Do I need to upgrade my switchboard if I install solar power?

Published On: May 2, 2023

Do I need to upgrade my switchboard if I install solar power?

Switchboards are at the heart of any electrical setup for both homes and businesses, so it’s paramount that you have all the right upgrades before radically changing your power supply. There are many situations where your property could benefit from a switchboard upgrade – up to and including the installation of solar power. While it’s entirely possible that your current system is adequate for this, it’s always best to make sure beforehand, or else the whole building can fall victim to power cuts. In this article post, we examine if you need to upgrade your switchboard before installing a solar power solution.

Signs you need a switchboard upgrade

Even outside the context of installing solar panels, there are a number of clear signs that you should watch out for in order to determine the health, and capacity, of your property’s switchboard. If even one of these signs is present in your electrical setup, it would likely struggle to accommodate solar energy. For example, if there are old black or grey wires instead of white ones, this is a sign of the connections being older and thus more at risk of failure. A board which uses wood, chipboard, or even asbestos is also indicative of a less-modern design.

Safety switches are an essential component of modern switchboards – and have been mandatory for final sub-circuits in all residential properties since 2018. Older models use porcelain fuses. Your setup should ideally implement safety switches in combination with a circuit breaker to protect people, and appliances. The number of circuits may also impact how well the property handles new additions. A significant renovation such as the implementation of solar power could otherwise leave the building vulnerable to overloads and outages.

Does solar power require switchboard upgrades?

Generally speaking, a switchboard upgrade is often very beneficial if not vital when installing solar power. Even though this format is more efficient than conventional forms of electrical power, it’s still a significant change to the network which can affect its performance. A strong switchboard is necessary as the processes behind solar power are somewhat complex, especially if it needs to send excess electricity back into the grid. If the board or box has signs of significant age, it likely isn’t solar-ready. In this scenario, an installation might even stretch this system to its limit and cause serious issues.

If there’s no space for an extra switch to accommodate a fresh solar power installation, this could even make it impossible to integrate the panels until after an upgrade. Houses that run on solar power still contain the usual connections which allow it to use conventional electricity; a solar system adds to a building’s electrical network instead of replacing it. If the property is over 20 years old, there’s no guarantee it has a switchboard capable of addressing solar power’s needs. A bidirectional meter is also critical and accounts for the electricity you return to the grid.

What are Australia’s current safety standards?

Knowing the safety regulations surrounding switchboards and solar power lets you decide if your system works or requires further changes. The main switchboard standard across Australia and New Zealand is AS/NZS 61439 – this came into effect in May 2021 and applies to switchboards at or above 250 amps. AS/NZS 61439 is different from the pre-existing guidance in three significant ways. It specifically sets a maximum temperature for copper busbars, contains provisions for European arc fault containment testing, and integrates new methods of design verification. This combines to make sure that modern Australian switchboards are safer than ever.

Electricians throughout the country understand this regulation and others, using it to deliver a stronger service to customers wanting to make sure their switchboard is up to code. New switchboards (and electrical systems) account for these updated standards – but the relatively recent implementation makes it highly likely that your property still abides by the older regulations instead. In this case, your switchboard can still be capable of using solar power but an upgrade could still be more effective, especially if the system grows further. You must think long-term when installing solar power, as this is a significant commitment.

How can a solar inspection help?

Getting external solar-electrical professionals to examine your property can help you figure out if it requires an upgrade to make the most of solar power. An electrician can thoroughly check the meter box and switchboard, looking at the current safety switches to determine how well the property can maintain new connections. They will also see if the switchboard has at least three spare poles to install a smart meter and a solar-specific safety switch. It’s also important that this electrician assesses which kind of inverter you’ll need in order to effectively distribute the voltage throughout your property.

A comprehensive inspection gives you a better idea of your building’s electrical systems and how well they can implement solar power. If an upgrade is necessary, the electrician can provide you with a full rundown of what the property specifically requires – in many cases, they can also source and install the upgrades. Even buildings with a high-capacity switchboard and enough space for extra connections will likely need a bidirectional smart meter to optimise the setup’s efficiency. If you’re unsure about the state and age of your switchboard, it’s wise to arrange an inspection by a qualified electrician.

Though it’s definitely possible for property owners to identify switchboard issues with their own examinations, there’s no substitute for a thorough professional check. If the electrical system is for your commercial building, an electrician with specific experience in these properties and their increased requirements is vital. At Faraday Group, our qualified tradespeople understand exactly what the building will need to get the most benefits out of solar energy. We can help you navigate any switchboard or solar concerns you might have and are also able to install the upgrades ourselves – get in touch with our helpful team for more information.

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