Even as Australian power prices continue to rise, and the costs of solar and battery storage continue to fall, it remains relatively rare for established, grid-connected households to cut the cord, so to speak, and leave their local electricity network.
But it is happening. In the Victoria’s Latrobe Valley region, for example, local business Gippsland Solar has recently helped to fit out a home with everything it needs to go it alone: a 15kW (3 phase) system with battery storage “in the middle of Traralgon!”
The project (pictured above and below) ranks as one of Gippsland Solar’s biggest ever residential jobs, including the installation of 54 LG NeON2 mono panels – north and west to spread the generation across the day and increase self-consumption; a Fronius Symo 15kW inverter; three Victron Quattro hybrid units; and a 48V, 600ah battery bank, using Narada lead-carbon batteries.
With all that installed, the client now plans to monitor the system over the winter months and, once satisfied it can meet the household’s needs year-round, remove the smart meter and disconnect from the grid.
So what motivates a consumer to go to such lengths?
According to Gippsland Solar’s founder and managing director, Andrew McCarthy, the client – who had spent months researching his options for going off grid – was largely motivated by self-sufficiency: “the peace of mind that comes with having complete control over his own electricity production and storage.”
But McCarthy says the client also wanted to rid himself of the house’s grid-connected smart meter to prevent the utility from collecting data about his electricity usage across the day.
This suggests a sort of disconnect with the energy establishment that ought to be making utilities uneasy; not to mention the Australian Energy Market Operator, which – under the guidance of its enlightened new CEO, Audrey Zibelman – has finally woken up to the importance of rooftop solar and storage in maintaining whole of grid security in the new energy future.
“If you have solar on your roof and you are putting in storage, it is saying that during certain hours of the day you use solar to charge up the battery, and then, rather than relying on grid, you reduce demand on the grid,” Zibelman has said.
“For us (the grid operator) that’s the same as increasing generation… and a lot cheaper than building a new power plant that is only used for a few hours a year.
“Some call this the democratisation of energy …. but it is essentially about the ability for people to use their own resources, and to get reward for it.”
The problem is, a growing number of Australian households have become tired of waiting for democracy to kick in, and are taking matters into their own hands. At the same time, the cost of doing so is becoming more and more attractive, while the cost of staying on the grid, even with solar and storage, appears to becomes more and more punitive.
“Clients wanting to disconnect from the grid are becoming increasingly common,” McCarthy told One Step Off The Grid on Tuesday. “Even in the middle of towns and suburbs.
“Consumers are well aware that with the uptake of residential solar, the power companies are looking to increase service and demand charges to recover their costs. The only way to protect themselves against this is to disconnect from the grid entirely,” he said.
And like his Traralgon client, McCarthy said there was also a concern around energy providers having access to consumers’ consumption data via the smart meter roll-out.
“Privacy is a big issue, so going off the grid is appealing to many of our clients.”
But perhaps even more worryingly for Australian network operators and incumbents is the increasing number of new home builders – particularly in Australia’s regional areas – who are simply bypassing the grid altogether.
According to McCarthy, as much as half of all new-build homes his company deals with are making those homes completely energy independent, right from the outset, preferring to spend the tens of thousands of dollars often required to connect to the grid on solar and battery storage.
“We have been particularly shocked at how many (customers) are turning their back on the grid, and installing a stand-alone system on their new home,” he told One Step.
“Of the dozens of new homes we have installed solar for in the last 12 months, nearly half of them elected not to connect to the grid.
“In regional Victoria, the typical grid connection cost can be anywhere from $10,000 – $25,000, and pushing up towards $80,000 for longer distances.
“These clients are telling me that they don’t want to pay those prices to connect a smart meter, and still be held hostage to ever-increasing service charges.”