By now you probably know that the high Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) that were put in place to stimulate the residential solar industry in NSW are coming to an end on December 31st. Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have enjoyed the luxury of a taxpayer-funded solar system on their roof and are quite concerned that their electricity bills are going to go through the roof when the scheme closes. If you’re one of the smart (and lucky) ones who got in on this great deal you’re probably wondering what you’re going to do. So here, for what it’s worth, are my suggestions based on the research I’ve been doing over the last couple of months.
Step 1: Don’t Panic
Yes, it’s true that your electricity bills are likely to be higher but that doesn’t mean you should rush into a decision that you might regret later. And yes, it’s true that you will have to, at some point in the near future, get your electricity meter(s) changed from Gross Metering to Net Metering (I’ll talk more about that below) but, if you don’t get it done before the end of the year it won’t be the end of the world. Your solar electricity will still get exported to the grid and you will get paid whatever small amount your retailer offers as their current FIT. In most cases that is around 6-8c/kWh although, here at the Greeny Flat, we are currently getting 10c/kWh from Click Energy. BUT my point is, don’t rush into anything, relax, take a deep breath… everything is going to be fine.
On a more serious note, there are a lot of salesmen and companies out there looking to take advantage of people who get in a flap about the end of the 60c FIT. They’ll put the hard sell on you and try to panic you into swallowing whatever slick marketing pill they’re trying to shove down your throat. Don’t buy into it. Remember that the end of the FIT is not the end of the world. Take your time, get informed and give yourself the mental space to make the choice that’s right for you.
Step 2: Inform Yourself
‘Inform myself? That’s why I’m reading your Newsletter you Drongo!’, I hear you say.
I appreciate that and thank you for your support. However I can only give general suggestions and each person’s situation will be different. It’s important to gain an understanding of what retailers offer in your local area as well as the specifics of your own energy use and solar production. Listen to what I have to say then set out to verify it for yourself.
For those lucky enough to live in the SE region of NSW a great way to get informed will be to go along to a SunCrowd information night, coming soon to a venue near you (see below for more information).
Step 3: Changing over from Gross Metering to Net Metering
If you’re enjoying the 60c FIT you are on a Gross Metered plan whereby every kWh of energy your solar system makes goes straight into the grid and you get paid 60c for it. Meanwhile, every kWh of energy you use is separately metered and you pay about 22c/kWh for it. Newer systems, like ours at the Greeny Flat (and yours after you change over), are on a Net Metered plan whereby the energy from the solar system goes to the house first. At any moment, if the solar panels are making more than the house is using, the excess is exported to the grid and we get paid 6-8c per kWh for it. Any time the house is using more than the solar system is producing, the extra energy required is imported from the grid and we have to pay our 22c for it.
Under the Gross Metering system, it doesn’t matter what time of day you use energy (except that your off-peak water heater, if you have one, obviously has to run at night during off-peak hours). You could choose to stay on Gross Metering after the end of the 60c FIT but it will cost you because you will only be getting 6-8c/kWh for what you export but still paying 22c for what you import. You will be better off if you switch to Net Metering whereby you can use more of your own solar power (valued at 6-8c) and less grid power (valued at 22c).
So yes, you will need to look into having your meter(s) changed. The good news is that quite a few retailers are offering free meter swaps either to existing customers or to new customers who switch over. I think Origin and AGL offer free Smart Meters to existing customers but I know for sure that Diamond Energy and Powershop both offer free meters swaps to new customers. The reason I mention these two companies is because both Diamond Energy and Powershop sell 100% Renewable Energy and offer very competitive pricing and excellent customer service. I know quite a few people who have already switched to Powershop and seem to be very happy with their decision.
(Quick Sidenote: if you know someone who has already made the switch to Powershop you can ask them to refer you and you will both get $75 credit to put towards your power bills)
I’m pretty sure that Powershop is offering free Smart Meters to existing customers as well but you might need to lean on them a bit for that if you’re already a Powershop customer.
Step 4: Look Closely at Your Energy Consumption
A couple I know recently asked me to come to their place, have a look at their system and advise them on what to do when the 60c Tariff comes to an end. After looking around their place, seeing their Gross Meter setup and the 2kW PV system on their roof I asked to see their latest power bill. I was shocked when I saw that, through this last winter they had used an average of 90kWh a day. This is compared to the average for a two person household in our area of about 15kWh a day. In other words, they are using SIX TIMES as much electricity as the average (and, on top of that, they also have a gas bill). It turns out that, in their case, they have been heating their house with electric in-floor heat running on off-peak at night. This is a VERY energy intensive way to heat a home and we are now looking into more energy efficient alternatives for them. Luckily we’re coming out of the cold weather so we will have some time to figure out the best solution before the cold hits again.
The point here is, before you go spending a bunch more money on a bigger solar system or batteries or something even more exotic, make the effort to understand where you energy goes and what you can do to use less. Once you have you energy consumption under control then you will want to look at ‘Load Shifting’. In other words, when you are on a Net Metered plan you will want to find ways to ‘shift’ your ‘loads’ so that you are using more energy during the day when the sun is shining and less at night when it isn’t. A great way to do this is with an Energy Management System which I will get into in a minute.
Step 5: Monitor Your Energy Use
Here at the Greeny Flat we have an Energy Metering device that sits directly over our kitchen stove and is constantly showing us how much energy we are using and how much we are making. Some of my friends also have apps on their phones which can show them, from anywhere in the world, what is happening with their solar system and power consumption. I firmly believe that this is the most important thing you can do to help to curb energy consumption. You could spend a fortune installing every energy efficient gadget on the planet but just knowing how much energy you’re using and where it is going will do more for you and be more cost-effective in the long run. There are lots of Energy Monitoring systems available but the best ones can also double as an Energy Management System.
Step 6: Manage Your Energy
In the image above you’ll see that the Energy Management System (EMS) is at the heart of the home of the future. Starting at the left of the EMS (and moving clockwise) you’ll see that it can communicate with the Grid via a Smart Meter and determine when to import and export energy. It can monitor the price of energy on the grid so that, when energy is cheap (and plentiful) it will import, and when it is expensive (and the grid is struggling to meet demand) it will export. This means that your home will help to balance the peaks and troughs in the grid, your renewable energy will be put to best use and you will get paid more when your energy is in demand. The EMS can also monitor the weather forecast. If tomorrow is going to be cloudy it might choose to store more energy in your batteries today… AND WAIT…THERE’S MORE!… It can send all the information about your energy system to an app on your smart phone so you can monitor what’s going on and receive alerts if anything goes wrong or needs to be addressed. It can monitor the production from your solar power system and determine when to use the power in the house, when to store it in your house or car batteries and when to export it to the grid…. BUT NO, THAT’S NOT ALL!… It will also monitor and manage the battery storage in both house and car to maximise the health and longevity of the batteries as well as the return on your investment in battery technology. And finally it will be able to communicate with the energy-using equipment in your house, tell things like water heaters and air-conditioners to turn on and off at the right time and alert you if anything is using more power than it should or is not working properly. PLUS YOU GET A FREE LIGHTBULB IF YOU SIGN UP RIGHT NOW! I know, it sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
But while you might think that all of this potential is way off in the future somewhere, the truth is most of it is already available through an Australian company called ‘Reposit Power‘ and a community bulk-buying program called ‘SunCrowd‘ (see below).
The ‘Reposit Box’ EMS from Reposit Power can already do most of what I have illustrated in the image above and, because it connects to the internet, the company can download upgrades which will allow it to do the rest in the near future without you having to buy anything new. This is called ‘Future-proofing’ your system and is one of the reasons I am recommending Reposit Power.
There are other, simpler EMS systems on the market. One is called ‘CatchPower‘ but, apart from providing the all-important energy monitoring, all it does is divert some of your solar power during the day to your old, electric-resistance water heater (if you still have one). This doesn’t seem particularly ‘smart’ to me, especially as more and more people are switching to heat-pump water heaters which are MUCH more efficient but don’t work with CatchPower. It is also very expensive with an installed cost of $1700. So make sure you look carefully at your options if you are considering buying a CatchPower system.
Next Step: Come to a SunCrowd Information Session
SunCrowd is a Social Enterprise whereby a group of community members get together to negotiate the best deal for the installation of solar, storage and energy management systems for their homes. SunCrowd has already done all the hard work by researching and identifying the best and most cost-effective technologies and installers plus negotiating the best pricing from both. All you have to do is come to one of their information sessions, learn about your options and decide for yourself what is right for you. This might be simply switching to Powershop or it might involve installing a solar system with or without battery storage. If you want battery storage then you’ll probably also want a Reposit Power Energy Management System to help you get the most out of it.
If you live in the SE of NSW there will likely be a SunCrowd info session near you soon and you can sign up on their website to get on the mailing list. If you are lucky enough to live in the Southern Highlands (like us) I can tell you there will be two SunCrowd sessions in our area, one at Mittagong RSL Club at 6pm on October 26th and one at Moss Vale Services Club at 6pm on November 15th. I know this because I am helping to organise these events.
I got involved with SunCrowd recently because I believe they truly have the best interests of the community at heart. In the interest of full disclosure I should also tell you that I will be getting paid a bit for my time organising these events so I do have a financial interest in the matter. Nevertheless, I encourage you to inform yourself about your options, come to a SunCrowd event if you can, and most of all, don’t rush into anything until you have considered your options carefully.