20161231 December 31 key date if you have solar

Anyone who has participated in the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme (SBS) needs to be aware that the scheme will conclude (as per its original design) on December 31st, this year.

This means that if you currently receive either the 60 cent or 20 cent Feed-in Tariff, from January 2017 onwards, you will notice a significant increase in your monthly or quarterly electricity bill.  There are a couple of actions that you should think about to reduce the impact on your finances.

The Scheme was intended to assist consumers to purchase a solar system and to pay it off, through selling their generated electricity at the rate of 60 cents per unit (a kilowatt hour – kWh), or for those joining the scheme later, 20 cents per unit.  So if you purchased a 2 kW system five years ago, for example, you will have received enough from the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) to have paid for the system, plus received about half of that value again.  The idea was that you could put the extra return towards maintenance, or expanding your current system.

The most important thing is that your electricity meter needs to be changed.

Currently your meter is called a “Gross” meter.  It measures all the solar energy generated going out to the grid, and you get paid for it at the FiT rate.  It also measures the energy that you buy from the grid.  When you use energy in your home, you pay for it through your monthly bill, at between 25 cents and about 35 cents per unit.

You need your meter to be changed to a “Net” meter.  This will allow you to use as much as you can of your generated solar energy within the house during the day, with only the EXCESS being sent to the grid.  You will receive only 5-7 cents per unit for this energy, or nothing.  Although that doesn’t seem fair, that rate is about twice the rate that wholesale energy is purchased by retailers, so it is not as bad as it could be.

If you don’t change your meter, you will receive NOTHING for any excess energy, which is a bad outcome all round.

Some retailers (like Origin, which took over many of the Country Energy consumers) have programmes to replace meters.  Others are doing nothing.

So if your retailer is offering to swap your meter, you should consider doing so.  If they aren’t talking to you about it, you need to talk to them!

The costs of changing the meter are estimated to range from $300-$600, depending on your situation.  Obviously if your retailer is going to swap it, you should read the fine print, in case there is an unacceptable contract cost or something else that would surprise you in a bad way.

A major problem is that there are only so many qualified electricians who can swap meters, and they are rapidly being booked up to make the change before the end of the year.  There may also be a shortage of Net meters, so there is no reason to delay – contact your retailer as soon as possible and start the discussion.

Once you have your new Net meter, the other thing that you need to do is to try to use as much energy during the day as possible, and the least at night when you have to purchase it from the retailer.  Obviously if you can use your own energy during the day, then you don’t have to buy it, which will help your electricity bill.  Even so, you will still find that your monthly electricity bill might be over $100 (or even $200), whereas currently you may not be paying much at all.

Clean Energy For Eternity (CEFE) is very keen to support you through this period as the Solar Bonus Scheme comes to an end.  We are looking at the possibility of further bulk-buys to expand current systems (so you can use more of your own electricity during the day), and eventually at battery storage systems.   CEFE feels that at the moment, battery systems are still too expensive, although you expect prices to drop a lot over the next few years.

If you think that you might eventually look at a battery system, you need to have at least 3 kW of solar installed – ideally at least 5 kW.  PV systems are now much cheaper than when you first joined the SBS.  As an indicator, an additional, good quality, 2 kW system will cost about $3,500, and a 3 kW system about $5,000.

Be very wary of companies offering much cheaper systems, as the quality of some components is very suspect.  Most installers these days are well-regulated, so the quality of their work is acceptable, but you still need good components to make the investment worthwhile.  Remember, your solar system should be expected to perform for 25-30 years, but it can only do that if it is regularly inspected and cleaned, and there are no failed components (like panels or inverters).  A competent solar installer can carry out an inspection and panel clean for a fairly modest fee.

Tathra Community Solar Farm Performance

Tathra Community Solar Farm – IMAGINE generating clean and green, renewable power!

The TCSF is a 30kW solar photovoltaic installation at the Tathra Sewerage Treatment Plant. It consists of 120 pollycrystalline 250W Trina solar panels and two 15 kW Fronius Symo 3 phase inverters grid connected. The panel elevation ange is 15 degrees.

In 2014 Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) formed a partnership with CEFE to develop one of Australia’s first community solar farms. Through organising multiple events and broader community engagement, CEFE has raised money over many years for local community organisations (e.g. RFS fire sheds, community halls, churches, surf clubs, preschools and a tourist venue) to install solar PV. To further this work CEFE approached Council to develop a joint venture which could be a beacon to other communities around Australia for climate change action. By combining passion and expertise, the Tathra Community Solar Farm project was conceived, built and opened in 2015. The project captures financial savings and reinvests these in other local solar projects – creating a win:win:win for CEFE, Council and the local community.

The project has received fantastic support from the local community and various organisations. Community donors, including local business, helped raise valuable funds for the project, while the Tathra Mountain Bike Enduro event provided significant support and funding to make the project a reality. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage assisted and Bega Valley Shire Council contributed half of the project cost and project managed the design and construction.

In its first year of operation the savings in electricity costs amounted to $4379 This will be reinvested in further community solar projects.