I wanted to share some of the things I learned along the way that can help you combat those rising energy bills.
The first tip I have is to know your power current consumption. This will help you work out the potential benefits of solar. I am not talking about just your average kwH usage on your electricity bill. I am talking about knowing your daily usage profile.
When you do use most of your power? It is during the day, evenings or mornings? The reason you need to know this is it will help you understand the size of and type of system that will give you the most benefit. If you have trouble estimating this then there are low cost devices on the market that can attach to your power meter and monitor your daily power use profiles.
If you can move some of your power loads around to the middle of the day, when the solar panels are running at their peak, then it will certainly boost your solar savings. For example, running a pool pump/filter when the sun is on your solar panels rather than during the evening can make a big difference to your power bill. Running your washing machine/dryer during the middle of the day also helps. I also set my air-conditioning to kick in around 3.45pm to cool/warm the house while the sun is still providing power so that the house is at the right temperature for when everyone comes home from work/school.
Understand the solar tariff's
Contact your electricity company and know your tariffs. At the time of writing, taking power from the grid was around three times the cost of exporting power to the grid. This ratio helped me understand how much I would need to export each day vs how much I imported each day to have a $0 power bill. If, over the billing cycle, I could export three times more than I imported then my electricity bill for usage would be $0 - this was the goal I was setting.
A battery allows you to store excess power for use in the evenings. Rather than exporting excess power and getting paid a third of the cost of importing it, it makes a lot of sense to store the excess power and use it during the evenings.
So if you use more of your daily electricity during the evenings - air conditioning/heating/cooking then seriously consider ordering a battery with your system. There are plenty of battery manufacturers to choose from. I chose Tesla's Powerwall 2.
Sizing your system
Your solar installer will help you with calculating the size of your system. I have a 5 bedroom house in Sydney and ended up going with a 10kW solar panel system and a 14kWH battery. We got this calculation just about right - we have more than enough excess power on an mainly sunny day to fully charge the battery. The battery will power most of the evening's usage and discharge by the next morning. On full-sun days, there will be some excess energy exported to the grid and on cloudy days we will need to import a little from the grid.
The next step is to buy an electric vehicle which we can charge from the battery. (We just need the car manufactures to start serious production)
At the end of the day you can almost eliminate your electricity bills with a solar panel system installation. The payback period for me is around 6-7 years. This will come down over time as the costs of the systems fall and electricity prices rise. A typical solar system and battery will need some replacing after 10 years or so. If you can get to a payback period of around 5-6 years then you can expect some better savings.
Update: Proof - here is a recent bill covering three full months, including a month of a very hot Sydney summer: