Fair dinkum power needs more everyday Australians and fewer big electricity retailers

fair dinkum power

DC Power Co. co-founder Nic Frances Gilley. Source: Supplied.

‘Fair dinkum power’ — it’s a term that is bandied around a lot, but does anyone know what it actually means?

Coined by Scott Morrison to relaunch the federal government’s energy policy, it was then adopted by billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes to drive his renewable energy movement. But like all good slogans, it’s full of colloquial charm and doesn’t mean much. It’s like saying ‘Aussie battler’ and ‘Tim Tam’ in the same sentence to convince us it’s what we need as a nation and it’s the best and safest way forward.

What is clear is Australia’s energy system has fundamentally shifted with the uptake of renewables and the global demand for climate action, but governments and the industry have not kept up. Electricity bills are soaring, and renewable energy still needs to be firmed (that is, guaranteeing supply from other sources in the event of poor sun or wind generation).

So the questions we have to answer are: who will drive new approaches to energy security in the age of climate change, how quickly can they be implemented and who reaps the benefits?

More than two million homeowners have started the journey by investing in solar panels, state governments are providing rebates for solar installations and solar storage batteries, and federally there is talk of Snowy Hydro 2.0 (a green option for firming up our renewable energy supply). But it’s still not enough, because there has been no fundamental change in the regulation and business models in the industry.

A stark example of this is the fact two million Australian homes have invested in solar panels, yet power companies still don’t offer them any services to make sure their system is functioning and they’re seeing the savings they deserve. Why? Because solar households are only 20% of the market and it’s not in most power companies’ interests to sell them less energy.

As the chief executive officer and co-founder of a new power company dedicated to solar households, we’re learning very quickly just how understandably jaded consumers are about their power companies (utility beyond just a bill would be nice). As a small player in a crowded industry, we’re also learning how difficult it is to compete against the big guys who own power plants and other generation assets.

Because of these assets, they can buy electricity and gas at cheaper wholesale prices than the little guys, obstruct innovation and lobby governments to move slowly on energy policy so they maintain their hegemony. They are also fundamentally opposed to the needs of solar households, because their business model revolves around selling more energy.

So while the system remains under the control of the big guys — think AGL, Energy Australia, Origin and Alinta — if you have solar panels and you stay with them you are fair dinkum going to get bad service and a worse deal.

So what is the solution that’s going to firm up our country’s energy supply and get consumers a better deal? It’s solar panels accompanied by a storage battery in the home.

Scott Morrison talks about ‘fair dinkum power’ that ‘works when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow’, but he’s missing the point. We can firm up our renewable energy supply by taking the power back into just 400,000 Australian home with solar batteries.

Why should we get behind Snowy Hydro 2.0 or the next big Tesla battery, when we could explore a distributed energy system that invests in home solar batteries for everyday Australians?

State governments have started doing this. Victoria’s battery rebate begins in July and will provide 10,000 households with up to half the value of a solar battery install. And with the right policy setting, distributed energy is likely to be the fastest and cheapest way to firm up renewables.

It’s great for government (low capital costs), great for consumers (energy is being created, stored and used in the home, which greatly reduces network costs that currently make up 50% of our bills), and great for the environment. Now that achieves all the National Energy Guarantee sets out and more.

Did you know 400,000 homeowners (only 20% of those currently with solar) can generate the same amount of power as Snowy Hydro 2.0, at half the taxpayer expenditure and in half the time? And most importantly, they can do so when we actually need the energy — which is now.

This article is part of our spotlight on climate change. You can view the full series here.

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