The Victorian government recently made a call for partners in a new solar pilot program. Although a trial program is always a small step, when viewed in context it’s one that provides an insight into where Victoria and other Australian states and territories will need to go in future: to continue to encourage solar panel uptake, while also properly managing the byproduct of it so an oversupply of energy isn’t fed into the grid. That’s why now is a great time for an examination of this trial and its wider significance to the solar sector.
The Particulars of the Plan
The trial will look to create local networks among houses with existing solar panels and batteries. It will then combine together the excess energy held within the solar batteries for use elsewhere in the grid where demand is highest.
What It Could Mean for Consumers
This trial shall offer an additional revenue stream for participating households. Like other Australians across the nation, Victorians can currently sell excess energy back to the grid via a feed-in-tariff (FIT). In the future, there’s the expectation other avenues such as a blockchain-based system could follow the FIT. But while we’re yet to know the ultimate outcome of this policy, the permanent addition of another option would surely be welcome news for any Aussie solar owner who is keen for greater flexibility when it comes to selling their excess energy.
What It May Offer the Community
Victorians have been very keen adopters of solar technology in recent years. So much so that there’s the concern the state will soon be dealing with the same challenges that its neighbouring state of South Australia has surrounding the issue of oversupply of solar power to the grid. There’s no question this is a pleasant problem to have, but also a very real one. However, allowing excess solar energy to be wasted would be an unpalatable outcome to all stakeholders.
Finding a way to utilise it so it’s neither wasted nor increases the chance of blackouts that can result from oversupply is key. Accordingly, this program could become a cornerstone in the years ahead for more substantial policy in this space. If all goes well with this trial and it was rolled out on a permanent basis, it will – alongside offering more opportunity for existing solar system owners as aforementioned – be an additional incentive for would-be solar owners, and contribute to greater stability in the grid generally.
Driving Out Dirty Tricks in Clean Energy
This announcement also appears to be mindful of the diminished confidence some consumers have felt as a result of a few bad actors in the solar industry and the scandals that have followed them. According to the media release accompanying the announcement, the Victorian government is “…encouraging applications that focus on consumer benefits and protections”. In turn, “Solar Victoria will ensure a fair approach to current and prospective providers and ensure all approved aggregators have strong consumer protections to minimise confusion and increase consumer confidence in battery aggregation.”
As we’ve detailed prior here at the Solar Trust Centre, there’s undoubtedly a difference between a quality solar installer who uses quality components and a questionable operation with a set of products that aren’t up to scratch. Like any industry that’s had a sudden surge in demand, it’s an unfortunate reality many brilliant solar businesses at work today coexist alongside questionable operators with a business model prizing affordability above all – at the expense of good quality.
Oftentimes, any consumer who makes use of a questionable solar business ends up paying far more for one of their solar systems in the end, than they would for a quality one. This is because they need to opt for repairs – or even replacement of a system with a whole new one! – after their initial installation. It’s clear authorities must do more to support and encourage the reputable solar businesses while tightening the screws on those providing dubious products and services that can lead to poor performance and even safety risks.
In An Energetic State
There’s no question Australia is one of the most exciting countries to watch the growth of solar power in. The nation has the highest uptake of solar globally with over 21% of homes now having a rooftop installation. Then there are the many large-scale solar infrastructure projects either already done or currently in the works, and also the very exciting potential of Oz becoming a solar exporter to regional nations in future.
But fresh challenges will usually come alongside new opportunities. That’s why the Victorian government’s plan is promising. It will seek to enhance the use of solar energy within the state, while also helping see off the emerging danger of oversupply to the grid. It remains to be seen how the trial plays out, but – alongside its wider benefits – the government’s apparent emphasis at the outset on increasing consumer confidence is surely a welcome development. Accordingly, for many reasons, it’s clear this will be a pilot program to watch with real interest going forward.