Companies ‘stealing’ solar power

Chris Dobney

The state’s privatised electricity companies are taking solar electricity generated on consumers’ rooftops during peak times without paying, according to NSW Greens MP John Kaye.

Dr Kaye told audiences at Mullumbimby last night and Ballina on Wednesday that, as a result of the government closing the solar bonus scheme, excess electricity generated by grid-connected solar panels was being siphoned off by the companies for anything between $0 and eight cents per kilowatt hour.

The same electricity could then be retailed to a neighbour for as much as 35 cents per kilowatt hour, he said.

Consumers with grid-connected panels were effectively subsidising the fossil-fuel electricity industry, he said, while adding many were still getting massive electricity bills.

He described the practice as, ‘theft on a grand scale, with the state’s privatised electricity retailers and the distributors harvesting hundreds of millions of dollars each year in unearned profits’.

‘The absence of a feed-in tariff that rewards households for the energy they generate is deeply unfair to people who invested in clean-energy technologies,’ said Dr Kaye.

‘It is also undermining the future of a technology that will play a crucial role in moving NSW off coal and coal seam gas,’ he added.

‘The one million solar households around Australia have already helped avoid the massive expense of a new coal-fired power station.

‘They are taking pressure off the climate by avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and they created thousands of new jobs.’

He described both the coalition government and the Labor opposition as ‘captives of the fossil-fuel lobby’.

‘The coal and coal seam gas industry is now justifiably fearful of rooftop solar and its ability to threaten their dominance of electricity generation,’ he said.

The Greens are planning to introduce a bill into state parliament that would set a fair rate of reimbursement by electricity companies to retail customers for their excess rooftop-generated solar power.

‘As part of a package designed to wean the state off coal- and gas-fired electricity, the new tariff would reward existing solar households and encourage others to join them,’ Dr Kaye said.

‘It would set the feed-in price at the retailer’s sale price with a small adjustment for the cost of transmission and distribution infrastructure usage.

‘If the north coast National Party MPs are serious about bringing new jobs to the region and taking the pressure off their constituents’ power bills they will support our bill,’ Dr Kaye said.

Dr Kaye will be spoiling for another win, after Transgrid finally abandoned plans for a grand high-tension power line from Bonshaw to Lismore late last month, after a year of community pressure.

The Greens and affected communities argued the line was not necessary owing to changed electricity consumption patterns, a fact that Transgrid finally admitted.

11 responses to “Companies ‘stealing’ solar power”

  1. Tim says:


    We just put a 3kW solar PV system in and would not do it again, given the opportunity (solar hot water, yes).

    How is it that iPart determined a fair FIT was 7.8c kWh? Fair would be around 25-30c, I’d have thought.

    You don’t get power at night from the solar customers, but, it’s emissions free.

    What about a stepped rate, whereby your FIT is always 95% of your peak rate.

  2. Greg McQueen says:

    I guess they are called ‘power’ companies for a reason.
    P.s Good luck getting your 9% back when they scrap the carbon tax lol….

  3. Jon says:

    I have had a 2 KW system for 2 years and have never been happy with the savings, so called.
    In fact, this year I have used progressively less electricity, due to holidays, but my bill has gone up. I wish I’d put my 5 grand into a term deposit instead.

  4. Bulldog says:

    WoW, I never realized, $31.290 with your calculator take 9% of & what are we left to pay? nothing less than $28.473c per kilowatt hour.Don’t spend it all at once.. How long have these cretins got to go in office???

  5. Kim says:

    When the NSW and Qld Governments removed the FIT or essentially made it practically nothing, what were they thinking? For those solar electric customers who don’t also have solar hot water, why would they be prepared to give away all of their excess solar energy during the day and then pay 18 cents or more at night for electricity to heat their water? These people should simply put their electric hot water heaters back on the regular tariff and thus use the ‘excess’ solar energy to be dumped into the hot water heaters, especially if they are not using much other electricity during the day, even a small 1.5kW system has sufficient capacity to heat a water heater.. This would save them money and they would get much more value from their solar panels. This would also have the effect of removing a huge night time load from the coal fired power stations, which they depend on heavily to keep the boilers up. The whole concept of the roof top solar was all about providing some boost for the afternoon peak demand and the FIT was designed to encourage the solar customers to also move some of their load to the night time where there is plenty of spare capacity. In Qld the installed base of solar essentially provides half of the afternoon peak and removing the need for the privately owned gas fired stations to come on line who would normally command prices like $12 /Kwh. These rooftop solar providers don’t compete in the off-peak night time market by definition. They compete well into the afternoon peak times and as such deserve to be receiving premium pricing for their contributions. Solar customers should organise a week where they all turn off their solar installations for maintenance and see just how the grid gets by in the middle of summer. This might give a better idea of the worth of their contributions.

  6. Greg Williams says:

    Without buying into the argument, I would like to point out there is one glaring error by Kim in her comment.

    These people should simply put their electric hot water heaters back on the regular tariff and thus use the ‘excess’ solar energy to be dumped into the hot water heaters, especially if they are not using much other electricity during the day, even a small 1.5kW system has sufficient capacity to heat a water heater.

    The reality is that a 1.5kW PV solar power system is nowhere near large enough to heat a most water heaters. The size of the element in most HWS will probably be at least 3-4kW (sometimes higher). Which means that when it is activated it will draw at least 3-4kW at any given time. So the best a net feed-in 1.5kW solar power system can do is reduce the 3-4kW by 1.5kW and bear in mind that figure is absolutely optimal, barely achievable in ideal conditions on a very sunny, but-not-too-hot-day, for a couple of hours at best, in the middle of the day, Even a domestic kettle draws around 2kW.

    So to suggest taking your HWS off some form of off-peak tariff (usually around half the peak tariff rate at worst), and putting it on to peak tariff is plainly bad advice. The problem is that a 1.5kW solar power system, on average, will produce around 6kWH per day over the course of a year, averaged over all seasons, good weather and bad. Unfortunately, electric HWS need their 3-4kW in a steady, continuous hit – not spread over a whole day at a lower rate. (I hope that makes sense.)

    Bottom line: moving a HWS off a cheaper, off-peak rate onto a twice-as-expensive peak tariff, in the case of a small PV solar system is truly bad advice. Even in the case of a 3kW solar system, dependent upon other electricity usage during the day, would possibly be marginal at best.

  7. Barry Stoddart says:

    It is time for a co-operative to be formed to provide a voice for household solar power suppliers.
    As a single voice with the strength to ‘switch off’ the grid feed in from their collective roof panels when their reasonable demands are ignored by Government.
    A million or so strong voice with the power they collectively have will make the Government see reason one would hope.

  8. pleasestopillegallogging says:

    Well said Kim! The fossil fuel industry has been bludging of taxpayers for tax breaks and special treatment for decades whilst polluting our water and air. It’s great that Dr. Kaye is introducing a bill that will finally balance the playing table and promote clean energy production. The politician’s that are lobbying for protection of our water, air and environment are the true heroes in politics!

  9. Chris Taeni says:

    Let me just say that I think people generally do not understand power systems enough to determine what a “fair FIT” is. No one is a bigger advocate of renewable energy and solar power than I am, but I think it’s easy to get caught up in the egoistical thinking of “we deserve more” and forget about what it actually means.
    For example, in a “typical” household electricity bill, around 60%+ of the kWh cost is network charges that go towards paying for infrastructure upgrades, power engineers, control systems, customer support etc. only around 22% or 6c – 8c goes to the retailer. The rest is subsidies.
    Just look at what power generators get paid for their electricity (about 6c).
    I agree that getting paid zero is unfair but for what it’s worth… Rooftop solar has actually added in more complexities to the network which now have to be allowed for by distribution design technicians etc.
    I think IPART is pretty much on the money with what the power is worth on the grid.
    The only way out of the expensive grid network is to go off-grid or create 100% renewable generation assets and soon enough it [batteries] will become much more affordable.
    I’d be interested to see what the Greens have in mind and how they’d pay for the FIT if it were 1/1.

  10. Kim says:

    Greg’s comments that it is not feasible to dump your excess solar into your hot water are a little negative. While Greg’s comment about most hot water heater elements being 3 to 4kW is correct, his comment that these heaters need their 3 to 4Kw in a steady continuous hit is wrong. These large heater elements are simply there to provide ‘fast recovery’ of your hot water temperature. Unless you are taking showers and using up your hot water supply in the day, then these large elements are not required. The beauty about heating water with a resistance element is that ANY amount of power supplied to the heater element will give rise to an increase in the temperature of the stored water and the effect is accumulated over the day. There is definitely no need to have all of this power in a steady hit as Greg claims. Sizing the heater element to suit your solar capacity is just a simple and crude way to achieve the most from your panels. Ideally a piece of electronics to monitor excess solar and ‘dump’ this into the heater element to exactly match the solar output would be ideal and totally feasible. The technology is called Maximum Power Point Tracking and it essentially would use the heating element in your hot water heater in a variable manner to suit the excess solar capability ensuring always that excess solar was never fed back into the grid. The 6kWh daily capacity from a small system is plenty to heat up a reasonable sized water tank. A more sophisticated system could use a dual heater element (either in the main tank or perhaps in a small external tank circulated with main tank if there were regulatory issues) and one element could remain on the off peak tariff. My comments were meant to get people thinking outside the square rather than just saying oh well nothing we can do about it. I for one, would be more than happy to dabble in such a pursuit and I am sure than a market could grow for such retrofit options as the savings are significant. The coal fired stations should really be worried about losing this traditional night time load too but if they are ripping off the ‘free solar’ contribution they need to think about that.

  11. Frank says:

    So…. if everyone goes solar.. the profits drop massively for the companies and the prices go up to compensate for those left on the grid (business, rentals, goverment streetlights etc). We don’t have solar street lights that work effectively, our public buildings are all powered from the grid, and so are most of you at night and in summer with air con.

    So where is the money coming from to maintain and or grow the grid? I’m not arguing with the logic of solar.. I’m saying that the power grid has to be maintained because even most of you solor owners need it to feed in and out from.. Only way it’s going to work eventually is if the governments buy all the power companies and run them at a loss just to keep the grid maintained for poor folks, rentals, businesses public infastructure that needs it. Even the US power companies have admitted that it might be too late to save their businesses in light of solar removing profits from the generation companies.

    I imagine it will come to a head in the next ten years where the power companies refuse to buy your power but still charge you for night supply. I doubt by that point they will have much choice.

    Perhaps it’s time to invest in lots of batteries to unplug from the grid altogether..

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