The New South Wales Solar Bonus Scheme is coming to an end, leaving over 100,000 households and businesses on the lookout for the best solar deal they can find from 2017. Many energy retailers have reviewed their offers to solar customers in a bid to catch this market share, with some companies experimenting with completely new deals. One such retailer is EnergyAustralia, with its ‘Solar Booster’ plans available to NSW customers from January 2017.
What is the Solar Booster Range?
The Solar Booster Range from EnergyAustralia can best be described as a smart meter payment plan, with the option to subscribe to a higher feed-in tariff. The vast majority of households that received a 20c or 60c feed-in tariff under the Solar Bonus Scheme likely had their solar power on a gross meter. Essentially, gross metering means that everything your solar panels produce is exported to the grid.
After December 2016, Solar Bonus Scheme customers will receive a much lower price for their exported solar and a gross metering setup is unlikely to be beneficial. The alternative to gross metering is ‘net metering’. Net metering describes the set-up where the household will use the electricity that its solar panels produce, and only export any excess.
EnergyAustralia’s Solar Booster Range offers an upgrade to net meters, as well as installation and maintenance in exchange for a monthly subscription fee – rather than having to pay for a new meter up front.
“Our research tells us that customers don’t want to pay the upfront costs for a smart meter and its installation, so we’ve created a range of plans in our Solar Booster Range, starting from $10 a month for the Basic Booster which covers the cost of the smart meter, including installation,” EnergyAustralia told the ABC.
There are four different products in EnergyAustralia’s Solar Booster Range – the Basic Booster, or a 1, 2 or 3 year lock-in agreement.
The Basic Booster is the cheapest offer in the range at only $10 per month. Customers who sign up will receive a free smart meter upgrade, including installation, as well as a feed-in tariff of 6.1c/kWh.
Even though installing a smart meter costs EnergyAustralia several hundred dollars, there are currently no exit fees on this plans. You will also keep your smart meter if you later decide to change retailers.
Lock-in Booster Plans
Customers who choose to sign-up to a fixed-term solar contract will have access to additional services and larger solar buyback rates.
EnergyAustralia’s lock-in deals include everything from the Basic Booster and more. In addition to a smart meter upgrade, customers will receive a higher feed-in tariff, access to solar generation reporting and an annual solar panel cleaning service.
Prices start at $16 per month for the one-year lock-in deal which gives customers an 8c feed-in tariff. The two and three-year lock-in deals have monthly subscription fees of $18 and $20 and award 10c and 12.2c feed-in tariffs respectively. Note, however, that there are exit fees for customers who leave before the benefit period expires.
Energy Australia Solar Booster Range
|Product||Feed-in tariff (Per kWh | Excl GST)||Monthly fee||Benefit period|
|1 Year Lock-in||8c||$16||1 year|
|2 Year Lock-in||10c||$18||2 years|
|3 year Lock-in||12.2c||$20||3 years|
Source: EnergyAustralia website
What makes this deal different?
Canstar Blue compared feed-in tariffs across NSW and found EnergyAustralia offers amongst the highest. That said, if you have looked around the market, you would have noticed that most retailers don’t charge a monthly subscription fee for a high feed-in tariff – some will even throw in a ‘free’ smart meter upgrade. However, these costs need to be recouped somehow and that is usually through administration fees and higher rates.
EnergyAustralia markets its Solar Booster Range as a transparent choice for NSW customers. The deals do not affect usage rates, nor are there any additional fees aside from the monthly subscription cost. A drawback about these Solar Booster deals, however, is that the benefit period only lasts up to three years. While this can be good in that it guarantees a certain rate for the life of the contract, once it expires, you will automatically be reverted to the 6.1c/kWh buyback rate.
Can I sign up to a Solar Booster?
The Booster deals are only available to NSW customers on a gross smart meter looking to switch to a net smart meter. Households and businesses that have already upgraded their meter will not have access to a Solar Booster pack. Instead they will receive EnergyAustralia’s standard 6.1c/kWh feed-in tariff with no subscription fee.
Are the Solar Booster deals good value?
All eligible EnergyAustralia solar customers will receive a 6.1c/kWh feed-in tariff as standard, meaning the $10 subscription fee on the Basic Booster deal only reflects the smart meter costs – but is it worth spending a little extra for a higher feed-in tariff?
To see, let’s assume there are 25 sunny days per month. Below, we take five solar systems ranging in size from 1.5kW to 10kW and assume that half of their output is used by the house, and the other half is exported in exchange for a feed-in tariff from EnergyAustralia.
|System Size||25 day exported energy||Basic Booster (6.1c/kWh)||1 year lock-in
|2 year lock-in
|3 year lock-in
So it appears that the more electricity your solar panels export, the more you stand to save with EnergyAustralia’s lock-in Booster deals. The Basic Booster deal seems to offer good value if you need a smart meter upgrade, but opting for a more expensive fixed-term contract may only make financial sense if your solar system is reasonably sized.
For example, households with 10kW solar systems may actually save more by spending an additional $6/month on the 1 year lock-in contract rather than the no-contract Basic Booster. Households considering a 1 year lock-in deal might also stand to save more if they were instead willing to upgrade to the 2 or 3 year lock-in deals.
Remember that the lock-in Booster deals also include helpful services. Also factor in the exit fees that apply. While our calculations show that you could feasibly recoup the added monthly subscription costs through savings, it could end up costing you if you plan to switch retailers.