AUSTRALIA’S largest energy retailer is predicting that solar rooftop electricity panels will be competitive without subsidies in the next few years, adding to pressure on the federal Coalition to scale back the renewable energy target in this year’s review of the scheme.
The Weekend Australian can reveal that ahead of the RET review this year, Origin Energy — which has 4.3 million customers — thinks photovoltaic panels will be able to compete without subsidy in the next few years and wants this conclusion investigated as part of the review.
“The review might examine whether rooftop solar photovoltaics is competitive against retail electricity without subsidy,” an Origin spokeswoman said.
Australia has already exceeded one million solar PV rooftops because of the RET, as well as state-based feed-in tariffs, and as consumers have sought to protect themselves from rising electricity bills. Origin’s internal modelling suggests Australia will have more than a million more solar PV roofs by 2020.
Origin has told the Department of Environment and a Senate inquiry into the direct action plan that support for PV systems should be “moderated”, including by cutting the price caps on renewable energy certificates for rooftop solar and by reducing the size of PV solar systems that can qualify for the small-scale RET.
The government is expected to complete the review well before the end of the year, but the Coalition has been split on what to do about a target Nationals senator Ron Boswell has warned will cost Australians $5 billion a year by 2020.
Late last year, Tony Abbott declared the scheme was causing “pretty significant price pressures” on electricity, comments that were viewed as opening the door to a possible wind back of the RET in the review.
Clean Energy Council deputy chief executive Kane Thornton said Origin’s proposals would slow down or prevent premises from taking up solar, increasing dependence on “increasingly expensive” gas. “The cost of installing solar has come down significantly, and government support has rightly been adjusted accordingly,” he said.
The Coalition’s “one million solar roofs” policy is in addition to the RET and will provide $500 rebates for solar systems over the next 10 years; this includes solar water heaters and heat pumps as well as the PV systems.