By Giles Parkinson, reneweconomy.com.au
Thousands of solar households in Queensland and Tasmania are being asked by their energy utilities to pay to use the output of their own solar panels inside their own homes. And the utilities involved don’t seem to see any problem with that.
The situation has emerged in Queensland and Tasmania for quite different reasons, but essentially resolves around the use of two meters in certain households. The households are being hit for grid payments even though the solar power is generated and consumed on site.
In Queensland, it’s happening because Energex, the operator of the grid in the south east corner of the state, has decided to switch ‘controlled loads’ for heating water from the middle of the night to the middle of the day in some situations, to act as a sort of ‘solar sponge’ to mop up excess output from rooftop solar panels.
The idea is a good one. As this graph below illustrates, it helps to even out the load across a 24 hour period. In effect, it is using demand for hot water as a sort of storage device, rather than just a ‘filler’ for excess coal capacity at night time.
But the question arises out of the treatment of households, and they payments and charges, and in this case households on controlled load tariffs, and who have rooftop solar and are receiving the modest feed in tariffs of between 4c/kWh and 8c/kWh for the solar power they export to the grid.
These households have two meters. One that monitors their solar ‘exports’ – usually about 6c/kWh for their solar. They are also on a meter for controlled loads, specifically their hot water, and for that service they pay 18c/kWh.
The problem arises when the hot water controlled load is switched to daytime, even though the load is now being supplied by their own excess solar output.
But that power is going out one meter (for exports) and into another (controlled load) and not even going back into the grid. It is just travelling a few centimetres down a cable from one meter to another.
That means that they are effectively paying the utilities 12c/kWh to use the output from their own solar system to power their own hot water system.
In Tasmania the situation is similar except that the problem occurs within a single ‘dual element’ meter.
Solar owners in Tasmania who signed up after August 31, 2013, and are on both a light and power tariff and a separate heating tariff are effectively feeding electricity into the grid through one side of the meter and paying an energy charge as though they were receiving power from the grid through the other side of the meter.
The result means that they are paying Aurora, the local electricity retailer, 9c/kWh for the electricity they generate themselves – that’s the difference between the 6c/kWh they receive for their solar output, and the 15c/kWh they receive for their heating charge.
The situation has been recognised and acknowledge by the network operator and the government. But after looking at the situation, TasNetworks (the network operator and metering provider) decided that the changes required to fix the problem was too expensive and not in line with their long term tariff strategy to phase out the separate heating tariff.
TasNetworks suggested that other tariff options exist for allow solar owners to avoid this dilemma, but this requires ‘It is manifestly unfair that around 4000 Tasmanian solar owners are paying for electricity they generated themselves’ says Jack Gilding, Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Renewable Energy Alliance.
‘To add insult to injury, TasNetworks suggests that solar owners have the option of either missing out on the lower heating tariff or waiting for new time of use tariffs that retailers may offer from July this year, and paying for the required meter changes.’
And the point of all this? All we ever here from governments and mainstream media are about the enormous ‘subsidies’ paid to solar households.
There is already huge debate – and perceived injustice – in the rock bottom tariffs paid to solar households for ‘normal’ exports. These tariffs don’t recognise the network, environmental or climate benefits of rooftop solar. But these examples are even more egregious. It is simply a sign that utilities – in some cases – are either not paying attention to detail. Or they simply don’t care.
This article was first published in One Step Off The Grid, where you can read more stories about people’s experiences with solar, storage, energy efficiency and other technologies, both on and off the grid. To sign up for the weekly newsletter, click here.