After six long years of earning fed-in-tariffs of 20c to 60c per kWh, NSW's Solar Bonus Scheme is set to end this December. Once it ends, households formerly on the scheme are being encouraged to install smart meters as part of a voluntary market-led rollout in NSW, which will allow them to get the most from their solar energy.
A new government bill is set to expand the number of contractors able to install smart meters from 2000 to around 35,000, but estimates say households could be paying up to $600 to get the new meters installed.
While only people who applied for the scheme prior to its commencement in 2010 have been earning the increased FIT of 20c/60c, that tariff will drop to a measly 6c/kWh after December 31 this year. Customers on the scheme are encouraged to get a smart meter installed by the end of this year so that they can move to net metering arrangements as opposed to gross metering.
Gross metering sells all electricity generated to the grid and then buys all energy used back at the regular retail price -- which is great when earning 60c/kWh, but not so much on 6c. Net metering, on the other hand, lets households use their 'free' generated energy first, and then sells the excess back to the grid -- only it requires a smart meter to calculate. While we've covered some of the benefits of smart meters for the energy-conscious, the main advantage in this context is that smart meters can monitor your energy consumption in essentially real time.
However, while the NSW government is working to make this technology accessible (especially to customers currently on the solar bonus scheme), the estimated cost to customers is around $600 to get a smart meter installed, unless they negotiate an installation as part of their energy contract. This cost caused heavy backlash in Victoria, where smart meters were rolled out on a mandatory basis even though many didn't want or even understand the new technology.
Having potentially learned from this mistake, the NSW government is instead backing a voluntary, market-led approach. "Our policy of a market-led rollout will ensure households and businesses are free to choose whether they want a smart meter and the best retail offer that suits their needs," said energy minister Anthony Roberts. And if you're a solar-generating customer on (or soon to be on) a low feed-in-tariff, it'll definitely be in your best interests to get a smart meter installed and stop paying too much for the energy you're generating yourself.