NSW Solar + Battery Scheme Finally Kicks Off – Sort Of

NSW Empowering Homes

The NSW Government’s Empowering Homes scheme that offers interest-free loans for battery and solar-battery systems launched on Friday as a pilot program.

First, a bit of history:

Empowering Homes is the result of a commitment made by the Berejiklian Government leading up to the NSW State election in March last year.

The Scheme was to offer eligible owner-occupiers across the state with an annual household income of $180,000 or less interest-free loans of up to $14,000 for a solar + battery system or up to $9,000 for adding home battery storage to an existing solar power system. The program was to be available to “up to 300,000 households” over ten years.

An update in June 2019 indicated the first Empowering Homes systems would be installed during the 2019/20 summer. In December last year, the design of the scheme was changed to a pilot and only incorporating eligible residents in the Hunter region.

On Friday it was announced Empowering Homes was finally live and the pilot will run for up to 12 months.

“.. the pilot will be available to eligible residents who have postcodes in the areas of Cessnock, Dungog, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Mid-Coast, Muswellbrook, Port Stephens, Singleton and Upper Hunter,” states Energy NSW.

Homeowners in the areas mentioned can check the Energy Saver website to determine if their postcode is eligible and for application details. Other NSW households can also register their interest in the program, which will be rolled out across the state after the pilot has finished.

Solar-Only – The Heavy Lifter In Electricity Bill Savings

Empowering Homes would have been a fantastic program if solar-only. Around 20.4% of NSW dwellings had panels installed as at the end of September last year (source APVI); behind Queensland (35.7%), South Australia (35%) and Western Australia (28.8%).

As well as significantly boosting New South Wales’ standing in solar uptake, the financial benefits for households would have been greater too.

Below is an example using the SolarQuotes solar and battery calculator on its default settings for Port Stephens. It’s based on a good quality 6.6kW solar system + a “generic” 6kWh battery installation; which is around what the $14,000 loan will cover at this point in time  (arrows added by me):

solar battery payback

You can see the solar panels are the heavy lifter, while the batteries are the leaner – greatly extending the simple payback period. On its own, the battery payback in the default scenario is 32 years (most battery warranties are 10 years). Try the calculator for yourself using various scenarios and different batteries as your mileage may vary. But however you slice and dice it, it will show the battery is a *major* drag on simple payback on the overall cost of the system.

The Empowering Homes guide doesn’t go into the solar-only vs. solar + battery figures, but it does state:

“The purchase of a solar battery system should not be taken lightly. It is a significant financial investment and may only benefit certain households.”

.. and on that point it is spot on. But even the scenario where it indicates the households most likely to benefit (page 8) should be carefully considered by those who may fall into it.

If you can afford the up-front cost of a solar system, then PV-only still provides the best bang for buck for most households.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. I suggest that it would be useful to research and publish an article stating what exactly is offered in each state/territory in terms of financial assistance for householders to get domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems with and without batteries included, and for expanding/replacing existing systems and, for retrofitting storage batteries for existing systems without batteries (which retrofitting, I expect, would need also, replacement of standard inverters, with hybrid inverters, and, therefore, possibly, replacement of existing systems that do not have batteries).

    That this would be useful, is enhanced by state elections upcoming, apparently in October for Queensland, and, in March 2021 for WA. I think, also, that the Northern Territory is facing a general election, later this year.

    It could even inspire political parties, in states/territories that currently do not provide such financial assistance.

  2. Sylvia Jones says

    Apropos the above (and indirectly many other discussions) one might point out that the assorted bushfire recovery ‘authorities’ (State and private) have decided to provide stand-alone solar systems to people without electricity. Major considerations forming that decision being efficiency and cost. Aren’t they the very same arguments used to denigrate stand-alone solar systems. (and nary a single ghg produced!)
    I’m not well-versed in the technicalities, but I am inclined to believe those who put their money where their mouths are. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/atlassian-co-founder-rolls-out-new-solar-powered-systems-for-bushfire-victims
    Incidentally, a friend of mine who lives in one of the fire-ravaged areas mentioned in the link ~ and who lost the front gate, some sheds, etc ~ won’t need assistance, because her stand-alone solar-system hasn’t stopped producing power throughout. (even to running water-pumps when needed.)

  3. Steve McCarthy says

    I’m in the upper hunter and looking to add a 10kw system to my house

    I’ll need to finance a system to my plan is to compare 10kw system including interest vs 10kw with tiny battery and $14k interest free

    Will be interesting to compare

    I’ll let you know how it works out

    • Unless the financial support for a battery is a *grant* worth at least 75% of the battery’s installation cost, then adding a battery will still worsen the payback. Batteries simply can’t cycle through enough energy to make them worthwhile at current install costs, interest free loan or not.

      The reason for that is in the upper Hunter Valley, you can get a retail plan with a gap between import and export tariff of only 8c/kWh. Taking off the round trip efficiency losses of a battery then each kWh cycled through the battery is only worth 7c.

      Say it’s a 4kWh battery (you said small). That’s a maximum saving of 28c/day (and that requires 100% capacity utilisation, which you won’t achieve) and more likely to be 22c/day being generous.

      That’s a saving due to the battery of $82/year. With that you still have to pay back the $4,000 you borrowed for the battery. Good luck with that.

      • I think Steve is suggesting that adding a “tiny” battery, which I took to mean something like 50Ah or smaller, would allow him to qualify for access to a govt $14k interest free loan as a battery seems to be part of the criteria. Such a small battery and suitable inverter would not add much to the system cost.
        His other option is to skip the interest free loan from the government and obtain a conventional loan to install a 10kW solar only system.
        He was interested in comparing those alternatives.

        • Steve McCarthy says

          Hi Dave

          Spot on, will be interested to see if there is a battery size requirement to access the program or some other design constraint

          • If it’s such a tiny add on battery, then why is that option $4k more expensive than the solar only option? That doesn’t suggest a tiny battery, but one with a few kWh capacity.

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