How to optimise your energy bill after you install solar

Did you know you can leverage your rooftop solar to negotiate a better deal with your supplier? Here’s how to do it.

The rising cost of coal-fired electricity is prompting many home-owners to consider rooftop solar. But few of us can source 100 per cent of our energy needs – such as overnight power – from solar alone.

In addition, some residents generate excess solar electricity during the day. These residents can sell this electricity to their neighbours, but you need an energy company’s help to do this.

So if you’ve installed solar panels, carefully selecting an energy retailer – or renegotiating with your current one – can make a big difference to your bottom line.

Feed-in tariffs

After you’ve installed rooftop solar, the most important change to your relationship with your energy retailer will be your ability to sell electricity back to the grid. Many residential solar panels produce more electricity during the day than the household can use (as residents are more likely to be at school or work) and the price at which they can sell the excess back to the grid is known as a feed-in tariff.

Feed-in tariffs vary considerably from retailer to retailer and could earn you hundreds of dollars each year. But the retailer with the highest feed-in tariff isn’t necessarily the best value: that retailer might also charge more for the electricity it sells you.

Photo: Jessica Lindsay

Shop around

Tariff variation is one reason it’s important to compare energy retailers every year. (You can use the NSW government’s Energy Switch website to compare retailers.) Another is the prevalence of introductory offers: these discounted rates may only be offered for a year or less, after which your electricity supply becomes more expensive.

“We’re recommending that people periodically shop around and take advantage of those introductory offers,” said Nik Midlam, Manager of Carbon Strategy at the City of Sydney.

“They might even find they can sign up for GreenPower with a new provider and get it for less than the coal-fired tariff from their old provider.”

Rate variations for solar users

Some electricity retailers may adjust their rates and terms for people with rooftop solar installed. Be sure to ask your current retailer if any bonuses or penalties apply once you’ve installed solar, and consider switching suppliers if you are penalised.

What to ask about

Whether you’re talking to your current retailer or learning about a new one, consider asking these questions:

  • What is the current feed-in tariff and when will it change?

  • What is the cost of electricity during peak, shoulder and off-peak times?

  • Will I pay higher electricity rates or daily connection fees if I have solar installed?

  • Am I free to switch retailers at any time or do termination fees apply?

  • Will my metering need to be upgraded to receive the feed-in tariff, and is there a charge for this?

  • How will I be paid for the energy I export to the grid (cash or bill credit) and how often will it be calculated?

Reducing common charges in apartment buildings

Once you’ve conducted energy efficiency work and installed solar, make sure you’re working with your building’s energy retailer to ensure you’re on the most appropriate tariff for your building.

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