical problems or power surges that could lead to fire, may cause the panel to fall down on unsuspecting individuals, or be swept away by strong weather conditions.
- Ineligible for government solar rebates: You may want to save money by installing solar panels yourself, but you won’t be eligible for government solar rebates with a DIY installation, meaning it isn’t a more cost-effective option.
- Voids warranty on components: If not installed by a properly qualified professional, you’ll also void the warranty on your solar panels and inverter. As solar panels and inverters can last for decades, you may never break even on your investment if your hardware has a problem.
- Less optimal installation: DIY installation means you won’t benefit from expert advice on how to optimise your solar panel installation. This can have a direct impact on your solar panel output and how much money your system saves.
- Unable to sell electricity back to the grid: As an electricity grid connection must be connected by a professional, you also won’t be able to sell energy back to the grid to receive a feed-in tariff with a DIY solar panel installation.
- Voids home insurance policies: You may also void your home insurance policy by installing solar panels yourself, meaning any problems – such as house fires or damage from falling solar panels – may not be covered.
- Creates legal liability: If installing solar panels yourself, you’ll be legally responsible for making sure your solar PV installation meets Australian Standards upon inspection. This can lead to unexpected costs further down the track, and create problems if selling your home.
Solar panels, solar batteries, and solar inverters have all come down in price in the past decade or so, which means there isn’t much reason to not call an accredited electrician or expert solar installers. You’ll receive a safe, hassle-free solar installation and benefit from government solar incentives.
The risks are too great to even consider installing solar panels yourself. It is, therefore, best to leave the entire installation process to the experts.
How Much Does it Cost to Get Solar Panels Installed?
For most solar companies, the installation cost is built into the solar panel system cost. Any quote for a solar PV system should include full installation.
As of June 2022, the average price of a 5kWh solar panel system in Australia is around $5,130 — the most common size of solar systems in Australia. This price takes into account the government rebate for solar systems.
Due to generous government incentives and overall push for clean and renewable energy, the cost per kWh in Australia is one of the lowest in the world. For instance, the 5kWh solar system, which costs a total of $5,130 would only cost $1,040 per kWh. In some cases, this can be down to as low as $910 per kWh depending on the solar installer and the brand of the solar system.
How Long Does it Take for Solar Panels to Start Working?
Your solar panels will start working immediately after installation. However, to start benefiting from the energy they generate, you’ll need to wait until your smart meter is installed and connected, which could take several days.
This extra time is because a smart meter upgrade or configuration must be done by a technician from your energy retailer. Unless explicitly included in the solar quotation, the cost to reconfigure your smart meter is $300 on average, but can be more if your residence runs on a three-phase supply.
Is it Legal to Install Your Own Solar Panels?
Whether it is technically legal depends on your state and local council, but DIY installation is never a good idea. Attempting to install your own solar panels is extremely dangerous and voids product warranties. It also makes you ineligible for rebates and be unable to sell electricity back to the grid.
All electrical work must be done according to Australian Government Solar System Standards. You may also face significant fines and even imprisonment. In addition, poorly installed solar panels can cause house fires. The amount of money you could save by installing solar panels yourself is insignificant compared to what you stand to lose when they aren’t installed professionally.
Do I Need to Install a Smart Meter for Solar Panels?
If you have an old accumulation meter, you will need to upgrade to a suitable bi-directional meter to install solar panels. If your residence already has one, then the electricity provider will only need to reconfigure it for two-way flow (import and export).
National regulations require all new electricity meters installed to be smart meters, so when upgrading your meter, you’ll also receive the benefits a smart meter has to offer.
Your solar installation contractor can let you know if you need to upgrade your electricity meter, and arrange for your electricity meter to be installed or reconfigured.
This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. JFK Electrical does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. Always seek personalised advice on solar energy to ensure any recommendations suit your property and scenario.
John Lyons, the owner of JFK Electrical Solar & Air, started his career in the electrical industry in 1997. With years of experience gained in the industry across multiple continents, he relocated to Australia and decided to specialise in solar and air conditioning. After deciding he wanted to be closer to his family, John began his own local electrical business in Mandurah, using his extensive knowledge and training in the industry. At JFK, John’s number one goal is to provide tailored solutions to his customers. And thanks to his experience and commitment to his customers, JFK Electrical is now one of the most trusted local businesses in Mandurah for solar and electrical services.