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Rooftop solar rebate cut looms

Wednesday, 18th May, 2016

Darren Smith had a six kilowatt solar system installed on the roof of his Hebbard Street home in 2011, so all he will need to do now is change his meter. Darren Smith had a six kilowatt solar system installed on the roof of his Hebbard Street home in 2011, so all he will need to do now is change his meter.

By Craig Brealey

The generous rebates paid to many householders who have solar panels will all but end next year but if you have the cash, you can still benefit.

Anyone who joined the government-backed solar subsidy scheme before 2011 gets a rebate of between 20 cents and 60c per kilowatt hour on their power bill. 

But after December 31, that will be cut to between four and six cents.

In Broken Hill and elsewhere the most common solar system consists of six panels mounted on the roof and connected to a gross metering system.

The NSW Government said that after the tariffs end, households will still be able to generate some power for their homes without drawing it all from the grid, but they will need “net” metering.

A net meter records the amount you generate and the amount you export to the grid. With a net meter, the electricity from your panels is used to power your house first, so it is free. Any excess goes into the grid. When you use more than you generate, you have to pay to draw power from the grid.

With a gross metering system, all of your power goes into the grid and the power companies pay you, based on how much you produce and the level of rebate they offer.

However, according to a local electrical contractor, Martin Biggins, once the rebate is cut, neither system will save you much money but you will have to swap over to a net meter to get the most out of it.

Those six panels on your roof typically generate about 1.5 kilowatts and Mr Biggins said that was very little.

“They would be flat out running your fridge and a couple of lights, so what you need to do is increase the number of panels,” he told the BDT.

The panels would have to generate at least 3.5 kilowatts but 5kw would make a real difference to your bill, Mr Biggins said.

The good news was that the output of the panels had nearly doubled in recent years, so you would not need as many of them as before, he said.

“Five years ago you would get about 120 watts per panel. The new ones, the same size, produce 200 watts.”

Nonetheless, you would still need to have room for them on your roof, otherwise things would become more expensive.

You might be able to put the extra panels on your shed or garage but then they have to be connected to your meter, and that means more cabling.

Mr Biggins said if people wanted to keep getting the benefit of using solar, the first thing they should do is call the companies that install the panels. There are a couple of local firms that do the work.

“Explain what you have now, what your usage is, the size of your roof and get a quote,” he said.

The next step was to call an electrical contractor to have them fit the new net meter and connect it to the panels. Again, there are local companies that can do this.

A net meter will cost about $600 to $700 fitted, Mr Biggins said. 

The price of a 3kW set of solar panels is around $5000 and a 4kW system around $6000, according information available online. 

In NSW, 146,000 households signed up to the solar subsidy scheme before it closed in 2011, according to the Department of Industry’s Division of Resources and Energy.

Since then more than 174,000 households had installed panels without the subsidy, the department told the BDT.

It also said that the date on which the solar bonus scheme was to end was stated when it began in 2010.

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