What solar crisis?

A CLARENCE Valley solar power innovation promises to dramatically reduce household power costs and is offering hope to an industry sector which has had the rug pulled from under it.

In a first for Australia, Northern Rivers Renewable Energy (NRRE) has developed a system that automatically manages a home's solar and grid power to the advantage of the home owner.

In a nutshell, the household's entire electricity needs are stored in batteries which are, for the most part, recharged by solar power.

Now - and here's the innovation - if enough solar energy is not produced, due to persistent rain for example, the system then recharges the batteries from grid power using a combination of off-peak and peak electricity.

NRRE owner Trent Rogers said the new system effectively "time-shifted" when a household needed to buy power.

"Naturally, people want to buy power when it's cheapest," he said.

Power comparison service Electricity Wizard said the standard off-peak electricity rate for NSW was 15.51 cents per kilowatt hour (inc GST) while the peak rate was 31.08 cents per kilowatt hour.

Householders would still have to pay a "service availability fee" (about $90 per quarter) to the electricity supplier of their choice to access the grid.

The system is a further development of NRRE's national award-winning stand-alone power system which took out the Clean Energy Council of Australia award for best design and installation earlier this year. Mr Rogers said modern life- styles meant most electricity was consumed first thing in the morning and in the evening.

"In this situation, installing rooftop solar can make you feel good but it won't make much economic sense, particularly given the State Government's present position with respect to feed-in tariffs," he said.

"At the moment there is no government-mandated feed-in tariff available. Solar panels generate electricity during the daytime which, in many households, is when you're away from home and not able to use the clean energy.

"Presently, with net feed-in systems, if you can consume the power while it's being generated then you can reduce your electricity bill, but all of the excess power that you can't use simply pours onto the grid and, without a feed-in tariff, you receive little or no payment for it whatsoever.

"Clearly, under the current government's lack of incentives, rooftop solar is not economically attractive ... until now."

Prices for the new hybrid system start at about $13,000 and Mr Rogers said that, based on current and projected electricity prices, it would pay itself off in five to 10 years, depending on individual energy usage and network availability fees.

Mr Rogers said his company refused to lay down just because the government was not supportive of clean energy.

"It is vital that as a society we start being responsible for our impact on the planet and every one of my employees believes this," he said.

Speaking about the new hybrid system, Mr Rogers said the company had been installing stand-alone systems for rural customers who could not access the grid for years but urban consumers wanted access to the grid to ensure they had power at all times.

"This achieves that for people - it's a system which guarantees power supply from a predominantly solar source," he said.

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