A rule change being proposed by the Australian Energy Market Commission would allow networks to charge Australian homes and businesses with solar for putting solar energy into the grid. This proposal is being touted as necessary and fair, but these claims simply don’t hold up.
Australia has an impressive 2.7 million solar households and businesses. The primary reason many Australians have invested in rooftop solar is to slash their electricity bills – and in many cases, state and federal government schemes have encouraged households to make the solar switch. An analysis, commissioned by Solar Citizens, shows us that rooftop solar PV is more popular in low and middle socio-economic postcodes and on less valuable homes.
But now that millions of Australians have invested in solar, we’re being told that solar households should be charged for providing cheap and clean electricity to the grid.
The head of the AEMC, Benn Barr, says solar is causing “traffic jams” in the network. That is, the sheer volume of solar energy coming from solar owners is overloading the grid, especially in the middle of day. But all generators contribute to these traffic jams of voltage overload.
A study from UNSW last year found there was a significant level of high voltage across networks, even at night when rooftop solar is not operating.
And yet large coal and gas generators do not pay to export their electricity to the grid. Charging only solar customers and not big coal generators is like penalising bicycles for using the road while trucks get off scot-free.
Modelling from the AEMC shows that a typical household with a 4 to 6 kilowatt solar system could pay 8 per cent, or even higher, of the value of their solar exports under this new charge. So big energy companies pay nothing but Australian solar households should be left with the bill?
The idea, supposedly, is to make the energy system more equitable. Companies infamous for “gold-plating” the “poles and wires” at the expense of consumers say that extra network costs caused by solar are being pushed on to non-solar households. But an analysis from the Victoria Energy Policy Centre, looking at 2019 data, found that solar PV pushed up network prices by $1.3/MWh while pushing down wholesale electricity prices by $6.4/MWh. That means solar provided a net benefit to all electricity consumers.
Australia’s world-leading uptake of rooftop solar means that many households are relying less on big network providers and electricity retailers. When you examine the facts, charging solar owners to export solar electricity isn’t about fairness, it’s about keeping the power in the hands of the few.
Ellen Roberts is the national director of Solar Citizens, a community-based organisation representing solar households and businesses.