Do I need a Meter upgrade when I install solar panels?

A guide to smart meters for solar power. You will need a smart meter when you install solar panels and batteries.
If you’re thinking about buying a solar system, you’re probably busy looking into the different brands of solar panels, inverters, and perhaps even a battery to store extra power.

During the solar installation, you may also need to upgrade your electricity meter and possibly even your main switchboard?

If you’re new to the solar process, the rules around these upgrades can seem confusing, and they often depend on where you live and the age of your meter box. To help clear things up, we’ve compiled a complete rundown of everything you need to know about meter and switchboard upgrades when you install solar panels.

Do I need a Smart Meter for solar power?

You will need a smart meter to install solar panels or batteries. If you already have a smart meter, your electricity retailer will only need to reconfigure it to allow you to send excess solar energy back to the grid.

If you have an old analogue meter, you will need to upgrade to a smart meter.

Smart meters allow you to export solar energy

Traditionally, electricity meters only needed to measure energy going in one direction: from the electricity grid to your house. Once you have solar panels and start selling your excess electricity back to the grid, you need a smart meter – officially called an “import/export” meter – to record the energy that you export.

The concept of net metering

Throughout Australia, we have what’s known as “net metering”, meaning you export all solar electricity that’s above your consumption on a moment-by-moment basis. So, for example, if your solar system is generating 4000w of electricity, but your house is only using 1000w, you’ll automatically sell the extra 3000w back to the grid and receive a credit for each kWh from your electricity retailer. If you also have a battery system, you can still sell power back to the grid, but only once your battery is fully charged.

In addition to being more accurate than traditional spinning meters, many smart meters also send information remotely, meaning you’ll no longer have to worry about incorrect or estimated power bills.

Who Installs the Smart Meter?

Unlike the solar system itself, your smart meter can only be installed by your energy retailer or your network operator, depending on where you live. In most cases, your solar installer will request and schedule the meter upgrade on your behalf, using some basic details from your power bill.

Before you start the process, it’s helpful to understand that your installer doesn’t have control over the timing of your solar meter upgrade. It may occur before, during, or after your solar installation – in which case you’ll need to leave your system turned off until a technician arrives to complete the work.

A Smart Meter.A Smart Meter.
Inside an electrical switchboard. Upgrading a switchboard for solar.

How Much Will My Meter Upgrade Cost?

The price of your meter upgrade depends on a few factors, including the type of meter you currently have, the state you live in, and whether your property has single-phase or three-phase power. If you already have a smart meter that’s compatible with solar and you only need to have it reconfigured, the cost can be as low as $80.

On the other hand, if your property has three-phase power and you have an old spinning meter or a non-compatible digital meter, the replacement cost can be as high as $700. Once a technician has completed the upgrade, your energy retailer will either send you an invoice or add the cost to your next power bill.

Will my switchboard need an upgrade for solar?

Your central switchboard contains all of the vital circuit breakers and safety switches that protect your property from electrical hazards. When you install a solar power system, you will also need some new breakers and switches to keep your property safe. These requirements mean you may need a switchboard upgrade to bring it up to speed with the current Australian electrical standards.

Two workers install a new switchboard during the installation of solar panels and batteries.

As a general rule, most modern homes can accommodate the additional switches without needing any extra work. However, if you have a main switchboard without any free slots, a meter box with old ceramic fuses, or a backing board made of asbestos, it will likely need an upgrade either before or during the solar installation.

How much does a switchboard upgrade cost?

As with all electrical work, a switchboard upgrade cost can vary based on what needs to be done, but most solar installers can give you a price during their quote process. As a guide, the cost typically ranges between $200 and $1500, depending on the time and equipment needed to bring everything up to standard. It’s worth bearing in mind that old switchboards can be a fire risk, and an upgrade will help keep you and your family safe for years to come.

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