Solar power saps energy groups take

Solar power technology is developing so fast that up to one-quarter of households in Perth and the South West may be able to disconnect from the electricity grid by 2019.

Figures from electricity provider Synergy show there are almost 140,000 households with solar panels across the South West network and new installations are running at 1500-2000 a month.

With marketable battery storage devices as little as five years away, experts claim it is only a matter of time before some customers disconnect from the grid.

The prediction came as industry veteran Trevor James called for urgent reform to electricity tariffs.

Mr James, who ran State-owned retailer Synergy until it merged with generator Verve in January, said that under current tariff arrangements households without solar panels subsidised those that did.

He said solar households were also not paying their fair share towards the upkeep of the network, despite using it more by "exporting" surplus energy into the grid and it costing more to service.

At present, most of a householder's electricity bill stems from the amount of electricity use.

Only a small portion - typically about 15 per cent - goes specifically towards paying for the grid's fixed costs, principally those related to the poles and wires that transport electricity to homes.

Solar panels are undermining the business model because households with the systems generate much of their own electricity and therefore take far less from the grid.

The effect is slashing revenues to traditional power companies such as Synergy and Western Power, the network operator. To plug the gap, the Government has had to increase usage charges faster, meaning customers without solar panels pay proportionately more.

Mr James said fixed charges should be lifted to make sure network costs were being recovered, suggesting usage charges could be eased to offset the measure.

Energy Supply Association of Australia chief executive Matthew Warren agreed, saying solar panels were "here to stay" but that he doubted the Government would be nimble or innovative enough to adjust to the challenges of such a "disruptive" technology.

He also questioned whether the Government's ownership of electricity utilities, particularly Western Power, was smart.

Sustainable Energy Association boss Kirsten Rose said she supported tariff reform but urged the Government not to discriminate against solar homes.

'Ultimately, if you don't address it, the problem becomes significantly bigger.'" *Trevor James *

The West Australian

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