Panel beaters: Australia utilities branch out as customers shift to solar

Sonali Paul for Reuters:  Australia's power utilities and grid operators, under threat from the world's fastest take-up of home solar panels, are rushing to come up with ways to stay relevant and protect long-term revenues.

Pushing to cash in rather than lose out on the millions of solar panels that glint from the roofs of homes around the country, electricity suppliers and network operators are taking steps such as selling batteries to store solar energy or looking to charge fees for taking excess solar power into the grid.

Australians have snapped up solar panels over the past 10 years thanks to government incentives, but what was seen as a luxury has almost become a necessity as energy policy uncertainty has led to the closure of some coal- and gas-fired power plants, sparking blackouts and power price hikes.

"Australia has highly innovative customers who are interested in new things and most of the time it's quite sunny. So it means we become a test bed for a lot of these things," said Matthew Rennie, global power and utilities transactions leader at consultant EY.

One out of every six Australian homes, or around 1.65 million households, had solar photovoltaic systems at the end of 2016, according to the Australian Energy Council. That is the highest per capita number globally.

And over 20 percent of Australian homes are likely to adopt battery storage in the next two years, according to an Australian Energy Market Commission survey released last week.

One of Australia's leading power suppliers, AGL Energy (AGL.AX), has offered cheap batteries to 1,000 homes with solar panels as part of what it describes as the world's biggest "virtual power plant" in Adelaide, South Australia, a state plagued by blackouts over the past year.

The batteries will be centrally controlled by software from U.S. firm Sunverge, allowing AGL to instantly tap 5 megawatts of power that can help stabilize the grid when needed. Battery owners will be left with enough power for their own needs and paid for any excess energy they provide to AGL.  Full Article:

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