Many house­holds are brac­ing for enor­mous ener­gy bills in Sep­tem­ber thanks to the Covid lock­down. It’s no won­der the res­i­den­tial solar indus­try is boom­ing. The Aus­tralian Ener­gy Foun­da­tion says that less than $20 mil­lion could pay for a free ener­gy advice ser­vice yield­ing an eco­nom­ic injec­tion of $232.3 mil­lion into the com­mu­ni­ty and 3800 jobs.

With almost 46 per cent of Aus­tralians work­ing from home, house­holds are see­ing ener­gy use creep up as heaters and air­con­di­tion­ers stay on dur­ing the day, two meals are cooked at the home instead of one and elec­tron­ics stay on for longer.

In Vic­to­ria, expect­ed to cop the worst of the bill shocks with a sec­ond spike in Covid cas­es forc­ing a sec­ond lock­down in the state, Aus­tralian Ener­gy Reg­u­la­tor data shows that ener­gy use in June shot up by 27 per cent com­pared to 2019 figures.

And the worst win­ter months are still to come.

Peo­ple are wor­ried. A report released by Ener­gy Con­sumers Aus­tralia showed that almost half of house­holds sur­veyed by the organ­i­sa­tion were more con­cerned that they might not be able to pay ener­gy bill than before the cri­sis, and 67 per cent were expect­ing a high­er elec­tric­i­ty bill because they’d been in social isolation.

The sur­vey found that elec­tric­i­ty bills were the top cost of liv­ing issue for con­sumers, ahead of hous­ing costs and groceries.

And while some ener­gy com­pa­nies have com­mit­ted to vol­un­tary mora­to­ri­ums on dis­con­nec­tions, not all have been so gen­er­ous. And for those that have, the end dates for most of these mora­to­ri­ums start from July onwards.

As such, severe ener­gy bill shock is on the hori­zon for many Australians.

Accord­ing to Aus­tralian Ener­gy Foun­da­tion chief exec­u­tive offi­cer Ali­son Rowe, the loom­ing bill shock dis­as­ter is an issue that’s front and cen­tre for the for-pur­pose organ­i­sa­tion ded­i­cat­ed to dri­ving an equi­table low car­bon transition.

See AEF’s pro­file on our sis­ter site, The Green List – More­land Ener­gy Foun­da­tion goes nation­al with its ener­gy tran­si­tion­ing expertise

And while vul­ner­a­ble Aus­tralians are like­ly to suf­fer most, and most addi­tion­al gov­ern­ment sup­port is (suit­ably) tar­get­ing this group, Rowe says sky-high ener­gy bills will be felt sharply by a much broad­er per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly if roll­backs of Job­Keep­er and Job­Seek­er go ahead as planned.

If we don’t do some­thing, we will have a lot of peo­ple going with­out heat­ing and food, and this leads to a num­ber of issues around phys­i­cal and men­tal health.”

Home ener­gy advice to all Aus­tralians could help cush­ion the blow

Rowe’s organ­i­sa­tion is work­ing hard to steer Aus­tralian house­holds clear of this ice­berg. It has plans to expand its ener­gy advice cen­tre – which pro­vides ener­gy tips and tricks, helps cus­tomers secure a bet­ter deal with their retail­er and con­nects them with trust­ed solar and ener­gy upgrades installers, all in a 20-minute phone consultation.

Rowe wants to see all gov­ern­ments take up the ener­gy advice ser­vice, and has crunched the num­bers to show the ben­e­fits of expand­ing the pro­gram Australia-wide.

She says an invest­ment of $19.4 mil­lion into a free ener­gy advice hot­line will inject $232.3 mil­lion into the econ­o­my and cre­ate 3800 jobs (through referred solar instal­la­tions and the like), and save house­holds $72.2 mil­lion on ener­gy bills.

Rowe says she’s busy talk­ing to ener­gy com­pa­nies and dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment about the idea.

Solar makes sense when you’re work­ing from home

Once house­holds mas­ter the low hang­ing fruit of ener­gy effi­cien­cy such as seal­ing drafty win­dows, one option to dri­ve down bills is rooftop solar, and poten­tial­ly bat­ter­ies. Recent research by Solar­Quotes shows that Aus­tralian home­own­ers are los­ing up to $1400 in ener­gy bills every year by not switch­ing to solar.

The busi­ness case for rooftop solar has nev­er made more sense accord­ing to Clean Ener­gy Council’s direc­tor of dis­trib­uted ener­gy Dar­ren Glad­man. This is because when peo­ple are work­ing from home, their ener­gy con­sump­tion match­es the ener­gy gen­er­at­ed by the pan­els dur­ing the day.

This means house­holds are get­ting the most out of their solar, and ben­e­fit­ing from what’s effec­tive­ly free ener­gy”. Many are also active­ly try­ing to match their ener­gy con­sump­tion with their ener­gy gen­er­a­tion by putting loads of wash­ing on when the sun is shin­ing and so forth.

Data released last month by Nat­ur­al Solar, Australia’s largest solar and bat­tery installer, showed that house­holds with rooftop solar and bat­ter­ies emerged from the last Covid-quar­ter” rel­a­tive­ly unscathed. It found that 74 homes in a Syd­ney smart city” devel­op­ment with solar and bat­tery stor­age paid noth­ing for their elec­tric­i­ty bills despite increased usage and consumption.

Solar on the home main­te­nance to-do list

It’s there­fore not a com­plete sur­prise that the res­i­den­tial solar indus­try is booming.

Rowe sus­pects that rooftop solar fea­tured on many house­hold to-do” lists, along­side oth­er home improve­ment projects that saw busi­ness boom for Bun­nings.

But inter­est in res­i­den­tial solar remains large­ly dic­tat­ed by the rebates and incen­tive schemes avail­able to con­sumers, Glad­man told The Fifth Estate.

Glad­man says that while it’s been the strongest six months on record for rooftop solar, with new data from Green Ener­gy Mar­kets find­ing that new rooftop solar instal­la­tions in Aus­tralia were 40 per cent high­er than for Jan­u­ary-June 2019, the results have still been patchy”.

He says solar sales vary from region to region, with some see­ing increased inter­est while oth­ers are observ­ing a drop off and have been forced to lay off staff or reduce hours as a result.

There’s no doubt that the pres­ence of attrac­tive incen­tive schemes are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, with the ever-pop­u­lar Solar Vic­to­ria pro­gram that offers a 50 per cent rebates on rooftop solar expe­ri­enc­ing peak appli­ca­tions in May. There was also report­ed­ly a rush to secure a spot on South Australia’s bat­tery pro­gram before the rebate was to be decreased.

See What solar rebates are worth and who’s offer­ing what

Cus­tomers are less smit­ten with the NSW government’s offer of inter­est free loans to pur­chase solar pow­er and bat­tery sys­tems, how­ev­er, which comes with many caveats on loca­tion and instal­la­tions size and type, Glad­man explains.

He also says that enquiries for bat­ter­ies are up (while there’s not good data to show whether these expres­sions of inter­est are trans­lat­ing into sales) but isn’t sure why.

I’m not sure if that was every­one pre­pared for the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse and the thought of bunker­ing down, or if it’s just a reflec­tion of ongo­ing sus­tained shift in the com­mer­cial via­bil­i­ty of batteries”.

Source: https://​www​.the​fifthes​tate​.com​.au