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1 Jan-10 Mar-10 May-10 Jul-10 Sep-10 Nov-10 Jan-11 Mar-11 May-11 Jul-11 Sep-11 Nov-11 Jan-12 Mar-12 May-12 Jul-12 Sep-12 Nov-12 Jan-13 MW kw Australians have installed more than a million rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems most of them in the last six years. That means that more than one in ten households is generating electricity from solar panels on their roof. i Most of these systems have been installed with the support of generous subsidies and feed-in tariffs (FiTs), designed by governments to encourage investment in solar technology and support the burgeoning renewable energy industry. Householders also cite concerns about the rising cost of energy as a major reason for investing in solar units. ii 3, ,500 2,000 Reduction of Solar Credits Multiplier, June , ,000 End of Solar Bonus Scheme, April 2011 Reduction of solar Credits Multiplier, June Solar PV capacity Average PV system size

2 The subsidies for solar systems have to be paid for somehow. Basically, households who don t have solar help pay the power bills of households who do. The cost of these transfers from non-solar to solar households now runs into many millions of dollars per year. As a result, most direct subsidies for solar panels have now been wound right back or closed. Despite this, installation of solar systems is expected to keep growing into the future. While subsidies for new systems have now been mostly wound back, there is another hidden subsidy still driving up bills for households without solar. It s to do with the cost of building and maintaining the thousands of kilometres of poles and wires that deliver electricity to our homes and businesses. Currently, the cost of maintaining the network is incorporated into the electricity tariffs we pay. Households with solar end up paying less for the network because they generate some of their own electricity and import less from the grid. But solar households can be among the biggest users of the networks, because they both import and export electricity at different times of the day. Most solar households end up only paying a fraction of their fair share of the cost of maintaining the network. They re not doing it deliberately, it s just the way the billing arrangements for electricity were set up, long before rooftop solar reached the scale we see today. The current arrangements are unfair and need to be changed. At the moment, low income households who cannot afford solar, renters and people in apartments pay more to underwrite those customers who can install their own solar system. iii We need to change the way we charge consumers for the cost of the networks to make sure everybody pays their fair share. A feed in tariff (FiT) is a payment made to households who sell or feed back electricity into the grid. Most solar systems feed some electricity back into the grid each day. From around 2006, state governments introduced premium FiTs for most typical households solar systems. As the name implies, these schemes paid those households a premium for all the electricity they sold back to the grid some as much as three times the retail price of electricity. This was to encourage households to install solar panels. FiT schemes were funded by local distribution businesses and costs were passed on to all other consumers through higher electricity tariffs. In 2008, the Queensland Government introduced the Solar Bonus Scheme. Under the scheme, the state- owned electricity distribution businesses paid a premium of 44 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) iii for all solar electricity fed back into the grid, and then passed this cost on to all electricity users. In June 2009, there were approximately 6000 households with solar panels in Queensland. By December 2012, there were more than

3 260,000. By the end of 2012, $224 million in solar bonus payments was paid in total to these households from to the end of 2012 iii (Figure 2). Number of solar installations Solar bonus payments ($M) * First six months only Total 13* 5,926 24,514 66,355 97,042 68, , Even though the Solar Bonus Scheme is now closed to new applicants in Queensland, it will continue paying out for 20 years. According to the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA), by , the Scheme s costs are expected to account for around $276 of the average residential customer's annual electricity costs that s around 17 per cent of the total bill. v The QCA estimates the total cost of the Solar Bonus Scheme to Queensland taxpayers will be $2.9 billion by v In its review of the Solar Bonus Scheme, the QCA concluded that it creates significant costs for the distribution businesses which are then recovered through higher electricity prices for all customers at a time when prices are already under increased pressure from a range of cost drivers. The hidden cost of network charges Australian household electricity bills are made up of three components: Network charges compromise the largest cost component, accounting for about 35 to 50 per cent of your bill. The network charge pays for cost of building and maintaining electricity networks - the poles and wires that deliver electricity to your home. There are normally two elements to network charges: a fixed charge and a charge that varies with household electricity use. Wholesale costs are costs associated with generating electricity and trading it in a wholesale market. This accounts for around 30 to 40 per cent of the total bill and includes the cost of the carbon tax (around 9 per cent of your bill). Retail and energy scheme costs pay for retail costs and for energy efficiency and renewable energy schemes - together about 15 to 20 per cent of the bill.

4 Household solar energy has had an impact on the cost of maintaining the electricity networks. In some areas, there s been so much solar energy installed that network providers have had to spend millions of dollars in upgrades to cope with increased supply of electricity into the grid. Household solar has also had a much bigger impact on network revenues. Because solar customers generate their own electricity when the sun shines, they take less from the grid. Under the current tariff setup, this means they pay a lot less, even though they may cost the network more than non-solar customers. To explain, take the example of an average household in central Sydney who consumes 7,000 kwh of electricity per year. Under current rates, this household pays a total of $1,093 in network tariffs over the whole year: a $139 fixed charge, with the reminder calculated on usage. Now, assume this customer installs a 4kW solar system on their roof and uses much of the energy that the solar panels generate, greatly reducing the net amount of electricity they take from the grid. Under the same network tariff, this customer s contribution to network costs falls from a total of $1,093 to just $447, a drop of 59 per cent. Figure 3 below shows how much the customer pays in network charges each year before and after the solar system is in place, with the grey shaded area the amount that their network bill falls by. vi While network charges for solar households drop substantially, this does not accurately reflect the amount they use the network. Solar homes still use the grid, typically exporting electricity in the middle of the day when the sun is shining, yet importing

5 power at other times. The costs of providing the network are mostly the same or even more expensive as a result of rooftop solar energy. It s important to remember that exporting electricity puts pressure on grid infrastructure pressure it wasn t originally designed to withstand. This actually increases the costs of running the network as operators have to ensure high levels of power exports do not overload the system and cause safety issues or even blackouts. To recover the real costs of operating the grid, network businesses adjust their charges. This means everyone pays more, particularly those without solar. When there were only a few customers with solar panels, the overall impact was very small. But with more than a million solar households and with every indication that growth in solar will continue - the costs paid by everyone else will also grow. We estimate this now adds more than $340 million each year to Australian power bills. Unless we find a fairer way to charge for our networks, households without solar will be paying even more in network charges in the years ahead. Household solar is now part of Australia s energy mix and so our tariff structures need to catch up. We have to find a more equitable way for charging for electricity that does not unfairly benefit some households because they can afford the latest technology. All electricity consumers should pay their fair share of network costs. But, as the example above shows, current tariff structures mean an increasing proportion of households are not paying what they should towards this cost. One way to make the way we pay for electricity more equitable is to change network tariffs so they better reflect underlying costs. A higher proportion of network charges could consist of costs that are related to peak demand or fixed, and a lower percentage could be paid through simple variable (use) charges (c/kwh). This would better align prices charged with the cost of supply and be fairer for all users. Over the long term everyone will be better off if we get electricity pricing right. i Clean Energy Council ii Clean Energy Regulator iii Kilowatt hour (KWh) is a unit of energy most commonly used by as a billing unit for energy delivered to consumers by electricity providers. iv Queensland Competition Authority, March 2013, Final Report Estimating a Fair and Reasonable Solar Feed-in Tariff for Queensland. v Queensland Competition Authority, March 2013, Final Report Estimating a Fair and Reasonable Solar Feed-in Tariff for Queensland. vi Ausgrid LV Res non-tou tariff

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