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Taking the step from gross to net feed-in tariffs

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With 160,000 electricity customers looking to switch from gross to net energy metering around the end of the year, it is useful to look at the actual changes that need to take place.

Technically, for the majority of customers the changes are straightforward and should only take less than an hour on site. It’s the regulations that can complicate things however. The minefield includes MPAs, MPBs, RPs, Level 2 Category 4 ASPs, changes from type 6 to type 4 metering, a new Chapter 7 of the National Electricity Rules, new metering businesses that need the navigating! Good thing all those things are there to help the customer ! (?)

In essence, to change from a gross feed-in tariff to a net scheme three things need to happen – a wiring change, a meter change and a tariff change.

  1. A look at the wiring in the switchboard

The wiring change is generally straightforward, and requires a visit from an electrical contractor. This visit from the electrician can cost up to a couple of hundred dollars.

The wire that brings the power from the inverter needs to be disconnected from the gross meter and moved to the part of the switchboard that feeds the general light and power circuits, ‘behind’ the existing consumption mete. This consumption meter, which can be set up as a flat-rate or time-of-use meter, now takes the function as the net energy import and export meter.

The reading on the gross meter is recorded for the final bill, then it is removed from the meter panel and returned to its owner, which is generally the distributor.

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In the figure above, the gross-metered scheme is on the left. The entire output of the inverter is metered, and the total energy consumption at the premises is metered by the flat-rate or time-of-use meter.

When the switchboard is altered to net metering (RHS above), the output of the inverter is combined with the general load of the premises, ‘behind’ the consumption meter. This meter now needs to measure both energy import (consumption) and export (feed-in) in separate registers.

It may already be set up to do this; or it can be reprogrammed (if it’s a reasonably modern electronic one) or replaced if it’s not capable of measuring import and export power flows separately.

  1. The metering

It only takes a few minutes to physically remove, change or reprogram a meter. Where it gets a little tricky is due to the fact that the rules and regulations in this area have changed and can get very complicated -particularly in relation to who owns the meter, who can do the work and what type of net-meter is used.

For a long time, the meters in residential and small commercial installations have been owned by the network businesses. In New South Wales, many electrical contractors are Accredited Service Providers (ASPs), known as ‘ASP2s’. These contractors are authorised by the distributors to not only work as electrical contractors on the switchboard wiring (which belongs to the customer) but to also install and change the meters themselves. This made the installation of the gross meter back in the days of the premium feed-in tariff pretty straightforward and efficient, as the contractor can make the wiring change and change the meter all in one visit.

Following a change to Chapter 7 of the National Electricity Rules (the chapter on metering) last year, the electricity retailers have a lot more involvement in who supplies and reads the meters on a small customer’s premises. In fact, a number of retailers now own metering businesses themselves. The world of metering for small customers is no longer the exclusive realm of the distributor.

The vast majority of the existing meter population, in particular the ‘accumulation’ meters (flat rate and time-of-use metering that is generally read quarterly) generally will stay with the distributor, however many of the new digital (smart) meters that will appear will come those retailers with close links to the new meter companies. Not all retailers have their own metering businesses however. These companies will continue to rely on the distributors or other accredited meter providers to carry out the metering work.

A list of accredited metering providers is on the AEMO website, at

http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Retail-and-Metering/Metering-Services/Accredited-Metering-Providers-National-Electricity-Market-MP-cat-A-and-B-services

 

  1. The tariff change

As meters are read, either manually or remotely (for ‘smart meters’) by a meter data agency, the readings are then published to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). From there, both the distributor and the retailer can access the readings for the preparing the bill. In the distributor’s case the bill for energy transport is charged to the customer’s retailer.

In a net metered bill, there are two main line items:

  • The energy consumed over the billing period based on the reading of the ‘import’ register on the meter; and
  • The energy exported over the billing period based on the reading of the ‘export’ register on the meter.

 

  1. It starts with a call to your electricity retailer.

Calling a retailer to request a swap from gross to net metering will most likely be the first time a customer could have spoken to their energy retailer for some time. Many retailers will take this opportunity to renew and recontract their arrangements with the customer, especially if the customer is not contracted to a retailer.

It is very likely that most retailers will suggest that the customer take this opportunity to upgrade the meter to a smart meter (known as a type 4 or interval meter) whilst the electrical contractor is on site making the wiring change. Sitting under the offer will most likely be an offer by the retailer for the customer to renew or extend the new energy supply contract.

There is no obligation for the customer to move to a smart meter, as quarterly manually-read (known as a type 5 or type 6) meter reading and billing will support net metering and provide the same net-metering benefit. New digital meters can offer new services, such as monthly billing and access to energy use (and feed-in) data through most retailer’s web services. It’s the customer’s choice whether to continue to use accumulation metering or upgrade to a digital (smart) meter.

If a customer is not contracted to a retailer, then the field is open. Shopping around for the best deal is useful, as some retailers may offer a free upgrade to a digital meter or a more attractive energy supply contract.

  1. Some important questions to ask

 

  1. How much will the process to change from gross to net metering cost me ?

It will be important to get a straight answer, as there are a number of steps in the changeover that may or may not be included in the discussion with the retailer. Firstly, the visit from the electrician to change the wiring will generally cost a standard callout fee plus hourly rate – it could be a couple of hundred dollars if the switchboard is not well set up.

Secondly, the actual meter change or reprogramming is likely to attract a charge of between $50 and $260. In most cases, the contractor, if they are an ASP, will include that in their charges. Meter change fees are listed in the distributors’ pricing information on their websites.

Some retailers will be offering attractive pricing to customers who sign a new energy retail contract or elect to take on a smart meter, perhaps to the point where the change from gross to net is ‘free’.

  1. Why can’t I keep the old gross energy meter to give me my generation data ?

The gross generation meter most likely belongs to and is registered to the distributor, and for as long as it is in use it is their responsibility to read it and maintain it. The customer could ask to buy it from the distributor, but at the very least they will need to come out and remove their nameplate and delete it from their system. A call to the distributor is helpful here to see what their policy is.

Most inverters have an ‘energy generated’ readout on them anyway, so the gross meter is redundant.

  1. Can I change early without losing any money ?

No. The power flows through the meters change as soon as the switchboard wiring is altered.

  1. Can’t you leave the metering as it is, and just subtract the generation reading from the consumption reading ?

No, and the reason is that the energy sharing changes moment by moment, and is charged at different rates.

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