Image by Bill Mead

New solar reforms aim to put the onus on power network companies to enable more rooftop solar energy to enter the grid, but not everyone’s happy with the changes

The overwhelming uptake by Australians of rooftop solar is a great positive for the environment but has led to an oversupply of power that outdated electricity grids in many cases cannot cope with. 

On occasion this has led to blanket bans on the exporting of rooftop solar energy to the grid, particularly at times of high supply such as during the middle of the day. 

Now, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has finalised reforms to address the issue, with a key change being that networks will no longer be allowed to ban solar exports entirely. 

The reforms also introduce charges for exporting energy to the grid that previously didn’t exist, as a way of discouraging solar power entering the grid during periods of low demand. 

Consumers will have the choice to opt into “paid plans”, but networks must also offer a compulsory, free basic service, that will set a level below which consumers can export power into the grid without being charged.  

Solar owners taking up paid export plans will have the opportunity to earn more by utilising solar batteries and EVs that would allow them to store energy and send it to the grid when the rates are higher.

However, some have questioned the new pricing scheme, calling it a “sun tax” on households who had adopted clean energy and should instead be rewarded for the benefits they provide.

According AEMC modelling, existing solar households who opt into “paid plans” and made no change to their consumption and generation habits, would receive 90 per cent of the tariffs they currently receive.

Consumer groups have broadly backed the reforms as creating the best outcome for the greatest number of people. 

“We understand that this package of measures has been contentious and that there are different points of view on it,” Energy Consumers Australia chief executive officer Lynne Gallagher said.

“We are pleased to see additional protections have been added to the AEMC’s original proposal, which should go some way towards addressing the legitimate uncertainty and even concern among some segments of the Australian community around what had been proposed.”

Environment advocacy group, Total Environment Centre (TEC) also welcomed the reforms saying, overall solar owners would be better off. 

“The initial draft rules released by the AEMC several months ago were still problematic, so we proposed some critical amendments. We are very happy to say that the AEMC has adopted all of them,” TEC’s energy market advocate Mark Byrne said. 

“We are confident that most solar owners can be better off under the new rules, which will reward the value to networks of energy exported to the grid at times of peak demand.”

“This is especially true if you can run more appliances during the day, face solar panels east or west instead of north; install a home battery; or charge an EV when the sun is shining.”

Between 2.6 and three million Australian households already have solar panels installed. With a further three million households likely to follow over the next decade. 

By 2050, rooftop solar systems and other types of DER are expected to contribute more than 45 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply.

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