For 146,000 people on the gross Solar Bonus Scheme in New South Wales (20c or 60c feed-in tariff), the end of the scheme is fast approaching (31 Dec 2016).
So if you’re a solar owner on the scheme, what should you do? One of the first things is to ensure you get a nett meter installed. Without this meter, come 1 January 2016 all the energy generated from your solar system will effectively be exported to the grid at a measly retail rate of around 6c/kwh. What you’ll be able to do with a nett meter is use your solar electricity rather than grid electricity which costs 4 or 5 times that amount. A typical solar bonus scheme customer risks wasting $30 per month or more without a nett meter from 1 January 2016.
Swapping from gross to nett meters will usually involve getting a smart meter.
How to get a smart meter? In the past, electricity networks (the companies that own the poles and wires) have owned and read your meter. But now, electricity retailers are able to sell and own meters and are most likely to set you up with a smart meter.
There are different kinds of smart meters with different functions but at a minimum they record energy consumption and transmit this remotely via a built-in 3G modem, avoiding manual checks of the meter. This means no more men in high vis inspecting your fuse box every few months. If nothing else, smart meters should slash the rate of dog attacks on innocent meter readers! The more sophisticated smart meters will be able to record your usage and generation more frequently - some even provide data in real times so can get more information on when you’re using and generating electricity.
Solar Citizens directly surveyed the largest 20 electricity retailers on how they are assisting customers to have a smart meter installed. We found a range of approaches and some less than genuine deals.
The Energy Australia offer is the most alarming. Australia’s third largest retailer is advertising “free” smart meters but will be charging customers $10 or $20 per month for an uncapped period. There’s also an exit fee that applies if you want to switch retailers and Energy Australia refused to provide details on the rates being offered. We reckon this deal deserves a wide steer. (UPDATE - it seems Energy Australia have provided an additional offer after Solar Citizens raised concerns. Watch this space.)
There are 6 retailers offering what seem to be genuinely free smart meters. They are claiming no extra increases in tariffs or exit fees for these smart meters. At least two of these retailers (AGL and Origin) are installing smart meters on an “opt out” basis so if you’re already a customer and don’t respond to their letter, you’ll have a smart meter installed before the end of the year.
Furthermore, the offer by community-owned retailer Enova is transparent although will lead to an extra $91 per year. Similarly, the Mojo offer includes a free meter but requires going onto a specific plan which is really only worthwhile for large energy consumers.
Retailers - especially the large ones - should be in a position to offer free meters because even though the upfront costs for them are not insignificant (around $600 each or more), they will be able to recoup these costs over time by avoiding costs to manually read the meters. (Avoided expenses from dog-attack insurance is bound to save them a bucket alone.)
The unknown factor (and hopefully one in which the IPART inquiry will look into), is what happens when you decide six months down the track to switch to a different electricity retailer but your smart meter is owned by the retailer you switched from? Will the retailer that owns your meter be able to charge your new retailer a fee that gets passed onto you? What happens to your usage data? Will the retailer that owns the meter still have rights to the data? There are also grave concerns that different kinds of meters won’t be compatible with different retailers, which could mean installing expensive new meters when customers switch to a new provider.
Another key question is what kind of access to data retailers will provide. Some retailers such as Powershop are offering full access to data gathered by smart meters whilst Energy Australia has one offer that includes access to monitoring and data and another, more expensive offer that doesn’t.
We would have liked to ask more questions of retailers about what meters they are installing, how the data will be provided to customers and so on but we found it difficult enough getting simple information from most retailers!!
For all the failings of the smart meter roll-out in Victoria, it does seem like the competitive model about to be trialled in NSW won’t apply lessons learned by the sector.
Earlier this year we ran the 2016 Great Solar Census and the results are in! We've put together a sunny infographic with the key results to provide a snapshot of who Solar Citizens are.
So, what did we learn?
1. There are more than 83,300 Solar Citizens across Australia and 89% of you live under a solar rooftop. That means Solar Citizens has grown by more than ten thousand people since roughly this time last year - that's huge! And now, even more have you have solar (up from 84% in 2015).
2. 79% of Solar Citizens are interested in battery storage. We all know batteries are the next big thing, so this isn't surprising. The market for solar and storage is only going to get bigger, especially if power companies keep trying to introduce unfair charges for solar owners.
3. You're saving money on power bills. 89% of Solar Citizens said they are satisfied that their system is saving them money on power bills, in fact, 56% of you have more than halved your annual electricity bill!
4. Australians love their solar - and want more of it. Almost 100% of survey participants think Australia should invest in big solar projects - and 92% want Australia to transition to 100% renewable power by 2030! To read more about how that's not only possible but will save us money too, check out the Homegrown Power Plan.
5. But lack of political will is getting in the way. Nearly all of you think lack of political will is the major barrier to Australia's renewable future. If you want to start changing that, get involved this federal election here.
On April 14, we presented Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's office with the signatures of 10,824 Australians who think the government needs to be stronger on renewable energy.
While we were there we took the opportunity to present his staff with a giant ‘Room for Improvement’ certificate. It turns out the PM’s own electorate of Wentworth is second last in the whole country when it comes to the number of solar rooftops!
We reckon he can do a lot better, both in Wentworth and Australia-wide. And his constituents agree. 63.5% of people in Wentworth would be more likely to vote for a party with a policy to gradually transition Australia away from coal-fired power to 100% renewable power by 2030.*
We made for a sunny bunch standing outside the PM's office in Wentworth, in I Heart Solar t-shirts and bright yellow umbrellas. We were also joined by the wonderful Ecopella who led us in several sun-themed songs. it was a great day and a chance for Solar Citizens from across Sydney to meet each other, have some fun and show our Prime Minister that it's time to shine on solar.
(This could be you!)
Australia has the chance to lead the world in clean energy, but years of policy uncertainty is holding us back. That's why this federal election Solar Citizens is set to spark a race to the top, amongst all political parties, on clean energy.
We need all hands on deck for our exciting election campaign. That's why we're looking for amazing organisers who want to work with Solar Citizens around Australia to lock in 100% clean renewable power this election.
Check out our new election positions - and please share with anyone you think would be interested!
SA senate campaign election organiser - click here.
Election organiser positions (8 week contracts) - click here.
Here's the low-down. We have a 6-month contract available working with Solar Citizens' high-impact South Australian volunteer teams as our Senate Election organiser. We also have a number of 8-week contracts available in target electorates across Australia. We are looking for people in Brisbane, Sydney, Regional New South Wales, Adelaide and Tasmania. Find more details and position descriptions here.
If you are someone, or you know someone, who wants to work to get Australia on the path to a future powered by 100% renewable energy then this could be the perfect opportunity to join our sunny team.
If you have any questions please contact our Director of Organising and Campaigns, Dan Scaysbrook by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0416 481 522.
On Tuesday 29th September we held a Perth Volunteer Meeting, as a followup to the Canning by-election, to bring together any Solar Citizens in the area who were interested in starting up a Perth group. Despite some last minute apologies, the meeting went really well! Perth has made it's first steps towards getting a Solar Citizens group up and running.