Australian households with rooftop solar panels could be charged for exporting electricity into the power grid at times when it is not needed under proposed changes to the national electricity market.
The recommendation is included in a draft deliberation by the Australian Energy Market Commission that is designed to prevent “traffic jams” of electricity at sunny times that could destabilise the network. The commission, which makes the rules for the electricity system, said the change was necessary to allow more household solar systems and batteries to be connected to the grid and make the system fairer for all electricity users.
Benn Barr, the commission’s chief executive, said it was expected an average solar household with a system of between 4 and 6 kilowatts would still save about $900 a year on power bills after the change, about $70 less than currently. He said it would reduce bills for the 80% of households who do not have solar as they would no longer have to pay for solar export services they were not using.
“We can decarbonise the electricity sector faster and cheaper if we connect more small solar customers and make it worthwhile for them to install batteries,” he said. “Within 10 years, half of all energy users will be using energy options like solar. We must make sure this seismic shift doesn’t leave anyone behind because every Australian, whether they have solar or not, deserves an affordable, sustainable power system.”
The proposal is opposed by some solar household groups concerned about having to pay more for electricity than they expected when they installed rooftop photovoltaic panels. Consumer group Solar Citizens said it would be “yet another handbrake for Australia’s energy transition”. “As we transition our energy system and clean up our power supply, we need to be encouraging more rooftop solar, not penalising people for putting panels on their roof,” the group’s national director, Ellen Roberts, said.
The commission’s draft deliberation, released on Thursday, was a response to proposals from power distribution company SA Power Networks and welfare groups including St Vincent de Paul and the Australian Council of Social Service, which had argued households without solar could face an unfair burden under the current system. It recommended two-way pricing that better rewarded solar and battery owners that send power to the grid when it is needed, and new incentives that would give customers more reason to buy batteries or set up their homes to consume the power they generate at busy times on the grid.