Are Solar Feed-in Tariffs in their Twilight Years?

There are many reasons you might be wanting to install a solar system. First, there’s the desire to make a little contribution of your own to a cleaner and greener future. Second, there’s been enticing installation incentives like government rebates on solar panels. Third, there’s the recognition a solar setup could help maintain access to electricity in the event of a grid blackout. Fourth, there’s no shortage of residents across the Great Southern Land who love the feeling of having a cutting-edge solar system!

But for all motivations that exist for getting solar, there’s no doubt gaining access to a feed-in tariff (FIT) is top of the list for many. This pathway allows a solar system owner to get some income from the excess energy their system generates. This has been very appealing to solar system owners currently paying off their system, and also those who’ve already done so. That’s why the suggestion that FITs are entering their final years is a very important issue. Let’s unpack it now.

Solar Popularity: The Necessity of Solar ‘Crowd Control’

Because solar installations are proving so popular in Australia there’s a new need to accommodate demand. For governments of all political persuasions across Australia, this is no easy task. The huge demand for solar installations that has seen successive record-breaking years of solar uptake is set to continue. It’d be a bold move for any leader to stand in front of the public and tell them ‘no more solar’ – and also it’d be foolish! The key problem certainly isn’t more people wanting solar – it’s how to effectively manage the power new installations generate.

It’s indeed necessary to make some significant adjustments to the sector. It’d quickly become a big problem if everyone with a solar installation now and in future was able to feed excess energy into the grid all day long. Accordingly, for some in the energy industry, winding back the FIT altogether in the years ahead would be a way to slow the increase of solar installations. But in the meantime, the impact of solar’s popularity is already visible in policy decisions.

For example, Victoria’s minimum FIT rates are set to drop sharply in July. It’s necessary to note the minimum FIT isn’t mandatory. Energy providers are able to offer a higher rate if they choose to do so. Whichever way you look at it there’ll be a clear-cut reduction to the VIC minimum in the new financial year. There can also be the expectation similar moves will occur across other states.

More than Feed-In Tariffs: Increasing Options to Tackle the Problem

Taking action to address a problem is the right course – but that doesn’t mean there’s only one road to travel. There’s scope for multiple pathways to be pursued when it comes to managing solar’s ongoing popularity, and to encourage existing solar installation owners to look to other methods for utilising their excess energy. It’s clear the Australian Energy Market Commission [AEMC] has been thinking along these lines recently.

They put out a proposal in March that’d redefine the relationship between a typical rooftop installation and the grid, with ‘two-way pricing’ a key component of it. The AEMC argues the best path ahead would be to change the rules to incentivise solar owners to send power to the grid at night, instead of during the day. These new rules would incentivise solar owners to buy batteries, reward them for exporting energy when demand is high, and encourage them to utilise their own power when demand is low.

Increasing choice like this is surely a better approach than simply slicing and dicing FIT rates. Yes, managing solar’s surging popularity is a complex challenge. But any move to disincentivise solar uptake is a big misstep. That’s why if an eventual phase-out of FITs occurs, it must see new incentives replace it. Any alternative approach that opts for scaling back current incentives instead of creating new offerings can only be counter-productive in the long term.

But for now, what do you need to know about navigating this current chapter of solar’s growth?

Solar Policy: We’re in the Era of Constant Adjustments

The reality is the speed of expansion and change in the Aussie solar sector has been hard for authorities to keep up with. It demands regular adjustments. Just consider South Australia. In recent years it’s seen such an increase in solar power that the state’s been pursuing numerous virtual power plant (VPP) projects to help ensure excess energy residents generate with their solar systems doesn’t go to waste.

The experience of South Australia is illustrative of an important lesson here. Effective solar (energy) policy requires regular – and sometimes swift – adjustments. For our readers and customers, trying to keep up daily with every little change made in the sector would be impossible. But keeping an eye on the bigger trends can help anticipate a major change on the horizon – like the winding down of a FIT. So being proactive instead of reactive is key in order to maximise ROI on a solar system amidst an environment of ongoing change.

Taking Action Amidst Change

There’s no question solar will continue growing fast in Australia, and sometimes that growth will be faster than authorities can keep up with. Accordingly, really eye-catching headlines will occasionally circulate saying it’s time to ‘slam the brakes on’. As aforementioned, it’s true the rapid national increase of rooftop solar power must occur alongside careful management.

Ultimately, while solar enthusiasts must sometimes be ready to encounter a dramatic headline – and perhaps be patient as policymakers tweak some settings – at the end of the day, solar owners will benefit from diversification instead of diminishment of energy export offerings. So authorities should preference that path instead of constantly tinkering with FIT rates.

The key tasks for solar system owners are:
1. Understanding what current options are out there
2. Understanding what options could be made available in the future
3. Which option best aligns with your goals for your solar system going forward.

We specialise in solar energy systems in Sydney areas. Contact Soltek Energy for more information and advice or to discuss your solar needs.

The Advantages of Solar Batteries in Bad Weather

Solar batteries can make a huge difference to your home during bad weather. In not too distant years when the power went out there was little you could do but light some candles and wait for electricity to be restored. Today it’s a totally different dynamic, not only because of the availability of rooftop solar installations and batteries but also other factors that impact households daily. Let’s look into this now, and why solar batteries can be fantastic as a backup for homes in Sydney.

The Increasing Pressures on Household Energy Supply

A look inside any typical home would find digital work devices like a smartphone or laptop. Also, kids doing remote learning via the same devices, or a tablet or desktop computer. In such an environment the loss of power – even temporal – can be incredibly disruptive. This wasn’t the case a generation or two ago given (with some exceptions) people worked at workplaces, and students learned exclusively on campus.

The massive growth seen in work-from-home and remote learning arrangements due to Covid-19 will most likely remain in our lives in some form. This means the need for a typical household to have enhanced reliability in their power supply will become even more important.

The Heat is On

Even in communities where energy reliability is very good, the reality is the future will see immense new pressure placed on energy grids. There are many factors owing to this (the perpetually growing use of digital devices in households is a key example), but undoubtedly bad weather – influenced by climate change – plays a key part.

Given Australia’s 2019-20 summer was the nation’s second-hottest on record – with the hottest summer on record coming just one year before in 2018-2019 – there is an expectation our seasons will grow more extreme. This means an increased power bill due to the greater utilisation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) appliances. Unfortunately – alongside the dangers posed by extreme weather generally – this increased demand also means the risk of blackouts could grow.

How A Solar Battery Can Be a Backup

When a solar installation has a battery there’s the possibility to get the ‘best of both worlds’. The capacity to generate electricity independently via solar panels, while having an ongoing connection to the local energy grid for any time when demand in the household exceeds the electricity generated by solar power. But when there’s a power outage on the local grid, there’s no prospect of drawing on this power supply.

It’s here that a solar battery can be a game-changer. If bad weather causes a loss in power locally, it’s possible for the battery to kick in and utilise its stored power. So even if neighbours and others in the community lose power, a solar battery can keep operating the essentials until power is restored. This means (provided sufficient charge remains in the battery) lights stay on, phones get charged, fridges keep food cold, and more.

The Right Battery and System Matters

While a solar battery can certainly serve as a backup if the power goes out on the local grid, it must be noted not all solar products are made equal or offer the same advances in a blackout. For example, a 5Kw battery could be perfectly serviceable to store some excess power but ultimately won’t power a busy household for long once power from the grid goes off – especially given it’s set to experience degraded performance when connectivity with the local grid is lost.

The same applies to the system as a whole. Many grids have “anti-islanding protection” (AIP). In a nutshell, this provides electricians working on the grid protection by ensuring all power is shut off locally. It’s possible for a system to have its own AIP – meaning its power can stay on without posing a safety risk on the grid – but it shouldn’t be presumed a system has this. Consulting with a trusted electrician or solar installer regarding this is necessary if looking to acquire a battery that can be used in all circumstances.

Remember a Solar Battery is a Backup – Not a Defence Against Extreme Weather

When it comes to nasty weather and solar batteries there are some caveats to keep in mind. Just because there’s a technological capacity for a battery to provide backup power during bad weather, doesn’t mean this by default should occur. For example, like the aforementioned scenario, if someone is given instructions by a trusted professional such as an electrician to shut down power, then they should. It’s also necessary to remember that simply retaining power to a property won’t by default increase the safety of a premises.

This sounds obvious if someone is reflecting on it during normal circumstances, but any time there’s the prospect of a natural disaster it’s understandable many people’s thinking can be clouded. That’s why it’s necessary to underscore if it’s unsafe to remain at the property and there’s the opportunity to safely travel to somewhere outside the risk zone of dangerous weather, then that option should be taken. Batteries can be brilliant at keeping power on when the grid goes out, but a safety-first approach must always apply when extreme weather occurs.

Powering Up the Advantages with a Solar Battery

Alongside the backup advantage, there’s also the peace-of-mind factor a solar battery can provide – which can’t be understated. With a solar battery backup, there’s no need to fear having to stumble around in the dark once the power goes out. There are no worries about having to call the office and explain a task will be late because your laptop battery ran out of power, or miss the submission of a key assessment because your Wi-Fi went out. That’s why if you have the opportunity to pursue it, obtaining a solar battery to serve as a backup can be a fantastic move.

Soltek Energy provides expert advice and consultations on solar power solutions in Sydney. Contact us about our range of solar batteries and installing solar.

How to Keep Solar Batteries Warm and Functioning Effectively During Cold Weather in Sydney

Across Australia, there’s a solid understanding that weather conditions can impact solar installations. After all, it’s understood solar panels need sunshine to harvest energy, so the night time hours won’t see solar panels charging up like a superhero before a final battle with the villain! The same principle also applies to the winter months, where a reduction in sunshine throughout the days will diminish what the panels can harvest. For many solar panel owners, the gains they get year-round from having a solar installation – such as having no energy bill in summer and a significantly reduced one in winter – illustrates these limitations on solar are very small.

Nonetheless, taking steps to maximise the performance of a solar installation is always wise. There’s a big difference between a reduction in performance, and letting technology outright lag and underperform. That’s why when it comes to solar batteries and their performance during colder conditions, it’s essential to know how to keep them warm and functioning effectively.

Why Batteries Can Underperform During Wintery Weather

Like solar panels, solar batteries are designed to withstand tough conditions 365 days a year. Among the various types of batteries out there, there are even some Lithium options in the US that can perform in cold weather. But while Lithium batteries offer additional benefits in this area, they can also be far more expensive than the lead-acid types that have been more commonly used in years prior. In turn, regardless of whether a battery can perform in the cold, maintaining an ideal temperature can of course help achieve optimum performance.

It’s necessary to note in some respects cold conditions can actually be best for battery storage because the cool climate helps a battery hold its charge longer. But this isn’t the case when it comes to deep-cycle batteries that are charging and discharging regularly. For a regular Aussie household going about their business with a solar installation with battery storage, the latter is going to be getting an ongoing workout.

Obviously, there’s no ability to control the elements, so the only way to prevent underperformance by a solar battery vulnerable to cold weather is to recognise with clear eyes the challenge winter brings. In turn, to then take steps to minimise the impact of chilly conditions on a solar battery.

Warming to the Idea

There are many ways to protect a solar battery from the cold depending on the battery and particulars of conditions in a local area. But there are common principles found in use from one locale to another that can serve as a blueprint.

1. First, it’s important to consult with a trusted professional regarding the particulars of your solar battery, where it’s currently installed, and how it could be shielded from wintery weather.

2. Second, to recognise numerous options could be available depending on these factors.

3. Third, that depending on the change in environmental conditions from one season to the next it may be necessary to adjust a battery storage structure a little now and then. Once again, we can advise on this too.
Yet as an example of the potential solutions on offer, the best remedy can often be the storage of a solar battery with insulation, within an enclosure. An insulated box that fits a battery’s characteristics can allow for temperature regulation, wherever a battery is ultimately located on a property. Ideally, it may be an insulated box that is easy to remove, so if the need arises once warmer months roll around, the box can be taken off.

Regular Maintenance for Reliable Outcomes

It’s certainly important to see a solar battery stays warm and continues to operate effectively during winter. But it’s useful to keep in mind that while maintaining a solar battery is indeed a key element of keeping a solar installation in good working order year-round, it’s not the only one. In fact, there’s a number of steps that should be pencilled in to-do throughout the calendar year to see a solar installation’s performance is at optimum. For example, checking an inverter is working, and getting the panels cleaned.

Staying Power in Winter

Solar panel installations are terrific pieces of tech, but they’re also not static. Unquestionably, getting the actual installation done of a rooftop solar system is the biggest step in the process – and choosing to work with a quality solar installer makes this step much easier. But ongoing upkeep will be necessary following the installation to get the most out of the system. Keeping batteries warm during winter is an essential part of this for installations that make use of battery storage.

Understanding how batteries perform during different seasons is the first step in this process. Then consulting with a trusted professional regarding what solutions will be available follows (keeping in mind enclosing a battery in an insulated container is often the best option). Finally, it’s wise to be mindful slight adjustments may need to be made to a battery storage process in future when changes in seasonal weather occur. But this notwithstanding, usually once a battery storage structure is in place it should be able to serve the system well from one year to the next with little hassle. That’s surely a solution to winter woes we can feel charged up about!

We provide expert advice and consultations on solar power solutions in Sydney for commercial and residential properties. If you are interested in installing solar, contact Soltek Energy for a quote.