Rooftop solar subsidies – ACCC calls for axe.

Rooftop solar subsidies should be completely removed and the solar feed-in tariffs should be managed at a state rather than a federal level, according to recommendations from the competition watchdog.

Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s electricity affordability report, which was released this week, highlights the cost of our National Energy Market, which include the large-scale renewable energy target, the small-scale renewable energy scheme and solar feed-in tariffs.

The ACCC said the cost of the LRET are expected to fall in the years after 2020, and were happy to leave the scheme to wind up on its 2030 end date. They said that the SRES, however, cost $130 million in 2016-17, and should be wound down and abolished by 2021, almost ten years ahead of schedule, to reduce costs for all consumers – not just those with solar installed.

The report, according to the Australian, found that households with solar panels installed earn $538 per year via feed-in tariffs, which doesn’t count the fact that they pay less for electricity as well:

“Meanwhile, non-solar households and businesses have faced the burden of the cost of premium solar feed-in tariff schemes and the SRES,” the ACCC said.

“While premium solar schemes are closed to new consumers, the costs of these schemes are ­enduring.”

With the New South Wales solar feed-in tariff to drop by 44% this financial year, the glory days of feed-in tariffs could be behind us. But at what point do we stop to count the social cost (i.e. the environmental displacement)? 

Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia - Opposition Leader Bill Shorten
Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (source: Wikipedia)

The 398 page report has ‘produced vital ammunition to reform energy’, has been ‘hijacked by zealots’ and doesn’t justify the building of new coal-fired power stations, depending on who you ask. About an hour ago Bill Shorten admitted he hasn’t read the ACCC report yet so it’ll be interesting to see what his thoughts are. Certainly just early days for this conversation, but it’s good to see Australia talking about our energy future and trying to come up with a plan. Watch this space! 

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Enova’s Community Solar Garden Signups

We wrote last year about the Byron Bay based community solar company Enova who became a generator and a reseller of renewable energy. They’re now launching a community solar garden which is an amazing idea for people who aren’t able to reduce their electricity bill by installing solar power. Let’s learn more about the Enova and their plan to revolutionise solar for people in apartments, renters, and many more…

Enova and the Community Solar Garden

Enova Solar Garden
Enova Solar Garden (source: Enova.com.au)

The official Enova website is currently accepting applications from both ‘hosts’ and ‘members’ – that is to say that if you have plenty of free space on your rooftop you could sign up as a host, or if you’re a renter or live in an apartment or can’t get solar for any other reason becoming a member is a great idea. According to the website, “Enova is set to build a 99kW solar system and “sell” the panels to customers who can’t have solar at home”

For the most part it won’t be a ‘solar garden’ per se – most of the power looks like it’ll be generated from rooftop solar. 

According to Echo Net Daily, a Byron Bay based newspaper, a visit from Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Mark Butler met with a great response for the Enova team. Mr Butler visited Enova HQ last Tuesday (June 12) and had some positive things to say about the plan:

Mr Butler said he was ‘excited to support innovative projects like Enova’s Solar gardens’.

The gardens will  ‘make an important contribution towards reducing carbon emissions and transition to a clean energy future, in addition to allowing access to the benefits of solar for renters.’ Mr Butler added. 

With regards to the concept of a ‘solar garden’, the more literal of us are in luck. A feasibility study in Eastern Australia is currently doing research into solar gardens for renters and how viable the concept is. According to EnergyMatters, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has given $240,000 to the $555,00 project – which will be undertaken by the Institute of Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted on how Enova’s community solar garden goes and also keep an eye on the feasibility study into the ‘real’ solar gardens. Some more great news for community solar!

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Community solar in Mayo | Solar Communities Program

The Turnbull Government’s $5 million Solar Communities Program will help community solar in Mayo – a rural electorate in South Australia. Four grants have been provided to local community groups to help install solar/energy storage systems and reduce their electricity bills. 

Community Solar in Mayo

Community Solar in Mayo
Community Solar in Mayo (source: Wikipedia)

According to energy minister Josh Frydenberg, there are four community groups in mayo which will receive grants through the Solar Communities Program, of which round 2 closed on June 7 and allows application for grants of up to $12,500 for rural solar projects: 

  1. Strathalbyn Woolshed received $8,897 to buy and install a 13.11kW solar pv system in order to help minimise their electricity bill.
  2. Nairne Oval Committee received $11,590 for an energy storage system to complement the existing 15kW solar system at the Nairne and District Sporting Complex.
  3. Macclesfield Recreation Grounds Committee received $9,790 to buy and install a 13.11kW solar system. This will supply ~75% of the ground’s energy requirements.
  4. Hill Radio received $10,249 to buy and install a 6.27kW solar system with battery storage to help minimise their electricity bill.

The Solar Communities Program is being delivered by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in conjunction with the Department of the Environment and Energy. The initial round of funding saw more than $2.8m delivered to 218 community groups. 150 groups are expected to be helped throughout round 2 of the Program.

The Solar Communities Program

According to a press release by Josh Frydenberg and reposted on the Renew Economy site, the program “provides funding for community groups in selected regions across Australia to install rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV), solar hot water and solar-connected battery systems to reduce their electricity costs.”

Here are some other examples of community solar in Australia:

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Solar Gardens – ‘ground solar’ – ARENA funding.

Those unable to get traditional solar systems installed on their roof may wish to take a look at the upcoming solar gardens scheme we will see in Australia. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are funding a trial of the ‘ground solar’ in (mostly) regional areas of NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Solar Gardens – Alternatives to Roof Solar

Solar Gardens in Australia
Solar Gardens in Australia (source: ARENA)

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, those without a rooftop who still want to invest in solar power will be in luck if they’re based in Blacktown, Shoalhaven, Byron Bay, Townsville, or Swan Hill – ARENA and ‘other participants’ are providing around $550,000 in funding to assist the trial.

Dr Liz Develin, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment’s deputy secretary of energy, water and portfolio strategy (wonder if she has to buy extra long business cards?) discussed how the department are hoping to achieve with the rollout:

“We are trialling solar gardens with the aim of helping renters, low-income households and those living in apartments save on their energy bills,” she said.

“Blacktown is a hotspot for rooftop solar and we are really excited to see how this trial goes. The average Western Sydney household with a 4-kilowatt solar system on their roof could already be saving up to $900 a year.”

Specifics on the scheme are still a little thin on the ground (sorry…) but the solar gardens are ‘generally’ under 100kW so as to keep the STCs (small-scale renewable energy generation certificates). The University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures and the Community Power Agency will lead this project.

Solar gardens are growing faster than any other segment of solar power in the US (200MW of new capacity was rolled out in 2016) – so perhaps this is the start of a revolution where the word ‘solar’ doesn’t necessarily conjure up the image of panels on a roof. I have no doubt we’ll see blockchain technology integrated or, for the bigger gardens such as those at mid-large size apartment blocks, some microgrids available to help balance demand.

Are you interested in applying to join the solar garden trial? Watch this space. More info to come as we have it!

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Community Solar: Clean Energy 4 Goulburn

A group of residents in Goulburn have joined together to create a community solar farm. The 1.2MW AC output Clean Energy 4 Goulburn solar farm will have 4000 non-reflective PV solar panels and the capacity to power between 350 and 500 houses in the region. It will be completed in 2018. 

Clean Energy 4 Goulburn

Clean Energy 4 Goulburn Team
Clean Energy 4 Goulburn Team (source: ce4g.org.au)

After a lack of interest in renewable energy for Goulburn, a group of seven locals led by group president Ed Suttle, formed Clean Energy 4 Goulburn in 2014.  They were hoping to raise $2m to finance their project, with around 50% coming from the local community, as the group made a commitment that they will be majority community owned. 

Following a viable feasibility study in 2015/16, a DA was made to the Goulburn Mulwaree Council for their solar farm to be built on a 2.5-hectare site east of Goulburn owned by Divall’s Haulage. After a protracted approval process, CE4G are partnering with Essential Energy (which in itself took 5 months to be approved), who own the power infrastructure in Goulburn, to get permission to use their poles and wires to transport the energy.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the GE4G team are hoping to sell 50% of its eventual renewable output to one major end users (e.g. local government or a large institution), and the remaining 50% can be sold (via an electricity retailer) to the greater Goulburn community. 

Click here to visit the Clean Energy 4 Goulburn site and learn more about their plans.

The $380m Gunning Solar Farm is about 50km west of Goulburn (and is still in early development stages) but other than that there aren’t any other solar farms in Goulburn right now. 

Community Solar Farms

Earlier this year investors sunk over $3m into Australia’s largest community solar project in Canberra – the Majura Solar Farm. This is expected to be completed in 2018 also and, with 533 backers, certainly won’t be the last time we see community solar farms being built in Australia. Bringing the power back to the people, especially in rural areas, is going to get a lot larger over the coming years. 

See a video about the Goulburn community solar farm below! 

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sonnenCommunity – Info, Australia Release Date?

sonnenCommunity is a peer-to-peer energy-sharing solution which has been live in Germany (with a small expansion in Italy) for over three years. The nationwide, cloud-based, virtual power plant is comprised of around 8,000 homes with storage panels and a sonnenBatterie and has been growing rapidly. With their recent announcement of an American sonnenCommunity and rapid expansion of sonnen in Australia (including their sonnenFlat flat rate electricity offering), how long will it be until we see the service in Australia? 

About sonnenCommunity

sonnenCommunity in Europe Statistics
sonnenCommunity in Europe Statistics (source: sonnenbatterie.de)

According to the official site, it’s a ‘community of sonnenBatterie owners who are committed to a cleaner and fairer energy future’. The site has a live widget showing the feed-in for the last 12 months, which was showing almost 15 million kWh and the grid consumption, which was a little over 8 million. This means the prevention of almost 9 million tonnes of co2. Amazing statistics! 

We’ve also embedded a video below about the service – give it a watch and let us know in the comments if you have any questions.

sonnenCommunity in Arizona, USA

sonnen announced a partnership with Mandalay Homes this week, which will bring their ‘Clean Energy Communities’ initiative to 3,000 homes in Arizona. This will mean the deployment of over 10GW of solar panels and 11.6MW of battery storage systems in the ‘Jasper’ community in Prescott Valley. 

As America has many different grids and operators, the homes will be connected to local utility Arizona Public Service (APS). The systems will trade electricity between themselves and will try to minimise flow back into the APS grid and maximise the amount of power bought from the sonnenCommunity in peak times (3-8pm). When required, the sonnenBatteries will recharge from the grid during off-peak times (2-5am). 

sonnen Director of Business Development Olaf Flohr estimated in PV Magazine that the system will allow Jasper residents to be 75-80% energy independent and that bills will be around $24 USD per month. 

sonnenCommunity in Australia

sonnenCommunity was easier to launch in Germany because they have one interconnected grid system – which means sonnen was able to cut out the utility companies and work directly with the grid operator to launch their service. 

Usually, a regional utility company will manage the sale, distribution, and energy movements through the grid. It’ll be interesting to see how sonnenCommunity fares in America – this ‘trial run’ will see how much opportunity there is to expand in areas such as Australia. 

Given the fact that Australia is a world leader when it comes to household solar installations, it’d make sense to bring the service over here. Watch this space! 

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Reposit Power and their Virtual Power Station

Canberra-based renewable energy startup Reposit Power are predicting their client base will double within a year, and hope to have their technology in 5,000 homes by 2020. Their ‘virtual power station’ model is one we’ve seen before (Enova’s community solar, AGL’s virtual power plant which is in advanced stages of trials), but we’re excited to see how Reposit’s system works. Anything that helps improve baseline power is great for Australian energy as a whole. 

Reposit Solar, the Reposit Box, and ‘Grid Credits’

Reposit Power Control Diagram
Reposit Power Operation Diagram (source: repositpower.com.au)

Reposit Power have a ‘smarter, more intuitive way’ to control energy usage. According to their site, it typically costs approximately 4-6% on top of solar + storage, but these batteries will then be paid off in half the time as standard solar + storage. 

The system learns your energy usage patterns to feed back into the grid at optimum times. Every GridCredit you feed back into Reposit’s virtual grid represents a dollar off your bill – and the system automatically trades excess energy for GridCredits when the demand is at its highest. 

The system also uses advanced weather models to predict solar usage, factors in peak/offpeak tariffs, and will even charge your system overnight from the cheaper tariffs if it detects a probably energy shortfall for the next day’s peak hours.  It has an app which will display all information you need to know about the system, how much you’re saving, and how many GridCredits you are earning. 

Reposit Power Compatible Batteries

There are currently eight Reposit compatible batteries – they are available ‘pre-integrated’ from leading vendors or you can 

  • LG Chem Resu 6.4kWh
  • LG Chem Resu
  • LG Chem Resu HV
  • Fronius Solar Battery
  • GCL e-KwBe
  • Pylontech
  • Tesla Powerwall 1
  • Samsung All in One ESS

Reposit Power & Tesla Powerwall 2 Compatibility

Please note that there are no GridCredits on the Tesla Powerwall 2 as they won’t integrate with cloud / Internet only based control systems – given that it wouldn’t be able to function correctly if the Internet was unavailable. Since the Powerwall 2 is tremendously popular, this is a serious blow to Reposit Power’s ‘virtual power station’ – wonder if they’ll figure out a way to rectify this before the Tesla Powerwall 3 announcement

If you want to read more about Reposit’s choice to not integrate with these cloud control systems please click here to read a detailed post on their website. 

If you want to understand Reposit’s system please view the video below! 

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