In the ongoing debate over whether Feed-In Tariff’s (FIT) are justified for residential solar PV one issue seems to be overlooked completely. And this is, who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of these household solar systems?
Since electricity has been supplied to the home, there has been a basic rule and understanding that if you had any problems with your electricity supply you would phone your County Council or electricity retailer/distributor and they would deal with any issues throughout the network up to your meter box. Any issues from your meter box into your home were your responsibility and you needed to get an electrician out to fix it.
This still stands today, but what happens if you have a rooftop solar PV system?
The rooftop solar PV system is purchased by the home owner, and installed on the purchaser’s property and becomes part of the owner’s property.
As almost everyone knows, under net metering the home owner receives the initial benefit of the electricity generated, and the excess is fed into the National Electricity Network (NEM) to the benefit of the electricity distributor to provide to other customers. Under gross metering the entire amount of electricity generated is provided to the NEM.
Therefore, is there an argument that your privately purchased, and installed, rooftop solar PV system is, in fact, part of the national infrastructure to generate and distribute electricity to the market? If so, is it the home owner’s responsibility to maintain the system or is the responsibility of your local distribution network operator?
As a home owner you are obligated to maintain your premises and carry out any necessary work, or maintenance, to ensure it remains in a safe and habitable nature to abide by your building insurance policy. This means you must ensure that any fixtures to your house are in good working order and that any issues are identified early and dealt with where possible.
Therefore a rooftop solar PV system falls within the term ‘fixture’ on your buildings insurance policy and thus you are responsible for it’s upkeep.
This brings me to the point of this article. Who should pay for this upkeep?
The average cost of an annual inspection for a household rooftop solar PV system is approximately $150.00. The average cost of having your panels cleaned by a reputable solar installation company ranges from $10.00 – $20.00 per panel.
If a home owner has an average size, say 2KW, solar PV system on their roof with say 10 panels then they would be up for an annual fee of $330.00 if they are charged $18.00 per panel.
If a home owner has a 3KW system, with say 15 panels, then at $18.00 per panel they are up for $420.00.
If a home owner has an 8KW system, with say 36 panels, then they are up for an annual fee of $798.00.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Let’s assume that the 2KW system has an annual output of approximately 2,000 KWh, the 3KW system has an output of 3,500KWh and the 8KW system has an output of 9,000KWh. We can calculate a cost per KWh for the annual maintenance of each system.
For the 2KW the calculation is $330 / 2,000 = $0.17 per KWh.
For the 3KW the calculation is $420 / 3,500 = $0.12 per KWh.
And for the 8KW the calculation is $798 / 9,000 = $0.09 per KWh.
So for the average home owner who has installed a solar PV system, depending on the size system they have installed, will need to receive a FIT of between 9c per KWh to 17c per KWh just to cover the cost of maintaining their system.
The electricity sector says they cannot support a FIT greater then the 6c – 8c they currently offer in NSW as the wholesale electricity price is only around 6c per KWh and they also have the additional costs of maintaining the network, therefore they cannot pay a higher FIT without raising electricity usage charges.
Does this then mean that the electricity companies are responsible for maintaining household solar systems given they are technically generating infrastructure which supplies excess energy to the grid which the electricity companies ‘on-sell’? They of course argue NO.
Is it time the NSW Government legislated to ensure household solar PV systems are regularly inspected to ensure they are operating efficiently and safely and set a FIT payable to the customer to cover the cost of the annual inspections, or do they legislate that the electricity companies must carry out annual inspections of all household solar PV systems, at their own expense (which can then be included in their network costs)?
Let’s start the debate.