Double Jeopardy – Meter confusion in NSW – end of premium solar then what!

Last week we posted about the effects of Gross and Net metering, and changes to feed-in tariff in NSW. Since then Renew Economy posted another take on the meter confusion as NSW prepares for the end of premium solar tariffs. The quotes are attributed to Geoff Bragg of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Co2Land org feels there is another problem and that is the apparent state government attitude that ‘play space’ is their domain and targeted solutions are too hard to achieve as ‘real’ outcomes. What worries even more is that the data collection can also lead to Solar customers being easily targeted for use of system charges to benefit network businesses – double jeopardy you could say. That being the case microgrids, community projects and other disruptive to business as usual energy companies will be in for a difficult time.

Quoted: “There is fear that solar households will be forced to adopt “smart meters”, and pay a hefty fee of up to $700 unless they sign on for a long-term contract with a retailer. There is confusion about what sort of metering can be adopted. The Level 2 “sparkies” are outraged that their investment in training has been undermined.

 

The issue will be raised at a meeting of the solar industry this Friday, under the auspices of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

 

Spokesman Geoff Bragg says it’s pretty clear that the NSW government is opting to bring forward the “market-led” rollout of smart meters in NSW by energy retailers, about 12 months earlier than the national plan to make metering an open market in 2017.

 

“This approach is intended to solve the problem that about 130,000 of the 160,000 Solar Bonus Scheme customers will want to have their solar system Net metered & billed rather than their current Gross metering, to gain the best advantage from their solar PV system when the scheme ends on December 31,” Bragg says.

 

“Their intent is also not to be seen forcing a smart meter, or even a meter change, on anyone. But there are a lot of unanswered questions.

 

The first is:  Do we need new meters?  Bragg says the answer is complicated:

 

“As some have suggested, we might not need to change meters at all – some gross and consumption meter combinations could in theory be netted off at billing stage, some not, and with varying degrees of accuracy.

 

“In some meters, the full data set is in the meter somewhere, but existing meter readers don’t collect the full interval data set, just billing period totals. It’s actually very difficult to get any solid answers about what is possible, and what is not, in each network in each metering combination.

 

“Some have suggested that the upgrade to smart meters will cost up to $700 each, and that consumers will have to foot the bill, either by an up-front charge for the metering, or by being locked into long-term contracts.

 

“We can assume that energy retailers will compete for customers offering low, or zero cost metering upgrades, but will regional & rural customers get the same offerings, be left waiting, or even have to pay additional charges? Regional & rural customers account for a significant proportion of the solar installed in NSW. Will the offered tariff structures discriminate against solar customers with “free” smart meters?”

 

The question over Data:

 

“Data is everything in the world of individual empowerment and disruptive technologies; If access to metering data is the right of the consumer, then having real-time access to both solar production & consumption, can assist households & businesses make smart decisions about when to run appliances.

 

“As any solar household in NSW with a simple NET meter installed will attest, it’s impossible to know how much of your solar is being self consumed on-site, or being exported, until you wait for the tally at the end of a billing period and try to work it out from inverter and meter readouts.

 

“There are external metering solutions available to give you this information, but none of them are cheap and require professional installation. It would make sense to have this information available to all solar PV owners. Assessing households & businesses for energy storage is a whole lot easier with accurate consumption & production data.

 

“There must be IT start-ups waiting in the wings for access to our energy profile data. Can we instruct our energy retailer to give our personal production and consumption data to third parties? The NSW government supports the new innovative sharing economy; they have an opportunity to mandate a data stream that could unlock unimagined economies.

 

“It is still unclear what the minimum standard for any metering equipment will be. Will the various smart meters offered by different retailers be required to collect a data stream for Gross solar generation, and a separate data stream for Consumption, netting off the 2 data streams for billing purposes? Will the NSW government allow energy retailers to just install smart meters that only record the NET energy data, effectively blind to solar production, short-changing consumers?”

 

The question of Accurate, Clear Information:

 

“What the solar industry & consumers need is some answers from the NSW government about what is going to happen & when. They’ve had 7 years to plan for the closure of the scheme.

 

“We are tired of waiting for accurate, clear information. The NSW Department of Trade & Investment called a workshop meeting for stakeholders on the 2nd November 2015 to discuss the closure of the Solar Bonus Scheme, stating its intent to send a letter with clear information to all SBS customers in Dec 2015 or Jan 2016.

 

“It’s now mid-March and we are told the draft letter is still waiting for ministerial approval, but should be arriving in households around NSW in a week or so. We hope it is packed with clear, accurate information on what consumers need to do at what cost, and by when.

 

“Apparently there are separate teams in the departments, one dealing with the closure of the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme, the other dealing with the “market-led” rollout of smart meters. One team doesn’t seem to answer questions about the other team’s project.

 

The SEIA NSW annual installers meeting will be held in Sydney on Friday, March 18. Bragg says it is a full day conference for members and guests, aimed at PV installers designers and suppliers and this issue will be one of many on the agenda. NSW government representatives have been invited and have agreed to present to the SEIA NSW meeting on Friday.” Unquote.

Gross and Net Metering, and Feed-in Tariff Changes

In recent times, a number of people have asked for clarification about the effects of Gross and Net metering, and changes to feed-in tariff. This follows a number of reports in newspapers and information sources such as the RENEW ECONOMY of the effects of rules changes. Below is a simple take of the what.

 

In NSW, from 31 Dec 2016, around 160,000 electricity customers will be disadvantaged if they do not switch from gross to net energy metering, and it is estimated only around 85,000 would have switched in time. The question gets down to: What is driving the changes and what are the actual changes that need to take place too.

 

First thing to understand is on-site meter changes can take less than 1 hour. What complicates things is a new Chapter 7 of the National Electricity Rules, and the regulations for new metering businesses that will spring up as a result. Will the customer benefit or will it just cost them? The evidence is retailers will benefit from continuing to ‘own’ the customer, and the customer will pay for the ‘privilege’. So customers that own their Solar panels will be less disadvantaged than those still paying them off, etc. Chances are all will pay more.

 

What is the difference between gross and net metering?

 

The gross-metered scheme means the entire output of the inverter is metered, and the total energy consumption at the premises is metered by the flat-rate or time-of-use meter.

 

With net metering, the output of the inverter is combined with the general load of the premises, ‘behind’ the consumption meter. This meter now needs to measure both energy import (consumption) and export (feed-in) in separate registers.

 

Some meters already the capability, and do net metering now, or can be reprogrammed. Some meters need to be replaced, as they are not capable of measuring power flows separately.

 

You now know meters and there capability is one thing. But, there is more:

 

To change from a gross feed-in tariff to a net scheme, three things need to be addressed: switchboard and general wiring, a potential meter change and ‘the’ tariff change.

 

You need to pay an electrician to look at the wiring in the switchboard, and the wiring change is generally straightforward. Budget the work to cost from $200. The wiring change likely is to disconnect the power from the inverter to the gross meter and move the wire to the part of the switchboard that feeds the general light and power circuits. This then becomes a ‘behind’ the existing consumption meter connection. The meter now functions as the net energy import and export meter.

Also at this point, after a final meter reading the old meter is removed from the meter panel and returned to the network distributor company, or whoever owned the meter.

 

The metering rules and regulations

 

In most cases it only takes minutes to physically remove, change or reprogram a meter.

However, the rules and regulations have changed. With change comes with it complications that include who owns the meter, who can do the work and what type of net-meter is used.

No longer do network businesses exclusively own the meter of residential and small business connections. No longer are Accredited Service Providers (ASPs), authorised by the distributors to install and change the meters. The former system was efficient and effective for the installation of the gross meter when all that needed was a contractor to make the wiring change and change the meter all in one visit with one authorisation.

Chapter 7 of the National Electricity Rules changes (the chapter concerned with the metering) guides that the electricity retailers have a lot more involvement in who supplies and reads the meters on a small customer’s premises. The change also has lead to a number of retailers now owning metering businesses themselves. The world of metering for small customers is no longer the exclusive realm of the distributor.

Also complicating things is that the vast majority of the existing meters out on smaller sites are the ‘accumulation’ meters (flat rate and time-of-use metering that is generally read quarterly) will stay with the distributor. However many of the new ‘smart’ meters will come those retailers with close links to the new meter companies. Also complicating the situation is those retailers that do not own metering businesses will continue to rely on the distributors or other accredited meter providers to carry out the metering work.

 

The tariff change

 

The change is due to the closure of the solar bonus scheme, under which households with solar panels can sell electricity back to the grid at a rate of either 60¢ or 20¢ per kilowatt hour.

From December 31, that amount is set to plummet to around 6¢ per kilowatt-hour as the scheme closes ‘as planned’.

This leaves the households potentially selling electricity to the grid for 6¢ per kilowatt hour but being forced to buy it from their retailer for around 30¢ kWh

Smart meters are required for customers to switch from gross metering – the current situation – to net metering, so they can potentially power their households with solar panels and sell any excess back to the grid.

 

How the meters are read

 

All meters are read, either manually or remotely (smart meters can be read remotely) by a meter data agency, the readings are then published to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). From there, both the distributor and the retailer can access the readings for writing up your bill. Some bills are bundled (a lump sum covers the retail and network transport cost), some unbundled (all costs are transparent).

What is different in a net-metered bill is there are two main line items:

The energy consumed over the billing period based on the reading of the ‘import’ register on the meter; and

The energy exported over the billing period based on the reading of the ‘export’ register on the meter.

 

Why you can’t keep the old gross energy meter to give you generation data

 

The gross generation meter most likely belongs to and is registered to the distributor, and for as long as it is in use it is their responsibility to read it and maintain it. The customer could ask to buy it from the distributor, but at the very least they will need to come out and remove their nameplate and delete it from their system. A call to the distributor is helpful here to see what their policy is.

A gross meter is made redundant when most inverters have been fitted as the inverters have an ‘energy generated’ readout on them anyway. It is just not part of the register.

Can’t you leave the metering as it is, and just subtract the generation reading from the consumption reading ?

No, and the reason is that the energy sharing changes moment by moment, and is charged at different rates. So the net off is also at intervals.

 

The process that kicks off a change of meter

 

It starts with a call to your electricity retailer.

When you call a retailer to request a swap from gross to net metering will most likely be speaking to a sales representative and they will take this opportunity to renew and recontract their arrangements with the customer. If you are out of contract expect them to be really nice with a special offer.

It is very likely the offer will include an upgrade to a smart meter (known as a type 4 or interval meter). It is very likely the meter will have a value to be passed on of around $600.

The benefit of the new smart digital meters is you can be offered more and newer services, such as monthly billing and access to energy use and energy out (feed-in) data through a retailer’s web services (where they offer the service).

 

So you know your rights

 

It is the customer’s choice whether to continue to use accumulation metering or upgrade to a digital (smart) meter.

There is no obligation for the customer to move to a smart meter (type 4), as quarterly manually-read (known as a type 5 or type 6) meter reading and billing will support net metering and provide the same net-metering benefit. So long as you do not export energy (and expect a feed-in rate.)

If a customer is not contracted to a retailer, then the field is open. Shopping around for the best deal is useful, as some retailers may offer a free upgrade to a digital meter or a more attractive energy supply contract.

 

Some important questions to ask of yourself and the retailer

 

How much will the process to change from gross to net metering cost me ?

You should be aware there are a number of steps in the changeover that may or may not be included in the discussion with the retailer.

Firstly, the visit from the electrician to change the wiring will generally cost a standard callout fee plus hourly rate – it could be a couple of hundred dollars if the switchboard is not well set up.

Secondly, the actual meter change or reprogramming is likely to attract a charge of between $50 and $600. That work is likely to be carried out by an ASP, and the fees listed in the distributors’ pricing information on their websites.

If your retailer wants to be really nice they will be offering attractive pricing to customers who sign a new energy retail contract or elect to take on a smart meter, perhaps to the point where the change from gross to net is ‘free’. But beware of the ‘free lunch’!

 

So you know more

Can I change early without losing any money?

No. The power flows through the meters change as soon as the switchboard wiring is altered.

A list of accredited metering providers is on the AEMO website, at

http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Retail-and-Metering/Metering-Services/Accredited-Metering-Providers-National-Electricity-Market-MP-cat-A-and-B-services

 

energy efficiency barriers – problem 1,2,3

They are at the end of political and economic capital and old Generation assets have a problem – they are competing with innovation that promotes efficiency. The problem is not new, just reborn ideals that have new tools available. Recently the ACT Energy Minister said it very well (as reported this week in the RENeweconomy ) as the real issue is not that wind, solar and other technologies are added to the grid. It’s that old and inefficient generators are refusing to leave. Therefore new renewables are not the problem.

Looking at the problems of our energy system as a whole CO2Land org sees, just like our bills read – three pricing areas that can be improved. Or should we say need to be addressed.

Problem 1 – the price of energy is set by a market mechanism that in Australia is opportunistic. Old inefficient generators can remain viable by gaming based on availability and triggers to elevate prices. So long as they remain the ‘baseload’ capability and sufficient ‘events’ occur in the market they will remain viable. With or without a renewable target review, the Old King Coal will remain. But we will pay more – not less. Why? Like an old car it needs maintenance and those costs must be passed through. Of course the fuel cost factors in too.

Problem 2 – the Grid system is a capital hungry beast. Both transmission and distribution networks (poles and wires) are encouraged to overinvest. Overinvestment is encouraged in the name of reliability and capability. How can this be necessary? Our regulatory system set the network charges and penalties. When the prices are set for the charges (network tariffs) the weighted cost of capital and the need for maintenance and cash injections need to be reliably for at least 5 years is part of the formulae. Estimated is approximately 10% more is payed than need be – with or without a carbon price – OK!

So what should we do? Agree to keep up prices or encourage a write down of the asset – In 1996 or thereabouts the answer was do no maintenance other than priority works. The system had sufficient redundancy that it could take it. In this way privatisation can look promising. Then some time later the capital injections will be required again and up go costs – it does sound very much like todays 2014 talk too does it not!

Problem 3 – the issue of managing costs to consumers. This is the vexed issue – the supply side believes costs should go up, demand side costs should go down. Therefore you could say energy efficiency means demand decreases and prices will go down. But, think this Problem 2 shows the networks are overinvested and cost will be recovered even if not actually expended – they can be anticipated! Then think Problem 3, the market anticipates events 5% of the time and this accounts for 20% of the costs. A nice little earner lost if you change that!

We know some of you will be saying but a capacity market will fix that, just change the rules will be your cry. The reality those with the courage to change things will have 5 years to bring about the change and then need to predict 2 years in advance. They will need to establish how to impose penalties on the gamers. And, we know the gamers are very good at lobbying for no change. They might even say climate change bah humbug!

But, you know all three problems have another issue: Each problem area participant can be asked what does efficiency mean to you – The answers are very likely to differ and that is an issue for policy makers too. Think this – Federal government will side with security of supply, state with balance of supply and local and consumers with the cost of supply. Makes for interesting responses does it not!

Rock and Hardplace – RET and DAP predictions

Let us now predict: Soon after the RET review the fossil fuel generators will celebrate with a short-term price relief. It is a two edged sword, as they will discover the relief may be temporary. Partly because large-scale renewables facilities are likely to continue to experience cost reductions, and the Federal government’s Direct Action Plan may further dampen electricity demand – not a good outlook for coal fired generation known for its baseload dependability to be profitable.

It is scheduled for the Australian government’s Direct Action Plan (DAP) to release its white paper -Emissions Reduction Fund, this month April 2014. Also scheduled for mid-2014, the Government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) Review expert panel will report to the Prime Minister. We might even guesstimate that the PM will find DAP will be unlikely to be a benefit or too expensive for the resources sector, and simply drop it. It could be easier than you think, why because it is not yet funded!

Apart from funding, the Governments’ own wording suggests the final design of the government’s Direct Action Plan will be critical for coal generators, and their survival, with potential for emissions baselines and penalties to curb potential growth prospects. Add to this that individual states do more and encourage energy efficiency, and other large-scale efforts to improve energy efficiency via the Emissions Reduction Fund will be a terrible place for coal fired generators to be if the predicted demand for electricity continues to decline. This will put significant pressure on profit margins of these generators.

CO2Land org feels the PM is in a rock and hard place, by his own doing. Come July he will have no choice but to continue with the threat to repeal the Carbon Price Mechanism (which he refers to as the Carbon Tax) – Which results in a short term gain for coal fired generation. Even if RET is reduced or halved, the long term trend for coal output is still dependent on the price effectiveness of that form of supply – it might even need a ‘subsidy’ to continue supply.

That said, if energy security is the stated reason for a subsidy, it is likely the penetration of renewable energy will continue because it will continue to be subject to falling prices to its advantage, and those prices are dropping because of efficiencies in the way it can deliver. Let us not forget – business too will be more efficient, and in order to survive will factor in the need to reduce energy demands, or at least be more efficient in the use of energy.

Lastly, if the PM were thinking of killing off the Direct Action Plan (DAP) it would be unwise. It is the only mechanism the government has to show they care, or are earth aware. Even South Africa has come to recognize a price on carbon + Renewable Energy + Energy Efficiency + Land use change = business success. We don’t want to appear dumb do we!

 

 

Inverted J Curve – Gas, and RET recommendation predictions

Time to make predictions: Gas prices will rise through an ‘inverted J curve’ response and world political pressures – antidote – devalue our Dollar. The outcome of the Australian Renewable Energy Target Review will recommend ‘constraint payments’ to be paid to renewable sources such as wind farms.

Gas prices will rise very soon, but not because of domestic pressure, but more because we will ‘promise’ it to be exported. Japan says thank you, as will others. This prediction is not new and it may have been part of the detail not yet released to the public over our new trade agreement. But the actual more recent driver is energy security concerns because of the Russian threats to gas supplies.

The evidence comes from Russia itself and the letter released by the Kremlin says that ‘if Ukraine does not settle its energy bill, Gazprom will be “compelled” to switch over to advance payment, and if those payments are not made, it “will completely or partially cease gas deliveries”. Mr Putin added that Russia was “prepared to participate in the effort to stabilise and restore Ukraine’s economy” but only on “equal terms” with the EU”.

Why is that so scary? Nearly one-third of the EU’s natural gas comes from Russia.

Co2Land org previously said we tend to borrow policy from overseas and then rebadge as a new idea here. Our Eastern seaboard National Electricity Market is a prime example. It should follow then what is happening in the UK will happen here (albeit the gas supply market is their greater influence and here we have the coal supply as the influence).

You might note that also recently posted by CO2Land org was that our Conservative brigade finds it ‘unpopular’ for wind farms to be ‘forced’ onto local rural communities. They will find it reassuring that the UK are it is “Long unpopular among some Conservative MPs from rural constituencies, onshore wind turbines appear to have incurred the wrath of the Prime Minister as well”. We do not have to be a guru to work out that this tactic will be mimicked in Australia, anytime soon.

There is the pointer to this likely development? Plans to restrict wind farms to seas around Britain will need much larger subsidies from consumers, experts say.

Newspaper reports suggest that the Conservative Party will include a pledge to limit onshore turbines in next year’s election manifesto.

But a member of a working group reviewing UK wind energy said this would require increased subsidies of around £300,000 per turbine per year.

Prof Richard Green said this would have a knock-on effect on electricity bills.

The dilemma for our politics is, just as they in UK promised the next few years will be difficult for the better good – they limit subsidies and toughen planning laws to make wind farms unviable in the countryside. The issue will be that to do so will make alternative energy more expensive to build and run. Why? As the UK report points out that “onshore wind energy is more expensive than electricity from coal or gas, but wind is one of the cheapest sources of low carbon power”. It is going to be very difficult to eliminate a energy source with a low carbon benefit! Forget arguments about Carbon Price (Carbon Tax sometimes called for emotive responses), this is about the need to respond to business pressures for them to be competitive, and like it or not gas prices are going up and wind is looking good in terms of low carbon benefit. Add to that the energy storage capability being developed and game set and match.

In the mean time (interim) constraints being put on renewable generation may well include payments to not participate in the market. This would allow traditional coal fired generators to at least run until the end of their economic life.

Is this fair? Glass half full or half empty – depends on your view.

 

 

Renewables require less incentive money – because

Having read a good news story that renewables require less incentive money because they are very successful, it is then you will notice other media is displaying it as a negative. We suspect the matter will always be reported ‘on balance’ – code for a licence to adjust for the audience. So which story do you want to hear? Is your glass half empty or half full?

Example one: “Global investment in renewables fell by 14% during 2013, but the percentage of electricity generated by renewable sources still grew, a report shows. It said investment fell for the second year in a row because of cheaper technology, but also as a result of uncertainty surrounding energy policy. However, falling costs meant renewables accounted for 8.5% of the global electricity mix, up from 7.8% in 2012. Renewables accounted for 43.6% of newly installed generation capacity in 2013.”

Unfortunately the above is reported as a negative, and actually was a good news story. The good news is – renewables have continued to get cheaper and the industry built more Gigawatt capacity with less dollars. If you continue to research you would notice:
Globally, renewables – excluding large hydro -accounted for 43.6 per cent of newly installed generating capacity in 2013.

Also the costs of generating electricity via onshore wind turbines and crystalline silicon PV systems have fallen by some 15% and 53% respectively since the third quarter of 2009. This means increasingly, the competitiveness of wind and solar compared to conventional options for generation of energy – such as coal-fired power stations, gas or diesel generators, or nuclear reactors. Other evidence is also supplied by the NSW Government that this is a fact. Globally, an increasing number of wind and solar projects are being built without any subsidy support. Especially noted is Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

Example two: ”The global power utility market is currently undergoing an increase in capital expenditures. Increasing power demands, aging infrastructure, new energy sources and regulatory pressures are contributing to this growth in capital spending and projects.”

Coupling these factors with the staffing constraints of many utilities often results in difficultly completing this increase in workload. However, with these challenges come opportunities to evaluate and create more efficient project delivery models.

The report – Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014 – was produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The assessment said the US $214.4bn (£129.2bn) worldwide investment in the renewable sector during 2013 was 23% below the 2011 record. One of the report’s lead editors, UN energy expert Eric Usher, described 2013 as a “mixed year” for global renewable energy. Identifying the reasons behind the fall in investment, he explained: “One of the major factors was the fall in the cost of equipment. “Another negative factor was a touch of policy uncertainty, which saw investors delay spending their money.” He told BBC News that the fall in the cost of the clean energy technologies – particularly solar – had “left some governments thinking that they had been paying too much and reviewed their subsidies”.

Mr Usher added that while some nations, such as Germany, had been able to adapt very quickly, “other nations have not handled it quite so well, causing nervousness among investors”. He explained that for a number of years, there was overcapacity in the sector and supply was greater than demand, making it difficult for firms to record a profit. But lower costs, improved efficiencies and market consolidation had allowed companies to return to profitability. Mr Usher observed that there were a number of positive signs during 2013, including the fact that the renewable energy sectors in a number of nations, particularly in Latin America, were able to grow completely free of government subsidies. He added: “For the first time in 2013, China installed more new generation capacity using renewables than fossil fuels. “So it is a good sign for the sector that the world’s largest emerging economy is taking the sector very seriously indeed.” Responding to the assessment, Unep executive director Achim Steiner said: “A long-term shift in investment over the next few decades towards a cleaner energy portfolio is needed to avoid dangerous climate change, with the energy sector accounting for around two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions. “The fact that renewable energy is gaining a bigger share of overall generation globally is encouraging. To support this further, we must re-evaluate investment priorities, shift incentives, build capacity and improve governance structures.” The report’s findings are being presented to a Future of Energy Summit in New York, US, which runs until Wednesday – article attributed to Mark Kinver (BBC News), 7th April, 2014.

For more on the article please visit http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26923260

If you take the time to read this report you will notice it is a good news story, equipment prices are falling, and therefore not a much is needed to be spent to implement. So investment needed was 23% lower in 2013 compared to 2011. In example 1 the story said prices have fallen by as much as 53% for solar equipment. This can be construed by the shrewd to askew what ever story you want. Enough to sit you ‘Bolt’ upright hey Andrew?

Friends by degrees – the ACT story

Reported is the NSW government is at war with itself, as is some Federal politicians, as is some local government people. The canny troublemaker is the ACT Government. For accepting that showing example is better than doing nothing to support climate science.   For doing what the NSW Government made allowance to do in addressing the future.

It is all a bit odd if you take into account that in war you might say 2 degrees of separation is sufficient to warrant attention. In finance it would take up to 5 degrees to lose sight of the target. A canny businessperson might think there are opportunities at 3 degrees of separation. In terms of climate we have evidence that 4 degree of temperature difference is on track under climate change scenarios and may in all likelihood accelerate into tipping points of no return in a very short time frame. So if we talk of degrees of separation and degrees temperature as similar measures it all becomes most worrisome.

Looking at what is being said (to keep you informed currently NSW and Federal Government is coalition parties):

The Federal Member for Hume – said ‘green policy gone mad. Wholesale prices will triple’. Then states the NSW Government will contribute to that increase by applying to take baseload power out of the system when the wind does not blow. Interesting when you consider the NSW Government is the approving power for its own considerable wind farm precinct building exercise.

The Chief Minister of the ACT and the ACT Minister of Environment and a thousand other things (in a colloquial sense) have said small increases will occur in energy prices, but business confidence will pick up, as the programs will excite business development. Co2Land org has to admit any attempt to encourage a larger private sector in ACT has to be constructive.

The State Member for Monaro’s best was reserved for his own, the NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy were he challenged that NSW had become the ACT’s junkyard! Claiming little or no support from NSW landholders during consultation processes. Co2Land org finds this interesting as the evidence is only or mostly the Landholders that object are the ones that missed out on a financial benefit. We are happy to be proven wrong on that statement.

The State Member for Burrinjuck (also Minister of Department of Primary Industry, and in a stoush over redistribution of her boundary with the State Member for Goulburn) is to have said to ‘be opposed to inappropriately sited windfarms’. This sounds like a parochial comment of who can and who cannot by the tone.

The State Member for Goulburn is quoted as saying ‘opposes wind farms, but is leaving the door open for other renewables’. Does this mean negotiations are possible?

The Yass Valley Mayor claims communities are really angry about these projects.  The Goulburn Mayor was merely concerned at the methods used and took the opportunity to encourage more settlement in the region. The Palerang Mayor said adequate precautions have been taken to ensure appropriate site and location positioning for developments. CO2Land org too agrees that where impacts on local residents are correctly accessed it is more likely that when incentives are offered the local will accept the arrangements. So is that the real issue, who pork barrels who for what?

But the absolute ‘corker’ (Aussie slang for taking the mickey out of things) is recently the question was asked: “Can you explain to me what a Solar wind farm is”!

What are they all talking about? The ACT Government aiming at 90% renewables by 2020 and the initiatives to make it happen at minimal costs.

Where was it being talked about? Reported by John Mitchell in the Bungendore Mirror 2 April 2014. Had it been 1 April it could have been considered a joke!

Solar mean and means

It is not ‘means’ tested. But it can mean a nightmare. The phone call: My business is wanting to purchase a small scale solar PV array, and I noticed the contract will not guarantee my price, and the price potentially will increase indirectly because the import of electricity will not remain a constant and directly because it is likely the Small Scale Technology Certificate (STC) will not be fixed for the duration.

Why is import of electricity important? The price of electricity is generally either regulated or contestable. Regulated prices are reset according to an application for price changes – you are a price taker. In short, the price changes each reset period and usually set by state government bodies. In a contestable market set by rules of the national body, to reduce your energy consumption you can carry penalties and price risk. Hence, you might find you have to pay a higher price because you have reduced your import of energy needs. Therefore there is no incentive to reduce your energy use.

Next matter is the popular selling point of Solar, and it is the opportunity to benefit from the export of energy. It follows that just as import prices changing is a risk, so is export energy a price risk. Especially when feed in tariffs (FITs) are being phased out, and in Australia – a review of the Renewable Energy Targets (RET), and the promised repeal of the carbon pricing mechanism could see a collapse of the renewable certificate price. The new’ish’ government is hopeful ‘affordable’ energy will follow the review.

So, if you want to protect your purchase by way of a price guarantee from third parties. You most likely cannot if you are larger than 7.5kWp (residential) but under 300kWp. Why? The energy retailers have no interest because of uncertainty exposing them to the price shocks, and commercial buyers of power have a line drawn in the sand of an economic value of no less than 300kWp export capability.

So, if paying a fixed price is important to you – then you should choose an installer who guarantees the price quoted – clearly and irrevocably. Is it possible? Yes, but the vendor needs to be courageous and needs to laterally rethink how they operate. But, we will save that thought for another post.

Still interested in Solar. Onward then we go: What can still be done in Australia to reduce the upfront cost of solar power systems even after hearing “the solar rebate ending”. There is still a financial incentive from the Australian federal government for installing solar. But you need to be quick if you consider the report on the RET review will reach government by July and ‘put to death by the Reich’.

What is tipped to go is the solar subsidy for anyone buying a solar system of up to 100kW. It is called the STC program. Which stands for Small-scale Technology Certificate. Whilst CO2Land org has previously been concerned that the STC is a distortion of the market, it believes any change should be phased out and not shut off suddenly. Another thing to consider is the STC scheme is not described as a rebate (even though it is = it is politically difficult to call it that). If you check what The Clean Energy Regulator says on their website, it says:

“Under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme the reduction in the cost of your solar panel is not a rebate. You will not qualify for any Government-based financial recompense at the completion of any process relating to STCs.”

The meaning of this is that the cash you get off your solar system price does not actually come from the government. It is a government scheme that compels other people to buy your certificates.

So it is a government run scheme, using other people’s money, and it becomes confusing when you consider the question what must change when all government schemes use other people’s money – is it not?  So, if you are confused over why does a scheme that will save you money and tick the box as a financial incentive be considered to have to walk the plank.

The solar Financial Incentive is a subsidy to assist with the upfront cost of installing a Solar Power System. Currently, it is not ‘means’ tested in any way. However, the criteria for claiming it are:

1) Your system is less than 100kWp in size.

2) You get it installed and designed by an accredited professional.

3) You use panels and inverters that are approved for use in Australia.

We said FITs are being phased out, but each state may differ in what is offered. So check out the following, as an example: The Feed In Tariff (FiT). “The FiT is a State Government subsidy in which some states pay you for the electricity that your solar system will export to the grid”.

How to get involved in the Solar Financial Incentive Scheme involves:

1) The regulator creates Renewable Energy Certificates (RECS).

2) The government mandates that fossil fuelled generators have to either build a certain amount of renewable generation (wind/solar) or buy the right to other people’s renewable energy systems in the form of RECs.

3) When you purchase a solar power system for your roof, the government gives you a number of RECS depending on the size of your system is and the region of Australia it is installed.

4) The special type of RECs that you get for under 100kWp solar system are called “Small Scale Technology Certificates” (STCs).

5) You (or more likely your installer) sell the STCs to the fossil fuel generators and use the cash to offset the upfront cost of the solar system purchase.

6) The STC price is a bit like a share price – it fluctuates on the open market depending on supply and demand. E.g. when the solar industry is booming (usually just before the rebate is cut!) then the STC price drops and vice versa.

7) “You can see the current market price of a STC here. Look for the number in the box in the bottom RH corner labeled: STC”.

8) Almost all solar system prices you see advertised will already have the solar Financial Incentive included in the pricing. So watch out for that too.

Earlier we said the amount of solar rebate that you can claim depends on where you live: It is broken down into zones that roughly mean live in the lower southern parts (zone 4) and get less incentive than other parts with central west parts (zone 1) getting the most.

But, beware of a small number of unscrupulous companies that use the “Inflated STC Price Scam” appear to be deceiving the customer into thinking they are getting a great deal and then hitting them with a bill for thousands more than the quoted price when the system is installed.

——

Be clear on what you want:

CO2Land org is aware that many installer/vendor quotes are virtually silent on saying they guarantee what is said in the quote as the STC price.

Co2Land org believes the truly good guys will be totally upfront and transparent that the final amount payable may go up (or down) based on the STC price on the day of the install.

It is up to you to make the decision to buy based on the facts. When ready to sign – why not say ‘This contract is signed for this fixed price only’ and make it a written condition, and have all parties endorse each copy!

 

Solar black spots and Specs

What’s the story about solar – simple answer: It’s complicated. Why, it delivers less than you are led to believe; yet it is very sensible, and misinformation prevents you seeing the ‘real’ picture? Should you buy: Probably yes, but are you fully aware of what you buying? Two different buyers have asked very similar questions. For instance, my friend said they would be free of energy bills after fitting solar – $25,000 later they still get bills! A commercial entity is getting nervous about a $70,000 outlay after having heard that you can expect on hot days up to less than 20% less energy output from solar – the return on investment (ROI) would not stand up on those numbers. The obvious in all this: They did not ask the right questions about performance and reliability, they believed the mantra of free energy without considering what was the quantity of free and the quality of claims. Greenwashing and false claims become the issue.

On 17 January 2014, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) successfully prosecuted and had imposed fines of  $145,000 penalty for fake testimonials and false solar energy country of origin representations. You can find the ACCC media release 003/14 on http://www.accc.gov.au .

In direct quote from the media release is “Businesses making misleading representations can harm consumers by influencing them to purchase products, sometimes at a premium price, they otherwise wouldn’t choose to. They can also harm competitors who accurately represent their products by creating an unfair playing field.”

So CO2Land org with the help of WINTELBOFF went looking for a fair playing field specific to Australia. We found something and while it might mention Australia, we think it is applicable for all to take note of:

http://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/the-top-10-things-to-check-on-every-solar-panel-specification/

The Top 10 Things To Check On Every Solar Panel Specification

The message from the author is look carefully at the specifications sheet, “If the spec sheet combined with the quote doesn’t have the answers, call up the solar supplier and ask. If they don’t know the answers, that’s a bad sign”.

The Top 10 Criteria

1. Warranty.

It seems that all panels claim to have a minimum 25 year Power Output Warranty. I’ve covered how to go thru the solar panel warranty with a fine tooth comb here. But the main criteria is to check that the Warranty is backed by an Australian Entity that has to comply with Australian Consumer Protection Laws, and that it is an “on site replacement” warranty. You really don’t want to be removing the panel from your roof and going down the post office to send it back to China! Plus the last time I checked, Chinese consumer protection laws weren’t that hot. (Note: There are some excellent solar panels, made in China, these days and also some shocking ones – the best way to know if the supplier believes in their quality is to see what responsibility they take for the warranty they offer on them)

2. Cost

Typical prices for solar power systems of different kW sizes are shown here. If the cost of your quotes solar system is substantially less, then make sure you are getting a bargain, not a liability by reading this post.

If the price is much more expensive than those show, then either you have a particularly difficult install, or you are paying too much. Get multiple quotes to check which is the case.

3. Manufacturer

Do a quick Google of the manufacturer – What’s their website like? Is there a “warranty” section? Is there an Australian office? How long have they been around? Has anyone had any bad experiences with them on the forums?

4. Panel Type

Is it a mono crystalline, multi crystalline or thin film solar panel, or some wacky new technology? The types of solar panels and their pros and cons are discussed here. Make sure you are happy with the technology that you choose.

5. Solar Panel Efficiency

Unless you have a huge roof, you probably want an efficiency of at least 12%. Otherwise if you ever want to upgrade in the future, you’ll probably struggle to find any roof space left over. However don’t fall into the trap of believing that efficiency is the be all and end all of solar panel quality. You can get great quality panels at the lower end of the efficiency scale. There’s an in depth discussion on solar panel efficiency, when it matters and when it doesn’t here.

6. Power Tolerance

This is the amount that the actual power output of your solar panel can vary from the output specified by the supplier. For example a 165W module with a tolerance of +/- 5% could actually produce from 156.75W up to 173.25W.

So be aware of this number, as it will directly affect the amount of power you can get.

Some manufacturers have a “positive only” power tolerance, which means you are guaranteed to get at least the specified output from the panel and usually more. For example: a 200W solar panel with a tolerance of +5%/-0% will produce a minimum of 200W and a maximum of 210W.

7. Framing Quality

The aluminum frame which goes around the solar panel is a good indicator of the overall quality of the solar panel’s manufacture.

Look at the corners. Are they tidy joins? Are they anodized after the cut, or before. Anodizing after the cut is more time consuming, but means that the 45 degree edge is anodized too, helping protect from corrosion. Are the panels glued (bad), screwed or welded at the corners.

If looks are important to you – then you may want to look for a black anodized frame – they look damn sexy when mounted in a solar array on a roof.

8. The Backsheet.

All solar panels have a plastic backsheet glued on the the back of the panel to protect the solar cells. A flimsy backsheet with any air bubbles or signs of coming unstuck is a sign of a crappy panel.

9. Bypass Diodes

If your panel is mono or multi crystalline then these are a must. They are diodes that cost a few cents each and are put across neighboring of cells inside the solar panel. If you don’t have bypass diodes then a small shadow on a tiny part of your solar panel can stop the entire panel from making electricity.

10. Temperature coefficient.

This is especially important in sunny Australia!

The temperature coefficient is a number that describes how well the panel handles hot temperatures – where hot is defined as greater that 25 degrees Celsius.

The units of this number are “% per degC”

The lower this number, the better.

The higher this number, the more your power will degrade on hot days, when the sun is at full force! And you though that the more sun you had on your roof the more power you would get. Not if this number is too high…

A high temperature coefficient is a sign of a crappy panel. A reasonable number is about 0.5%. If you can get this down to 0.3% that is the sign of an excellent panel. Over 0.7% is a warning sign.

I’m a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and founder of SolarQuotes.com.au. My last “real job” was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division. End quote.

 

CO2Land org ponders the Castrol advertisements of some standing: Oils aint Oils. You can speculate Solar aint Solar = get the facts first.

Then there is the elephant in the room – if you brought junk panels where do you dump them? Are they not still classed as dangerous and capable of shock! We better check that out ASAP too!

 

The elasticity of renewable demand and controversity

Newly-elected federal Liberal MP for Hume, Angus Taylor, is a committed anti-wind campaigner and is reported to be against the NSW government decision to allow the “controversial” Collector Wind Farm decision. In the reported post it was said he hinted policy and that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) review would likely prove the undoing of the wind farm industry in Australia –

“Projects like this seem set to continue unabated until a national review – which the new federal government has committed to in 2014 – can reveal the true economics behind the industry,” he said. “The RET review will look into the massive subsidies for wind farms, which are forcing up electricity prices and propping up an economically unviable industry.”

Source:  Hamish Boland-Rudder, Reporter at The Canberra Times | December 5, 2013 | www.canberratimes.com.au .

Unfortunately, in this country, we have again simply decided that ‘a review’ will do, to ignore that real innovators will suffer. The statement may be best viewed if you dissect the last quote above. In particular: subsidies – the go against the traditional models for supply; forcing up – obviously painful to the traditional models; propping up – this is the corker, as it suggests unless it is the traditional supply model the demand balance cannot be effective. If you think even harder you can also come of the view energy efficiency will be discouraged as decreased demand for energy will threaten the ‘viable’ industry. The most interesting part of all this politicking is that it ignores that what is driving all this angst is that technology is quickly overtaking the industry. Technology that is outmoding conventional supply systems. Like all technology advances it takes courage to move forward, to encourage the uptake and reward the innovators. But, alias my dear for that we need a review and force unreasonable cost to those with the shallow pockets.

However, is the secret deal as simple as reducing subsidies and reducing prices? Unfortunately economics is not that simple it also involves elasticity.