Echuca locals embrace solar as summer blackouts loom

By Charmayne Allison

BLISTERING summer temperatures mean an increased risk of blackouts in Echuca and beyond, with Victoria in greatest danger of losing power in coming months.

Worst case scenario, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said up to 1.3 million Victorian households could be without power on extreme weather days.

This year’s scorching forecast will reduce the reliability of power supply across the country as ageing coal-fired power plants struggle to keep up with demand.

And the state will continue to be on the back foot as long as a Latrobe Valley coal plant and gas plant in western Victoria await repairs, promised for late-December.

But on the renewable energy front, it’s not all bad news.

According to AEMO, the rapid growth in grid-scale and rooftop solar generation in the past year has resulted in a surplus 3700 megawatts in the national energy market.

And while the grid may be struggling to integrate the boom of renewable energy sources, Australia’s solar revolution is still providing a safety net for many households.

Echuca’s Laurie Edmondstone is just one local to jump on the solar bandwagon.

And he hasn't looked back.

With a fleet of 24 solar batteries set to be installed at his house, he could be one of a several in the twin-towns protected from power cuts this summer.

“We want to be independent and self-sufficient,” Laurie said.

“And this means if power goes off at any time, we'll have a backup.”

Laurie first heard about the batteries when the Solar Service Group made contact, inviting him to take part in a trial.

“They’re testing out a new concept of batteries called Hive batteries, so we got them cheap at about a third of the cost,” Laurie said.

“As part of the trial, they’ll maintain them for three years.”

While Laurie has had a small 1250 watt solar panel system on his roof for a couple years now, he’s recently upgraded to 6000 watts.

Generating 6kW of energy from his solar panel system, the new batteries will store an additional 2.9kW.

Meaning Laurie will be covered for power both day and night.

“Under the present system without the batteries, I only have to pay for my power at night time,” he said.

“But with the batteries, I should be able to generate enough power in the day to cover my usage during the day plus during the night.”

The initial cost of going solar can put off some, with Victorians set to pay between $2900 and $10,000 for a standard solar system, depending on its size.

A small system (2kW and under) hovers around the $3000 mark, while systems that are 10kW or larger can cost in excess of $9000.

But Laurie said his system paid for itself in no time.

Helped by the Victorian Government's solar panel system installation rebate of up to $2225 for homeowners and rental properties.

“Initially, the cost inspired me to get into solar,” he said.

“The system has been fantastic. And with these additional panels, my bill should be cut in half.”

Currently, Laurie puts money into the grid during the day to get a higher return, saving the bulk of his power usage for the evening.

But with the new battery system on its way, he will have to switch his plans, tapping into his solar supply during the day at peak time to ensure enough energy is stored in the batteries to get him through the night.

And while he's cautiously optimistic, Laurie admits it’s still very early days.

“In the meantime, we'll stay on the grid for a year and see,” he said.

“It costs about a dollar a day to stay on the grid so I'll do that for a while and see if we can become completely self-sufficient.”