Sharing solar power with your neighbours

Smart metering has come a long way. Most Victorian customers are now billed via a smart meter. There’s been some hiccups along the way but generally speaking, for the bulk of customers their data is available daily and through the Jemena and United portals where an up-to-the-hour query will give customers the latest data, direct from their meter. For the rest of the country, smart meters are on their way and – with the added incentive of them actually doing something smart, such as controlling household appliances – the demand for their widespread deployment will grow.

So what could be smarter about smart meters other than virtual net-metering with real-time visibility?

A virtual net-metering revolution has quietly occurred in a number of places around the world, including California in the US. California’s version of virtual net-metering allows Californians living in a multi-dwelling building, such as an apartment complex, to have a shared solar system with a percentage of output from each interval (30 minutes is the standard for Australian smart meters) being allocated to each of the owners of the solar system. So if there were 10 residents in an apartment complex who owned a shared solar system on the roof generating 10kWh at midday, each customer would get 1kWh of power over one hour (two intervals), which would offset any of their usage during that period. If they didn’t use any power then their 1kWh would be exported and they’d be paid the same as any other solar PV owner.

But there’s no reason to restrict virtual net-metering to solar systems directly on the roof of an apartment complex you live in, as per the Californian example. Any renewable energy generator (such as a PV system) located anywhere (including locations apart from where owners live) should be able to be virtual net metered by a part-owner of the system. (This should extend across multiple distribution areas).

Shopping centre owners could lease their roofspace to people who want to buy into solar generation, landlords could build oversized systems and allocate a portion to their tenant to cover most of their tenant’s daytime use and allocate the rest for themselves to be netted out against their own house’s use (which may not have solar panels).

There is another major step forward that needs to be taken, and that’s to do with electric vehicles and charge points. Our National Meter Identifier should be able to be used to allocate the cost of charging EVs (with appropriate information security). It is totally inefficient (and not to mention, a headache for consumers) to have multiple networks and billing systems operating to achieve this when the data collection system on the National Electricity Market can be easily modified to include virtual net-metering, which can allocate virtual generation and virtual consumption to the one bill.

Given that Victoria has smart meters installed – which don’t do much at the moment except cost us a lot of money and put meter readers out of a job – virtual net-metering now needs to be employed to give us some value for these assets and to assist in greater deployment of solar power. It would also address the grossly unfair situation where people who can’t afford to buy a house are also locked out of cheap power as solar panels are rarely allowed on rental properties. Everyone, whether they rent or own their own home, should have the option to invest in a solar power system that provides for their power needs.

So let’s hear it from the new Victorian Government – they’ve lead the way on smart meter deployment. Now we need a deployment to truly smarten up smart meters and the obvious place to start is with a full-scale upgrade of their wholesale billing capability to allow for virtual net-metering.

Matthew Wright is executive director of Zero Emissions Australia, technical director at Efficiency Matrix and resident columnist at Climate Spectator.

The Austrlian