The “Have Nots” in Australia’s Solar Energy System

The ‘have nots’ during Australia’s energy transition -who are they really?

You’ll be excused for believing the Australians who least benefit from solar energy are those  without solar panels.

But you’ll be wrong.

Less obviously, it’s the 75% of Australian homes that have no access to data from digital meters. This group is, ultimately, Australia’s “have nots” on the roadmap to 100% renewables.

Solar Energy Perks: $0 Tariffs

Victoria joined Western Australia last month, trialling a fresh free-energy tariff for five hours each day. The new tariffs may finally unlock the perks of free power from the sun for those who can’t install solar panels. Suddenly the real “have-nots” will be those who still don’t have time-of-use billing, powered by digital meters.

$0 pricing was made possible by new tariff structures approved by the Australian Energy Market Operator in August 2021. The AEMO is seeking to improve management of the grid amongst increased distributed solar, batteries and electric vehicles without getting . . .nasty.  (The regulator also approved the option to charge for exports from solar panels to the grid during peak times of solar generation.)

Improved management is required – and fast. It’s because Australia’s solar duck curve – this graph that demonstrates power production, instability and imbalance between peak demand and solar power generation during daylight hours – is set to become a solar canyon.


A graphical representation of the ‘Duck Curve’ for the SWIS, created with 2020 data from AEMO.


AEMO data demonstrates how mass adoption of solar panels and excessive automatic solar exports have increased pressure upon the grid each year since 2018. Massive peaks in demand and two-way energy flow were not planned when designing the grid. Consequently, new strategies must be implemented to balance the grid, to reduce infrastructure damage and blackouts.

 

Solar Duck is Gone. Image credit: Power Magazine

Storage through batteries, hydrogen production and dams will ultimately become part of the solution. In the meantime, grid stability is an immediate challenge which must become a priority in the 5-15years while we develop storage solutions.

So, for now, Western Australian and Victorian energy retailers can pass on $0 tariffs to customers. The objective is to soak up our excess green energy during the day, reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and hopefully, motivate long-term changes in consumption habits that smooth out peak demands. It is only possible, however, in buildings with time-of-use billing infrastructure.

How Long is the Roadmap to Digital Utility Infrastructure?

With ongoing cost of living pressures, and more Australian states likely to offer $0 tariffs, what’s the reaction likely to be from those “have nots” who can’t access low-pricing perks?

Analogue infrastructure currently dominates Australia’s utilities. Consequently, most households continue to endure a quarterly visit from the manual meter reader and error-prone, estimate reads for billing. While Aussies wait for smart meters with some estimated wait-times of up to 20 years, consumers not only miss out on massive savings potential with $0 tariffs, they’re set to remain consumers of coal. The utility meanwhile, misses the opportunity to improve demand management practices without needing to resort to punishing those who’ve invested in and rely upon automatically exporting excess solar to the grid. 

Only once Australia’s utility infrastructure is 100% digital, can Governments finally enact carbon reduction programs on a national scale. Further, utilities won’t have to resort to penalties for solar homes, and all energy consumers will be able to benefit from the power of the Southern Sun.

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