Solar PV for your home: testing what’s Watt

By

7 March 2016

Solar PV panels undergo tests at our Energy Centre in Newcastle.

Solar PV panels undergo tests at our Energy Centre in Newcastle.

Warming to the idea of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on your roof?

With rising energy prices and momentum towards a clean-energy future, the Australian household solar market is hot. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, this is the sunniest continent on Earth!

As is the case with every flourishing market, there are many options out there for household solar, and you needn’t be in the dark much longer about which best meets your needs. We’ve been working with CHOICE to shed some light on what you need to know before installing solar PV.

In the growing solar PV market, there’s not a lot of independent and impartial information for consumers about particular products. For this reason CHOICE set out in 2015 to perform a comparative test and review of solar PV panels. While we have a comprehensive and skilled laboratory, solar panel testing is well outside our skill set. After a little investigation it was clear that CSIRO’s PV Performance Laboratory was the ideal partner for a collaborative test. – CHOICE Households expert Chris Barnes

Our PV credentials

We’ve been researching PV for over a decade and are now applying our unique infrastructure and expertise to provide assurance on the reliability and performance of PV products.

Our solar testing facility in Newcastle, NSW is the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere to be accredited to the international quality standard for measurements on solar PV. Principal research scientist and project leader Dr Chris Fell believes our facilities will play an important role in the development of Australian solar technologies and in the Australia’s transition to a clean, renewable energy supply.

What are we testing?

We’re testing 15 PV panels from leading brands. The tests will run for a full year, and so far we’ve completed initial lab tests and the first three months of outdoor testing where the panels are subjected to the elements in ‘real world’ (and often very changeable) conditions.

Our final report will come after the panels have endured a full 12 months outdoors. This information, along with meteorological data for various locations around Australia, helps the lab team calculate how each panel would perform in those locations. CHOICE will then analyse our results and present findings to readers.

Solar PV panels checked for testing

We’re using our expertise to test the reliability and performance of solar PV panels.

Results so far …

Our testing shows that the relative performance is similar regardless of the location. While you’d get a lower power output somewhere less sunny, and the rank order might change slightly, the best performers in the test will still be the best in either location.

Also, we know that a rooftop PV panel can usually expect a lower power yield than the nominal power rating on the label or what we measure in the lab. This can be attributed to clouds, changing sun angles and how each panel responds to changing conditions.

What’s next?

The panels have nine more months of outdoor testing, after which we’ll be able to make some more substantial conclusions – watch this space! Down the track, we are looking into testing household energy storage devices, again using some of our unique infrastructure in Newcastle and Clayton.

Think you have what it takes the join brightest minds in Australia by creating your own solar start-up in less than 24 hours? Join us for our first ever Solar Hackathon and you can go into the running to win  $10,000 in cash prizes. 

Check out CHOICE’s solar content

And more on our solar research here