Smart meter rollout stall leaves NSW solar owners out of pocket

smart meter rollout investigated by ChoiceImage: Choice

Nearly 80,000 Solar Bonus Scheme (SBS) households in NSW could be hit with higher electricity bills because retailers are failing to install the required new smart meter, an investigation by consumer advocacy group Choice has revealed.

Households enrolled in the scheme should have had their old gross meters replaced with smart meters before the SBS wound up at midnight on December 31st, 2016.

Instead, as of April this year, Choice found just 50,000 of the 130,000 gross meters had been replaced by retailers, meaning a customer with an average 3-kilowatt (kW) rooftop solar power system could be up to $460 worse off per year.

Why switch to a smart meter?

The government funded Solar Bonus Scheme was extremely generous, offering households a feed-in tariff rate of 20 or 60 cents per kilowatt hour for all the solar energy exported to the grid. Gross meters enabled customers to cash in on all the solar energy they exported.

But when the SBS ended, the rate dropped to 6 and 12 cents per kilowatt hour. At these prices, solar power is worth more when used onsite to cut household electricity bills, which smart meters allow customers to do by sending only unused solar energy to the grid.

Smart meter rollout stall leaves NSW solar owners out of pocket

Smart meter rollout stall leaves NSW solar owners out of pocket Image: Pixabay

According to Shani Tager, from solar advocate group Solar Citizens, complaints from households waiting for new meters are on the rise.

“It’s clear the big power companies have been dragging their feet and solar owners are the ones who are paying,” Tager says.

“The failure [to make the smart meter rollout in time] lies with the retailers because they didn’t manage to line up the necessary number of installers.”

Switching to smart meter could save hundreds each year in power bills

Analysis by Solar Citizens for the Choice investigation shows that a household with a 5kW system in Sydney would save roughly $50 per month in electricity bills by switching to a smart meter. This figure is based on the current average six-cents per kWh feed-in tariff for exported solar, the solar system having a daily output of 19.4kWh, with 50% self-consumption of the solar, and a retail rate for electricity of 29-cents per kWh.

Speaking to Choice, energy analyst Dr Martin Gill gave an example where a Sydney home fitted with a 2kW system (8kWh output), exporting solar at six cents, with 80 percent consumption, would be out of pocket up to $3 per day ($94 per month).

If you’re waiting for the smart meter rollout…..

According to Choice, the responsibility for replacing old meters lies wholly with retailers. NSW solar customers unsatisfied with the response to complaints about the smart meter rollout should contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) at ewon.com.au or call 1800 246 545.

While Choice advises NSW households maximise solar savings by switching to smart meters, adding battery storage to homes can save customers even more.