The Rush On Solar Panels: Installation Timeframes

Finn Peacock and Andy Park - home solar power

SolarQuotes founder Finn Peacock spoke with ABC Radio National’s RN Drive’s Andy Park last night about the recent – and and at this point ongoing – rush on solar power systems resulting from looming electricity price rises, and feed-in tariffs.

You can listen to the segment using the player, or read the transcript below.

—- Transcript begins

Andy Park : It’s time for the Carbon Counter on RN Drive. And you are in the thick of the worst energy crisis in 50 years right now. And there’s no easy remedy.

In a perfect storm of geopolitical events, freezing temperatures, unscheduled outages at coal-fired power stations and no room for quick improvements and government interventions, the cost of energy is soaring. I don’t need to tell you that. So, looking to the sun – but not directly into the sun because that’s what Mum told you not to do – looking to the sun could offer some relief.

Many Australians are turning to solar to generate their own power, which they of course can use themselves or they can sell back to the grid or store for rainy days. But does switching to solar now mean you won’t feel the burn of soaring energy prices?

Finn Peacock is the founder of SolarQuotes.

You are connecting people, making the switch to solar retailers, if you like. You’re the middleman – perhaps we could say that. What kind of uptake are you getting in the past couple of weeks? Your phone’s just ringing off the hook with people wanting solar panels?

Finn Peacock: Well, our virtual phones are, yes. Our website inquiries have more than doubled compared to this time last year. And it’s a sustained volume of inquiries – it hasn’t stopped for the last two and a half weeks. Before we’ve had booms that have lasted a few days when rebates have been announced that they’re ending, but this is quite unprecedented the demand we’re seeing,

Andy Park : Well, this is market forces, right? Because as you rightly said in previous spikes in solar uptake, it was largely based off government state rebates. So this is the market speaking for better or for worse.

Solar Power System Installation Timeframes

Andy Park: What is the process switching to solar? I mean obviously you have to have the initial consultation. How long does it normally take and how long is it going take for people who are jumping on this queue now?

Finn Peacock: So, it all depends on how busy your installer is. Generally, it will take between – once you pay your deposit – it’ll take between three weeks and three months to actually get the install. And because it’s so busy right now, you’re looking at three months plus for many installers from paying the deposit to getting the solar on your roof.

Andy Park : Wow. Three months; who knows where the energy prices will be in three months’ time. Surely the demand for solar, you know, ebbs and flows as you said. Do you think this is going to be sustainable? I mean, what if energy prices do stabilise over the next six months? Will we go back to the older forms of energy generation, that you don’t offer in your business?

Finn Peacock: Well, we, the solar industry, we call it the solar coaster because one thing I’ve learned over the last 13 years is after every boom, there is a bust. So, I think a lot of demand for solar is getting pulled forward. A lot of people think about solar and when the media’s all talking about electricity prices, that motivates them to actually go out, get quotes and, you know, get the system on their roof.

So, I expect there to be a bit of a bust after this; just because all that demand’s being pulled forward.

Feed-In Tariffs

Andy Park : My solar panels on my roof, you know, they’re pretty old. I’ve got a pretty weak inverter – I think it’s two-and-a-half kilowatts. I’m not getting much of a rebate1 anymore. The feed-in tariffs are obviously what they are. So, how do you sell it to people in terms of the upfront cost? There is a big upfront cost to solar.

Finn Peacock: The typically sized system is 6.6 kilowatts that costs about five, six thousand dollars. That will save people between a thousand dollars and about $1,500 a year. But that depends on how much electricity they use in the day, how much they pay for electricity and how much they earn with their feed-in tariff.

Interestingly, feed-in tariffs in some parts of the country are going up as electricity becomes more expensive, but in other parts of the country they’re going down. So, it depends where you live. But most of the savings from solar are usually from self-consumption. That’s when it offsets the electricity used your home. So, the more electricity you use during the day, the bigger savings from solar.

Andy Park : Yeah. I should say in regional Queensland, I think the feed-in tariff is now 41%, which is incredible. Would you expect that in other states and jurisdictions?

Finn Peacock: Yeah. In regional Queensland it will go up from 6.60 cents to 9.30 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s a 41% increase. Interestingly in Victoria, the minimum mandated feed-in tariff is actually going to drop from 6.7 to 5.2. So it’s up and down depending on where you live.

Common sense would tell you that as electricity gets more valuable, your solar should be more valuable, but complicating that is obviously solar is only generated during the day – and generally the least valuable electricity these days is daytime electricity because of all that solar.

Andy Park : Well, there you go. If you are hoping to get some solar panels on your roof, you’ve gotta wait at least three months, according to Finn. Thanks for your time tonight.

Finn Peacock: Thanks very much.

—- Transcript ends

ABC Radio National’s RN Drive covers the day’s top national and international stories and airs Monday – Friday, 6pm – 7.35pm.

Footnotes

  1. Just to clarify – Andy is referring to the feed-in tariff, which is often confused with the “solar rebate“; the subsidy that can knock thousands of dollars off the up-front cost of installing a solar power system.
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.

Comments

  1. George Kaplan says

    Curious. I’d not have thought there’d be much of a change amongst those mostly not at home during daylight hours when most of the benefit is to be had.

    An email from the electricity retailer has advised that the solar metre charge is to rise 28%, usage and daily supply charges to rise 15%. No word on the FiT but it has crashed 66% since signing up. Under current prices and FiT, with imports roughly three-quarters of a single person household, and exports currently at 115% of the estimated average daily yield, it’s not even possible to break even let alone make a nice profit. And in months like May – generation down a third on estimate average daily generation, some days down ~90%!

    Assuming no change in FiT, parity will require the export of an additional 4 hours of power to pay the daily supply fee, an extra 40 minutes for each kWh imported, and a further 20 minutes a day for the solar metre rise. Except solar plans are already more expensive that non-solar plans. For those who’ve already expended the capital it’s too late, they’re committed, but for those still doing their sums, is solar really worth it? I for one won’t be encouraging people to rush to switch!!!

    The truth is the electricity market is a mess. Over 25 retailers have removed all offerings from the market, several others have cut offers to selected states.

    Oddly enough a June 5th WATTever piece claims the wholesale price for NSW & QLD is around 15c per kWh, network costs add 8-10c per kWh, environmental levies and market costs add a further 2.5c per kWh, and with GST retailers are paying close to 30c per kWh then retailing this for 40c per kWh.

    Given retailers aren’t charging 30+ cents per kWh either the maths is wrong, costs are hidden e.g. network costs charged as daily supply and solar metre fees, or retailers are accepting a massive loss on every kWh they sell. And given most retailers were buying residential solar power (FiT) at about 4 kWh for each 1 kWh they sold, rising to a ratio of 5:1 with looming price changes, …

    Victoria is protected in that brown coal has no export market so continues to provide cheap reliable energy, unlike black coal which is in massive demand internationally thereby forcing local prices up. And since Victoria can’t export significant amounts of electricity to NSW or QLD due to grid constraints, there’s no relief via ‘brown power’.

    NSW and QLD could see a rise in FiTs, or at least the a plateauing of the recent price crash.

    Now there’s news articles out warning of blackouts for NSW and QLD this evening, due in part to a colder than usual winter. Labor is saying this is evidence of a need to get more energy into the system but that for now everything that can be done is being done. The Nationals by contrast are saying Australia needs to “eat humble pie” and return to coal-based power. Since there is no wind at present, and the power concerns pertain to dusk onwards when solar doesn’t work, what is the alternative? And before anyone claims batteries will provide a magic cure, batteries are already suffering a shortage and the EU might be about to cancel the Lithium plant in Langelsheim, Germany.

    Given soaring prices – especially solar plans, and no clear improvement in FiTs, the question of whether solar is worthwhile will once again be debated. Does a cheap plan that relies on centralised (likely coal) generation offer a better return than investing thousands in a solar system that will only provide power during hours of significant daylight, and no cloud or rain, especially if you’re away from home dawn ’til dusk? Only time will tell.

    • Geoff Miell says

      George Kaplan,
      Victoria is protected in that brown coal has no export market so continues to provide cheap reliable energy, unlike black coal which is in massive demand internationally thereby forcing local prices up.

      Australian brown coal is certainly not cheap when compared with renewables technologies. See Figure 5-3 Calculated LCOE by technology and category for 2021 in the GenCost 2021-22 Consultation Draft at: https://www.csiro.au/en/news/news-releases/2021/gencost-report-finds-renewables-holding-steady-as-cheapest-new-build-power

      The truth is the electricity market is a mess.

      Yep. Where’s affordable, reliable energy coming from in future? Again, what’s your plan, George?
      https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/smr-nuclear-waste-mb2503/#comment-1470392

      The Nationals by contrast are saying Australia needs to “eat humble pie” and return to coal-based power.

      Senator Canavan is also suggesting “we should consider nuclear too.”
      https://www.2gb.com/time-to-eat-humble-pie-to-fix-australias-energy-crisis-matt-canavan/

      Per WattClarity, it seems the coal-fired generation fleet in Australia’s NEM appears highly unreliable, with average unavailability to supply of 29% in the period Apr 1 through to Jun 10.
      https://wattclarity.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/03_Q2todate.png

      Per Professor Ray Wills, it takes 6–9 years to build a new coal-fired power
      generator unit. Nuclear would take much longer to begin operations.
      https://twitter.com/ProfRayWills/status/983720784672604161

      Compelling evidence/data I see indicates the narrative that the Nationals are promoting is that Australia should build evidently more expensive, slower to deploy, less reliable energy technologies. It seems to me the Nationals are advocating for Australia to become less prosperous and less energy secure. 🙄

      • George Kaplan says

        Geoff,
        The evidence you see is the Nationals are espousing expensive, slow to build, and unreliable energy options? Or that such power stations, many of which are ancient, don’t have 100% uptime, and do require fuel?

        NSW
        Name | Size | Closure Date | Commission Year
        Liddel | 2,000 MW | 2023 | 1971
        Eraring | 2,880 MW | 2025 | 1982
        Vales Point B | 1,320 MW | 2029 | 1978
        Bayswater | 2,640 MW | 2033 | 1982
        Mt Piper | 1,400 MW | 2040 | 1993

        29-51 years of age, with an average age of 41 years! Average size of 2,048 MW.

        QLD
        Name | Size | Closure Date | Commission Year
        Callide B | 700 MW | 2028 | 1989
        Gladstone | 1,680 MW | 2035 | 1976
        Tarong | 1,400 MW | 2037 | 1984
        Tarong North | 443 MW | 2037 | 2002
        Kogan Creek | 750 MW | 2042 | 2007
        Stanwell | 1,445 MW | 2046 | 1993
        Millmerran | 852 MW | 2051 | 2002
        Callide C | 810 MW | TBD | 2001

        21-46 years of age, with an average age of 28 years. Average size 1,010 MW, but those built this millennia average 714 MW.

        Your 6-9 years to build a new coal plant seems at odd with the facts. A quick look has Kogan Creek built in 3 years. Tarong North was the same. Eraring took about 5 years, but is ~4x the capacity of Kogan Creek, and ~6.5x the capacity of Tarong North. By contrast the Copper Mountain Solar Facility, a 4,000 acre 802 MW facility in the US had stages commissioned between 2008 and 2021. The largest stage, a 250 MW unit took two years to complete. A quick bit of Ducking claims it takes 3–5 years to get all necessary approvals and contracts completed for a solar farm. Thus paperwork rather than physical construction can be the largest component of a build.

        So according to your figures roughly 30% of coal capacity is consistently unavailable. To put it another way, 70% +/- 10% is reliably available. How does this compare to solar or wind nameplate capacity versus actual generation by intermittent renewable energy sources? Your lack of such figures is a notable absence.

        I’m open to discussing nuclear, and pretty much anything else, but probably not a short term solution! lol

        Where’s affordable reliable energy to come from in the future? Well your choices are basically coal, gas, nuclear, and hydro – for reliability at least if not affordability, quickness and\or viability. Nuclear has too steep a hurdle to be a short term solution, hydro is almost equally problematic – limited terrain locations and frequently major opposition when discussed. That leaves coal and gas. An older EU article has gas at 3x the cost per GJ, and given the current shortages I doubt that has changed. That means coal is likely the only affordable reliable energy option currently available – and yes I’m sure you’ll spit the dummy at that.

        What about intermittent renewable energy sources? The problem is in the name – they’re intermittent. Solar doesn’t provide power overnight so can’t supply the baseload. Wind may provide nighttime power but it’s intermittent so isn’t reliable. Batteries provide an expensive means of storing excess power until it’s needed e.g. daytime solar for use at night, however there’s already battery shortages, other supply issues, and exploding demand meaning this isn’t viable either.

        Brown coal more expensive than sunshine, wind, or unicorn farts? Sure. But if the sun ain’t shining, the wind ain’t blowing, and the unicorns are MIA, where’re you getting your power from?

        So at the end of the day you have two basic choices – intermittent renewable energy which is clean green and potentially MIA right when you need it, or modern (cleaner) coal which has higher fuel costs but provides 24/7 reliable power. Pick your poison and suffer the negatives. As for build times, actual construction times shouldn’t be radically different assuming redtape and greentape don’t skew the comparison.

        Yes I’ve no doubt YMMV. : D

        • Geoff Miell says

          George Kaplan,
          Your 6-9 years to build a new coal plant seems at odd with the facts. A quick look has Kogan Creek built in 3 years. Tarong North was the same. Eraring took about 5 years, but is ~4x the capacity of Kogan Creek, and ~6.5x the capacity of Tarong North.”

          If you looked at the tweet by Professor Ray Wills you would see it included a graph titled Generalised power plant years to deliver including resource and project lead time.

          Build time (that usually cannot be hidden from public gaze) is only part of the total process involved in delivering any large-scale physical operational project. I’d suggest you have discounted other critical processes that you refer to as “paperwork“, for what clearly must also happen before construction can begin, including planning & approvals, system & detailed design, equipment procurement, site investigation & preparation – usually hidden away from public gaze.

          So according to your figures roughly 30% of coal capacity is consistently unavailable.

          As I indicated, per WattClarity; not me, for the period Apr 1 through to Jun 10. I haven’t stated 30% is consistently unavailable (but it seems that’s what your erroneous inference appears to be) but I am suggesting the evidence/data clearly shows the existing NEM coal fleet is becoming increasingly unreliable as it gets older and more decrepit.

          But if the sun ain’t shining, the wind ain’t blowing, and the unicorns are MIA, where’re you getting your power from?

          George, we’ve had this conversation before at this blog about energy storage. It seems to me you simply refuse to learn. 🙄
          https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/campbell-newman-nuclear-mb2380/#comment-1394008

          As for build times, actual construction times shouldn’t be radically different assuming redtape and greentape don’t skew the comparison.

          I’d suggest data from credible sources like Professor Ray Wills do provide more accurate comparisons of the technologies.

          “Shouldn’t” and “assuming” is not evidence/data/facts. George, is this what your ‘plan’ hangs on? 🤦‍♂️

        • Geoff Miell says

          George Kaplan
          The evidence you see is the Nationals are espousing expensive, slow to build, and unreliable energy options?

          I thought I made that clear enough in my earlier comment.

          Or that such power stations, many of which are ancient, don’t have 100% uptime, and do require fuel?

          Yep, that too!

          It seems you’ve missed:

          * Liddell unit 3 was already closed on 1 Apr 2022, and the remaining three, already de-rated units (now only approx 420 MWe each), will close on 1 Apr 2023 (288 days to go) – TOO LATE for a new coal-fired power station to replace it (& anything else that’s not already well advanced);

          * Eraring units 1 through 4 (at 720 MWe each) will fully close on 19 Aug 2025 (just over 3 years and 2 months away) – TOO LATE for new coal – and Eraring won’t provide reliable power if it can’t get adequate fuel supplies;
          https://reneweconomy.com.au/origin-warns-of-coal-supply-shortages-high-prices-to-continue/

          * Delta’s Vales Point B has flagged possible earlier closure than 2029 (subject to market conditions);
          https://reneweconomy.com.au/delta-flagged-early-closure-of-vales-point-coal-plant-when-it-rejected-federal-grant/

          * Gladstone will have been operating for 50 years in 2026 (roughly 4 years away). Coal-fired power plants are usually designed to last 40 – 50 years. Gladstone is already one of the NEM’s least reliable plants. I’d suggest it’s very likely Gladstone won’t be operating in the 2030s, due to poor economics and reliability, and increasing risks of catastrophic failure.

          * Mt Piper has recently been upgraded to 1,460 MWe capacity. I think it’s longer-term adequate local coal supply is looking increasingly precarious. Current supply from Springvale mine is expected to be depleted around 2024. Nearby Angus Place mine (currently ‘mothballed’) has its current development consent expiring in Aug 2024. Airly mine has an inadequate supply (only 1.8 Mt/y ROM until Jan 2037 – Mt Piper needs about 3.7 to 4.0 Mt/y saleable coal supply). Clarence mine expires in 2026. Invincible & Cullen Valley mines expire in 2025. Centennial Coal withdrew its Angus Place Extension proposal last year & so far still hasn’t lodged an EIS for its less ambitious Angus Place West proposal.
          https://pp.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/major-projects/projects/angus-place-extension-project
          https://pp.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/major-projects/projects/angus-place-west

          Your lack of such figures is a notable absence.

          It seems to me you haven’t been paying attention to my many comments in the many threads in this blog. 🙄

        • Geoff Miell says

          George Kaplan,
          So at the end of the day you have two basic choices…

          Choice 1: Cheaper, cleaner, rapidly deployable, abundant, reliable renewables with adequate energy storage, transmission, etc.

          Choice 2: More expensive, dirty, substantially slower to deploy, finite fuel-dependent, climate wrecking, coal- and gas-fired generator technologies.

          It seems to me Chris Bowen wasn’t having any of Uhlmann’s ‘wind doesn’t always blow’ rhetoric at a press conference on Jun 16 (per PMO transcript):

          JOURNALIST: Just before the press conference began, 56 per cent of the national electricity market was being run by black and brown coal, 15 per cent by gas. The wind on the market was less than a third of installed capacity at 10 per cent, in SA 25 per cent and sometimes gets up to 90. Isn’t part of the supply problem the fact that you cannot direct wind into the market. The only thing you can do is to keep the coal-fired generators going to their end of life and to fix the ones that you have got now and include them in the capacity market, isn’t that the short-term fix?

          MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE & ENERGY: No, that has been a long held view of yours and it is not one I agree with. The problem is there is not enough investment in renewable energy. There hasn’t been enough investment in storage. Yes, you can say the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. The rain doesn’t always fall either but we can store the water and we can store renewable energy if we have the investment. That investment has been lacking for the last decade. That is the problem. State and territory ministers agree that we should proceed at pace with the capacity mechanism. I asked on behalf of all energy ministers, the Energy Security Board to proceed with that work at speed. They are doing that. I am confident I will be able to get agreement of state and territory ministers for our comprehensive capacity mechanism. I will have more to say when that work is ready.

          https://www.pm.gov.au/media/press-conference-parliament-house-canberra-act
          https://twitter.com/SquizzSTK/status/1537281394769920002

          • Thanks Squizz.
            And I liked your term “Journalist” rather than “Reporter”..

    • What can I say, but yes…
      For the last few years, Canberra’s typical winter’s day has been cold and overcast. Wasn’t always like that.
      So solar doesn’t provide the power it should.
      And to cap it all off, my Solar One (Aurora) inverter has decided to consume about 10 amps continuous each morning before the panels start making power! A reset fixes it but 10Amps? My power consumption meter shows 2800 watts at 8AM. The inverter shows a grid current of 10Amps, solar output at that time of day is usually 0Watts. Panels face west.

      But the kiler is the “Supply charge”. No way can solar keep up with the constant (unexplained) increases.
      Is solar worth it? For the few early uptakers, yes. (I have had mine for over 7 years). But the more people adopt solar, the more the power comoanies compensate with higher fixed charges.

      • You have to pay most of the fixed charges anyway, you may as well still have solar to help compensate for it.
        I feel sorry for the people who do not have it.

  2. George Kaplan says

    More on looming blackouts: https://www.news.com.au/technology/chris-bowen-says-bumpy-winter-ahead-as-east-coast-dodges-blackouts/news-story/7b276488a08f019ae525a981deabe42b

    Parts of Sydney went black yesterday but the entire east coast is at risk of blackouts this winter. Aside from weather, the international gas shortage (with cartels preferring to export than sell domestically), current outages at coal fired power stations, and a lack of renewable energy, has exacerbated the problem.

    AEMO data for yesterday: https://www.aemo.com.au/energy-systems/electricity/national-electricity-market-nem/data-nem/data-dashboard-nem

    NSW (5pm-9pm)
    Coal: 52% | 59% | 59% | 58%
    Gas: 11% | 12% | 14% | 17%

    Solar: 0% | 0% | 0% | 0%
    Wind: 15% | 18% | 19% | 18%

    QLD (5pm-9pm)
    Coal: 67% | 67% | 67% | 68%
    Gas: 24% | 23% | 23% | 20%

    Solar: 1% | 0% | 0% | 0%
    Wind: 4% | 5% | 6% | 6%

    Coal provided more than half of NSW’s power, and over two thirds of QLD power between 5pm and 9pm yesterday. Solar provided no real power – only 1% of power in QLD between 5pm and 6pm, wind providing 4-19% of power depending on state and time.

    Contrast that with the yearly averages:

    NSW
    Coal: 75%
    Gas: 3%
    Solar: 7%
    Wind: 10%

    QLD
    Coal: 79%
    Gas: 9%
    Solar: 6%
    Wind: 3%

    NSW’s coal generation was down a third, gas generation quadrupled, and overall generation down about 4%. QLD’s coal generation was down about 10%, gas generation doubled, and overall generation up about 2%.

    Solar generation in both states was, naturally, basically non-existent. NSW wind generation was up about half, QLD’s generation up a little. NSW’s overall wind and solar generation was on par with its overall yearly average. By contrast QLD’s overall wind and solar generation was almost half its yearly average.

    Yet again if the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow, Australia better pray that coal (and gas) plants can provide power. : D

    • I wonder what AEMO is measuring as solar generation as I am surprised it reported 0 output.
      For the past week Sydney has had near perfect, cloudless days & my solar system has been generating more than enough to cover my daytime use & enough surplus during the day to cover all I use overnight.
      Today has similar weather & looking at the AEMO data now, it shows 15% solar generation in NSW.

      • Ah, my bad!
        George’s post gave the fuel breakdown at 5-9pm. Not a surprise that there’s no solar at that time.
        At midday solar peaks at about 14% of total generation.

  3. In respect of installation timeframes, I ordered an 8kW system in May on a Tuesday and it was installed on a Friday – no delay at all. But my good fortune was the result of the misfortune of many who were still waiting to have rooves fixed after the big wet here in Sydney. Even so, with the expectation of 20kWh per day in June for my system, with perfect weather, I get 14kWh. Fast instal is only one element of the overall solution…..

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