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Byron Shire
July 16, 2024

Inequity underpins solar-battery rebates

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Over 3.2 million Australian households now have solar systems, and NSW leads, with a million systems (rooftop, heated pool or hot water).

So the recent announcement by NSW Climate Change Minister, Penny Sharpe, of a new solar-battery rebate to make better use of existing systems makes a lot of sense – we can expand solar by leveraging what we have to work better.

The perennial problem of solar is it’s a very lumpy form of energy production. 

Solar systems are confined to daylight hours, and to maximise effectiveness, most panels are tilted north to catch the most sun. 

So that’s a lot of energy production in the morning, dropping off in the afternoon, and ceasing at night. 

Solar batteries are the logical way to smooth out that huge morning power bump, and reduce evening demand for coal-fired power.

The need for subsidies is owing to the high cost of batteries – until prices come down, it makes little financial sense for most households to invest. 

The NSW rebate to be offered from November is between $1,600 and $2,400 upfront, plus a $250–$400 connection subsidy. 

The big question is will that be enough reduction in cost to make investment in batteries financially rational?

With the price of a Tesla Powerwall 2 estimated at $13–15,000, I can say for sure our family will not be taking it up. We would love battery storage, and even the maximum subsidy does not alter the maths. So we will just continue to wait for as long as it takes for technology to mature and prices to come down.

I am pretty sure this thinking will be similar to most homeowners with solar. So I am predicting the solar-battery rebate in its current form will be a fail, and this time next year, the state government will be looking to change it to improve the uptake.

I am a big Penny Sharpe fan, but I am really disappointed in this battery rebate scheme, which is so low-risk for the government, the only thing it is going to deliver is significant underspending of funds for renewable energy. 

It’s a scheme that will be patchwork and underutilised by households. One alternative is for the NSW government to incentivise energy wholesalers (rather than households) to utilise battery storage. Wouldn’t it make more sense to do this on an industrial scale, and reduce power bills to all consumers, not just those fortunate enough to have solar panels?

Non-home owners don’t benefit from subsidies 

There is another bigger problem that has been in the too-hard-basket for too long, and that is the lack of access to non-homeowners of solar power subsidies, and the energy savings these schemes offer.

I am talking about millions of lower-income folk who rent, live in public housing, or intensive strata schemes where energy prices are hurting the most, and access to solar subsidies and savings is next to zero. 

The Echo reported in March on an ACOSS report that surveyed 1,007 Australians and found 80 per cent are enduring homes that are too hot in summer. Overwhelmingly, these were people suffering financial and social disadvantage. 

Elderly, disabled, working poor – many were suffering health impacts like nosebleeds and vomiting owing to hot homes in summer. 

A staggering 14 per cent reported episodes requiring medical attention owing to heat stress. 94 per cent said they could not sleep properly on hot nights, and 60 per cent said they were already struggling to pay their bills. 

Solar energy schemes have always been targeted to homeowners, because it is so simple for owner-occupiers to make the maths work, and decide to invest – these households are very responsive and fast in take-up of a program designed to stimulate investment. 

But it’s been 15 years since NSW’s first ‘solar bonus’ incentive scheme, and exclusively targeting homeowners for these subsidies has become profoundly unfair. 

Every solar subsidy scheme needs a public housing component – and Labor MPs should insist on that as a minimum. 

Strata law reform and subsidies to make it easier to source cheap green energy would bring immediate relief to hundreds of thousands living in housing schemes, where there are legal barriers to installing solar systems.

Complex and targeted 

Yes, this is complex, but targeted policy-making by the NSW government has largely been neglected.

These are problems really worth solving.

With the battery storage scheme set to have low uptake, a silver lining could be the opportunity for ministers and bureaucrats to think about how surplus funds can be reallocated into more targeted policy for vulnerable citizens, including favouring regional locations where heat stress and high energy prices are biggest.

We can transition to renewables, and we can absolutely be fair about how we do it. 

It is time for smarter policy and more targeted policy – all these problems have solutions. 

♦ Catherine Cusack is a former NSW Liberal MLC. 


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4 COMMENTS

  1. A correction if I may –
    “The NSW rebate to be offered from November is between $1,600 and $2,400 upfront, plus a $250–$400 connection subsidy. “, the $250 -$400 is a subsidy if you connect to a VPP ( Virtual Power Plant ).

  2. Good to see ex Libs preaching about how they cared for renters and the homeless. No really, if cussack cared why wasn’t she promoting these policies rather than being part of a government selling off public housing for redevelopment or investing in maintenance of these properties, thus significantly adding to the current crisis!

  3. “With the price of a Tesla Powerwall 2 estimated at $13–15,000” so with the rebate you could install one for $10,500. Not a bad investment if you are currently paying 40c + per kWH using the grid.

    • JBean, patience, the list of approved battery makes hasn’t been revealed yet.
      Tesla Powerwall will probably be on the ‘list’ but we have to wait for the official announcement.

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