Solar shines but power woes continue for South Australians

When South Australia’s lights went out on September 28 last year, the state’s high dependency on renewable energy was a source of furious debate.

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But twelve months on from the crisis – which saw some areas of the state remain without power for up to two weeks – some are viewing renewable energy as a way to regain control over intermittent outages as well as soaring power bills. 

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Adelaide homeowner Peter Johnston installed solar panels on his roof this month, after long consideration.

“We’ve been working on this for probably four or five years,” he told SBS World News.

“But probably the motivation has become more since the major outage, and also other smaller outages that have occurred since.”

Mr Johnston says he’s seen an immediate difference to his energy consumption.

“Certainly, I can see right now there’d be power going back into the grid, and so there is that potential cost benefit. I think, for sure, we’ll see a reduction in that account.”

Adelaide homeowner Peter Johnston.SBS World News

But he warns others who are considering solar to carefully consider their options.

“For people going into it, do your homework. There are so many… providers of services out there with all types of information.”  

Dan Spencer from community advocacy organisation Solar Citizens says solar uptake has grown throughout the year, and not just for homeowners.

“In the last year, we’ve seen increases in installations of solar on businesses increase by something like 84 per cent,” he says.  

Dulwich Bakery owner Wayne Duffy, who runs a factory and 10 retail outlets across Adelaide, says the statewide outage cost him “tens of thousands of dollars” last year due to lost production, spoilage and a lack of sales.

More concerning are his power bills, which he says continue to rise.

“It’s to do with not just the cost of the units of power that we buy, but also the infrastructure that we have to pay for through our bills, as well, has gone up significantly in proportion to the rest of our costs.”

He’s looking at installing solar panels at his factory, but says it’s just one measure he’s investigating to reduce energy costs and prevent against future outages.

Solar Citizens’ Dan Spencer.SBS World News

“I’m looking now at solar power panels for my manufacturing facility, and that is going to be done in conjunction with state and federal funding.”

“That will certainly help, although it’s still got a two or three year payback, which only satisfies a cost reduction but not a guarantee of power.”

“We operate 24 hours a day, so at night the power panels don’t give us any generation at all.”

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s final report into the statewide blackout found the causes were complex, and included damaged transmission towers as well as unknown settings on wind turbines.

A report released by the AEMO earlier this month claimed measures announced by the South Australian government this year may prevent future blackouts, but warned gas shortages could cause future problems.

Anthony Penney of Business SA says the federal government agreeing to a clean energy target – a recommendation of the Finkel Review into Australia’s energy market – would help ease pressure on prices.

“If we consider the whole objective of the national energy regulation is to provide affordable, reliable, secure power in the best interests of all consumers, right now we don’t have that because of the stalemate on the clean energy target.”

Wayne Duffy of Dulwich Bakery says soaring power costs are impacting his business. SBS World News

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