From flaky to flavour of the month: Big ass power companies embrace solar

u turn sign in front of solar power and cooling towers

Utilities that have previously described solar owners as “freeloaders” and being part of a “scam” are now singing solar’s praises.

Has anyone else noticed the changing attitude of utilities to solar power?

Until recently all you could hear in the regular announcements from the fossil fuel companies’ board rooms was that renewable power was “flaky” and dependent on “when the sun shines, when the wind blows…etc”. You know the drill.

Oh but how times change. It’s been almost embarrassing to see former trenchant critics of solar energy, those that have described solar as akin to the devil incarnate of energy production, come charging out of the sheds with new models designed to take advantage of the popularity of solar power in Australia.

In the case of Origin Energy, news came of the introduction of a solar leasing scheme throughout three states that plans to utilise small scale residential and commercial rooftop spaces. The utility, which has previously plastered its bills with incorrect data blaming green energy subsidies for its skyrocketing electricity prices, appears to have flicked the switch to green in an attempt to cash in on solar power’s popularity amongst Australians.

The utility has attempted to get a foot in the door of solar leasing, with a plan to install solar systems on household and small business’ roofs. All this with no up front costs.

Likewise its rival AGL Energy has entered the battery storage revolution with its own version of domestic energy storage. The company had promised a viable form of battery storage by the end of the year but brought the announcement forward to trump the sensational battery storage revelation announced by Tesla.

So what’s brought about the sudden change? It could be a case that the latter day solar energy fans at the big utilities have seen the writing on the wall and acted accordingly. It could be pressure from customers and shareholders.

Indeed one of our key themes at SQ is that, despite years of official obfuscation and delay from our elected reps, solar power (and renewable energy) remains very popular with the Australian public. Of course Aussies know a winner when they see one and a recent Ipsos survey serves to underline this popularity.

The poll, commissioned by ARENA, found an extraordinary 87 percent of respondents supported solar panels on homes and 78 percent agreed with large-scale solar.

Secondly the price of solar has plummeted in recent years and big energy companies are looking to cash in on the affordability of solar for ordinary Australians. What better way to do this than to offer viable battery storage and financial models for solar panels?

The mantra “When the sun doesn’t shine, when the wind doesn’t blow” appears to be replaced by a more pragmatic “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach from big energy utilities. The change in utilities’ attitude to solar power has been slow — glacially slow — but definite.

It mirrors overseas energy utilities expansion into renewable energy and could show the way for future energy production in this country. Perhaps we are witnessing a major shift in the changing attitude of utilities to solar power? How long before those in the federal and state capitals follow suit!

Comments

  1. DNSPs still hate PV (or any other volatile renewable) with a passion. FCAS in South Australia is also quite lucrative with the large installed wind generation. Retailers are finally working out that PV is quite useful at, say, 8c/kWh – beats paying up to $10/kWh spot price during a heatwave. No surprises there that they’re finally jumping on board.

    I’m still quite concerned about PV receiving preferential treatment over other micro renewables. My run of river micro Kaplan turbine is ineligible for inputs, yet my PV system is. What gives? At least the hydro can be controlled to a certain degree!

  2. ramjetski says

    Origin has been playing this game for years. Selling solar installations to its customers while complaining about solar power. They are still doing it. Meanwhile they continue to rob people by paying 6 cents /KwH while selling it at nearly 26 cents / KwH. Watch access charges to the poles and wire network to surge upwards in order to maintain profits.

    • Ramjetski, Do Origin own DNSP infrastructure these days? Impossible for them to increase access charges if they don’t control the assets.

      As for robbing people – Origin, like all businesses (including mine) – are in the game for profit. Factoring in a contract price per MWh for various sources is based on many factors, reliability, start time and capacity. Everyone’s PV systems combined is a big DU, with the caveat that it’s variable and only available during daylight hours. A large coal-fired generator typically hedges for around $50/MWh. To value PV much more than this is poor economics.

    • Robin Shannon says

      In 2011 I had contracted Origin Energy to fit a solar array to our property at almost double the cost of equivalent solar providers, but my rationale was that I would get a top quality system and installation and time to pay it off. For this reason I did not unduly complain about Origin’s increased tariff charges because they were at least giving me a 54c per Kw feed in tariff for my solar contribution, and this to a certain extent evened the slate!
      Since then we have had full page advertisements from Origin Energy in the press, and letters in the mail to tell us that a portion of the 9% carbon tax repeal of roughly 5% would be passed on to us but, in reality, all that has happened to us is our charges are being continually increased at an astronomic rate….and our solar feed-in tariff is being cut with every bill!

      To add insult to injury that ‘top quality’ solar system I commissioned Origin Energy to install broke down after three years…the inverter packed it in and a replacement unit is no longer sold in this country, and some form of repair was at least a month away.
      Our solar installation did get repaired. A technician from another solar company replaced the components in our existing inverter and we are back producing electricity again. The technician volunteered that they had received a lot of business replacing inverters of this make (Clenergy) with exactly the same problem through Origin Energy. He stated that they are imported from China, and are at the bottom end of the quality scale and this is a fault common to them…..Not only that but the company that installed the system on behalf of Origin, (Service Stream Environmental Services) had not wired the system correctly and considerable wiring alteration had to be done!!!.
      Isn’t that great! Origin’s company policies are not just full of mis-truths, they are cheats as well! If this current inverter behaves as the previous one, and (by the sound of it) many others have, I will be taking action against Origin Energy under the ‘fitness for purpose’ section of the consumer protection act and I will demand what I paid for in the first place….a top quality system. I have had enough of Origin Energy!
      Have I been screwed by Origin Energy???…..you bet I have! They have simply lied to me and taken advantage of me from day one. Not a solitary transaction has happened the way they informed us it would!

      So Jon, I think you are right….they are not to be trusted!!!

  3. Fair calls folks. Thanks for your input.

  4. You folks would probably be aware that the “BIG ENERGY CO.s,had intended to switch us all onto “NUCLEAR ENERGY” by now,even “grooming” us to expect much higher power bills.But then Fukichima happened & suddenly everybody was once again aware just how deadly risky & expensive this power source is! So they are now trying to OWN smaller CO,s.which are experts in this field already,so far with not much success.Hopefully the small guys will expand & resist take-over by the big THEIFS!

  5. Don O'Sullivan says

    I had a 6.6kw system installed on my roof in November 2010 by AGL ( I went for them as they have been around for a long time and when you have a 25 year warranty thats reassuring).
    Anyway the installation went well, no surprises.
    Had some problems after a couple of months but that got fixed quickly and have not had any problems since. In fact the system has performed brilliantly and paid itself off in four years, by January 2015.
    My 60 cent feed in tariff cuts out in December this year so I will be looking to increase the system to about 10Kw (single phase system) and to incorporate a 12Kw battery, or so, into the system.
    My grid provider is Origin so I will be trying to avoid exporting electricity to them as little as possible @ 6/7 cents a Kwh.
    To summarise, solar is a great, economic, way to generate electricity. There should be more of it.

    • Thanks for those views Don. Looks like you’ll be joining the battery storage brigade soon!

      Rich

    • Robin Shannon says

      Goodness me, what mushroom did this person climb out from under! This person seem to understand absolutely nothing about electricity. For a start virtually nobody put in a 6Kw system in 2010…the cost would have been totally prohibitive in a domestic sense! Feed in tariff has gradually been reducing since 2013 and no one is currently on a 60cpkw feed in tariff from any electricity provider. This assertion that the feed in tariff cuts out in December is not correct! If a system was installed prior to September 2011, as Don contends, a government feed in tariff of 44cents pr Kw is guaranteed until 2026. If you are with Origin Energy you will be currently receiving a 48c pr Kw feed in tariff!.
      If you are contemplating a battery storage system you will be storing electricity in Amp Hours….not Kilowatts, because, that’s what batteries do!!! Don’t be fooled by the Tesla Powerwal jargonl!!! Imagine battery storage as a watering can….the volume of the watering can is the amp hours….the amount of electricity storage available! the nozzle that the water comes out of is the Kilowatts….The rate at which that storage of electricity will be used. If you were to contemplate putting in a battery storage unit you would select a battery storage array that would be capable of supplying an average daily household needs of 24Kws ( 24 multiplied by 4.1666= Kws to amps) which would mean around 100 amp/hrs of battery storage per day! So, if you were serious about battery storage you would select an 850 amp/hr battery storage system Don. This would give you around 8 days of stored electricity. I’m afraid you seem to talking about read experiences rather than cold hard facts Don

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