Solar in big trouble

Image_may11Last Friday 174 people gathered at the Bega Showground pavilion to learn about drastic changes made to the NSW Feed-In-Tariff legislation. With the Bega Valley having one of the highest rates of ownership of photovoltaic cells in the country, and with solar being the fastest growing industry in the area, a lot of people will be affected by changes to the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT).

Everyone attending the meeting was aware of the retrospective changes to the 60 cent FIT, down to 40 cents. Many people were unaware that applications for solar panels made after April 28 will receive no net or gross Feed-In-Tariff. Without a replacement strategy, this change is a threat to the solar energy industry in NSW.

The purpose of the meeting was look at how people with existing solar panels could be looked after, whilst maintaining a viable solar industry into the future. The aim was to come up with a community resolution that Mr Constance could take to the Stage 2 Solar Summit in Newcastle on 6/5/11 on behalf of the Bega electorate.

The resolutions were agreed to:

-The O?Farrell government should identify and recognise the savings put forward by the Australian Solar Energy Society regarding an overestimate of nearly $300 million from basing electricity produced by panels in NSW on Northern Territory figures. The state government should also consider the potential for distributed energy to make substantial savings in the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades. I don?t believe this significant saving has been taken into account.

-The above savings should allow the state government to honour all existing contracts

-The state government should legislate a 1:1 FIT for household solar photovoltaic cells, guaranteed for the lifetime of that installation (households should be paid the same amount of money for the electricity they put into the grid from solar panels, as they pay for electricity).

-The government should also acknowledge that the significant cause of rising electricity prices is the need to replace poles and wires ($42 billion over 5 years) not the Solar Benefit Scheme (less than $1.9 billion over 5 years).

172 members of the audience voted for Mr Constance to take the resolutions to the Stage 2 Solar Summit, 2 voted against.

Unfortunately the state government unexpectedly canceled last Monday?s planned stage 2 Solar Summit, leaving the solar industry in no-man?s land. Equally unexpectedly, O’Farrell announced on Tuesday that retrospective changes to the FIT had been abandoned, meaning the 60 tariff remains intact.

This is great news for those who have already purchased solar panels, but is not so good for those planning solar into the future. The O’Farrell government is standing by its decision to axe the Solar Benefit Scheme (at this stage). That means there is no FIT which means that if you purchase solar cells after April 2011, you will be paid nothing for the electricity you generate.

The solar energy industry remains in limbo, anxiously awaiting the outcome of the stage 2 solar summit to see if the NSW government will come up with a strategic approach for a viable industry into the future.

Matthew Nott
The trashed Solar Benefit Scheme 15/5/11

The NSW Government has today undermined the credibility of renewable energy schemes around Athe region by retrospectively reducing the solar feed-in-tariff.

About 110,000 participants in the state government?s solar bonus scheme will have the rate they are paid for generating electricity cut from 60 cents a kilowatt hour to 40 cents.

Electricity customers who had applied to join the scheme before it was suspended on April 28 will be allowed to do so at a 20 cent rate. The Energy Minister Chris Hartcher said the scheme would not be reopened to new customers.

What Hatcher means by saying the scheme ?will not be reopened? is not at all clear from the NSW Government web site, and it took a few phone calls to government ministers to find out!

The NSW Feed-in-Tariff has been reduced to 0 cents per kilowatt hour. There is no longer a gross or net Feed-in-Tariff in NSW.

If I purchased solar panels today and had them connected tomorrow, they would be pumping electricity into the grid. I would earn nothing from the electricity I generated.

If I turned my washing machine on during the day the solar panels would run it. That would save me money. It?s all good so far. But if I turn my washing machine on at night, I have to purchase electricity from coal fired power stations. If I don?t turn my washing machine on during the day, the excess electricity I generate is donated to the utility for free. Households will be investing in solar panels so they can provide free electricity for utilities!

The Australian Solar Energy Society said the policy change would ?send a chill down the spine of every NSW solar company and every resident concerned about climate change?.

Solar legislation in NSW is a confused mess. We now are the worst state in Australia, by far. Credibility confidence and certainty have been destroyed. Investment uncertainty in renewable energy will ultimately put significant pressure on electricity prices.

The NSW state government is planning a stage 2 Solar Summit in July to look at how a sustainable solar policy can be set up. I have urged Andrew Constance to attend that summit. The Bega Valley has one of the highest concentrations of solar panels in the country. A lot of people in the Bega electorate are going to be affected. I implore Mr Constance to go in to bat for us.

Matthew Nott
Peer Review

No scientific claim can be considered legitimate until it has undergone critical scrutiny by other experts. At minimum, peer reviewers look for obvious mistakes in data gathering, analysis, and interpretation. Usually they go further, addressing the quality and quantity of data, the reasoning linking the evidence to its interpretation, the mathematical formulae or computer simulations used to analyze and interpret the data.

Scientific journals submit all papers to peer review. Typically three experts are asked to comment. If the reviewers are divided, the editor may seek additional voices. Many papers go through two or more rounds, as authors try to correct mistakes and address concerns raised by the reviewers. If they fail, the project will be rejected, and the authors go back to the drawing board- or try another less prestigious journal.

The reviewers must also be real experts-they must know enough to be able to judge the methods used and the claims made- and they must not have a close relationship with the person whose work is being judged.

If an article is peer reviewed, it doesn?t mean it is correct. If an article is not peer reviewed it doesn?t mean it is wrong. Peer review simply means that correct scientific process has been followed.

When you look at the peer reviewed literature, there is no debate about the basic science of climate change. There is no doubt that climate change is a threat.

You get a very different picture if you look at the non-peer reviewed literature. In fact you can support any position you like on any scientific issue you care to choose if you look at literature that has not been through a peer review process.

Fred Singer is an interesting example of what can happen if you ignore the peer review process.. Singer has produce no original climate research, and is not a climate scientist, but is one of the poster boys for climate sceptics. Using non peer reviewed literature, Singer tried to cast doubt on the link between smoking and cancer. He continued to do so well after the link had been unequivocally established. He then tried to cast doubt on the association between passive smoking and cancer, long after it was proven. He successfully delayed action on acid rain, and tried to blame ozone depletion on volcanoes. The fact that Singer is now trying to cast doubt on the association between atmospheric CO2 and a warming planet makes me think that there must be a very strong one.

Several times I have asked readers if they can come up with a single peer reviewed scientific article in Nature, New Scientist, or Science that casts doubt on the theory of human induced climate change. I have not received a single adequate response, but will keep asking the question.

Surely there is a sceptic out there who can come up with a single peer reviewed article that supports their position.

Matthew Nott
Policy Confusion 4/5/11

As of 28/4/11, applications to the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme were placed on hold. The O?Farrell government wants to limit electricity price rises as a result of the Solar Bonus Scheme.

The Solar Bonus Scheme is confusing. There are federal government Renewable Energy Certificates (REC?s) and state government Feed-in-Tariffs (FIT) which are different in each state. Some FIT?s are net, and some are gross, and each state has a different rate. It?s all very confusing. I presume the NSW state government is talking about putting the FIT on hold.

The Government is holding a Solar Summit to investigate options.

Customers whose systems are already connected to the grid are not affected.

Customers interested in purchasing solar panels are still able to connect new systems to the electricity grid. The advice from state government is that new customers may wish to install net metering, to reduce their electricity bills. This is after recently being told that we needed gross meters.

A ‘net’ meter measures the net amount of generated electricity exported to the electricity grid. This means a customer uses the electricity they produce first, before sending the remainder to the grid. Solar photovoltaic cells continue to be a worthwhile investment despite policy confusion. The cost is coming down all the time, and the payback period from electricity savings is about 6 years.

There are conflicting stories about the impact of the Solar Bonus Scheme on electricity prices. Electricity retailers are saying that rising household bills are due to the cost of replacing ageing infrastructure. Some politicians are saying that rising costs are due to the Solar Benefit Scheme? I think we need a clear answer to that question, and I?m hoping it will answered at the up coming Solar Summit.

Solar policy changes on an almost monthly basis. We are not getting a strategic approach. We are getting policy confusion, which makes investors cautious. That needs to change. Australians deserve better. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the O?Farrell government.

Matthew Nott