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Zhengrong Shi: Solar is here, regulators need to get on board

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Zhengrong Shi, the UNSW scientist who became the world’s first solar billionaire as the founder of Suntech, says regulators need to catch up with the technology and ensure its rollout is encouraged, not impeded.

“Solar is here,” Shi told a NSW government-sponsored “Solar Breakfast” event in Sydney on Monday.

“Regulators need to encourage and promote the application of this new technology. We are not going to step it, it’s better to push this application quickly.”220px-Shi_Zhengrong_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_2012

The response of regulators in Australia to the massive rollout of rooftop solar has been slow and disjointed.

The policy and pricing regulators have been criticised for not keeping up with the technology cost falls, and recent decisions have suggested that the incumbent utilities are looking to make rooftop solar less attractive, and slow down its deployment, despite rhetoric that suggests otherwise.

The regulatory hurdles, which include access to connections, a “fair price” for solar, the structure of tariffs, particularly the lifting of fixed charges, and the ability to “share solar,” have become a key issue for the industry.

“Solar PV is here to stay,” said professor Martin Green, the head of solar research at UNSW. “It will become the lowest-cost option for energy technologies, the whole system will have to adjust to that reality.”

Martin_Green_Image_National_Australia_Day_Council

UNSW Professor Martin Green

Greg Bourne, the chairman of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, said regulation was key, but suggested working out what the future might look like, and working backwards from there.

“I like to think of the smart grid of future. We are going to go there. To me that is a foregone conclusion.

“What is the minimum amount of regulation needed? How can it become a real market and not an intervened market with gridlock? That, to me, is where some of the work needs to be done. So you come back from the future to the present and begin to map the pathway. How do I take regulation out, how do I get smarter regulation? How do I facilitate change rather than stop change?,” Bourne said.  

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  • Gerberaman

    As an ‘off-grid’ solar enthusiast I can’t get over how much debate there is about tariffs, fixed charges, and all the other ‘grid’ stuff. If you want to use a car on the public roads you pay a fixed charge. Rego. Same with power. If you want to use the wires and poles then you pay a fixed charge. If you don’t like the charge then don’t use it. Go ‘off-grid’ and stop complaining. Somehow this has all become a sort of small business for each proud owner of a few PVs. Each compaining about how much they should be making, but aren’t. Somebody has spent a lot of money on those poles and wires, and they want to make a profit. Sounds fair. If you don’t like the price then go somewhere else. GO OFF GRID!

    • Pedro

      I think it is more a point that gentailers are complaining about their monopoly profits decreasing with reduced demand due the uptake of grid connected PV. And the gentailers are trying to claw back profit by discriminatory fixed charges for PV owners and putting up barriers to connect PV to the grid. All the PV owners want is a fair price and fair regulation. To use your analogy it is like the department of roads increasing your rego if you don’t drive all that much because you are not paying your share of fuel excise.

      Also much of the power infrastructure was initially paid for by state taxes and much of the power companies are owned by state governments so it is essentially ours to begin with.

      We need the grid and for the grid to be profitable and I think you would find that most of the debate is around how to find that model or pathway that is inclusive of distributed generation.

    • Ian

      Gerberaman, do you seriously believe roads are funded completely by rego money. Somehow I doubt this, funding of the road network is complex and includes commonwealth, and state funding and includes funding from local councils. Taxes on fuel and from regos go to funding roads but also go into other government coffers. The electricity grid was also rolled out in complex way. The price you pay for grid power goes to cover many aspects of electricity generation and distribution, not much of it goes to paying for poles and wires. The tariffs are designed not to reflect costs but to change consumer behaviour. That is the annoying thing. The gentailers are trying to retain their fossil fuel business model and try all sorts of tricks to discourage distributed solar.

      The renewables imperative is climate change. The drivers for this differs from country to country. Energy security in Europe and USA, air pollution and electrification in China, desperation after Fukushima in Japan. In Australia we really don’t have any drivers for renewables except network greed, our air is pristine clear , we already have more reliable generation capacity than we need and we have so much gas and coal that we can’t get rid of it even if we tried. Climate change is real but our climate is already hostile enough. Australia is probably the only country where our renewable energy drive is for purely for altruistic reasons!

  • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

    The grid is bound to be a necessity well into the future, for the upkeep of large scale renewable and electric vehicles.

  • Humanitarian Solar

    The grid is not a future necessity for all folk, urban and rural. The grid has never been rolled out to “all” places on this massive continent. The grid has always been thin on the ground and is slowing and may reverse and shrink from certain non-cost effective low population areas. Academics need to remember the grid has never been a universal reality. The future of solar is multiparadigmatic, situational and changing.

  • Humanitarian Solar

    There’s a limit to how much customers can/will pay for daily supply charges. Ten poles and wires cannot be maintained for ten people. Losses will be brutally cut away by companies seeking to make a profit for their shareholders. The grid has already slowed and is no longer being automatically implemented in new housing estates. It will be situational. Profit and population density will go hand in hand for remaining islands of the grid. City folk with little space for solar panels will remain a captive market for the grid whereas those in remote areas may have no choice to be remote solar installations.