SA solar customers could pay to pump electricity into grid: Are batteries the answer?

By Ceyda Erem ·

One of the great benefits of using solar power is the flexibility of being able to produce and export your own electricity as needed. 

But a proposed rule change in South Australia is set to ruffle a few feathers, as households who export excess power to the grid may be charged a fee for doing so. 

SA Power Networks, which is the sole electricity supplier in South Australia, has asked the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) to impose the fee. At the moment, those who choose to pump power back into the grid are rewarded for their contribution, called a feed-in tariff

SA Power Networks argued that under this current arrangement, households with solar are putting pressure on the grid, which is reportedly only getting worse as more Aussies make the switch to solar.

"Actual customers themselves are seeing that their inverters are turning off at times because of voltage rising in the network," SA Power Networks spokesman, Paul Roberts told ABC Radio Adelaide.

"And the renewables industry is getting concerned that networks like ours will have to impose zero limits on new customers so that we can accept those customers, but they won't be able to export.”

According to Roberts, the annual fee is likely to be between $10 - $30 and will appear on a customer’s electricity bill. 

While being charged for the use of the grid may not be ideal for some, Finn Peacock, CEO and founder of SolarQuotes has reminded solar customers of the ongoing savings solar power delivers. 

“The proposals I've seen are talking about an annual charge well under $100. Right now you can easily save $2k+ per year with a 6.6 kW solar system. I don't think a small annual charge for exports is going to deter anyone from saving thousands per year with solar,” he said.

Export vs battery storage 

An alternative to exporting solar power is to invest in a home battery storage system, where any excess power is stored for later use. 

But with prices for solar panels and batteries ranging between $4,000 to $14,000, it begs the question as to how long it takes for a household to see the benefits where their equipment enters the ‘payback period’, when potential savings cover the upfront costs. 

“Two and a half to 4 years for solar-only, [however] if you add a battery, the payback on the battery cost can be 15 - 25 years or more. If you combine solar and battery, the ‘blended’ payback starts at about eight years,” explained Peacock. 

And it came down to whether Aussies are better off exporting excess power or storing it in a battery.

“Battery paybacks are generally much longer than their warranties. With current tariffs, you are better off just buying solar and exporting the surplus. Generally, the only scenario where batteries can make financial sense is if you are prevented from exporting your surplus power,” said Peacock. 

If you’d like to learn more about how solar power works, you can check out this guide!

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Ceyda Erem
Ceyda Erem
Money writer

Ceyda Erem is Mozo’s authority on Energy, as well as having broader expertise as a personal finance writer. She loves to put her researching and writing talents into stories that help our readers to make more informed financial choices, whether that’s about finding the best energy deal or writing about the latest sneaky bank tricks. Ceyda has a Bachelor of Arts (major in writing) from Macquarie University.