Clean Energy Regulator, rooftop solar

Revealed: Australia’s true emissions hidden, companies ‘double counting’ household rooftop solar – Michael West

The government has admitted that nearly all rooftop solar in Australia is double-counted — a huge emissions-reduction free ride for Australia’s largest companies. Callum Foote reports.

In correspondence exchanged in January, senior officials from the Ministry of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources admitted that nearly all small-scale solar installations, such as you put on your roof, are double-counted by the government. This has happened through misuse of the Clean Energy Regulators’ data on small-scale energy sold to the grid and the way emissions are calculated by the ministry.

This double counting means that the more than 3 million rooftop solar panels installed on people’s homes, projected for 2021-22, will be falsely recorded as adding more renewable energy than they are to Australia’s energy grid. This in turn, industry insiders say, amounts to an ongoing green subsidy to Australia’s largest electricity-consuming companies.

The correspondence obtained by Michael West Media was exchanged between members of the Department of Industry’s Quarterly and Industrial Emissions team and Tim Kelly, a renewable energy accounting expert, who has spent years trying to get a straight answer from the department.

The Department of Industry staffer confirmed that the government currently has no way of knowing how much of the energy generated by rooftop solar is either used on site behind the electricity meter or sent to the grid.

No way to gauge

According to the ministry official, “behind the meter, the consumption of small solar energy on the roof is all classified as on-grid. We currently have no way to determine the amount consumed for our own use before it is sent to the grid and therefore assume that everything is sent”.

Instead, the official said the government assumes no energy produced by rooftop solar is used “behind the meter” and that the total amount in the grid is responsible.

According to Kelly, this means that the national energy grid now appears much greener than it actually is, with the emission intensity in daily energy purchases artificially reduced by double counting.

According to Kelly, “approximately 60% of the electricity in the grid is used by large NGER responsible companies, meaning that 60% of the reduction benefits of household solar energy goes to these liable companies through emission factors from the grid.

By 2020, according to the Clean Energy Council, small-scale solar (systems up to 100 kW) was responsible for 23.5% of Australia’s clean energy generation and produced 6.5% of the country’s total electricity.

In the past seven days, rooftop solar has produced 5.3% of the National Electricity Market’s energy needs, according to data released by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

How much of this energy is consumed ‘behind the meter’ is currently unknown and is therefore counted twice by the government.

NGER a national framework for misreporting?

Australia has a reporting mechanism – meaning all major emitters must report how much and how they emit each year – the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) scheme. The NGER scheme was established in 2007 to provide a single national framework for reporting and disseminating corporate information on greenhouse gas emissions, energy production and energy consumption.

The scheme works in tandem with the renewable energy target, which is “designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector and encourage additional generation of electricity from sustainable and renewable sources,” according to the Clean Energy Regulator.

The renewable energy target stems from a Howard-era Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme to require business and residential electricity consumers to contribute an additional 2% of renewable energy by 2010. The target was raised later in 2009 to allow Australia to achieve 20%. by 2020 overall.

Large greenhouse gas emitting and electricity consuming companies that are required to report under the National Greenhouse and Energy Scheme must also comply with the renewable energy obligation under the target, unless they are exempted for certain activities such as emission-intensive trading exposed industries where they can claim exemption certificates that avoid the need to contribute to the Australian renewable electricity target.

Large-scale corporate greenwashing

All NGER reporting companies (whether contributing or exempt) are allowed to claim reductions in the emission intensity of grid electricity, including the reduction of double counting of rooftop solar. This can be used in their annual reports and branding to make their reputation, products and services related to global warming appear “greener”

According to Kelly, “approximately 60% of the electricity in the grid is used by large NGER responsible companies, meaning that 60% of the reduction benefits of household solar energy goes to these liable companies through emission factors from the grid.

“This is a significant emissions reduction grant flowing from those who have chosen to install solar on the roof to large companies that should not receive this double counting claim. The NGER Technical Guidelines does not specify that this would happen .

Small-scale tradable certificates, which owners of rooftop solar systems sell when they add energy back to the grid, “have been used as a subsidy for small-system owners. These owners still paid most of the cost of capital, and there was and is insufficient disclosure before signing these Small Scale Tradable Certificates that their renewable electricity will be double counted”.

Department admits double counting

Ministry officials agree that double counting rooftop solar “dilutes” Australia’s emissions in the energy sector.

“As far as we know, nobody really knows how many small solar systems are injecting into the grid. Behind the gauge is not considered off-grid,” they said.

The officials were in the process of contacting the Australian energy market operator to see if they had made any progress in resolving the issue.

According to Kelly, “The Department had no justification for adopting the discount from small system owners without some attempt to determine the share of small-scale use behind the meter or net surplus exported to the grid. On-site small-scale renewable electricity consumed behind the meter is not sent to the grid, is not taken from the grid and is not made for the grid.

The Ministry of Industry and the clean energy regulatory agency did not respond to questions about the double counting.

Grant King and the Big Gas Con – how fossil fuel giants are cheating Australia’s emissions system


Callum Foote is a journalist and editor of Revolving Doors for Michael West Media. He has studied the impact of undue corporate influence on Australian policy decisions and the impact this has on public interests.

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