SolarQuotes Vodcast Episode 22 – Dark Days

Finn and Ronald discuss the (avoidable) demise of Victoria’s residential solar industry, what a “cast mono” solar panel is, DIY solar PV diversion for home automation, PPA’s, coal ash and mainstream media getting it wrong again on batteries (again).

Electricity Price (And FiT) Reductions

0:47 – Finn and Ronald chat about electricity prices dropping – but this is also usually accompanied by feed in tariffs reducing as well.

“Not good for people with huge solar systems exporting lots of electricity, but not unexpected because well, renewable energy has been helping push prices down,” says Ronald.

Finn points out while reduced feed in tariffs improve the payback of batteries, this is only when electricity prices don’t also drop.

“Beware people saying the feed in tariff’s gone down, you should get a battery now – because if your usage tariff has gone down as well, the difference between the usage tariff and feed in tariff is still the same,” says Finn.

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Victorian Residential Solar Industry Crisis

2:41 – Victoria’s solar industry is in crisis due to the way phase two of the Solar Homes PV rebate has been rolled out.

“It’s not dead yet, but it’s just been screwed around by a very stupidly implemented policy,” says Ronald.

Support for 3,333 residential PV installations is being released each month during FY 2019/20 financial year. The quota for July was filled in the first three days; leaving installers and buyers hanging for the start of August’s round that will again be fiercely competitive.

While Finn and Ronald have different ideas as to the extent of the impact, they agree it will be severe – many businesses may not cope with the drop in sales.

SQ is close to a number of good smaller installation companies in the state.

“A lot of them are talking about getting out of the solar installation business in Victoria,” says Finn. “It’s a very well-meaning rebate, but a f…..g disaster for the industry.”

Finn followed up with an article on the weekend describing the dire situation – and what the Andrews Government needs to do.

“I’m pleading with you Solar Victoria, on behalf of these solar companies, just either stop it or fix it – and yes, you’re going to have to admit you made a mistake.”

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Solar Power System Inspections In Victoria

6:41 – In more positive news, Finn and Ronald discuss Solar Victoria targeting safety and quality as part of the Solar Homes program; specifically the announcement of random inspections by independent inspectors of up to 5% of systems installed under the scheme.

“That’s good, because currently in Victoria you can choose your own inspector – and for some reason that’s not working,” says Finn (with just a dash of sarcasm).

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Cast Monosilicon Solar Panels

7:42What is a cast monosilicon solar panel? Ronald delves into the technology and describes the differences between monosilicon and polysilicon.

In a nutshell, cast monosilicon solar is less efficient than conventional mono, but higher efficiency than poly – and with a cost around the same as polysilicon.

“Expect to see many cast monosilicon solar panels on the market – as far as I can see, there’s nothing wrong with them,” says Ronald. “Don’t get too carried away – there’s nothing super-special about them, just a nice little cost reduction.”

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Solar Power Diversion And Home Automation

10:06 – One of the most popular posts on the blog this week was an article by Richard on DIY solar power diversion solutions for home automation.

“Solar power diversion is when you want to switch something on when you have excess solar,” says Finn.

Examples of this could include automatically charging an electric car with surplus solar electricity or switching on the dishwasher or washing machine.

The problem is this is currently quite hard to do due to lack of a related standard – an issue that Richard has written about previously. However, as a result of that earlier article, a number of commenters contributed DIY solutions, which forms the basis of Richard’s latest article.

DIY isn’t for everyone so hopefully inverter manufacturers will come together on a standard so solar inverters can simply send out a signal directly to smart switches that says “hey, switch this on”. Currently, there’s no inverter that can do that says Finn.

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Best And Worst Reviews Of The Week

13:02 – As chosen by SQ team member Ned.

The worst review was from the customer of (non-SQ vetted) solar company who says he was misled regarding the arrangement for his system. He paid $8k only to discover he wasn’t buying the 3kW system, but renting it. To add to his woes, the reviewer alleges the system frequently shuts down, doesn’t output what it should and the savings estimate he was originally provided was “fanciful”.

“Mate, you’ve got to go to consumer affairs if this is true, because this is an absolute shocker” says Finn.

The company involved is in the bottom 1% of all installers listed on the SolarQuotes website.

The best review selected was one for Sydney’s Soltek Energy, which has been around since 2009. The reviewer had many questions that were well-answered, which gave the reviewer confidence in dealing with the company. Soltek Energy offered a wide range of hardware options and the reviewer says the firm provided information based on the his priorities rather than what was best for the company or installers. The system was installed within a week of the deposit being made.

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Popular Residential Solar PPA

16:50 – A solar power purchase agreement (PPA) arrangement has been popular at a new housing estate in Perth, which Finn and Ronald find interesting given solar is so cheap to buy outright in Western Australia.

There can be some devil in the detail in these sorts of arrangements, but Finn thinks this is a very well designed PPA. He recommends people buy solar energy systems outright where they can, but acknowledges a (good) PPA deal is better than not having solar power at all.

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Coal Ash Calamity

18:35 – A recent report warns Australia’s coal ash dumps are a ticking time bomb. Ronald outlines the toxic nature of this ash and the threat it poses to groundwater.

“It’s another reason to stop burning coal,” he says.

Finn thinks people forget there’s so much more to coal’s negative impact than just carbon emissions.

“We’ve just got to shut these things down as a matter of urgency,” he says.

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Sunrise Gets It Wrong On Batteries

20:24 – Channel 7’s Sunrise TV program gets it wrong on installing batteries, raising the ire of the SQ team and confusing potential battery buyers.

Currently, there’s only one state in Australia where batteries might pay for themselves (SA) – and that’s a maybe, and only because there is a huge subsidy available in South Australia.

A claim was made on the Sunrise segment that a battery can pay for itself in 5 years – a curious claim in itself, made more whiffy by the fact that claim wasn’t in relation to the case study covered on the program where a family spent $46,000 on a solar panel + battery system that saves around $4,000 a year.

“That’s why we come out strong on this misinformation,” says Finn. “People are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a solution that is not saving them money.”

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Finn’s heading off for a few weeks, so there won’t be a vodcast during that period. However, we’ll be uploading some interesting videos to the SolarQuotes Youtube account during that time.

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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.

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