According to the Clean Energy Council, 23.5 per cent of Australia’s clean energy generation in 2020 came from small-scale solar (systems up to 100kW).

With rooftop solar forecast to double over the next decade, concerns have been raised — by industry, consumer and environmental groups, and other experts — that the current power system will not be able to cope with the volume of solar.

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) recently finalised reforms to address these concerns and support small-scale solar customers exporting into the electricity grid. The rule changes will cater for the growth of distributed energy resources (DER) such as solar, batteries, electric vehicles (EVs) and smart energy management systems like Karit’s virtual power plants.

These reforms are set to transform the energy system, with clear obligations for power networks and rewards for solar owners who limit solar waste.

Why reform is needed

The needs of our power system are changing as more and more Australians put solar on their roofs, install batteries and embrace new technologies. Our current system was designed for a one-way flow of power to homes and businesses, but it now needs to cater for a two-way flow.

Naturally, solar owners want to export any excess energy they’ve generated back to the grid. This is mainly in the middle of the day and doesn’t match peak demand times for electricity. So, it puts stress on the network and any excess renewable energy goes to waste.

As a result, some power networks have started to block solar exports in areas where there is congestion. Not only is this a waste of solar power and limits our ability to reduce emissions, it’s simply not a sustainable model.

Australia’s electricity grid will also need to support the uptake of EVs, which are set to become the primary driver of increased energy consumption. According to a  CSIRO study, EVs could account for at least 30 per cent of new car sales by 2035 and 100 per cent by 2050.

The AEMC’s smart solar reforms, which were finalised on 12 August 2021, were designed to help integrate DER including solar into the electricity grid. The onus will be placed on power networks to reduce congestion by running their systems smarter rather than simply investing in costly infrastructure upgrades. The reforms serve the long-term interests of consumers including price, quality, safety, reliability and security of supply.