Australia seems to have a classic case of too much of good thing on their hands. The national power grid is currently under threat due to an overflow of solar power being fed into it.
Electricity distributors have warned that the excess power can lead to blackouts as well as damage infrastructure. The move away from solar power rebates is imminent as the government looks for a solution to the problem.
As a consumer and mindful citizen, it’s important to stay abreast of the energy developments in the country. Know how to position yourself between a declining solar incentive and looming battery incentive which is what it appears to be coming down to.
The Current State Of Solar Power In Australia
Schemes such as the Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme (REBS) require state-owned power generators to pay consumers for the excess energy they export to the national grid. Currently, the rate of payback is sitting at 7.1c/kWh. By using solar panels and inverters approved for use in Australia by the Clean Energy Council (Australia’s renewable energy association) consumers are eligible for a rebate.
As a result, Australia has seen an increase in the number of solar rooftop installations. To the point where the number of new rooftop installations over the last 7 months has been over 100 megawatts – equivalent to a new power plant being built every season.
As great as it sounds, the situation comes with a few implications. When government solar rebates came into existence, it was to establish affordable solar products for Australians and the Australian solar industry. As a result, people flocked toward domestic solar and the industry flourished and still is flourishing.
However, the increase of residential solar panel installations over the years has seen an increase in excess power delivered to the Australian national grid. More than is necessary and potentially more than the grid will be able to handle.
The excess power is now seen to be flooding the grid and posing risks to the national power supply.
Solar Power Flooding – A Looming Energy Crisis
Andrew Dillon, the head of Energy Network’s Australia (ENA) has warned against “voltage and frequency issues at the local level or even localised blackouts and things tripping off.”
He further stated that “If there is too much energy coming back up the system in the middle of the day, it can cause frequency voltage disturbances in the system, which can lead to transformers
ripping off to protect themselves from being damaged and that will cause localised blackouts.”
According to Dillon, there are already areas of the grid that are experiencing electrical issues. However, the looming possibility of blackouts and infrastructure damage has sparked an array of possible solutions to the rising problem in the country.
Solutions To The Surge
Stopping the power flow
Suggestions have been made to find a way to stop solar power from even entering the grid or alternatively curtail its entry. A process seen as doable by Mr Glen Morris, the vice-president of the Australian Solar Council.
Mr Morris said that the networks have the capability of solving the problem of excess solar flow to the national grid. “They already have the capability to turn off your solar inverter whenever they feel like it.” According to Morris, it’s as simple as connecting the functionality in the inverter to allow for an on-off capability of solar inversion.
However, the problem with turning off solar panels from a central source is that one is unable to control whose power is being cut off. How would it be decided and how will it be fair? Will those people still be paid even though their power is not supplying the grid?
It’s likely that a schedule of some sort will need to be drawn up. Phil Blythe, Greensync’s chief executive stated, “We can open a circuit on a solar panel to stop it, the question is how do you do that fairly, whose systems get switched off during the day and how do people get recompensed for their lost output?”
Storing the excess
Western Australia (WA) government is considering shifting the focus from rooftop solar power to battery storage. The suggestion to wind down on rooftop solar subsidies in favour of boosting battery uptake has been made via a subsidy scheme review.
Ben Wyatt, the Western Australia Energy Minister, is reportedly investigating the effects of possible changes to the states’ rooftop solar tariffs and considering incentives for home battery storage. Batteries maximise the use of existing infrastructure and further reduce the cost of electricity for consumers.
Serving as a metaphorical sponge in the national grid, batteries stop the electrical flood into the grid and soak up as much electricity as possible. This, in turn, prevents the overflow of electricity created by the numerous solar panels connected to the grid subsequently preventing voltage and frequency issues, localised blackouts and tripping.
Without the installation of batteries to soak up the electrical spill it is possible that rooftop solar may need to be turned off or curtailed to a point.
Out with the solar incentive, in with the battery incentive
Although the WA subsidy scheme review has not been made official yet, an atmosphere of general uneasiness surrounding the reduction in solar rebates is prevalent. In fact, the current legislation in Australia ensures that the solar rebate from the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) has started to decline by one-fifteenth every year since January 2017.
While the subsidy system is safe for now, there is no guarantee that the WA subsidy scheme review won’t serve as a catalyst for the winding down of residential solar power. The possible shift toward battery incentives for consumers is a prevalent one.
Furthermore, the WA Energy Minister has said that the cost of solar panels had fallen to such a point where government subsidies were not justified. Should solar rebates be scrapped in the future it’s likely that the government will follow through with an attractive battery incentive.
The Looming Federal Battery Incentive
The current proposed (but unconfirmed) subsidy scheme for battery storage is the Federal Labour Home Battery Storage Subsidy and will be determined by election.
Should it be instated, it is set to commence in 2020 and makes mention of a maximum $2000 rebate amount for houses earning less than $180,000. The rebate is applicable for eligible battery systems at a rate of $500 per kilowatt hour of battery capacity.
The policy includes a framework to ensure renewables are rolled out in appropriate locations, aimed at achieving 50% renewables in the electricity grid by 2030. Moreover, it promises to ensure grid security and reliability.
State battery incentives in Australia
At this point, it is important to note that a number of small-scale state battery incentive support systems do exist.
South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) were the first to introduce a state-wide battery incentive. New South Wales offers a clean energy initiative for homes and business as well as one for government buildings and the Victorian Labour government introduced a series of major energy initiatives in their recent election.
The proposed Federal Labour Party incentive is to serve as the default or backup option for homes in states without a battery incentive system. Homes will not be able to benefit from the federal scheme in addition to their state scheme however, state-based programs are more generous than the federal proposal.
To Invest Or Not To Invest?
Consumers wishing to benefit from the monetary incentive need to act quickly and shift to solar. The consumer will benefit from the financial incentive of installing a residential solar panel that supplies power to the national grid as well as a potential battery storage rebate in the foreseeable future.
If you haven’t already, why not invest in solar panels and battery storage and reap the rewards of the valuable government-driven financial incentives for domestic solar households.
It’s important for solar customers to remember that solar rebates may change as governments change. Hence why it is pertinent to stay abreast of political developments and the respective energy policies extending from state and federal governments.
The prediction for 2019
2019 will see the Small-Scale Technology Certificates (STC) value remaining high, signifying that the solar power financial incentive is a good one. In essence, 2019 is predicted to be the year of the home battery.
The new battery rebate proposal is set to be resting upon the win of the Federal Labour Party. The goal of the proposal is to support battery storage and renewable energy in a bid to reduce emissions, lower electricity prices, and improve system reliability.
The Future Is For Solar Consumers
The suggestion to those yet to take advantage of solar rebates is this: Strike while the iron is hot. Act quickly and take advantage of the monetary incentives offered by the solar rebate.
Though the SRES rebate is on the decline, it is still in place until 2020 when the potential Federal Labour Home Battery Storage Subsidy comes into play. Solar consumers in Australia stand to benefit going forward into 2019, reduce your carbon footprint, save the planet and gain financial incentives.