Angry and frustrated, more customers are quitting the grid

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Industry reports suggest more and more Australian households are choosing to quit the grid, and they’re doing so for a mixed bag of reasons.

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One Step Off The Grid

It seems that even big users of energy and the owners of residential mansions are choosing to cut their links with the main network, and go off-grid.

Installers and energy consultants tell One Step Off The Grid that the numbers of consumers choosing to go off grid is rising quickly, in response to rising cost of grid energy, and the hopeless political environment.

And it’s not just small or energy conscious households making the shift.

Recent data shows that the number of off-grid installations is increasing rapidly, a combination of new homes that don’t bother connecting to the grid, and an increasing number of on-grid homes that have had enough.

The official data, however, may not capture the scale of what is happening now as solar and battery storage options become more attractive.

“Many people are sick of the grid, of the prices and the outages,” says Jerry Robinson, the head of installation company The Green House Effect. “When they do get the chance, even if it is a little bit dearer to go off the grid, they will take it.”

One of the most stunning exits has been this property above, in the heart of the Yarra Velley, just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, that had an average daily consumption of 190kWh before deciding they had had enough.

That consumption is around 10 times the average household, but it seems the owner, a business man who does not want to be identified, was sick of the regular outages; power was lost almost weekly because of some local network fault – and so he decided to look after his own energy needs.

A 46kW rooftop solar system has been installed, by Robinson’s team, on just about every bit of roof space available on sheds and car ports. (This photo above shows the planning, not the actual installation).

There is also 300kWh of lead acid batteries, but no back up generator, so the owner – who has already trimmed his average consumption to 100kWh through various efficiency measures, is determined to ride through.

“This guy has done it because he can,” says Glen Morris, from SolarQuip, who advised on the installation and sizing. (See this story for more on this property, and for photos of the actual installation and graphs of the output).

Morris says there is mixed bag of people leaving the grid – and a mixed bag of reasons. Some do it because of bushfire risk, some for independence, some because they are sick of outages, others to avoid smart meters and others to see money.

“In my area it costs at least $32,000 to connect a new home. For that money you can do modest stand alone system and for $40,000 to $50,000 you can have a very nice system, and you won’t pay any more bills.

This, of course, has implications – not for network owners and retailers, but also for the managers of the grid, and for other consumers.

The huge surge in the uptake of rooftop solar – installations are up 50 per cent from the same period last year – suggests that forecasts that up to half of all demand will be met by distributed energy resources – solar, batteries, and demand management – could be easily met.

The question becomes how many of these stay on the grid. The CSIRO and Energy Networks Association produced a report in 2016 that suggested one third of homes could quit the grid, in anger and frustration, if policies did not address high emissions and high costs.

Little has been done since, and it seems that the exodus is gathering speed, thanks to the increasing availability of battery storage options, and of course the continuing fall in solar prices. Many customers have simply had enough.

Trent Rogers from Northern Rivers Renewable Energy, based in northern NSW, says he has taken 30 customers off grid in this financial year.

“More and more people are getting very irate,” he says. “Some big customers have had enough. Some of them just want to save money.  Some just want independence.

“Everyone is getting sick of it,” he said, and predicts more people going off grid if networks continue to jack up the daily service charge.  In regional NSW, that amounts to $540 a year, just for the connection.

Rogers points not just to rising grid prices, but also new metering rules in regional NSW and the privatisation of meter reading.

For some customers in areas with no mobile phone reception, which means the smart meters can’t be read remotely, they face a charge of $45 per meter reading.

Others have a different reasons for avoiding smart meters. SolarQuip’s Morris says some don’t like the potential privacy intrusion. They are happy to have smart software in their own off-grid system, but not have others able to see what they do and when.

“For some it is environmental, for some it is financial, for some it is about charges. It’s a bit of everything to be honest with you,” Rogers says.

He also points to the demographic change. Baby boomers leaving the city, and pocketing extra money from the sale of Sydney real estate. Many want independence.

Others have no choice. One big bakery in Grafton can’t get enough supply from the grid, while most new buildings are better off installing their onw solar and storage systems rather than paying for a new conection.

“More people will go off the grid. The snowball has left the top of the hill. They can try and stop it, but bits of it (the snowball) will come off and they will keep rolling down the hill.

“It’s the only thing that keep me going. Otherwise I would throw my hands in my air.”

Robinson, from The Green House Effect, says the off-grid ambition is moving from smaller high efficiency houses to “normal” houses, and are including geothermal heat pumps, and underfloor heating.

“I don’t sell payback. I sell conscious and green and that kind of thing. Payback is not in my vocabulary,” Robinson says. But he notes the off-gridders are eigher green, or they have been quoted quoted $150,000 to install three poles and a transformer to connect to the grid.

“Ordinary people are doing it. They are sick of the grid, the prices and the outages. When they do get the chance, even if a little bit dearer to go off the grid, they will take it.”

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.

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22 Comments
  1. Pedro 10 months ago

    Perhaps some one has to have a quiet word to the LNP that their lack of a decent energy policy and the proposed NEG will accelerate the rate of grid defection. This will lead to higher prices for ever diminishing people left on the grid to pay for the infrastructure. It will probably work out that the NEG is great policy for businesses selling off grid power solutions, but I think it is a terribly inefficient waste of resources that could of made the grid function way more cheaply and reliably.

    • DevMac 10 months ago

      It’s not just the NEG, but the amount of time it has taken to get to a “solution”. Ever since the Libs took office under Tony Abbott there’s been a policy vacuum around the future of energy supply in Australia and this has worsened the very situation that Big Tones thought he was helping: Electricity prices and “energy security”.

      Much like their resistance to the Banking Royal Commission, they’re trying to look after their mates at the expense of the rest of the population, which is exactly the opposite of what a politicians interests should be.

    • MaxG 10 months ago

      A useless undertaking, look out for yourself — if you wait for the pollies you will NEVER get there!

  2. George Darroch 10 months ago

    Few people had the option 15 years ago. They do now.

  3. MaxG 10 months ago

    Cost is relative, as different consumers will look at a different ROI horizon… and (of course and as stated) have a different motivation.
    If you intend to stay at your home for a long time (we are building our last home and will only move out in a coffin), the anticipated 20 year use of the system. this is quite doable with the right components and configuration, means that we will avoid an annual bill of $3,000. As such, we will have a financial benefit of $60,000 over said 20 years. The added bonus is continuous power, as in not outages.
    Once neighbours saw this thing working, a few already jumped on the bandwagon and installed a battery.
    Our goal is bill avoidance, which I find far more important once I am a pensioner; anything I do not have to pay for is more valuable. This sounds trivial, but it is in fact better not having to pay for something, thus enjoying lower cost living or being able to do more with th money available. If I now take into account that I do not pay for water, nor sewer… makes livin’ easy 🙂

    • Craig Allen 10 months ago

      And money spent on your roof does not reduce your pension like money in the bank does.

      • Kate 10 months ago

        Well it’s a double whammy win really for pensioners.

        1) The money saved in whatever financial investment is no longer being means test by Centrelink and potentially affecting them under either the income or assets test. (Well, so long as it’s installed on a regular home block not some sprawling acres of property and it’s only used for home, not for business purposes.)
        2) If they’re investing conservatively (which many should be doing in their sunset years, regardless of whether they’re still recovering from the sting of the GFC) the rate of return on a solar system investment should far outstrip the various least risky types of financial investments, and more than likely would outstrip a good many of the riskier ones as well.

        Like my parents have told me, installing their solar system was THE best investment they ever made.

        …and as a 3rd win they’re more likely to need devices in their old age for their health and wellbeing which might necessitate a guarantee of a stable electricity source, which they’re more likely to get with their own system than with the grid.

        • MaxG 10 months ago

          Yep, you got it… there is far more to it than savings on the energy bill!

      • Ian 10 months ago

        Maybe you should tell your part- pensioner mates that if they spend $15000 on a solar plus storage system of a decent size, they could cut their electricity bill to zero, export a couple of thousand dollars worth of electricity a year and still get the electricity benefits and increase their pension by about $15 a week.

    • Phil 10 months ago

      And the rain water tastes so much better as well as bathing/showering in.
      Plus with enough tanks in suitable rainfall areas NO restrictions on watering gardens

      I can’t believe people pay so much in water rates for something that tastes awful and is limited in supply.

      • Phil NSW 10 months ago

        Council’s still have found ways to extract money from us even though we are not connected to the sewer. Potentially we pay more than a standard sewer connection due to our inspection requirements irrespective if the council does the inspection twice in 10 years or every year as we have to pay. The free water does taste better and not paying for electricity is a good feeling. Not game to go off the grid yet.

        I did want to stay on topic. In my submission to ESB re the NEG I pointed out grid defection is a likely outcome of current energy policy only making it harder for the remaining customers and the network operators.

        • MaxG 10 months ago

          I have a wormfarm, which does not require any inspection; also chosen for that reason.

      • MaxG 10 months ago

        Completely forgot that this was also a driver to go bush; as I was fed up with the level of forced medication and chlorination, despite its negative impact on health.

  4. Phil 10 months ago

    What drove me off the grid 5 years ago ?

    Reliability and not having meter readers that look like they stole a never washed 20 year old car after just breaking out of prison and are there to harm or steal.
    And no I.D shown of course

    Cost came in a close 3rd at $2.20 per day financed with replacements funded in perpetuity instead of $4.00 for 10kwh per day avg. And replacements are coming down in cost.

    Reliability is 99.9999% uptime instead of 97% worst -99% best for grid (Brisbane Metro) This is due TRIPLE redundancy with a complete duplicate (split in halves) of all except batteries. The genset is the 3rd redundancy and the budget of 8 x 2 hour bursts to boost the shortfall on mushroom growing days has never been exceeded

    Also i am 230 volts ALWAYS within a just a few volts so i’m not getting 1 appliance per annum failing due the grid mains hitting 254 volts.

    I can’t turn everything on at once but i have surplus power to use for things i never did before so there are pros and cons

    Many are not turning ANYTHING on if they can avoid it due the cost

    • MaxG 10 months ago

      If the system is sized properly, there shouldn’t be an issue wih switching things on. At least I never had this problem. BUT, you point on grid Voltage is spot on: I find it ridiculous that Australia, after more than 1o years of agreeing to go 230V, that I am regularly seeing 255V+.
      https://www.pvoutput.org/intraday.jsp?sid=34144

      • Phil 10 months ago

        Your Right Max. But there is a cost to go Big off grid.
        I use the analogy of EV’s to explain

        Your system is like a Tesla Model S or X
        Mine is like a Nissan Leaf.

        Different budgets but we both have smiles on our faces

  5. Paul Surguy 10 months ago

    Last Thursday Port Noarlunga was out of power in the afternoon,Friday at Seaford was out for 2 hours,Monday afternoon Seaford,Moana power outage for a short time lights flicked on the weekend this is south of Adelaide it gets worse every year i do have a TINDO 4.94 kw on the roof a batttery is the next step

  6. Phil 10 months ago

    And off grid = NO BILL SCAMS EVER ! https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/thousands-of-australians-fall-victim-to-fake-telco-energy-bills-20180424-p4zbbb.html

    Also during the Brisbane Floods even though we never flooded and the roads were 100% open obviously some of their meter readers could not get to work
    So they did an ESTIMATED read .My normally $400 bill Became $700 !

    Someone with a ruined house, no power, nowhere to live and a bill like this coming in could easily stress them out greatly.

    Notice no one is talking CO2 emissions here either.That’s another benefit

    • itdoesntaddup 10 months ago

      Just the bill scams for the installation and maintenance/replacement of failed components on an emergency basis. If you want to drop out form the economy, you have to drop out entirely.

  7. JeffJL 10 months ago

    Going off grid where there is easy access to the grid is selfish and a negative impact on the environment. People who do should not receive any subsidies from the Government.
    To go off grid you will be using a lot less power than the system can provide due to needing to fill up the storage based on the lowest foreseen production due to clouds/season/wind. This lost potential energy, if not fed back into the grid, reduces the carbon payback of the system making it worse for the environment than if it is connected and the power used in the grid.
    Subsidies, in my opinion, not be used for people who, by their actions, will result in a worse option.
    Yes there are times when it will cost tens of thousands to connect to the grid. In these times going off grid will not be worse but these are isolated cases and not the majority.

    • Olle Scholin 10 months ago

      All taken into account, there are compelling arguments to stay connected to the grid, as Jeff describes.
      I would like to add another reason to keep the grid connection. We got an EV (Nissan Leaf) ten months ago. It consumes on average 1.3 kWh/10 km and with a daily commute of around 40 km and with the losses in the charging process, we found that our daily energy consumption increased from around 9 kWh to 15 kWh. We have a fairly big solar system and during the summer months, the car was almost exclusively charged from the sun. But now it is another story, to keep the car charged we very often need to use the grid to compliment the solar power.
      The car we have is a 2012 year model and has a 3.3 kW and the battery capacity is now around 16 kWh. Newer EVs, on the other hand, has 6 kW chargers or more and a battery capacity of 40-60 kWh. I cannot see how such a car could possible be charged without having access to the grid.

    • Bill Mastrippolito 10 months ago

      The government will have to ensure fair feed-in tariffs are paid and fixed charges kept down to stop or slow down the amount of people leaving the grid.

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