Recently, according to new regulations introduced by the Australian Energy Market Council (AEMC), power companies will soon be able to charge owners who use rooftop systems to deliver electricity to the grid. The plan to allow the levy of Internet access fees was mentioned in the draft decision in March, and a final decision was made recently.
At present, about 20% of customers use rooftop solar power systems to partially meet their power needs, compared with only 0.2% in 2007. It is expected that this number will double in the next two decades.
Benn Barr, CEO of AEMC, said that household users sell excess electricity back to the grid, which puts increasing pressure on systems that are not set up to be two-way.
Welfare groups supported this change, but were opposed by some solar owners when it was first announced. AEMC stated that it had “listened to feedback” and “strengthened consumer protection.” Barr said that the reform requires the grid to assume the obligation to obtain electricity from residents’ homes. They will not be able to collect fixed fees and will only charge fees when the grid is congested.
AEMC stated that electricity suppliers will be able to develop a series of packages for consumers to choose from, but they must include “free basic services.”
But Barr said that because of the potential rewards, many people will find it financially better to choose the paid option.
AEMC said that household batteries provide one such option because battery owners can “store energy and send it to the grid when the price is higher.” The so-called “congestion” in the grid is increasingly forcing power companies to prevent households from feeding back the electricity generated by solar energy to the grid. The new rules will prevent grid companies from completely banning this situation.
“You see these export bans in Victoria, when people want to connect to the grid, they are told they can’t connect to anything,” Barr said. “It really cost them, and it prevents us from decarbonizing the industry faster. We hope to get more solar energy in the system, especially smart solar energy.”
These reforms are a response to Australia’s changing energy landscape and growing use of solar energy. Power generators and regulators face the eternal challenge of balancing supply and demand changes.
A quarter of Australian households have rooftop solar power systems-one of the highest percentages in the world.
Last year, South Australia became the world’s first major jurisdiction entirely powered by solar energy. In more than an hour on October 11, the rooftop solar system alone could meet 100% of the energy demand.
Modeling by AEMC found that in the worst case, existing solar customers can still get 90% of their current income without changing their consumption behavior.
Proposals for regulatory changes come not only from the distribution company SA Power Networks, but also from welfare groups, including St Vincent dePaul and the Australian Council of Social Service.
They believe that under the current system, households without solar energy may unfairly bear the cost of increasing the grid to cope with the increasing number of new rooftop photovoltaic systems. According to Barr, under the new regulations, “80% of customers who do not have solar will actually see their bills cut by about $15 per year.”
These changes will not take effect until July 2025-Barr said this is a deadline for “the grid to work with consumers, households, and governments to design the best solutions for each state and territory.” The grid must also obtain any proposed plans approved by the Australian Energy Regulatory Agency (AER). He said: “Companies need to go out and consult what is the best option. They need to talk to families and jurisdictions. Regulators must sign a certificate. In the long run, they are actually in the best interests of consumers.”
Although there are strong objections to the levy of any Internet access fees, including those from rooftop solar system owners, Barr said that these changes are critical to Australia’s future and that doing nothing is not a wise move. “What we are actually trying to do is to look forward to the future and the grid, not only the rooftop photovoltaic system and its feedback to the grid, but also household battery or community battery energy storage systems and electric vehicles, and prepare for the grid,” he said .
“This is a key part of this reform-it is actually to communicate to the grid to prepare for this fundamental change that is taking place, which will benefit all Australians and achieve their decarbonization goals faster.”