Rebates and incentives to encourage you to switch to solar

A year ago, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) announced that Australians could soon be charged for exporting solar to the grid to help cope with electricity “traffic jams”. There are no ‘traffic jams’ now.

Smart Energy Council chief John Grimes says the energy crisis has put the focus on renewables and there had been a surge in uptake since the federal election.

“The one thing people can do to slash their power bills is to install solar panels,” he says. “For a typical household, the cost is about $4500. You can get financing that covers that cost upfront, and it will actually cut power bills by up to 60 per cent.”

If you haven’t switched to solar, how can you make the process as easy on the pocket as possible?

The good news is that there are valuable government rebates on offer to households that qualify, as well as interest-free four-year loans to purchase panels.

I recently purchased a 6.66kw system for my home in Victoria. The cost, including GST, was $11,187. I was eligible for a government rebate, which gives a discount of up to 50 per cent of the purchase cost of the panels, to a maximum of $1400. I also qualified for the interest-free loan. And … the process was simple and straightforward.

Read: New government urged to provide $1000 energy debt relief

Here’s what you need to know about incentives across Australia for solar panels, solar hot water heaters and rebates for split system air conditioners to reduce your power bill and your dependence on gas.

Remember, rebate amounts depend on the size of the system, the number of sunshine hours your location receives and the number of Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs). My system had 71.

South Australia, Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales all offer incentives for low- to middle-income households and concession card holders to take up solar.

NSW is also trialling a program for eligible households that involves the installation of a free 3kW solar system that the government says will reduce electricity bills by up to $600 a year.

In the ACT, a rebate of up to 50 per cent (capped at $2500) is available for pensioner concession card holders to install rooftop solar plus an interest-free loan.

In South Australia, the Switch for Solar program offers eligible concession card holders the option to exchange 10 years of energy and cost-of-living concessions for a 4.4kW solar system. The state government estimates a typical household would be better off by between $157 and $525 a year.

Read: Should solar owners pay to supply the grid?

Solar systems obviously deliver peak output when the sun is shining. But what about battery systems that store the energy for use after dark?

Home battery schemes are being introduced in Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT, but there is some scepticism about the benefit delivered given their cost.

Personal finance guru Noel Whittaker shares his research and experience on battery storage.

“About eight years ago, we installed a 24-panel solar system which cost around $6000. The system now tells me it’s generated 53,000 kW of power, which at an average cost price of $0.25 a kw means we have recouped over $13,000 back for our $6000 investment.

“Then … we decided to install a solar battery. We chose the Tesla power wall which at that stage had the biggest capacity of 14kW, and cost $12,000 to install.

“It’s a great asset to have but there is no way that the mathematics work. It might have a capacity of 14kW but the effective capacity is only 85 per cent of that because it always keeps 15. per cent in reserve.

“The great thing about solar batteries is that you always have back-up capacity available in the event of a power failure. That in itself is quite a value although it’s impossible to quantify. This means the battery can only produce 12kW, which at the going rate of $0.25 a kilowatt is worth just three dollars. If we fill the battery every day for a whole year the maximum savings would be around $1000.”

Read: How to make rooftop solar panels more efficient

Solar Victoria offers point-of-sale discounts of up to $3500 to encourage households to install solar batteries, with rebates on offer for properties that already have solar panels with a capacity of at least 5kW.

NSW is yet to develop a battery scheme but offers an installation discount via SolarHub.

In South Australia, subsidies and low-interest loans of up to $2000 are available for residents connected to the grid and keen to install batteries.

The NT offers grants of $450 per kWh for homeowners to buy and install a solar PV with an eligible battery and inverter, or a battery and inverter only if solar is already installed.

Given hot water systems are blamed for using more than a quarter of a household’s energy consumption, states and territories also offer rebates for water and heat pumps. The estimated saving on electricity bills is between $140 and $400 a year.

Some states and territories also offer rebates for ceiling insulation and the installation of reverse cycle heating and cooling.

Feed-in tariff payments have dropped enormously over the years and vary between the states and territories. My feed-in tariff rate is paltry, but something is better than nothing.

It’s also worth noting that I had to transfer to a different – slightly more expensive – plan with my energy provider after the installation of solar. The savings are still worth it.

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