Renewable energy shift will stall unless consumer protections are pushed

Brody said the main change since the report was released was that Victoria had banned unsolicited sales, such as door-to-door sales, for businesses that want to claim rebates through Solar Victoria.

The other significant change was the expansion of the Clean Energy Regulator’s powers in April to cover solar retailers for the first time. The regulator has the power to bar companies from participating in the federal solar rebate scheme, which can slash the price of a typical home solar system by thousands of dollars.

A spokesman for the Clean Energy Regulator said it had not yet removed any companies from the solar rebate scheme, but had seen better performance from many retailers and installers previously on the “watch list”.

Both Gladman and Brody advocate for solar companies to be included in state ombudsman schemes, which cover traditional electricity retailers like AGL and Origin, but not solar. This would provide consumers with a cost-effective way to resolve disputes.

Engineer and inventor Saul Griffith said consumer protection issues were an obstacle to the continued growth of the solar and other renewable energy industries.

“It’s definitely a concern and it’s going to multiply when you add the battery, the vehicle charger, the electric hot water and the electric stove,” Griffith said.

Saul Griffith, author of The Big Switch, had his home battery fail while under warranty, but the installer had gone bust.

Saul Griffith, author of The Big Switch, had his home battery fail while under warranty, but the installer had gone bust.Credit:Rhett Wyman

Griffith, advocate of home electrification and author of The big change: Australia’s electric future, had first-hand experience of consumer problems recently when he bought a house and the battery connected to his rooftop solar system broke a week later. The $14,000 battery was still under warranty, but the installer had gone bankrupt, so he had to turn to the manufacturer.

Griffith argues that domestic renewables should be viewed as a national infrastructure because of their combined importance to the electricity grid, and that implies governments have some responsibility.

Mark Jones spent about $10,000 installing 22 solar panels on the roof of his home in Davidson, on Sydney’s northern beaches, and wants to buy a battery when it makes economic sense.


But while Jones was motivated by the knowledge that switching to solar power was “the right thing to do,” he remained concerned that the tech company or installer might go out of business and leave him without a warranty.

“We all know that banks are backed by the government; if your money is stolen, you are not responsible for the safety of the bank,” Jones said.

“The same kinds of things should apply. Effectively, we are using a public service and security and technology should not be our responsibility”.

Recently, Jones has had this experience on a smaller scale because he was a customer of Pooled Energy, a startup offering energy-efficient automation for home pools that had received funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

In May, Pooled Energy was suspended from the wholesale energy market and Jones’ home electricity supply was transferred to Energy Australia. The company is in administration and recently wrote to consumers saying it is looking for a way to save service.

Jones spent about $300 on the Pooled Energy device and was spending $60 a month on a software subscription that allowed him to control the pool through his smartphone, a service he loved. It still has the hardware, but it doesn’t work properly without the software.

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