Public anger at energy retailers combined with the hype around Tesla’s new battery is transforming mainstream opinions about going “off grid”.
No longer is leaving the grid just for the hard-nosed greenies.
Since Elon Musk’s game-changing big reveal last month Australian solar companies have noticed increased interest in solar panels with people asking how they can stick it to the power companies and leave the grid for good.
Proline Electrical and Solar in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs has been taking a lot of enquiries from people wanting to go completely off grid.
“Customers were all excited about going off grid because they’re sick of retailers being too expensive,” director Blake Roberts told The Fifth Estate.
People have been asking his advice about going off grid versus having a hybrid (grid and solar) system.
Mr Roberts said he was telling customers not to go off grid yet because the return on investment was not there.
“The only people who can afford it are people who are too far from the grid,” he said.
“If you have a house near the beach and there’s no power supply, it’s cheaper to go off grid. If you’re in a suburban estate, the payback is not there.”
Mr Roberts is advising customers to wait until battery prices come down.
With the battery the most expensive part, Mr Roberts said, if it only lasts six years, the customer might have to pay another $10,000 getting a new one before the return on investment was worthwhile for the first.
Despite growing interest, so far, Mr Robert’s business has been about the same as it was a year ago.
He receives about 10 enquiries a week for solar and 50 to 60 per cent of those turn into paying customers. He installs solar panels onto about five homes a week and says larger solar businesses are doing 10 to 20 homes a week.
Mr Roberts’ predictions for solar uptake in the near future are pessimistic.
“In two years’ time when there’s no rebate I don’t think people will be able to buy solar,” he said.
“Electricity companies are killing the feed-in tariff. If the government gets rid of the rebate and electricity companies reduce the feed-in tariff to eight cents, there will be no profit in it for the customer.
“We charge people $6000 for a system. The same system will be $4000 more without rebate.
“The average payback is 3-4 years. An extra $4000 might take an extra two years. It’s a long time to be paying off your solar.”
Melbourne-based Bradford Energy Solutions general manager Andrew Rowe told The Fifth Estate it was early days for battery storage but the Tesla product had created “significant discussion” and it was an exciting time for the industry.
“Their announcement along with other battery technologies is great for the industry and will certainly make the consumer look differently at how to source electricity in the future,” Mr Rowe said.
But like Mr Roberts, he is uncertain about return on investment.
“The economic payback on batteries is still open to significant debate along with how the technology is installed, regulated and how it is dealt with at end of life.
“We are certainly investigating the technology, however we are taking care not to rush into it until we undertake the due diligence.”
Mr Rowe said the solar arm of his business had been tough at times but he was optimistic about growing over time.
“I would say the market is steady and far more predictable now with no foreseen significant structural changes to the small scale renewable energy target,” he said.
“We are looking forward to seeing new legislation being written to lock in the recent in-principle agreement between the two major parties on the Renewable Energy Target.
In an article on its website True Value Solar based in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth said the Tesla Powerwall was now at the top of many homeowners’ wish lists, so much so that there would be a lengthy wait to get one.
“In fact, demand is expected to be higher in Australia than any other country because of the situation with high energy prices and the current desire to find storage options for the solar power that so many households are now generating for themselves,” the article stated.
National comparison and advice service, Solar Choice has also noticed increased interest since the Tesla battery launch.
At the moment Solar Choice receives about 40 to 60 enquiries a day, with enquiries tending to rise around the time people receive their power bills.
Residential solar energy broker Cat Smith said people were finding themselves caught between the high price of energy storage versus frustration with exorbitant energy rates.
Ms Smith said consumers were keen to go off grid but the cost of doing it was often a shock.