Roof of Solar House Photovoltaic Panels, Hot Water Heating Tubes

Think living among the urban jungle makes installing solar too tricky? Think again! Nestled between a corporate façade on Harris Street, Ultimo, and a hidden terrace-lined side street, lies the home of Kate and Tom Sako. Their rooftop is packed with panels installed in 2011 that generate enough electricity to keep them from paying hefty electricity bills. It’s no mean feat considering they share the house with their five girls – that’s right, five girls. They’re happy to talk about their experience and share actual project costs in an effort to shed some light on solar. When you see the savings they’re pulling in, who wouldn.t want to get on board?

What made you interested in adopting solar?

There are so many pluses, it was hard to ignore. There are massive environmental benefits and we’ve always tried to make .green. choices when possible. We’re avid recyclers, have installed a 5,000-litre rainwater tank under our grassed courtyard, have citrus and herbs in our garden, keep a worm farm and even created an atrium in the middle of our house complete with a fig tree to bring the outdoors in. Then there’s the massive cost savings too. We also feel that the panels add real value to our house.

Did you consider any other form of renewable energy?

We’ve also installed a gas-boosted solar hot water system.

What research did you do before choosing solar?

We spent some time researching solar on the internet to find out what companies were available, what size was best for our family and what rebates were on offer. (For current rebates, see the end of this page.)

Did you need to submit a development application (DA)?

No. But we did chat to our neighbours to let them know what we wished to do to ensure we had their support, even though there was no visual impact for them. (To find out if you need to submit a DA, here are some handy tips.)

Is your house in a heritage conservation area? If so, how did it affect your installation?

It is in a heritage conservation area but our house is not heritage listed, so it didn.t affect us installing solar panels.


Did you have to consider the type of roof you have or the surrounding trees before putting in the panels?

We had to consider tree shading and building shadowing from the offices across from our house and ensure that the panels were not in shadow, especially during the high-generation hours of 11am to 4pm. Our installers knew exactly what they were doing and carried out light meter testing to work out where to place the panels for maximum output. Any reputable company should ensure the structural integrity of your roof isn.t compromised.

  Solar panels on the Sako's roof

What power do the panels give, how much did they cost, and how did you install them?

Once the decision was made, the whole process of installing the panels was incredibly straightforward. And once they’re installed, there’s not much that can fail. I just give them a wipe down each year, but that’s not essential. We paid around $10,000 for a 3 kilowatt (kW) system, but prices have come down considerably and you can get an average size system for about $6,500 now.


How long was the payback period, and have you seen savings on your energy bills?

We installed the panels 2 years ago and they should be repaid in full within 2 more years with massive environmental and cost savings going into the future. The solar panels off-set the electricity we use so our bill is minimal.


But even though new installers in NSW are no longer eligible for the 60c or 20c rates that were once on offer in the state, with the dramatic fall in PV prices and sharp spikes in electricity prices across Australia, it means that systems are still an incredibly worthwhile investment.

Solar panels

What has been the most rewarding thing about installing solar panels?

There’s a feel-good factor to having panels that is hugely underrated. Not only are we reducing our carbon footprint, there’s a real connection to nature with them too. This makes them a great education for our younger children. We get genuine pleasure when the sun is shining because we know the panels are soaking it in. And we love it when it’s teeming with rain because we know our rainwater tank is filling up. Who wouldn.t love a resource that is free and plentiful?!




The rebates the Sako’s receive are no longer available for new installations. However, there are other incentives for people wanting to install renewable energy systems. See if you’re eligible for any solar rebates here and here.


Not sure how many kilowatts your home will need? Each home is different, but the Clean Energy Council claims that a typical Australian house consumes around 18 kWh per day. So, a 1-2kW system could displace an average of 25.40 per cent of your average electricity bill.  For the average cost of solar panels, check out the most recent Clean Energy Council consumer guide.

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