RETIRED publisher John Bragg and his late wife were first “off the grid” in the region when they installed solar panels and six four-volt batteries in 1999.
The bubbling lead-acid batteries filled a shed on their bush block, which Mr Bragg left in 2011 for a house in Armidale after his wife died.
Now Mr Bragg is in the vanguard of a new trial to see how quickly modern battery systems and smart meters take off this year as 140,000 NSW households face the loss of their fat 60 cents a kilowatt hour Solar Bonus Scheme feed-in tariff on December 31.
If these households install batteries in droves to get the most out of their panels after the feed-in tariff plunges to five to eight cents kWh, as solar installers like Mr Bragg’s son Geoff Bragg predict, the battery “revolution” could get a big boost.
Five weeks ago Mr Bragg became the first person in Armidale to install a modern LG Chem 6.4 kilowatt hour lithium ion battery with a Redback Smart Hybrid Inverter.
He also upgraded his grid-connected solar panels from one kilowatt to four kilowatts, paying $20,000 all up.
Mr Bragg senior is getting in ahead of an expected rush later this year as a wave of Solar Bonus households look to beat the system after the end of December.
He is forgoing the last six months of the 60 cents feed-in tariff.
AGL Energy now pays him just 8 cents a kWh – about a third of the 24 to 25 cents the power company charges for power from the grid – and warns the rate will fall again after December 31.
Rival Origin Energy is offering five cents, which makes Mr Bragg think that’s where AGL is headed.
But that doesn't worry the 81-year old retiree.
He hasn't had a power bill since he installed the new $20,000 system five weeks ago.
“I'd be surprised if I've used more than 10 or 12 kWh because the battery is so efficient.
“They don't take up much room and (unlike lead acid batteries) they don't require servicing.”
Geoff Bragg, principal of New England Solar Power and chairman of the NSW Solar Energy Industries Association, is confident the loss of the rich 60 cent feed in tariff will spark a rush once it dawns on Solar Bonus homes.
There are several parts of this puzzle.
Batteries allow solar households to store power generated during the sunny daytimes for use later that day.
Power can also be stored in solar hot water systems for later use.
Smart management systems optimise the use of solar, battery and grid power.
Inverters convert DC solar power to usable AC power.
Smart meters enable households to be “net metered” – charged (or paid) for the difference between the power they buy from the grid and the power they upload – instead of “metere” on gross flows each way.
Gross metering is more attractive when feed-in tariffs are higher than grid tariffs and you want to sell as much power as you can to the grid.
Net metering is better when feed-in tariffs are low and you want to “self-consume” as much power as you can, said Ed Mcmanus, chief executive of upstart retailer Powershop.
“We believe storage is the future, no question,” Mr McManus said.
“But ... right now if you are installing a battery to save money you need to be extremely careful.
“But if you are doing it to save emissions and want to be an early adopter that's fantastic.”
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