Image for Solar has won. Even if coal were free to burn, power stations couldn’t compete

*Pic: Lagging ... Chart showing comparitive use of solar

Behind the times ... As Tasmania’s ‘Unfair’ Economic Regulator forces the Feed In Tariff for solar to the lowest in Australia ... Solar has won. Even if coal were free to burn, power stations couldn’t compete

Last week, for the first time in memory, the wholesale price of electricity in Queensland fell into negative territory – in the middle of the day.

For several days the price, normally around $40-$50 a megawatt hour, hovered in and around zero. Prices were deflated throughout the week, largely because of the influence of one of the newest, biggest power stations in the state – rooftop solar.

“Negative pricing” moves, as they are known, are not uncommon. But they are only supposed to happen at night, when most of the population is mostly asleep, demand is down, and operators of coal fired generators are reluctant to switch off. So they pay others to pick up their output.

That’s not supposed to happen at lunchtime. Daytime prices are supposed to reflect higher demand, when people are awake, office building are in use, factories are in production. That’s when fossil fuel generators would normally be making most of their money.

The influx of rooftop solar has turned this model on its head. There is 1,100MW of it on more than 350,000 buildings in Queensland alone (3,400MW on 1.2m buildings across the country). It is producing electricity just at the time that coal generators used to make hay (while the sun shines).

The impact has been so profound, and wholesale prices pushed down so low, that few coal generators in Australia made a profit last year. Hardly any are making a profit this year. State-owned generators like Stanwell are specifically blaming rooftop solar.

Tony Abbott, the prime minister, likes to say that Australia is a land of cheap energy and he’s half right. It doesn’t cost much to shovel a tonne of coal into a boiler and generate steam and put that into a turbine to generate electricity.

The problem for Australian consumers (and voters) comes in the cost of delivery of those electrons – through the transmission and distribution networks, and from retail costs and taxes.

This is the cost which is driving households to take up rooftop solar, in such proportions that the level of rooftop solar is forecast by the government’s own modellers, and by private groups such as Bloomberg New Energy Finance, to rise sixfold over the next decade. Households are tipped to spend up to $30bn on rooftop modules.

Guardian Australia here

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• John Biggs, in Comments: The Four Corners programme was the best news I had seen for a long time, very encouraging indeed. The bad news is the Liberal Party’s attitude, intent in dismantling all they can to do with renewable energy. It’s even against their own neo-liberal belief in market forces. They have simply been bought up by the fossil fuel and mining industries. But their intransigence doesn’t stop there. In spite of High Court rulings, condemnation by the UN, and even a blistering editorial in the New York Times, they persist on their vile treatment of refugees. And this dereliction of principle and good sense now extends to the Tasmanian Liberals in rejecting the medical use of cannabis oil, which is well known to alleviate effects of nausea and fits. Hodgman has even said that no matter what the Legislative Council enquiry finds, he still will resist legalising this effective drug and to hell with patients who desperately need the unique benefits that only cannabis oil can produce, not to mention all the jobs and income that industry will produce. It seems that the Liberal Party (especially but not exclusively) is rejecting science, ethics and good old common sense simply to pursue their neo-liberal dogmas—even when that means violating their own principles of free markets and low government regulation! Just how irrational can our politicians get?

• Mike Stasse, in Comments, HERE: As someone actively looking for real estate in Tasmania to set up a self sufficient/sustainable lifestyle, let me tell you, suitable blocks for pumped storage and/or micro hydro are very few and far between…...  especially if you want a North facing block to build a passive solar house on as well….! Steve @ 34 Engineering solutions will be VERY difficult post Peak Everything.  This is as good as it gets.  WHY are we even having this discussion, on this topic?  The whole show has begun to unravel…  might not be obvious yet, but it is.  Just wait til Australia totally runs out of oil by ~2020… chaos will reign.