The Solar Bonus Scheme has supported over 146,000 households and small businesses to install small-scale renewable energy generators with a subsidised feed in tariff that began in February 2010.
In accordance with the original intention of the Parliament this scheme will end on 31 December 2016. Eligible Scheme customers will continue to receive payments under the Scheme until this date after which feed-in tariffs will not be subsidised.
It is important to investigate your metering and other product options to make sure you get the most out of your renewable energy system when the scheme ends, and to look around to see what competing retailers have to offer.
Depending on the offer you choose, you may need to change meters before the Scheme closes.
Three things to do before 31 December 2016
- Identify the type of meter you currently have
You should check your electricity bill or talk to your electricity retailer about current metering arrangements.
- Decide on the best option for you
Depending on the type of meter you have, you may choose to keep your existing meter or decide to change your meter. You may also want to consider new technologies that are available.
If you decide to change the meter, you will need to arrange for the meter to be installed as soon as practicable. Contact your electricity retailer to arrange this.
You can switch from a gross meter to a net meter (and vice versa) at any time. This change will not have an impact on the tariff rate that you received.
Some retailers may offer to install a smart meter that can continue acting as a gross meter and then be remotely changed over to a net meter on 31 December 2016
- Identify the most cost effective retail offer for you
Investigate your metering and other product options to make sure you get the most out of your renewable energy system when the Scheme ends, and to shop around to see what competing retailers have to offer.
Key questions to ask electricity retailers
Here are some of the key questions you should ask when contacting retailers:
- What feed-in tariff are you offering after 31 December 2016?
- What pricing bundle or product best suits me?
- Are there any upfront costs associated with either my meter or the installation? If so, what are they?
- If I choose to get a smart meter:
- Are there any exit fees if I move to another electricity retailer?
- Can I access my energy information in near-real time? If so, will that cost me any extra?
- What energy information will I have access to?
- Is this a lock- in contract?
- Will I retain my gross feed in until 31 December 2016?
- What happens if I don’t change my meter?
With this information at hand you’ll be in a better position to compare the different retailer offers to help you get the best result for your needs.
Solar customers that are not part of the Scheme and do not receive the subsidised feed in tariff are unlikely to require any change to their metering. In most cases they will already have net metering arrangement in place.
If you are a customer receiving a 60 cents subsidy you’ll likely have a gross metering arrangement, which sends all of your solar power directly to the grid, not to your house.
If you are a customer receiving a 20 cents subsidy you may have a net metering arrangement, allowing you to use the energy you generate and add any excess energy to the grid. It is important to confirm with your retailer the type of metering arrangement you have currently.
Your goal: Self-consume as much of your solar energy as possible
Once the scheme closes, you should aim to meet as much of your home’s electricity needs as possible using the solar power you generate to help minimise your electricity bill. This is because the rate the retailer will pay you is lower than what they charge for electricity. If necessary, change to a net metering arrangement to use the solar power you generate first, before any excess is exported to the grid.
Why is an unsubsidised feed-in tariff lower than what I pay for electricity?
Unsubsidised feed-in tariffs are lower than what you pay for electricity because electricity bills cover the cost of everything involved with supplying electricity to your home or business, including the cost of:
- electricity bought from generators by your retailer
- delivering the electricity to your home or business through the poles and wires
- various government green schemes
- retailer administration.
Owners of small-scale renewable energy installations on the other hand only get paid for the electricity they add to the grid and not the total cost of getting the electricity to customers.
The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has identified a fair and reasonable benchmark range of prices for electricity generated by small-scale solar generators outside of the Solar Bonus Scheme, which is between 5.5 and 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour.
While government does not regulate retail electricity prices, the NSW Government has called on all NSW retailers to offer solar customers feed-in tariffs that are consistent with IPART’s
You should check the deal you have with your current retailer and shop around to find the best post-scheme solar feed-in tariff and integrated electricity deals on offer.
Be aware that sometimes a higher feed-in tariff may not be the most financially beneficial option. Check the usage charges, daily charge, relevant discounts, other products and services offered, and associated terms and conditions prior to signing up to an electricity deal with a retailer.
Details about your meter and tariff will be on your electricity bill. Contact your retailer if you are unsure.
What is gross metering?
Under gross metering arrangements, all electricity generated by your system is exported to the grid. You cannot use the electricity you generate in your house or business. Instead, you buy all your electricity from your electricity retailer.
What is net metering?
Under net metering arrangements, the electricity you generate is used to supply your own energy requirements first. Any excess electricity generated is then exported to the grid. By using the solar energy your system generates, you reduce the amount of grid electricity you consume, which can minimise your electricity bills depending on the feed-in tariff you receive.
What are digital (smart) meters?
Digital (smart) meters are electricity meters that measure your electricity consumption in short intervals, and are capable of being remotely read and operated. You can get more up-to-date information about your energy consumption and costs using digital (smart) meters, and electricity retailers save on the cost of manual meter reading. Smart meters will also give you information about your energy use when deciding on the economics of battery storage.
How else can I reduce my electricity bill?
One great way for you to reduce your electricity bill is to make your home as energy efficient as possible. There are a number of online resources to help you become more energy efficient, including information on the DRE and Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) websites.
Another way is to use batteries to store the electricity harvested during the day to use later.
Home battery storage is arguably the hottest energy-related topic in Australia at the moment, and by almost all accounts the market for residential battery systems is set to take off dramatically in the coming years. Batteries are versatile and the electrical energy that they store can be used to run virtually anything in your home, and their output is more reliable than that of a solar panel array (whose output may drop suddenly if a cloud passes in front of the sun).
Furthermore, with the right setup, you can even top your batteries up using grid electricity in addition to solar energy from your panels – helping you to save money (if you’re on a time of use tariff). Coupled with enough solar PV capacity, battery storage could even help you become nearly or completely energy self-sufficient.
The biggest downside of battery storage at the moment is price: while batteries may help you reduce your energy bill significantly, except in a few situations, they’re unlikely to have a payback period shorter than their warranty duration.
For further information about the changes go to NSW Government’s Resources and Energy website.