Going Off-Grid: Unless the Govt Stops You !!! 

Last month, I outlined how our supply of electricity is moving from Centralized Generation (using Fossil Fuels) and Distribution (through a Mains Network) to Distributed Generation and Storage (using Renewables such as Solar, plus Batteries).  And how this is a very real threat to the Business Model of the Mains Electricity Network Owners.

When batteries are the right price (in no more than 5 years and possibly much much sooner), many households and businesses will gladly shift off-grid to enjoy lower costs and greater certainty.  And ultimately many households might be forced to go off-grid as it becomes unprofitable for private Network Owners to service regional areas remote from urban centres, and unviable for such services to be propped up with taxpayer’s money.

Now in the medium-term (perhaps 5 to 10 years), being forced off-grid as a very real possibility … but in the short-term the very opposite might occur - households who want to go off-grid could be forced to pay for a Mains Connection whether they want one or not !!!

A bit sensationalist? Consider this:  The Energy Networks Association (ENA), the Peak Industry Body that represents the interests of Network Owners to Australian Governments, has in August 2015 released a Research Paper entitled "Future Network Cost Recovery: Regulatory and Policy Options" in which the ENA proposes policies including:

  • Higher Connection Fees for New Customers.
  • Exit Fees for Existing Customers: designed to recover "the historic share of network capacity dedicated to that customer”.
  • Compulsory Connection Fees for All:  that would operate like Council Rates or a Levy requiring payment for simply having access to connect to the Mains Grid rather than actually doing so. (I call this “paying for the privilege of looking at the poles n wires”).

This is shaping up to be a massive political problem.  Imagine that those who can afford to go off-grid do so in the hope of protecting themselves from rising costs … but are then forced by a deal between the private Network Owners and Government to pay those costs anyway, possibly for both electricity and gas. (The residents of Avoca and Inverleigh may well rue the day that Mains Gas came to town.) Meanwhile, those who cannot afford to go off-grid, remain on-grid forming part of a smaller and smaller customer-base shouldering the burden of paying for tens of billions of dollars of investment in the Mains Network that has been made redundant.  Those least able to pay rising costs, will be least able to avoid doing so.   Governments might need to assist them through the welfare system. 

But will voters tolerate Governments extending corporate welfare to the private Network Owners by bailing them out or forcing consumers to pay for their services, when they arguably made a bad business decision to invest in yesterday’s technology ?  A bad case of privatising the profits while collectivising the risks ?

Simon Reid Profile Picture 201501  WEB



BREAZE Energy Solutions

(Please email questions to )

First Published in The Meredith News

Going Off-Grid: the Big Picture

We are moving from Centralized Generation (typically using Fossil Fuels) and Distribution (through a Mains Network) to Distributed Generation and Storage (typically using Renewables such as solar and wind plus batteries).  An All-Electric Future approaches with Mains Gas increasingly uncompetitive and unnecessary. A truly well-insulated home can greatly reduce (or even eliminate !) the need for active heating and cooling (the biggest energy use in a typical suburban home) and Solar Hot Water or a Heat Pump can supply up to ¾ of annual demand for water heating (the second biggest energy use), both radically reducing a households need for mains electricity. As the price of batteries falls, using solar power to charge batteries at lunchtime for use at dinnertime and overnight will become not only economically viable but economically compelling.

Many householders are now asking whether they should take the next logical step and disconnect from the Mains Grid completely. They think: “I would be independent, in control, and confident that I am living sustainably because I actually know where my renewable energy comes from.”  Or: “I am sick of spiralling price rises, complicated tariffs, confusing bills – I just want to be free of this burden”.

But while many householders want to go Off-Grid, few are aware that they might be forced to go Off-Grid.

Consider this: as Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Battery Storage reduce demand for Mains Electricity to a tiny fraction of what it once was, Electricity Retailers sell less and less power.  With tens of billions of dollars needing to be recovered from sunk investment in poles and wires, Retailers are forced  to put up their prices per kWh to make the same money back.  Whereas once they sold five apples at $2.00 each to make back $10.00, they must now sell 3 apples at $3.33.  Further they put up the fixed Daily Service Charge.  This upsets customers, who respond by using even less power … at which point the Electricity Retailers must put up prices yet again …

The joking industry jargon for this cycle is the “Utility Death Spiral”. It is a slippery slope to stranded assets, bankruptcy, and taxpayer-funded bailouts by our State Governments. Local Councils could be asked to buy the local network but most will likely baulk at the responsibility. The private foreign owners of our networks could simply shutdown unprofitable sections leaving customers left to fend for themselves. This won’t happen anytime soon in urban Ballarat or Geelong but is a real possibility in rural areas.

Think I am getting a bit far-fetched ?   Ask yourself:  “How many Phone Boxes are left in Telstra’s Network ?”  Answer:  There were once 80,000, now only 30,000 and they only remain at all because the Federal Government pays Telstra with taxpayers funds to maintain unprofitable services …

Simon Reid Profile Picture 201501  WEB



BREAZE Energy Solutions

(Please email questions to )

First Published in The Meredith News

Solar Power and Grid-Connected Batteries

Recent announcements from the Tesla Electric Car Corporation signal a turning point in Renewable Energy’s onward march.  Tesla have announced a Grid-Connected Battery Solution – “The Powerwall” – available (initially in the USA only) at unbelievable crazy low prices.  Price Competition from other battery manufacturers is heating up and I expect Batteries with Solar to make economic sense for almost all Homes and Businesses within 5 years … possibly just 1 or 2 …

By making low-cost Solar Electricity available at all times of the day, Battery Storage will support current trends towards:

  • Installing Solar Power (and Wind Turbines)
  • Going All-Electric and Getting Off Gas (Mains Electricity is already cheaper than Mains or Bottle Gas and Solar Electricity is even cheaper).
  • Disconnecting from the Mains Grid completely.

So I urge Householders and Business Owners to consider how batteries (charged by Solar or Wind) will fit into their overall energy budget in future regardless of whether they install Solar or Batteries now … When appliances like Cooktops, Heaters and Hot Water Services fail, choosing to get off gas by replacing them with the most energy-efficient all-electric options will position you to take advantage of Batteries in an All-Electric Future.

If you already have solar power, note that many of the existing Feed-in Tariffs will no longer apply after the end of 2016.  Instead of receiving a guaranteed minimum of 6c/kWh or 25c/kWh for exported solar power, you might receive NOTHING !!!  At the right price, it will make sense to add batteries to capture that power at lunchtime for use at dinnertime …

The good news is that it will be possible (at the very least) to reuse your existing Panels … and probably your Inverter.

Technical Note: A Solar Power System consists of the Panels (which convert light into Electricity) and one (or more) Solar Inverter(s) that convert the Direct Current (DC) from the Panels into the Alternating Current (AC) that matches power from the Mains Grid.

Retrofitting batteries onto any grid-connected solar inverter can be done by “AC Coupling” a new device – a Battery Inverter-Charger – that converts the AC Output of the Solar Inverter back to DC to charge the batteries. But note that if you intend to disconnect and go Off-Grid completely, you are likely to need to replace your inverter as AC Coupling does not always allow complete battery charging unless the Solar Inverter and Battery Inverter-Charger have been specifically designed to work together.

If you are planning to install solar power in the near future, you have an opportunity to purchase equipment now that is specifically designed to give you the easiest and lowest cost pathway to add batteries later … and if desired the option to disconnect and go Off-Grid completely …

The Energy Market just gets more and more interesting …

Simon Reid Profile Picture 201501  WEB



BREAZE Energy Solutions

(Please email questions to )

First Published in The Meredith News (June 2015)


Unbelievable Crazy Low Prices !!!

Okay, I have your attention, but I am not going to try to sell you anything … and in fact, I am going to advise you not to buy … at least not yet … But I have exciting news about prices.

For the last couple of years the Solar Industry has been hyping the adding Batteries to Grid-Connected Solar Power Systems as the next big thing …

The reasons are obvious – while the sun is shining and a Solar Power System is generating power, the majority of households in use very little power because Mum & Dad are at work and the Kids are at school. Power is really needed in the evening for cooking, heating/cooling, lights, television, etc …

Batteries allow the capturing of solar energy at lunchtime for use at dinnertime.

Previously State Governments created incentives to Go Solar by mandating generous subsidized Feed-in Tariffs Schemes under which households sold power back to their Electricity Retailer during the day for at least the price they could buy it for, earning Credit that could be used to buy power in the evening. But the current feed-in rate in Victoria is now only 6c/kWh with no guarantee into the future that there will be any mandated minimum feed-in tariff at all …

So while the technology already exists to deliver the solutions Grid-Connected Battery Storage, the price of the Batteries has made the Value Proposition (despite what some players in the Industry might tell you !!!) economically unexciting – breakeven over the life of the equipment at best and not something that will save you money …

But that is all about to change …

Many people are aware of the Tesla Electric Car Corporation in the USA. Telsa knows that the key to popularizing their Electric Car is getting the price of Batteries down. In 2014, Telsa announced their huge new GigaFactory for Batteries designed to reduce prices by increasing production volumes. The other obvious market to grow demand for Batteries is Grid-Connected Solar Power. And now in May 2015, Telsa has announced their Grid-Connected Battery Storage solution - The PowerWall.

Tesla is so good at Razzle-Dazzle Marketing that many media reports seem to suggest that Telsa invented of Grid-Connected Battery Storage with Solar. They didn’t. But what they have done is release the PowerWall into the US Market at an Unbelievable Crazy Low Price – less than the half price of competing solutions. For me, this is the long-predicted beginning of fierce competition between manufacturers to bring their prices down to match … and lower …

I would not be investing in Batteries yet … but I would be watching this space very carefully and expect exciting economic returns from Batteries within 5 years … possibly just 1 or 2 …

More details about options for adding batteries to Solar to follow next month …

Simon Reid

First Published in The Meredith News (June 2015)



Getting into Hot Water

Almost everybody uses Hot Water daily. So while it can get complex for an Energy Assessor like me to prioritize the economic benefits of Solar Power versus a more efficient heater, I can be confident that a right-sized Solar Hot Water or Heat Pump Hot Water System will deliver savings.

When compared to heating water with an Electric Element, Gas Storage or even Instant Gas, these sustainable options can reduce energy bills by 2/3 to ¾ over a calendar year. And for a family of four, pay for themselves in 3 to 5 years.

A Solar Hot Water System uses roof-mounted collectors that convert light into heat. This provide almost all of the energy needed to heat water in the sunnier 6 months of the year, a fair bit in late Autumn and early Spring … but will need significant boosting in the darker months of Winter with either an Electric Element, Gas or a Wood-Fire.

A Heat Pump uses a small amount of Electric Energy to extract about 3 times as much Heat Energy from the Air using the same technology found in a Refrigerator or Air-Conditioner. It uses a more constant amount of energy all year but runs longer and harder in Winter when less Heat is available. Despite earlier problems with low quality Heat Pumps that some readers might be aware of, there are now reliable and effective models on the Australian Market. And a properly installed and operating Heat Pump or Solar Hot Water Unit will not be damaged by frost.

Solar Hot Water tends to cost more upfront but have longer warranties. Heat Pumps have shorter warranties but cost less upfront, typically about 2/3 of the price of Solar Hot Water.

Solar Hot Water tends to be almost silent; a Heat Pump sounds like an Air-Conditioner - this troubles some people but not others.
Solar Hot Water requires roof real-estate; a Heat Pump does not. So if your roof is shaded or covered with Solar Electricity Panels, a Heat Pump could be the choice for you.

To me, the future looks All-Electric with Solar Power and either Solar Hot Water or a Heat Pump on every home. A Heat Pump can be run either overnight Off-Peak or during the day using your Solar Power. But if you need more of your Solar Power for other purposes, you might chose Solar Hot Water requires as it almost no electric-boosting in Summer. As an Energy Assessor, it is my job to tailor a solution to each households energy use pattern, but with Hot Water I can be confident that they will be sustainable options that reward the householder with savings …

Simon Reid

First Published in The Meredith News (May 2015)



The Sustainable Energy Future is All Electric !!! Because it will be the more economic choice ...

Mains Gas has been a lower cost alternative to Electricity for Space Heating, Water Heating and Cooking for decades ... and the arrival of the reticulated Mains Gas Network in small regional towns something to celebrate ... not any more... Mains Gas is no longer cheaper, no longer necessary and no longer something to celebrate ...

Mains Gas is no longer cheaper: Australia is exporting gas to countries where the price is 2 to 3 times what it is here ... our price will float up to meet those higher global price.

Mains Gas is no longer necessary:

* We can build 9 to 10 Star Houses that require no heating or cooling. People rarely believe me when I say this, exclaiming "Maybe elsewhere, but not in Ballarat !!!". I reply that I have been in a super-insulated StrawBale House in Buninyong that never gets colder than 18 Degrees in Winter nor hotter than 25 Degrees in Summer with no heating or cooling. Now existing housing stock built to lower standards does require heating - but this can be done more sustainably and economically using electricity to run Reverse-Cycle Air-Conditioners on Heating Mode or Heat Pump Hot Water Systems to provide Hydronic Heating. Or using a Wood-fire you fuel yourself.

* Solar Hot Water can provide up to 75% of your Domestic Hot Water needs. It requires some boosting in Winter, and that could be Gas, but it could also be Electricity. A Heat Pump Hot Water System is all Electric (but 3 Times as efficient as an old style Tank with an Electric Element). No need for Gas.

* Many people prefer Gas Cooktops because they repond quickly when the heat is turned up or down ... but now Electric Induction Cooktops (as opposed to typical Electric Resistence models) have a response time as fast as Gas ... and use only 70% as much power as Resistence Models.

So Mains Gas is no longer something to celebrate: it is a polluting fossil fuel, it is not cheaper, it does nothing electricity cannot do, and requires that you pay a Daily Service to Property Charge for a second unnecessary energy utility ... why would you want to pay twice ?!?

And finally: electric appliances can be run using Wind or Solar Power that you generate on site giving you (not the Power Company) control of the price ...

Not convinced ???

I encourage you to visit the websites of Australian Non-Profit Organiztions Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) [www.bze.org.au] and the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) [www.ata.org.au] to read about their independent research into the economics of Getting of Gas ...

Simon Reid

First Published in The Meredith News (April 2015)



Renewable Energy: Is it Still Economically Viable ?

Energy costs are rising ... and people are feeling the pain.

Many people who have considered Renewable Energy, such as Solar Power, for their home or business are aware that Government Incentives, such as Rebates and Feed-in Tariffs, have been cut back significantly ... and are likely to be cut back further, possible very soon.

People want to make sustainable choices but rightly have to ask thmeselves "Is renewable energy still economically viable ? ... And can it protect me from the rising cost of energy ?"

In one word "Yes" ... But the design of Solar Power, Wind Power and Solar Hot Water Systems needs to more carefully match the generation to the users demand for energy at the time that it occurs at different times of the day, days of the weeks and weeks of the year. And it needs to be combined with an overall assessment of energy use on site and Energy-Efficieny measures to reduce energy demand such as Insulation, Double-Glasing, LED Lighting and Reverse-Cycle Air-Conditioners. It also needs to consider how storing energy from intermittant sources (Sun, Wind) can be done ecnonomically now and how to prepare for the coming widespread uptake of energy storage as battery costs come down over the next 5 years.

In this series of articles, I want to explore ways that renewable energy can stack up economically for homes and businesses, looking at at specific tecnologies in turn.

But first I want to take a step back and place renewable energy generation "behind the meter" onsite at homes and businesses in the context of the wider energy market ... and I want to start with a statement that might surprise some people: Unless ways are found by the Fossil Fuel Industry to reduce the cost of producing their polluting product, Renewables will be seen as the economic choice for homes and most small to medium businesses within a decade. People will be asking "Are fossil fuels and centralized generation still economically viable ?". And this will disrupt the current business model of centralized generators and distributors to such a degree that that utility companies may seek to abandon whole sections of the mains electricity grid, forcing energy consumers to conside standalone off-grid renewable energy.

Not convinced ?

Consider these facts:

* The price of a Solar Panel fell about 80% of the 5 years from 2008 and 2013 before stabilizing somewhat in 2014
* Tesla Motors in the USA recently opened the long-anticipated "Giga-Factory" to make batteries for Electric Cars - could that be the start of battery prices undergoing the same dramatic 80% fall ?
* Throughout Australia, the price of Mains Gas is predicted to double (or even triple) as export contracts come into effect and see locally-mined gas exported to countries where the price of gas is 2 to 3 times our price.
* The International Energy Agency says solar will produce 27 per cent of all electricity globally by 2050.
* By 2050, the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany predicts solar will cost as little as 2c per kWh
* Back home in South Australia, on one day in December 2014, Solar Power met 1/3 of the demand for electricity between 11.30am and 3.30pm.

Still not convinced ?

I look forward to next time when I can have another go at convincing you that centralized generation is in trouble and that you need to consider renewable energy ...

Simon Reid

BREAZE Energy Solutions

First Published in The Meredith News (March 2015)