By John Pedler
Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Australia has one of the world’s highest uptakes of household solar and its popularity is increasing.
As awesome as this is for the planet, it has caused problems for our power networks, which were designed for electricity to flow in one direction only ‒ from the wires to the house, not in reverse. With so much solar power now being exported back to the grid, our aging system is starting to struggle.
Here we look at some of the regulations that have been ‒ or will be ‒ introduced to ease the burden.
SA Government Smarter Homes Regulations (introduced in 2020)
When solar panels first started hitting our roofs, feed-in tariffs (FiTs) were alluringly high to attract customers to the expensive solar market.
Fast forward to the present day and solar has become so affordable that about a third of South Australian homes now have panels, according to Renewables SA. On top of this, the typical solar installation these days is 6.6kW compared to the 1.5kW systems that used to be the norm.
While FiTs are much lower than before, the bigger systems today produce more power, so there’s less need to draw energy from the grid – so, swings and roundabouts.
The booming popularity of solar does mean that occasionally the power grid can become saturated with electricity being exported back to the network. In fact, for a short time on 11 October last year, solar panels supplied all SA’s power needs, risking instability in the grid which could’ve led to blackouts.
To counter this, all new solar systems must have the capability to be controlled remotely, so that solar power exports back to the network can be regulated during these times.
These FAQs will help you understand how this affects you.
Smart solar reforms (due to be introduced in 2025)
With the increasing strain on power networks, there’s a fear network operator SA Power Networks (SAPN) could introduce ‘zero export limits’ (blanket bans on exports). This has already happened in some parts of the country. Zero export limits would mean no FiT benefits and wasted surplus solar energy.
To prevent this happening, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has developed smart solar reforms. The aim is for network operators to be able to better manage solar exports through a range of plans and incentives, and potentially increase the current export limits from 5kW to near 10kW when energy is needed. The AEMC is also encouraging operators to upgrade their networks to handle the changing electricity supply landscape.
News of the reforms has led to concerns that SAPN could charge consumers for exporting power.
These FAQs will make things clearer.