Solar Power Through AusNet - Beware

I recently had solar panels installed so my energy distributor, AusNet put me on a Time of Use tariff as a matter of policy as it does for all customers with solar. This resulted in a 33% increase in my kwh rate. Even though I now get off-peak at weekends, based on the same usage, my bill would be 20% more than before I got the panels.

So I wrote to AusNet asking why it discriminates against those with solar and how they can justify such a steep increase.
Among other things, it replied:
Quote "The energy consumed by solar customers, particularly during traditional daytime peak pricing times, is less than that consumed by an equivalent customer without a solar installation, therefore it is necessary for AusNet Services to set the peak rate for solar customers marginally higher than for non-solar customers to ensure that an appropriate share of costs is recovered from these customers. therefore it is necessary to set a peak rate for solar customers."Unquote.

That’s a new twist on user pays, eh? Also a new definition of ‘marginal’.

So be warned, if you are in the AusNet Services area, you may well end up paying a great deal more for your power used from the grid, once you put solar panels on. So when your solar panel seller, works out all those savings you are going to make, get him to use the rate you are about to be on, not the one you were on.

And on another note, before committing to solar, check the voltage into your house on your smart meter, if you have one. I have over voltage problems and that matters because it regularly trips the solar inverter. So my solar is not working very well, anyway!! AusNet is quick to have me on the higher tariff but not so quick when it comes to fixing the problem. Still waiting…

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Thank you for this valuable information. I am not ready for solar yet, and don’t know if I am in the AusNet Services area, but good information to have when ready to progress. In saying this, I would like to go off grid with batteries.

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Many people choose to go onto a TOU tariff when they install solar, as they can save money. running big loads during the day- dishwashers, hot washing machine loads, oven use, hot water etc (using timers if no one is at home), and making use of the lower night time and weekend rate per kWh.

Austnet’s response that they need to charge you more to ensure an appropriate share of the costs are paid by solar users is pretty dodgy. The fixed daily charge (which is over $1.50/day in some areas) is meant to cover infrastructure costs- transmission lines etc, and everyone who is connected to the grid pays that, whether or not they consume any energy. People with solar actually make much less use of that infrastructure, not more, so why should they pay more. I know why, it’s because the electricity companies business model is crumbling, and they must maintain high profits, no matter what it takes.

Solar generation during peak demand hours actually assists the grid, by reducing demand, and reducing line losses due to transmission from distant power stations. It could rightly be seen as a grid support service - they should be paying you more for exports, which they sell to your neighbours and many times what they pay you.

High grid voltage is a problem basically caused by undersized cabling and transformers for the load they experience. To compensate they adjust the transformer windings to increase the output voltage, so that when it sags under load, it should be within the legal limits. If you are exporting power into the grid, then that high transformer voltage tap is a problem- the voltage can rise too much due to reduced load and voltage sag. Larger wires would solve a fair part of the problem, but the cost of doing that across much of the country would be rather high! In some areas the electricity companies have prevented people form installing solar, unless they install equipment to prevent exporting power.

Once you get to that position, you may as well jump from the grid, IMO.

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To the best of my knowledge and belief as an electrician, I don’t believe that a smart meter where you have not already had solar panels connected, would have the ability to be able to measure the incoming mains voltage.
While my smart meter doesn’t have that ability - other brands might.
However, the point you make in checking the incoming mains voltage before installing solar panels, is very good advice.

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As happened in parts of the US, and we generally follow some years later, disconnecting from the grid has been made illegal to protect utility incomes, regardless of how it is spun. In other areas solar panels are illegal, hence the tile appearance of new solar that has come to market.

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Hi Gordon,
Unfortunately, living in Melbourne, my solar generation with all the cloudy days is limited. I expected winter lows, of course. But coupled with my over voltage problem tripping the inverter, I’m getting very little benefit from solar. As soon as I get some decent sun and I start rubbing my hands together, off she goes.

I’m told my problem is with the transformer out in the street. It is so old, it cannot be adjusted to cope with solar input. Apparently replacing it is the only option.

I’m certainly considering leaving the grid, but I keep hearing that it is not economically viable just yet to buy the batteries.

And how ignorant was I? I assumed that if/when we have blackouts due to the energy shortages predicted, I would at least have solar power during the day. Now I know that the solar inverter also shuts off if the voltage from the grid is too low.

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Thanks for sharing this @dawnkidgell, and sorry you had to go through the trouble. I’ll be sure to share this with my colleagues that work on the solar issues.

I could barely believe that article @PhilT. Besides everything else, it seemed so contrary to American values to me (at least from what I have seen in my travels).

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Once could write that about much of “American values” in 2017 :frowning:

Apologies for the survivalist link, it just succinctly made the point. Localities across the US are doing various things to stop, inhibit, and dissuade solar, while others are very reasonable. One of the funniest is the outcome of a satire article being taken seriously. These are strange times in the US!

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Hi Airsie,
I found a very old document put out by the Department of Primary Industries that detailed the ‘Functionality Requirements for Smart Meters’. There at 3.8.2 it listed over voltage. Even then, prior to 2010, the smart meter was required to measure voltage. In fact, over voltage events were to be recorded if they lasted more than a minute, with the highest voltage in the time period being the one recorded.

Mind you, being required and being done are not necessarily the same thing.

I will detail how to do it on my smart meter in case someone else would care to try. I am in Victoria and I believe we all have the same meter. Be interesting to know, as you say, if non-solars can read their meter for voltage.

I have two menu buttons. Press the one on your left as you face the meter, hold til ‘Alt 1’ comes up then release. It will scroll through information screens automatically, one of these being the voltage, recognised by the small ‘v’ after the numbers.

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From the offgridsurvival.com story:

From being threatened with jail time if they didn’t hook back into the grid, to actually being thrown in jail because the county didn’t like the look of their homes or land, the people in the deserts of Los Angeles County are being terrorized by their local government.

“Jailed because they didn’t like the look of their homes or land” Really?! I suspect they might be stretching the truth somewhat.

The commercial offerings don’t really make sense on a pure economic basis right now, if you just count upfront cost and what you will save over the life of the battery. However, if you place value on a freezer full of food lost due to a blackout, or keeping the lights on, the value factor changes. It can be hard to put a value on those things - your freezer might be empty!, but keeping the lights on, beer cold, TV going, ability to boil the kettle etc do have value, and should be considered when looking into batteries.

Not all PV systems being sold with batteries are suitable for keeping you powered when there is a blackout, despite the dodgy marketing of some companies. You have to get the right components, and make sure the battery system is capable of supplying the loads you need to keep running during a blackout.

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Hello Dawn,

I’m sorry to hear you are paying more for electricity now that you have invested in solar than previously - that is absurd.

I have read research by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in NSW warning solar owners about ‘special’ solar electricity retail deals that sound similar to the one you describe. These deals have a higher feed-in tariff but the other tariffs are also higher, often costing the customer hundreds of dollars more in electricity per year, just as you have experienced.
See the research and advice here:


Our advice, would be to find a better retail deal, if you have the choice.

Here’s an extract from a recent CHOICE article that covered this:

Beware ‘special’ offers with higher feed-in tariffs

In May 2017, IPART released a draft benchmark range for voluntary solar feed-in tariffs for 2017–18 of 11.6 to 14.6c/kWh, a significant rise on last year’s benchmark range of 5.5 to 7.2c/kWh.

But IPART chair Dr Peter Boxall also advises solar customers, “Feed-in tariffs are only one component of a retailer’s market offer and the retailer with the highest feed-in tariff may not provide the best deal overall.”

Solar owners should compare the total costs of a new retail offer, and shouldn’t just select an electricity plan on the basis of the feed-in tariff.

IPART analysed some of these offers and found that customers paid a higher average price per kWh of electricity with them, and this had a bigger impact on the total bill than the feed-in credit.

In one case, IPART found that a customer’s bill increased by $224 with the offer that had a 12.2 cents kWh feed-in tariff, when compared with the best overall offer on the market.

Note that these ‘special offers’ are not easy to compare alongside regular offers because they don’t legally have to appear on the government’s electricity offer comparison site Energy Made Easy.

Extracted from: https://www.choice.com.au/home-improvement/energy-saving/reducing-your-carbon-footprint/articles/delayed-smart-meter-installs-nsw

I hope this helps.

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Thanks, Alison.
My feed-in tariff is 5.5ckwh so that is about the bottom of the heap. Even with this miserable feed-in rate, I am being charged very high kwh charges. It is because AusNet put me onto a Time of Use tariff (which can’t be negotiated because I’ve tried) that my kwh rate is so high. The feed-in tariff didn’t get a mention.

But anyway, I always wanted the best rate on my usage. I saw the feed-in as a bonus only. I know it has been legislated that the minimum feed-in after July 1st is 11.3c. Not sure if that is just Victoria or federal.

I have shopped around but five other energy retailers had rates that were no better or slightly worse once discounts were applied. Unfortunately I can’t change my distributor, AusNet.

So how did it come to pass that we allowed deregulation resulting in a monopoly on energy distribution in any given area - which is where the problem lies, I think.

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All FiTs are set on a state by state basis, the Feds have no say in it. In NSW there has also been a recommended increase in the FiT, but it isn’t compulsory. Some people get paid zero for their exported energy!

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The lack of competitive pricing is very unfair. I’d make a complaint to Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria EWOV https://www.ewov.com.au/ and also take your case to Energy Consumers Australia http://energyconsumersaustralia.com.au/.

If you email me at apotter@choice.com.au with your postcode and some details we might be able to help you find a better deal.

Alison

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That survivalist web site is a bit over the top, but reality is you can spend hours or days in jail for violating zoning restrictions in some parts of the US, and zoning can be used to control nearly anything, especially the look of a building. Homeowners Associations are Very Special in what they can control, and read about 66-year-old Joseph Prudente who had to do some time in the local jail because he couldn’t afford to comply with a court order, obtained by his HOA, that required him to sod his lawn. .

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OMG - looks like we will be following the same outrageous protection of utility incomes - and their non sustainable energy supply - unless we speak up loudly - first test - STOP ADANI - why should we give ADANI nearly 1 Billion dollars of Australian taxpayers money for ADANI to exploit our coal!

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It’s a shame that each of these companies seem to have there own rules for Solar tariffs. The government has a lot to answer for as they got rid of the higher tariffs. We moved from the Gold Coast to north of Gympie and decided with all the brown outs etc that the area was having, we would go completely off grid. The only drawback that I have found is that if its cloudy for about three or four days our Solar hot water will run out. In hindsight we should have purchased the model with gas backup and not power, as using the battery storage to heat the water, uses a bit too much. We love being off grid with no more power bills. We also look at power and water usage on anythis we buy.

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Thank you for sharing this absurd behaviour by you provider.
I have solar panels and back-up battery x 3. I am more than happy because I am in credit. However my suburb in Canberra is subject to numerous blackouts…the back-up batteries do not kick in during said blackkouts. My provider tells me I need to engage an electrician to ensure that they kick in during a blackout. Can you believe that this wasn’t done when it was installed?
The world appears unready for the likes of us wishing to reduce our carbon foot-print!

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It might take more than a visit by an electrician to give you back-up power during blackouts. You need to have the correct inverter, one that is capable of operating from the battery in island mode. Many inverters are not able to do that, they can only use batteries for load shifting- ie using stored energy at night, but cut out when the grid goes down.

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@therese.a.findlay. I am glad you posted. I am not ready for solar myself just yet, and get a migraine reading the copious amounts of literature. I said to my husband the other day, ‘when we are ready for solar I want battery storage so we can go off-grid but need electricity as a backup should something happen to the solar’. Your post is a prompt for me to think the opposite scenario also. Thank you!