Canberra solar PV gross feed scheme is a foolish and expensive experiment with our electricity systemApril 19th, 2009 by Warwick Hughes
As reported here and there are many other reports online, The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Labor Govt. with the applause of the ACT Greens, nows pays about 50c/kWh for electricity generated from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or wind power. This is a GROSS feed in tariff, not NET and is the most generous in Australia. There is also a Federal Govt subsidy ~$8000 to install PV panels, if you qualify.
This compares to typical ACT power charges of say 15c/kWh, which is plenty high enough considering large industrial users can pay half that and coal fired generators can produce power at about 4c.
There has been criticism of the scheme in letters to the Canberra Times including this example, “Tenants to pay cost of solar panels for the well-to-do” on the 12th of February.
How did the ACT Labor Govt. settle on what appears to be such a socially regressive scheme and how do the ACT Greens justify this raid on the pockets of the less wealthy ?
Let us look at some possible numbers, keeping things simple, the Canberra population is say 300,000 – let’s say there are 75,000 households, say a third take up the scheme and on average put in a 2KW set of panels, producing say 10kWh perday at 50c = $5.00. Over a year each household could be credited with $1825, which works out to $46Million savings on powerbills across the 25,000 households.
There can be no doubt that the 50,000 households (including most tenants), who can not afford the high cost of buying and installing rooftop solar panels will pay this $46Million through increased electricity charges, which on these figures will be $920 per year or $17.30 per week.
Solar power is not sufficient for the important morning and evening peaks, as the sun is not shining then. So ACTEW will have to keep sourcing grid power from NSW generators, increasingly requiring peak period power as presumably the solar power fed-in from rooftops will mean ACTEW will buy less NSW grid power during sunshine hours. Normal commercial dealings would tell you that the NSW generators will want a higher rate from ACTEW seeing they will buy less and are more picky about when they want the power. Then how about a dull day, all of a sudden ACTEW puts an order in, it seems obvious that under normal commercial principles higher rates would apply to erratic and unpredictable demands for supply.
OK, given that the Federal Govt. wants to source more low carbon electricity, surely the most efficient way for Australia to do this is to start at the remote regions of the various State grids where electricity is the MOST expensive and solar will be most able to compete, requiring a lower subsidy. Probably better sunlight- plus cheaper land upon which to build large scale solar arrays which would be half the cost of roof top installations. This way we gain a better fund of knowledge about the ways to make solar generated electricity as cheap as possible.
But what are we stuck with ? A half baked scheme, paid for by our taxes & increased charges on the less well off, driven by the wish of the bosses of our Green-Labor Soviet to appear greener-than-thou.
There are other disadvantages to a multitude of tack-on rooftop schemes. High wind gusts near thunderstorms are common near the ACT and you do not need to be clairvoyant to predict wind damage to roof-top panels and or roofing. Roof timbers were designed to carry say tiles or roofing iron, not the stresses from large area solar panels that could act as a sail in high winds.
Then of course there is hail damage.
In addition to the added costs for owners of these panels if they are damaged, there is the issue that if a Canberra wide weather event causes damage to a high proportion of panels, then ACTEW has to suddenly replace that electricity from the grid. This would probably be at higher rates than normal steady base load rates.
If the ACT feed in rate was to spread to NSW then all these problems would accentuate and the risk to our grid supplies would be hightened.
It can be seen that in many ways we are entering a period where there will be;
[A] a more expensive electricity supply,
[B} greater risk to our electricity supply with the quality of our electricity declining and power cuts / brown outs becoming more common,
[C] more busy people will own emergency generators – noisier neighbourhoods.
[D] a price structure with sharper variations through the varying time zones through the day and week, which must lead to lifestyle changes for the less well-to-do.