Solar households now have to pay to use their own solar output

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Thousands of solar households are now required to pay utilities to use the output of their own solar panels inside their own homes. And the utilities involved don’t see any problem with that.

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One Step Off The Grid

admin-ajax.php-15Thousands of solar households in Queensland and Tasmania are being asked by their energy utilities to pay to use the output of their own solar panels inside their own homes. And the utilities involved don’t seem to see any problem with that.

The situation has emerged in Queensland and Tasmania for quite different reasons, but essentially resolves around the use of two meters in certain households. The households are being hit for grid payments even though the solar power is generated and consumed on site.

In Queensland, it’s happening because Energex, the operator of the grid in the south east corner of the state, has decided to switch “controlled loads” for heating water from the middle of the night to the middle of the day in some situations, to act as a sort of “solar sponge” to mop up excess output from rooftop solar panels.

The idea is a good one. As this graph below illustrates, it helps to even out the load across a 24 hour period. In effect, it is using demand for hot water as a sort of storage device, rather than just a “filler” for excess coal capacity at night time.

solar-sponge-energex

 

But the question arises out of the treatment of households, and they payments and charges, and in this case  households on controlled load tariffs, and who have rooftop solar and are receiving the modest feed in tariffs of between 4c/kWh and 8c/kWh for the solar power they export to the grid.

These households have two meters. One that monitors their solar “exports” – usually about 6c/kWh for their solar. They are also on a meter for controlled loads, specifically their hot water, and for that service they pay 18c/kWh.

The problem arises when the hot water controlled load is switched to daytime, even though the load is now being supplied by their own excess solar output.

But that power is going out one meter (for exports) and into another (controlled load) and not even going back into the grid. It is just travelling a few centimetres down a cable from one meter to another.

That means that they are effectively paying the utilities 12c/kWh to use the output from their own solar system to power their own hot water system.

In Tasmania the situation is similar except that the problem occurs within a single ‘dual element’ meter.

Solar owners in Tasmania who signed up after August 31, 2013, and are on both a light and power tariff and a separate heating tariff are effectively feeding electricity into the grid through one side of the meter and paying an energy charge as though they were receiving power from the grid through the other side of the meter.

The result means that they are paying Aurora, the local electricity retailer, 9c/kWh for the electricity they generate themselves – that’s the difference between the 6c/kWh they receive for their solar output, and the 15c/kWh they receive for their heating charge.

The situation has been recognised and acknowledge by the network operator and the government. But after looking at the situation, TasNetworks (the network operator and metering provider) decided that the changes required to fix the problem was too expensive and not in line with their long term tariff strategy to phase out the separate heating tariff.

TasNetworks suggested that other tariff options exist for allow solar owners to avoid this dilemma, but this requires solar owners to pay for a change to their metering.

“It is manifestly unfair that around 4000 Tasmanian solar owners are paying for electricity they generated themselves” says Jack Gilding, Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Renewable Energy Alliance.

“To add insult to injury, TasNetworks suggests that solar owners have the option of either missing out on the lower heating tariff or waiting for new time of use tariffs that retailers may offer from July this year, and paying for the required meter changes.”

And the point of all this? All we ever here from governments and mainstream media are about the enormous “subsidies” paid to solar households.

There is already huge debate – and perceived injustice – in the rock bottom tariffs paid to solar households for “normal” exports. These tariffs don’t recognise the network, environmental or climate benefits of rooftop solar. But these examples are even more egregious. It is simply a sign that utilities – in some cases – are either not paying attention to detail. Or they simply don’t care.

This article was first published in One Step Off The Grid, where you can read more stories about people’s experiences with solar, storage, energy efficiency and other technologies, both on and off the grid. To sign up for the weekly newsletter, click here.

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11 Comments
  1. Phil 3 years ago

    Yet another reason to be off grid.

    The list of pro’s to do so just keeps getting longer when your dealing with so many cons out there on the grid.

    • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

      Using solar to heat water in the middle of the day … they have finally recognised the value of the privately held solar … now come ways to screw them all over.

  2. trackdaze 3 years ago

    For seq is that an error/ommsion or intentional? No word on the remedy if any for energex customers?

    It also appears in shifting they have increased the peak consumption?????

    • Diego Matter 3 years ago

      Yes, Energex always complained/argued that solar isn’t reducing the peak and now they make the peak bigger themselves by changing the rules and don’t seem to care anymore about the peak!?

      Sorry Energex, but my experience in dealing with you is that you just want to have it your way – meaning Energex is looking at their bottom line and nothing else. In the community sessions they held last year the admitted from the beginning that their revenue is fixed and somebody has to pay for it. What they do with this change is again exactly that, somebody has to pay for the lost revenue and it is shifted until the total revenue is again the same.

      If others get screwed in the way, we don’t care! It’s a pity really for a state owned network company.

      Does that mean we should vote the Labor government in Qld out? They certainly mean good in terms of renewables, but they don’t act accordingly.

  3. MaxG 3 years ago

    I am not sure what the fuzz is all about… it is called a con job, and the public has been screwed again.
    BTW: I cancelled my cheap tariff meter the other day… (almost forgot I had one).

    • juxx0r 3 years ago

      Send them a bill for storing their meter if they wont come and collect it.

  4. Ian 3 years ago

    Sorry Giles but this anomaly is just that: an anomaly. Can it be fixed is the question. On whom is the onus? After all those households are taking advantage of two different tariffs. The usual net feed in tariff and the off peak tariff. Should the solution be behind the meter with some sort of ‘smart’ to maximise self consumption of solar before it even has the chance to leave the meter and to maximise the use of off peak metering when solar is insufficient. Or, should the utility be providing a smart meter to integrate the two different tariffs and the feed in of solar power so that this problem does not occur. Sorry but in the case for the utility taking responsibility I call it a bust. Of course the utility could refuse to allow a two meter system for those people with solar so as to avoid this ” problem” . Then who will be up the creek without a paddle. Shout me down and paint me red, but I don’t think this is analogous to the Spanish situation!

    • JeffJL 3 years ago

      Tas is an anomaly, Qld is moving the goal posts.

      It looks like the Tas situation has been going on since people put the systems up and as such there is a buyer beware and they should have seen this/or been informed by the supplier when they put the systems in.

      Qld on the other hand is changing the rules mid game. People should have the chance to grandfather their agreements. You can bet the power companies would insist on that if a rule change caused them to receive less money.

      • Giles 3 years ago

        It’s not just moving the goal posts. The whole argument for paying negligible feed in tariffs for solar exports is that there is no use for solar. The networks have found one, but still don’t want to recognise th benefits. Worse, they want to short change the solar power providers even more. We think this may affect many tens of thousands of people in Qld. And yes, andrew, PV diverters are available.

        • JeffJL 3 years ago

          Although now that PV production is so huge in Qld (is that graph state usage or just domestic?) its value at the time it is produced is very low based on the graph provided. It only has the value as a water heater because of the amount of PV during the day is high. A kind of Catch 22 or feed back loop (not sure which).

          Utility storage or domestic storage is needed to smooth the curve from the utility suppliers and make best use of PV production. I suspect though that I am talking to the converted.

  5. RobS 3 years ago

    “It is simply a sign that utilities – in some cases – are either not paying attention to detail. Or they simply don’t care.”

    An excellent article up until this conclusion, they are absolutely paying attention and they absolutely care, they are fastidiously paying attention to and taking great care to ensure that the system is structured to give them the greatest advantage and screw those who are attempting to take market share away from them through self generation.

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