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Class Action mooted on NSW solar metering “scandal”

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The rapidly escalating outrage around the NSW solar metering scandal is growing by the day.

Consumers are potentially being forced wear the costs of upgrades (to meters that are only six years old) and as it stands, there isn’t a hope of getting them all replaced in time for the cut off.

The potential for discriminatory new metering fee’s looms over their heads, although many don’t even know it’s coming.

And to make matters worse, the changes are not even necessary.  If there was an unavoidable technical reason for a new meter, it could be a multi-channel gross meter once again, Netted off during billing.

The issue is actually about net billing, and reinforcing the power of incumbents. It is not about net metering.

Earlier this week I talked to a packed room of potential and current solar owners. Before I even had a head of steam in my presentation, one savvy solar owner asked for advice on what was going to happen with metering and tariffs. Around 30 per cent of the room has solar and the remainder want it.

“Well” I said “It’s going to go like this, based on current public information”.

“The solar meter which you paid to have installed six years ago will be removed and thrown in a pile. Then, the Government owned network company will specify a new meter in collaboration with your retailer, charge you up front for its supply and installation, possibly also replacing your consumption meter if it’s separate.”

 

Either customers will be billed, or locked into lock term contractors.

I go on: “You will then be net metered and net billed. Your new meter will be programmed only to read the difference between consumption and generation in the same way it is done for non FIT customers. It is unlikely to record interval data or have smart access to the data.  Importantly, you need to understand that this means you will no longer be able to see your actual energy consumption or actual solar generation on your bill.”

Stunned silence.

“I must be misunderstanding you,” said a punter. “Are you telling me that I am being forced to discard a near new meter, replace it at a high cost and that the replacement remove the ability to understand what I have used and generated??…– how is it possible that will be forced to purchase a new meter that doesn’t provide me with metering?”

This is inevitably the reaction from every solar owner that solar providers talk to. Industry has just gotten used to it.

“Smarter customers already install sub metering” was my response. “It sounds a like a sales pitch, but we strongly encourage every customer to install additional metering to address this issue because we haven’t had a choice.

“Crucially, if you are considering storage you really should be installing sub metering because we can then accurately see your demand profile, which is needed to size your storage. It sucks, you are paying twice but it’s the only way we can solve it right now”

A growing number of Australian solar owners already deal with this issue every single day. My newer customers are already confused as hell and I’ve presented case studies over the years like many others of what a nonsensical and disempowering approach it is.

However, the NSW situation is entirely different. It’s 2016 and technology has come ahead leaps and bounds. There is an opportunity to stop the momentum of the status quo and not penalise solar owners with a dumb, expensive solution.

The metering impetus

The sole impetus behind replacing up to 150,000 solar meters in NSW is the change from net to gross billing.  How it’s metered is arguably a separate and distinct issue. Do you have to Net meter to Net bill?  Hell no!

The currently installed Gross metering provides high grade data on two or more channels which is fed into a billing system. The billing system ID’s you, aggregates your data, applies any applicable Retail tariffs and produces a bill.

The billing system is already doing a myriad of backend calculations and to Net bill (with Gross metering) the difference need only be subtracted. It is that simple.

If there was an unavoidable technical reason for a new meter, it could be a multi-channel gross meter once again, Netted off during billing.

That’s why this issue is actually about net billing, not net metering.

Motivation

Why on earth would the Government owned networks and the private retailers be talking about doing this meter swap then?

Largely, I think it’s because they haven’t caught up with what’s possible and are just following the status quo without genuine thought to alternatives. Perhaps that’s too generous.

Would the networks benefit if consumers didn’t actually know how much energy they were using and generating? Arguably. I have met plenty who wish they knew how much energy they used in their business, but don’t because since installing solar they have been forced onto net metering.

Do the networks benefit by writing off current meter assets and, purchasing, on-selling and profiting on new meters? Yes. They will purchase $30M or so of meters, on sell them to us at a profit and depreciate them as assets, even though we have been charged for them. It’s the only I product I know of that you pay for in full in advance and yet don’t own.

Does this help solar consumers? No. They will be financially worse off and will not have access to data that they currently have. They will not be advised how much energy they use or when.

Does it improve the vision of household demand profiles and access to detailed data for networks and consumers? No. In many cases, it will diminish it.

Culpability

The NSW 60c Solar Bonus scheme was launched with an end date. During planning for the metering rollout networks had explicit, concise vision towards the end of the scheme and that Net metering was probable at the schemes end, given its popularity elsewhere.

They made a choice to deploy these meters with this knowledge and I would thus purport that they are culpable for the decision by failing to include the ability to adapt at the schemes end. Time has passed and the market has changed but this crucial point remains.

The ask and the class action

To be clear, 150,000 solar homes are very aware of the implications of this issue. So, here’s my ask on their behalf.

Dear Premier

We call on you to immediately and rapidly resolve the impending solar metering issue that looms over the head of 150,000 NSW solar owners.

In the vast majority of cases there is no justifiable or reasonable excuse to discard and replace existing metering.  Being forced to replace a near new meter at significant cost is an outrage because this is a billing issue, not a metering issue.

I accept that I am scheduled to change from Gross to Net billing on December 31st this year.

However, I do not accept that a new meter is required to achieve this because existing metering data can be netted off at the billing stage.  A net meter is not required to Net bill.

Further, by forcibly changing my meter configuration to Net, I will lose access to valuable information about my energy consumption and my energy generation. Neither my bill nor my meter will show what my energy consumption is if it is Netted off at the meter which will prevent me from taking action to reduce my demand.

My ask, on behalf of NSW solar consumers is:

  1. To immediately call a halt to solar meter changeovers in NSW
  2. To mandate that Networks NSW use their billing system to Net off solar, rather than using metering to net it off
  3. To ensure that my visibility of consumption and generation meter data is improved, rather than diminished

This approach resolves a myriad of complex issues not least of which is the needless deployment of $30M of meters. It is simple, effective and can empower energy users in NSW to continue to minimise their impact on the networks of NSW.

Sadly we advise you that should you continue down the current path, we intend to launch a class action against Networks New South Wales and its owners.

I refuse your new, dumb, expensive, metering demand. I won’t pay it and I’m pretty confident that the remainder won’t pay it either because adequate metering infrastructure is already in place. You have an opportunity for a number of imminently more intelligent solutions. I don’t believe that you have the right or the mandate to diminish my access to data.

Signed

New South Wales Solar Owner

Nigel Morris is chief executive of solar installer RoofJuice.

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  • Go get ’em Nigel

  • Mark B

    The difference:
    Current Gross meters will be able to net usage at billing stage in thirty minute intervals.
    New Net meters can net at sub second intervals in the meter box.

    The Effect:
    Within 30min blocks peaks in demand will be offset against each other, rather than the generation being credited at a low rate and the usage charged at a high rate for those peaks.

    Basically the retailers want their extra few dollars a month (admittedly forever) and are trying to saddle the consumer with the high cost of getting it.

    (So I agree with the conclusion but not all the rational)

  • >>It’s the only I product I know of that you pay for in full in advance and yet don’t own.

    How about transformers and poles on rural properties? Huge up-front charge to the consumer, yet they do not own them.

    So glad I made the decision to not play their game, and went off-grid in 1991.

  • Gyrogordini

    Thanks, NM, for you usual straight talking approach. My 7kW is net metered, and sub metered. As I am an SMA addict, I paid about $1500 (gasp) extra to put in a Sunny Home box, and seperate Sunny Energy Meter to measure the house consumption. I have been delighted to get terrific differential data from this setup, permanently wifi connected to an old iPad 1, using Sunny Portal. I thus know fairly accurately what the storage potential of my setup will be when Redflow sells me its new storage system…

  • solarguy

    Perhaps I have got this wrong, but I was of the understanding that you cannot self consume your solar with a gross meter and the only way you could was with a net meter?

    • Andrew Thaler

      self-consuming 60c gross metered solar is the quickest way to lose money. The gross-production is 100% exported at the FIT (60c or 20c) and you then buy the electricity that you use at your tariff rate, around 25c average. 2 separate channels in the electricity meter. Inverters are thus wired DIRECTLY to the Solar-Input channel on the meter for Gross metering.
      Nett-metering provides for self-consumption as the solar is wired into the house/factory (or load) circuits to contribute to the electricity required by the loads.. and the meter records the flow of electricity. So, 3kW of load offset by 2kw of SolarPV generation means only 1kW of ‘flow’ through the meter.. thereby the site load is self-consuming the SolarPV generation. If you self-consumed the gross solar, then you are using electricity that would have been sold at 60c to offset electricity normally purchased at around 25c.

      • solarguy

        Andrew it’s clear you have misunderstood what I’ve said above. I know
        you can’t self consume with a gross meter as it is connected to the line side, not to the load side like net metering.
        So if people don’t pay for a new net meter, once the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme ends and stay with a Gross meter, then obviously they will be in a hole. It seems Nigel’s solution of net billing isn’t such a good idea.
        As there are not enough Level 2’s to do the job some are going to have start thinking do I organize a net meter to be fitted in the next few months or leave things to mayhem after 31st December

        • Andrew Thaler

          no misunderstanding. Many many gross-connected customers have asked me about just using their solar after Jan 1 for self-consumption by changing where the Inverters are connected into the system (just by connecting inverters into load side of meter), and I have had to explain the great risk of that… as surplus exports will be counted as consumption. I don’t see many ways around the need to replace the nett meters.. and as such I understand legislation has been placed before the NSW parliament to allow regular electricians to be able to replace meters.. so hopefully a solution arrives from that. Nonetheless.. unless we get the meters replaced with ‘smart’ nett meters, people are going to have to use third-party metering apps like SolarAnalytics (www.solaranalytics.com.au) to monitor in real time, absolutely outside of the networks metering system, their electricity flows.
          I have been using SA for a while now.. its good, works, provides oodles of data, 5s increments, real time.
          Disclaimer: I know & have known the people behind SA personally for 20 years..

          Otherwise, peeps are able to keep their gross-meters and install a clever battery system that prevents exports.. which is doable.

          • solarguy

            Load side of which meter? Consumption meter or the Gross meter. And I know there are battery systems that can prevent exports. Good if you hardly exporting, but if your exporting a fair bit, you can use the FIT, circa 5 cent /kwh to help pay for standing charges.

          • Andrew Thaler

            The load side of a Gross meter is still the load-side. An inverter wired into a Gross Meter has the power flow from the inverter measured, as it is connected (internally within the meter) to the Grid, above the consumption meter-bit (again internal to the meter). The consumption measuring part of the meter never *sees* the solar PV.. it only sees the Grid, where the solarPV has been sent to.
            FWIW Here is a quick squiggle drawing to help:

  • Andrew Thaler

    Wont happen as you say Nigel, as you are trying to be too clever by halves. We can’t have Gross-meters converted to Nett meters unless they are reprogrammed AND modified internally, and likely this cannot happen as the internal shunt connects the gross-metered input directly to the grid (line) side of the meter.
    Nett metering needs the solar generation to be connected on the load side AFTER the meter which is programmed to record BI-Diretional flows of energy.
    Gross meters are presently configured to record consumption flows only, and any generation pushed back out through the meter, from say, someone connecting their gross-solar to their house as is done via nett metering, well that ‘Solar Production’ though a Gross meter will be counted as consumption.
    So, it is most likely that there is absolutely no way around the issue of 150,000 redundant Gross-Solar meters needing to be physically replaced.
    More: we can’t just ask for the Solar exports via the Gross channel to be deducted from the energy imports channel.. as this falls into the ships-passing-in-the-night Nett-metering argument.
    Nett metering relies, and is purely predicated upon, Nett energy flows AT a given point in time.. not accumulated energy flows OVER a time frame.
    The networks will not allow solar production from the morning to be deducted from consumption occurring in the evening peak period. So, yes, GOOD & great of you to bring awareness to the issue. BAD of you to add confusion, false hope and another layer of bullshit to the argument. You are smarter than this, and what you have done here in this article cannot be excused- for you have pushed an idea that is not allowable under the energy rules, against what the industry operates under for all the present Nett-Metered customers.
    Lets just imagine you prevailed in your idea.. that would create a dichotomy between ‘old’ Nett-metered customers and ‘new’ (ex-gross) Nett metered customers.. so we might save on replacing 150,000 Gross meters but then need to replace MILLIONS of Nett-meters.

    Not impressed Nigel.

    • Oscar

      The article suggests “existing metering data can be netted off at the billing stage”. This is achievable. The article does not suggest physically converting a gross meter to function as a net meter – this is not practical.

      Net meters may aggregate consumption at 30min intervals, and changing to net metering at the billing system level means consumption will be aggregated every 3 months. This is occurs in other countries. It is not a new idea and could certainly be achieved here. It is a practical solution to the problem articulated.

      • Andrew Thaler

        Having spoken to several retailers metering-experts/technicians about this issue over the last 2 years, in a search for a solution, I know this won’t happen. And while the idea would be great, and the data resolution available from Gross meters would be helpful.. Essential Energy (definitely) and others (mostly) have now totally subcontracted out the meter reading facilities to a third parties (through a 3 level contract).. and the meter reader can ONLY enter in the register totals manually into their hand-held unit. In EE network areas, They cannot connect to the optical readout, cannot down load the interval data. There will not be smart-data solution using gross-meters if the system can only accept dumb-data entered manually while pressing the scroll function on the meter. I have seen Ausgrid meter-read staff use optical readers, but they also must manually enter in the register data as a backup. Only class 4 metering which has an external antenna can be remote-read and upload accurate interval data- and these installations are not very common.
        About the best thing that could happen would be to let us keep the old Gross meter to produce our own on-site high resolution accurate energy flow data.. and connect it AFTER the net meter. Not ideal, but better than chucking them in the scrap bin where they are presently destined to go.
        But hey.. what would I really know. Connecting Australia’s first Virtual Nett-Metered solar farm (after 18 months development/research) was surely just a fluke of luck hey…

        • Oscar

          The data resolution of gross or net meters is immaterial to this article. So is method of extracting consumption data from the meter. It is unimportant if the data is read through serial, the optical port or by inspection of the LCD panel on the front of the meter.

          The article suggests “existing metering data can be netted off at the billing stage”. That is, in the billing system. This is the same as having a spinning disk meter to which the PV and consumption are connected – the meter readers will read every quarter and send a net consumption bill. Another way to think about it is that it is a one-for-one FiT (at any time of day for TOU customers) which is aggregated quarterly. A perfectly sensible solution from the customer point of view. Network operators will likely suggest an alternate solution.

          As a side, could you please clarify two of your comments:

          1) “for you have pushed an idea that is not allowable under
          the energy rules”
          Presumably you are referring to the NER. Which section in
          the Rules, exactly, are you referring to?

          2) “Only class 4 metering which has an external antenna”
          Why not Class 1 meters with an internal antenna?

  • Gr3gw

    Thanks for a stimulating article.

    I’m currently on gross metering and the implication is that I need to change at the end of the year BUT if I am going to have battery storage and a intelligent management system, do I need to change my meter? If I don’t expect to put anything back into the grid, only draw down when needed, the gross meter is going put zero power back into the grid. Just a thought.

    • solarguy

      If you don’t change over to a Net meter your battery will be useless to you as all your storage will go straight out to grid. You can’t self consume your solar with a Gross meter.

      • Gr3gw

        Thank you. I’ve just compared the schematic wiring diagrams for Gross and Net metering and they make it obvious. Thanks again.

        • solarguy

          No probs, cheers.

      • Andrew Thaler

        he would rewire the Inverter to the battery system/controller. Gross meter can stay put, no input on the gross channel, only measuring load on the consumption channel. Battery system has to be smart enough to prevent export when battery full and insufficient site load to consume the PV power. It can be done.

  • Nige

    So, great to see a lively debate.

    I accept that this is a really complicated issue and that the technology and rules don’t favour it or necessarily allow it. I did try to acknowledge that it’s not a one case fits all solution (“If there was an unavoidable technical reason for a new meter, it could be a multi-channel gross meter once again, Netted off during billing”) but apologise for oversimplifying the potential fix.

    Having said this, my aim was to highlight that taking Gross Consumption data away from consumers is a travesty, replacing six year old meters is crazy and frankly, the decision makers have had six years to work out a decent solution – and we don’t have one yet!

    We have a complex variety of (current) metering, potentially expensive alternatives and a very real threat of consumers losing access to information they are reasonably entitled to. If the rules don’t allow common sense to prevail and consumer access to data, then the rules need fixing or we will be back here all over again in another 5 years.