How 'the ragtag army’ of rooftop solar households is changing the world

CEO of the Smart Energy Council says Australia's rooftop solar is a global experiment that will change the entire world, but we have ‘to smash the economics of the legacy energy industry.’

John Grimes, CEO of the Smart Energy Council, used the Council’s consumer energy summit in Melbourne this week to slam the energy market for failing to recognize and manage the explosive growth in the consumer energy sector.

“The energy market today is a disgrace,” Grimes stated. “It is a travesty that nobody has their hand on the steering wheel of this transition. When it comes to managing the growth of consumer energy, everybody points at the other guy and says it's their responsibility.”

Australia leads the world in rooftop solar uptake, with 3.7 million rooftops, representing a third of Australian homes. While only a fraction of these homes have battery storage, that is expected to change as battery prices drop, empowering consumers further.

Grimes believes that as consumers gain the ability to generate, store, and distribute power, rooftop solar could transform Australia and potentially the world.

He likened the people who work on large transmissions project to the ‘Top Gun pilots’ of the energy world, who consider rooftop solar as "the ragtag, motley crew messing things up."

“Well, that ragtag army has deployed over 22.6 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, and it is fundamentally changing the energy system at its core,” Grimes said.

Rooftop solar now outstrips the capacity being generated by large scale renewables with wind generating about 11.5 GW and large scale solar about 9.2 GW.

The market operator has forecast consumer energy resources in the national network could reach 86 gigawatts of rooftop solar and 27GW of flexible demand by 2050.

Grimes stressed that cost is driving this consumer power. No other electricity source, fossil fuel or renewable, can match the price of locally generated and used electricity because centralised power generation must include transmission and distribution costs.

“Even if coal fired power, or deep nuclear power, gets fed in at a marginal price of zero cents, it cannot compete with the electricity that you make in a distributed form,” Grimes explained.

Rooftop solar is now significantly cheaper than grid power. Grimes estimates that, amortized over 20 years in Sydney or Melbourne, rooftop solar costs about four cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to seven cents per kilowatt-hour for transmission line costs on power bills.

“This isn’t driven by ideology or environmental concern,” Grimes said. “It’s driven by economics.”

Grimes pointed out that electric vehicle uptake in Australia is now happening in the western suburbs of Sydney and the mortgage belt of Victoria, where people are most affected by petrol prices for daily commutes.

“This ragtag army, who have actually upended the entire energy system, are showing the world what's possible because Australia is at the forefront of this distributed transition.”

While most other countries pursuing renewable energy transitions favour large-scale solar or wind projects, Australia’s focus on rooftop solar is a global experiment that “is changing Australia, and in my view, will change the entire world”.

Grimes is glad to see state, federal, and territory energy ministers are finally aligning on consumer energy policy. However, he urged the renewable energy industry to collaborate and develop business models that challenge the legacy industry.

“I want to blow the show up because I want to empower real people to put in real solutions to absolutely smash their power bills and do something really positive for the environment as well.”

Author
Anne Delaney
SwitchedOn Editor
June 4, 2024
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