Queenslanders Paying Coal-Fired Prices To Solar Power Their EVs

coal baron stealing solar

Finally, the coal barons have discovered how to extract revenue from free fuel…

Sun-Powered EVs, Coal-Priced Bills: Queensland’s Solar Irony

The dream of powering electric vehicles (EVs) from the Queensland sun has hit an unexpected roadblock. Energex and Ergon’s EV charger rules leave Queenslanders on single-phase supplies feeling utterly dismayed. Instead of tapping into their remarkable solar resource, Queenslanders are finding that they can only have a 7kW EV charger at home if they are willing to pay coal-fired prices for electricity. It’s nuts.

Legacy Thinking For Legacy Systems

When you go hunting for a reason behind the rule, it leads you to the Queensland Electricity Connection Manual and, more specifically, section 4, which talks about Balancing of Load and Limitation on Equipment, which I’ll paraphrase here :

4.1 General
The load of an installation… shall be so balanced… that the current in any phase does not exceed the current in any other phase by more than 20 A

This is why a single-phase customer in Queensland can’t have an EV charger connected to an “anytime” tariff unless it’s limited to 4.6kW or 20 amps. If you want the full 7.3kW, which decent, single-phase EV chargers are capable of, Queensland insists that it must be supplied from an economy tariff limited to either 8 hours or 18 hours per day. The reason is simple: the networks realise that EV charging could potentially overwhelm the system, and they want some control of it, even if that (ripple control) is so crude it makes the lights flicker.

Why Are Queenslanders Ropeable?

Picture this: You’ve got solar panels gleaming under the Queensland sun, yet you can’t harness that free energy to charge your EV. It is almost as if the sun is shining, but the lightbulbs in your house stubbornly refuse to light up. The power generated from your solar panels travels out to the grid, only to be immediately resold back to you at off-peak rates. Talk about money for nothing for the incumbent industry.

The Frustration Fuelling Consumer Rage

This ham-fisted approach ignores the white-hot rage a badly explained rule creates with consumers who can’t use their own solar power as they please. People are already disgruntled about what they perceive as the thieving bastards who don’t pay a decent feed-in tariff, even if you can explain that daytime solar electricity is often in surplus and worthless on the spot market.

The general principle that you are forced pay for the power you just generated is enough to make people spend economically irrational sums of money to “go off-grid” and disconnect from the system. (if they can afford the capital cost) I’ve seen it time and time again over the last 15 years.

Electric cars and V2G will only make this more viable in the future. The technologies are already available. When the economic stars align with cheap daytime charging at work, charging your EV during the day and shipping electricity home to run the air conditioning will be feasible. When driving, your house can have a modest solar and battery to keep the fridge and lights on.

Sidebar: I have built an off grid power system that replaced a very basic version of this idea. The bloke owned two truck batteries, one ran his camping fridge, TV and lights. The other sat on the passenger floor of his Mitsubishi Sigma with a couple of alligator clips to charge it from the car alternator while he commuted a couple hours each day. Arriving home with a full battery, he just swapped them over. It was equal parts genius and dangerous, both horribly basic and elegantly simple.

Face it, you weren’t thinking of this technological marvel when I said off grid EV battery swap were you?

What’s More Irrational Than A Jilted Customer?

Queensland network engineers appear to be ignoring the answer that’s already here.

Active solar harvesting, dynamic system control, smart charging, demand response, the Internet of Things are all names for the same approach to managing and using energy efficiently. And they are already being rolled out in South Australia by SA Power Networks.

Even more ludicrous is that Queensland had extensive industry consultation and went for a dumb, short-term solution for EV charging.

The Alternative Is Civil Disobedience

While I could never recommend something the DNSP disapproves of, I have seen contactors installed to swap your hard-wired appliance from controlled load to anytime tariff using a ‘sunshine circuit.‘ This can automatically add solar energy to your hot water and default back to off peak otherwise. If the authorities complain, just forgo the off peak supply altogether and use a timer that follows cheap time of use rates.

How does a sunshine circuit work though? Using some smarts in your solar inverter, or an even smarter Catch Power Relay, you can trigger a contactor to turn things on, like a pool pump, hot water service or EV charger, when the sun is strong and the exports are high. A slightly crude way to divert electricity compared to proper variable dynamic control, but it’s cheaper energy storage than a battery.

Self consumption via a sunshine circuit makes a lot of sense if you get work done on your switchboard to accommodate some new equipment, so it’s worth considering if you have an electrician quoting for a new EV charger, because it offers some easy and simple savings.

The Implications of EVs for Power Networks

Some in the media insist “consumers can install the chargers they want, and use them when they want.” but in reality, that’s plain wrong. As I have outlined before, building a network and generating capacity to handle all the cars all the time with all the air con and all the cooking at 6 pm will be incredibly expensive and inefficient.

EVs are a big part of the answer, but your network will have to manage them better than Queensland.

SA has the right idea, already approving bi-directioonal chargers and using OCPP 1.6j to control EV charging, not dumb off peak switching.

Queensland, Embrace the Future, Don’t Fight It

Charging EVs with solar power should be the norm, not an uphill battle. It’s time for Queensland to ditch the dumb, easy option and invest in efficient, dynamic EV charger control technologies. Because when it comes to Australia’s energy future, the Sunshine State should be leading, not lagging.

So, Queensland, how about we turn the page on this solar irony?

 

About Anthony Bennett

Anthony joined the SolarQuotes team in 2022. He’s a licensed electrician, builder, roofer and solar installer who for 14 years did jobs all over SA - residential, commercial, on-grid and off-grid. A true enthusiast with a skillset the typical solar installer might not have, his blogs are typically deep dives that draw on his decades of experience in the industry to educate and entertain. Read Anthony's full bio.

Comments

  1. Rob Farago says

    does table 1.2 of this NSW document imply they have a 25A limit in NSW for EVSE?

    https://www.energy.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-08/2018_07_NSW_ServiceAndInstallationRulesOfNSW_underlined.pdf

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi Rob,

      My reading of that document agrees with you that 25 amps seems to be the number in New South Wales. There is also a passage about phase balance below which explains that they don’t want more than 25 amps of imbalance on a three phase supply.

      1.17.3 Balancing of Load
      The loading of an installation, or a separately
      metered part of an installation, which is supplied
      by more than one phase, must be arranged so
      that the maximum demand in an active service
      conductor is not more than 25A above the
      current in any other active service conductor.
      The total current in the service neutral conductor
      of a three phase supply must not exceed the
      highest simultaneous current in any active
      conductor, including the effects of harmonic
      currents.
      The electricity distributor may agree to other
      limits.

  2. Robert Audsley says

    We are in a similar situation here in NSW, providing Solar power back to the grid at ridiculously low feedin tariffs then being charged up to 10 times as much to buy it back!!
    We had a 6 KW Solar system installed by ORIGIN over 4 years ago, they put a single phase Fronius Inverter on our 3 phase system , when I questioned why a single not a 3 “ Oh it will feed into the other phases” !?!?
    Well it has generated 19,445 KWHRS so far of which 17,750 (91%) has been exported back to the grid and then resold to us at a HUGE PROFIT!!
    I believe it is hooked to the Phase that uses the least power during the daylight hours deliberately by ORIGIN as they were paying an excellent feedin tariff back then!

    • Rob Farago says

      That doesn’t sound right and I would check with Origin for confirmation of the below.

      how it’s been explained to me is that the electricity meter netts out the 3 phases

      i.e. if you are exporting 2kW on phase1 and importing 1kW on both phase2 and phase3, then because you are exporting 2kW in total and importing 2kW in total, they nett out to 0kW and therefore you are not exporting nor importing anything from the perspective of your metering provider and retailer.

    • This is a poorly misunderstood complaint about selling excess solar PV electricity cheaply and then having to buy back at a higher rate.

      There are several things that must be understood.

      1. Excess solar is and can only be done during the day when the sun is out. This will occur at a time when everyone else with a solar PV system will face and at a time when wholesale prices will be very low and negative at times. So, your solar FiT is going to be low.

      2. Without a battery, your import will mostly occur at night-time, when there is no solar in the grid, so wholesale prices will be higher. On top of that, you have to pay transmission, distribution, GST, market schemes (state/federal mandate green policies) and retailer margin. Transmission/distribution are fixed rates, they do not vary with wholesale pricing. GST is fixed at 10%. Market schemes are at a fixed rate (anything up to 5c/kWh, depending your state).

      For example, let’s say you get 5c/kWh FiT and claim that you have to pay 50c/kWh (10x more). The retailer does not collect the whole 50c for themselves. No, they would be lucky to get about 15% or less of that, say about 7.5c/kWh. Let’s break it down how that 50c comes about.

      a) GST @10%, = 4.54c/kWh
      b) market schemes = 5c/kWh
      c) distribution/transmission = 20c/kWh (at peak ToU rate)
      d) wholesale price 19c/kwh (at 5:30pm in NSW).

      Let’s add all that up = 48.54c/kWh already charged before the retailer adds their profit margin, but since it’s sold at 50c/kWh, that leaves 1.46c/kWh or 2.92% profit.

      Now, exactly where is the huge profit going to, once retailer pays out the government, distribution/transmission utilities and purchase of electricity at wholesale price.

      ToU tariffs are a bit more complicated because the distribution rates change based on time. GST is still 10%. Market schemes is still 5c/kWh. Wholesale price varies depending on demand and supply.

      The biggest culprit is the fixed rates by the transmission/distribution charges.

      • Anthony Bennett says

        “The biggest culprit is the fixed rates by the transmission/distribution charges.”

        Hallelujah brother.

        • That’s a brilliant youtube video!!! Bookmarked it to forward to others. Only if more people watched it, they would understand why their electricity bill is high.

          Don’t know how I missed that video, it was released 8 years ago.

          People need to realise that there’s about 4-6 entities that make up the electricity charges.

          There are dozens of websites that breakdown the prices and it’s found on average that about 15% of electricity bills is retailer related. I would hardly call that profit/price gouging by retailers.

          Amber Electric and PowerClub (when they were around) clearly demonstrates when they issue their bills where the money is going. If people saw this, they would quickly realise that they are complaining to the wrong parties and barking up the wrong pole.

  3. Ian Thompson says

    I thought from an earlier post elsewhere, that the Catch power relay didn’t work properly – something about how it operated was not measured properly by the meter – resulting in little or no energy savings being registered?

  4. There is easy solution – wire up 32A socket instead and use EVSE with a plug.

  5. Lawrence Coomber says

    Anthony:

    This is not a subject/project that should be expected to be resolved and implemented by everyone who holds a standard CEC Installer/Designer endorsed licence.

    These power systems design projects are best left to experienced Power Systems Integrators.

    And stories like yours today, unfortunately exemplify just how beholden the Australian power engineering fraternity has become too easy money making basic skills trends, rather than promoting cutting edge engineering innovation and systems integration skills. And further we will see more and more stories like this every day.

    We are a soft target focussed industry functioning at a very low set technology bar, and operating at the behest of others.

    I have observed from within, a growing and serious deficiency in how the renewable energy industry has evolved in Australia regarding professional skills development for practitioners entering the industry. We promoted minimum installer technical knowledge and professional qualifications alone, and almost totally discounted engineering systems design and integration as a critical driver for Australian energy systems technicians go forward.

    Returning to your article – there are [cost effective] options. The devil is always in the detail of course and this is where the experienced system design engineer can be useful, and the Site Survey and Customer Interview becomes a critical first step.

    A second Solar PV System might be a cost effective solution in this case. This second system would be a properly isolated Stand Alone PV and Storage system controlled by third party PCE [not intrinsic inverter controls].

    One benefit here is that the second Off Grid System can be any size [up to 100 kW] and will be eligible for STC’s.

    Civil disobedience is pub talk though, rather than toolbox talk.

    Lawrence Coomber

    • Erik Christiansen says

      Lawrence, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. Andy, a Queenslander, took his garage off grid some years ago for similar reasons. He now charges his Tesla from around 15 kW or more of panels mounted on nearly every available roof. OK, the rest of us have no interest in doing nearly so many battery and BMS tests as he does, but a quick squiz at one of his innumerable “Off Grid Garage” Youtube posts gives a view of his two Victron inverters and more batteries than you’d care to have cluttering your garage, neatly racked though the permanent ones are. A network exit is in fact Civil Obedience, I figure – a simple move to less regulation.

      Towards the end of the year I’m planning to put in a Fronius & Victron system, with DVCC (Distributed Voltage & Current Control) mode managing energy flow. It remains to be established how completely that ties into EV charging. But as we’ve been off-grid for 60 years, network constraints do not apply. Sometimes less is more.

  6. George Kaplan says

    What share of Queensland homes are on single phase power, and what does it cost to upgrade? Since you can’t have a large solar system without either 3 phase or a limiter, this seems more like a home owner legacy issue than a greedy coal reliant power company issue.

    Frankly I’m more offended by low FiTs, and more concerned about power reliability, than I am about the possible woes of the tiny number of EV owners, unless they overwhelm the system and cause a blackout. Then I’ll be concerned!!!

    Does it make a difference if you have a solar battery installed which can be used to supply power to charge an EV?

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi George,
      I can’t tell you how many Queenslanders have three phase but not everyone has 3phase available to them. The problem is that a household battery would make a difference, so to a large solar PV system would make a difference however the rules just won’t allow it.

      Customers could literally have a 13 kilowatt pv system, exporting a maximum five kilowatts, simultaneously re-importing 4.6 kilowatts (at coal fired prices) to charge their ev… while another five kilowatts capacity sits idle on the roof.

      The network should be able to manage this dynamically, but they’re just taking a dumb approach.

    • Lawrence Coomber says

      George don’t upgrade – that is not cost effective.

      Consider a second solar system [isolated Off Grid system] at the premises of any size up to an aggregate total PV Systems at the premises to 100 kW maximum.

      Integrate the Off Grid System with a 3 phase Off Grid inverter and Storage Stack [if required – this is a system design consideration].

      Then you have your EV charging solution well managed along with other dedicated load circuits that might be appropriate for your premises [learn about load diversity and load management smarts].

      This is a common premises design situation at the commercial / industrial level, but is equally available for domestic premises.

      STC’s for up to 100 kW are eligible for a second [Off Grid] system. Importantly there are no network applications or approvals required for systems as described above.

      Lawrence Coomber

    • Anthony, are you sure this remains true under QESM v4 Draft?

      I dont understand it completely, but plenty of mention of CSIP-AUS, dynamic import limits, 35A. Maybe Qld’s about to allow 8kW single phase EVSE connected to solar tariff.

  7. Richard Courtenay says

    Whatever you do do your sums first. Will you be still living in that house by the payback time of your grid solar and/or off grid systems come around.
    Its interesting that Tesla won’t allow you to to use your car to feed your house. If you do it voids the warranty.
    Most other makers allow it. So you could charge your car on cheap power and use it at night.
    I can’t afford an EV but I’m off grid for everything except electric stove and hot water (working on that one though)

  8. Andrew Thomson says

    Here is an interesting one, if it comes down to load balance we may have an ever greater problem on our hands even for three phase. Even if you install a 3 phase / 22kW charger, not all EVs are capable of charging at that rate. For example some popular EV’s can only charge at 7kW / 32A single phase AC. If you have installed a 22kW three phase charger, it will simply come down to the car it is charging as to whether there will be a 20A imbalance or not. Most reputable chargers have dynamic load balancing functionality, I imagine eventually it would need to become a requirement.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Thanks Andrew,

      You raise a little known point actually and it brings some people with a BYD Atto and a 40a 3ph supply a little unstuck I believe. I’m sure the people at Energy Queensland would be embarrassed, if only they could read this, or spell beer for that matter 😛

  9. stephen brickwood says

    Just to add a little future perspective.

    As all vehicles are parked 23 hours a day, 20 million in Australia, except for some.

    I was told that the home robotic vacuum cleaner was going to teach the selfparking V2G EV to plug into the national grid and make money daytrading electricity and stability.

    20 million x 100kwh = 2,000 gwh daily in storage.
    That sounds like a lot of DISPATCHABLE electricity. 6 times fossil fuel.
    With most of that at the point of use.

    Even Nuclear will take 2 decades, if ever. And need massive government disaster insurance and government cash flow guarantee and the most expensive national grid capacity expansion that will take decades and decades.

    Nuclear will be locked in for 60 to 100 years with the risk of stranded assets.

    The pollution from mineral extraction mining and horrendous cost to build the bigger national grid is never discussed.

    The existing grid is perfect for new distributed generation and storage.
    The existing National grid will be the VPP, the money will be in the grid.
    We will all remain connected including our V2G EVs and transfer rooftop PV electricity generation.

    Who realised that the battery is free with the EV?? Hahaha.

  10. Looks like this has now been improved for Queensland from 21-Feb-24

    https://www.energex.com.au/contractors/electrical-contractors/ev-charging-and-connections

    • Seems your point has gone straight through to the keaper [excuse spelling, I’m from Qld, but am better at maths as can be seen by fact can answer question to prove am human] as there is no response or update of this blog.
      Are Queenslanders REALLY embarrassed bc of the short-sightedness of their regulator? I take no responsibility for it whatsoever, so how could I be embarrassed by it?

      Energex should be embarrassed however for not knowing g thr divmffierence between EVSE and a charger; unless of course it thinks it wants and can and will get control of the operation of the charger built into EVs. That would be worth another blog.

    • Energex should be embarrassed however for not knowing the difference between EVSE and a charger; unless of course it thinks it wants and can and will get control of the operation of the charger built into EVs. That would be worth another blog.

      Seems your point has gone straight through to the keaper [excuse spelling, I’m from Qld, but am better at maths as can be seen by fact can answer question to prove am human] as there is no response or update of this blog.
      Are Queenslanders REALLY embarrassed bc of the short-sightedness of their regulator? I take no responsibility for it whatsoever, so how could I be embarrassed by it?

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