Australia’s east coast has found itself in the electricity equivalent of a tailspin. Surging gas and electricity prices are resulting in the threat of black-and-brownouts and has caused the regulator to take the extraordinary measure of suspending the wholesale electricity market. And in what is being called ‘Dishwasher-gate’, the pressure on the grid at peak hours has become so critical that NSW Treasurer and Energy Minister has even asked citizens to delay their dishwashers.
With the market in turmoil, it should come as no surprise that homeowners are taking matters in their own hands by electrifying their homes with solar and batteries, which is to say taking their energy independence.
What has transpired in recent days is the result of numerous factors and the impacts are widespread. Not only have Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) again cautioned the public over potential blackouts and brownouts, but surging wholesale prices have now, for the first time, forced the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) to suspend the electricity wholesale spot market in all five of the participating National Electricity Market (NEM) states.
AEMO’s drastic manoeuvre comes after weeks of surging prices resulted in price caps coming into effect this week. Generators didn’t much like the idea of these caps protecting consumers and started to withdraw huge amounts of capacity from the market. What was a crisis has now become a calamity.
At an emergency press conference held on Wednesday night, NSW Treasurer and Energy Minister Matt Kean actually pleaded with the public to minimise non-critical electricity usage between 5:30pm and 8:30pm because the state’s “ageing infrastructure” couldn’t cope with the volatile situation. “This is a result of a number of our coal-fired power stations not working when we need them to,” said Kean.
In an interview with 2GB, Minister Kean asked citizens to reduce their electricity usage during peak hours: “We’re not telling people to turn off their heating… we’re just saying if you’re running the dishwasher at 7:30pm, maybe delay it until after 8:30pm until this supply issue passes.”
AEMO said the suspension will be reviewed daily in each region (Queensland, NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria).
The energy crisis is an amalgam of contributing crises. Global fossil fuel prices have soared on the back of ongoing supply-chain issues and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent a European Union (EU) desperate to wean itself off Russian gas into other global markets.
On top of those macroeconomic forces pushing up the cost of electricity generation, Australia’s ageing fossil fuel fleets are buckling under the pressure. Or rather, buckling even more than they usually do.
Adding insult to injury, some energy market analysts, such as the Victoria Energy Policy Centre’s Bruce Mountain, have suggested Australia’s fossil fuel generators are purposely withholding capacity to keep prices artificially inflated (a suggestion somewhat evidenced in AEMO’s suspension order).
“What’s become clear,” said NSW energy minister Kean confirming the assessment, “is that a number of generators have been trying to game the system…They haven’t been transparent about what capacity they have available and when they can bring it online. My message to the generators needs to be very clear: Stop putting your profits above people.”
On top of it all, a particularly chilly winter arrival has compounded the issue, driving up demand at the time of year when large-scale solar production is limited by the light of day.
The solar battery rush is on
The energy crisis, combined with the resounding federal election victory for pro-renewables politics, has seen demand for residential solar skyrocket. But a strong market for solar is not exactly new in Australia, what does appear new is the accompanying demand for battery energy storage systems (BESS) too.
Solar batteries have been slow to get off the mark in Australia when it comes to wide-scale adoption. But those days look set to become a thing of the past as Australians learn the hard way (via the back pocket) about the benefits of solar-plus-storage.
The threat of blackouts and brownouts along the east coast has awoken an appetite for energy independence. Consumers do not want to be held to ransom by greedy fossil fuel generators who should’ve shifted their portfolios to renewables a long time ago, and nor do they want to be caught out by electricity cuts.
With a solar battery system, not only can you consume the energy your rooftop solar panels produce throughout the day, but much of that energy can also be stored in say, a Tesla Powerwall, and used long after the sun has set.
If you’re wondering what such a system would be like, wait until the next blackout and take a look down the street for whichever houses still have their lights on and the footy playing, they’re the solar-plus-storage homes.
And what is more, with solar-plus-storage you can also gain independence from the sky-high prices at the petrol pump. Like home batteries, electric vehicles (EV) are becoming more and more popular around the country, and with a solar-plus-storage system, you’ll be able to charge your EV with your own energy. Imagine driving past a service station and not having to care about the petrol price!
A change has come
Unfortunately, thanks to a decade of inept energy policy which failed to significantly invest in the grid nor the timely transition to renewables, the energy crisis is not likely to end any time soon.
And yet, at the same time, the case for rooftop solar and residential battery storage has never been so clear to so many price-shocked consumers suffering under the pressures of dishwasher-gate.
For the case is simple, stay dependent on big sloppy generators who have nothing but short-term profits in mind, or make the switch to solar-plus-storage, the switch to your energy independence.