Steve’s Solar Shock: How I Sorted His Dodgy $4,000 Electricity Bill

Simply energy gets the bill wrong

Just before Christmas, one of my best mates finished installing solar on his shed. Six weeks later his eagerly anticipated new electricity bill came.

He was mortified when he opened the envelope to reveal his bill had tripled; and was almost as surprised when I openly laughed at the nearly $4000 allegedly owing.

I knew instantly that, once again, our friends at Simply Energy had simply cocked up. Here’s how it happened.

electricity bill

Added solar with a bonus of thousands of added kilowatt hours.

Inside Steve’s Solar Installation

This is the second solar panel system I’ve installed for Steve1. The first was some 14 years ago, but sadly he sold that house before making a good return on investment. (Unbelievably, his real estate listing didn’t even mention a $10,000 solar asset on the place — in those days, solar simply wasn’t on estate agents’ radars unless it was attached to a pool.)

This time, we planned for solar panels during the build. In order to qualify for a premium feed-in tariff, we trenched in a power supply and solar-configured electricity meter.

But of course, as with any Grand Design, there were delays, so the tariff evaporated and solar was kicked to the bottom of the priority list.

The Shed Goes Up

Steve’s new home is powered by a solar array on his glorious brand-new shed. It’s 40-foot square in the old money and a magnificent structure for installing solar.

Hours were spent on discussions and drawings, to decide what the perfect layout would look like. Instead of a huge slab of glass on one side, in the end, we settled on using both sides of the roof and having some service gaps allowing access between the arrays.

We used a SG15RT Sungrow inverter and 48 x 380W JA Solar Panels, for a total of 18.24kW. Soon, we had enough solar yield to power the air conditioning in the house up the hill.

There’s currently no landline for internet sadly, mobile reception is dodgy at Steve’s, so there’s plans afoot for a whizz-bang aerial and dedicated 4G router to make the Sungrow consumption monitoring work.

Erecting a shed

This was a brilliant way to erect a shed.

Not-So-Smart Metering

Before retailers got involved, SA Power Networks used to install dumb digital meters. This one has been clocking up consumption for many years, but it’s been programmed for solar from the outset, and so it’s had to wait patiently to measure any exports to its 009 register.

There’s no separate element or clock for controlled load, just two manually-read numbers from one 3 phase utility meter. It’s so simple you would think nobody could get it wrong. Unfortunately, you would be incorrect.

digital utility meter

The very first few minutes of yield show one-fifth of a kilowatt hour.

Simply Energy Gets It Wrong

Here’s what happened. Simply Energy billed for consumption as usual, then added the export figures, and billed for that too.

The headline figure was 5099kWh, minus 1259kWh of actual billable supply, it means means Steve was billed wrongly for 3,840 additional kilowatt hours, or 309% of average consumption.

These basic type meters use a block pricing model, and Steve had, of course, broken through the 970kWh/qtr threshold, so to add insult to injury he was charged an additional $0.09/kWh on everything above that. $371 added on the bill just for kicks.

Electricity meter

The only other reading on the meter is register 003.

Inflexible Support Processes

I have played these games before, so I asked Steve to have me authorised to speak to Simply Energy on his behalf. This is a pretty standard process, but again it became a problem in this particular case.

Without being in the same room and speaking on the same phone call, the support team simply wouldn’t have it.

Simplifying The Details

Simply Energy’s privacy policy meant the representative on the phone wouldn’t confirm any details to me. However, they had already pulled up the details of the bill in question and could see in front of them what I was speaking about.

I simply put it to them that:

  • There was obviously an error in their billing;
  • That I had identified the error;
  • That they could see the error for themselves;
  • And they’d better go about fixing that error before an ombudsman gets involved.

The message got through eventually.

revised electricity bill

This is a much better-looking bill considering there were only six weeks of solar involved.

It Was A Simple Fix, This Time

In this case, the problem was clear cut and it wasn’t too hard to get things back on track.

However, it’s disappointing that whenever these errors happen, they invariably favour the retailer.

If the customer in question was elderly, spoke English as a second language, or just didn’t have the knowledge that I do as to how the system works, I suspect they would be vulnerable to these errors, to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Next time, I’m going to try to untangle another months-long saga, this time involving AGL. Stay tuned.

Footnotes

  1. Not his real name.
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. Eric Ozgo says

    “If the customer in question was elderly, spoke English as a second language, or just didn’t have the knowledge that I do as to how the system works, I suspect they would be vulnerable to these errors, to the tune of thousands of dollars.”
    This hit me like a brick when I needed to talk to my electricity retailer because of mistakes that I came across! I thought If I wasn’t in the position that I was in, the retailer would just tear me to pieces!
    It isn’t just energy retailers but government departments are the very worst!
    No one wants to make more work for themselves, so they just try fobbing you off!

  2. I understand your pain. I put solar on in 2009 when each panel cost me $1200. We never consumed a lot of power. Once the new meter, ‘we had to have’ was installed we went from our bill in credit because the old meter went backwards during the day and forward after dark. The new smart meter acording to Origin had a night rate electric hotwater circuit when in fact it was our solar feeding into the grid. We went to the ombudsman 3 times. I spent what felt like a months worth of my free time on the phone to the new solar service unit and still got no where.
    In desperation after more than a year of failing to get the bills fixed. I called through to the normal call centre. I was answered by a wonderful mature woman who was going to transfer me to the solar group. I begged her to look into my bills herself. I told her my problem. Explained what I thought was wrong. She agread and fixed it in less than 2 minutes. She also told me she would pass on the info to the solar group who would contact me to check that all was well. That never happened. My bill is in credit and has been ever since.

  3. As a side point….

    For those with poor mobile cell phone coverage and no hardlines (copper/fibre) for Internet access, should try Starlink (SpaceX ISP service, with over 5000 low orbit satellites) which is supposedly better than Telstra’s nbn SkyMuster Satellite service.

    I’ve only heard good reviews from people at work who use it on their remote properties.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Thanks Graham,

      We actually need to investigate something like this for customers who have “smart” retail meters installed where there’s no coverage either.

    • I can definitely vouch for Starlink – best possible internet connection for those living rural. Speed test yesterday showed ping of 35ms, download 343Mbps and upload 40Mbps. Only potential issue is upfront cost for hardware and $139 per month.

      As an aside, neither Telstra nor Optus offer Skymuster satellite plans.

  4. Seen things like this multiple times.
    AGL swaps out meters and leave the old dial meters on the account so the customer receives an actual bill for the new meters + an estimated bill for the dial meters that “couldn’t be read” because they had been removed.

    AGL & Energy Australia – meter change takes longer then expected due to “insufficient space” or “access not provided” then customer receives bill where they had been charged for solar export as an import. both of these where on digital meters. Fortunately the period charged wasn’t overly excessive, but showing them clear solar bell curve graphs on the “import data” has proved frivolous.

    Origin – Raw meter data was measured correctly however the solar data was added to the import column therefore the customer was being charged for the solar as in import.

    The problem isn’t necessarily that there is a problem, the issue is the hoops you need to jump through which can take months in order to get onto someone who actually knows what they’re talking about on the retailer side.

    Big tip for everyone is to “escalate” when you don’t feel heard. It moves you up the chain a little faster in my experience.

    • This happened to my elderly neighbour. He had solar for years and simply energy accidentally added the export to his consumption randomly.

      I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist. But how many times have elderly, non English speaking etc been duped by this?

      How are they continuing to repeat this mistake? Someone needs to look into this. I bet there’s no oversight and if people just unknowingly pay, it never gets discovered and rectified. I’m

  5. The same thing happened with us late last year wth Lumo. While all the readings on the bill were correct, they ended up charging us for our solar production and not our grid consumption, which was miniscule. They had already proved themselves completely incompetent in other areas so I was not going to waste time with an overseas call centre. I flicked it straight to the Energy Ombudsman who had the bill cancelled. We were never paid for what we produced, but just getting out of the grasp of Lumo was reward enough.

  6. Ian Speer says

    Anthony, maybe time to have a rating on the Solar Quotes site in relation to power providers performance? A running total of verified complaints for each villan would attract attention .

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Ian I will put that idea forward.

      I have been amused to see AGL muster 1.3 stars via Google reviews… It’s mind blowing when some of the worst used cricketer solar companies we host reviews for still get a score of 3 stars, which is absolutely dismal.

  7. Des Mills says

    Or you could simply have a meter which was at (say) 9980.00 and they estimate your next reading at 0030. Then you put in your actual at 9997 and they bill you for 9967 kWh! Yup, happened to me.

  8. That’s Simply Energy for you. Terrible company to deal with

  9. Robert Earle Moore says

    I am waiting on my first account from Synergy (WA) Only.
    First Item . Advice from them “As I had upgraded then I don’t get the 7cents/unit”. Upgraded I say. I purchased a 3.6kw system Panel + Inverter. I had one of the first systems in 2012of 2kw and 8 panels. The inverter died-new system. The only thing Synergy said I upgraded. 2kw are no longer around and the smallest is the 3.6kw with 9 panels.
    The second item. Synergy will pay me 10c/hr from 3pm until 9pm each day. Synergy argued that daylight saving will add some sunlight for your panels.
    One PROBLEM WA do not have daylight saving and advised other places in WA have a longer daylight time. Synergy is only for the SW of WA. How thick are they in Synergy.
    I wait for the first bill as I said and will watch out to see what other stupid comments come out or do I contact A Current AFFAIR so everyone in Australia can see how stupid Synergy is as an electricity provider????
    1. Name Bob Moore
    2. Put down your weapons. Show items 1 and 2 being outside reality
    3. Assume Positive intention. Contact Current Affairs Channel 9
    4. Not in the Solar Industry, however being a retired Lecturer of Surveyor and Cartography, I know when the sun is up or down in the sky.
    5. Tried to stay on topic with the stupid comments from Supplyer (Synergy)

  10. I have two electricity accounts. A home account that is modern and automatically uploads the meters the other is for an apartment that is holiday rented. The meters are old style, electronic. They are “read” by the electricity supplier once a quarter and “estimated” the other two months. I have got into the habit of photographing the meters around the “reading time” each month. If there is any misread then it is easy to sort. The photographs have meta data that shows the time and date taken. Just as an FUI electricity suppliers only make mistakes that benefit
    Them. You need to be particularly careful when you change supplier. Take plenty of photos around their supposed start/finish dates. The electricity suppliers are hopeless at doing changeovers. Aka ways threaten to go to the state ombudsman. That seems to keep them focussed/“honest”😁👌😂

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