The Australian Energy Market Commission has set down new rules it says will encourage the continued growth of rooftop solar across Australia and efficient investment in poles and wires by networks to support it.

The AEMC has recognised customers should have a right to export, so export bans will become a thing of the past under the new regime. Networks will also have to offer a basic export level in all their tariffs at no charge for 10 years, but they will be allowed to offer pricing structures where PV owners will have to pay to export solar under certain conditions.

The incentive will see networks increase solar-hosting capacity, the AEMC hopes, and become more “solar- and battery-friendly”.

A ban on bans

The AEMC has some tough words for networks. “Networks will have to report on how they are delivering on expectations to deliver more solar,” a consumer FAQ sheet states.

If networks oblige with the AEMC’s agenda, they will offer incentives for owners of solar and other DER – batteries and electric vehicles – to use their own solar energy when demand is low and export when supply is tight.

“This will enable power networks to offer a range of options – including a basic free service – to encourage solar owners to limit solar waste, save money and benefit the grid,” the AEMC says.

All new network plans will have to show they are in consumers’ interests before they can be applied.

Networks will no longer be able to put blanket bans on customers from sending solar energy back to the grid. Existing bans must be lifted by the start of July next year.

What’s new on your street

AEMC chair Anna Collyer expects the new measures will bring the grid up to date with what’s happening on rooftops across the country.

“[The rules] represent a profound change to the way poles and wires businesses must think about how they manage their network and turn the current one-way street delivering power to people’s homes into two-way super-highway where energy flows in both directions,” Collyer said.

“Power network companies will need to deliver services to support solar – and they’ll be judged on their performance on how much solar exports they allow into the grid.”

Networks will have to report on how they are delivering on expectations to deliver more solar.

The commission expects consumers will be offered a range of plans and had better understand their energy use if they want to get the best deal.

“If you chose a paid plan you could earn more at some times and less at others. But you could offset any lower earnings by changing how you use your energy, like using a timer on your washing machine or air-conditioner to use more of your own solar during the day,” is its advice to consumers. “You could also earn by using a battery to store energy and send it to the grid when the price is higher.”

Power businesses are now left to develop plans that will need to be submitted to the Australian Energy Regulator, but no new pricing plans will apply for existing customers before July 2025.

Energy Networks Australia, the peak body for distribution companies, saw the writing on the wall many years ago as PV systems appeared on millions of rooftops.

“Without future-proofing the grid, the growth in DER means networks will increasingly need to restrict or even block energy exports to prevent voltage spikes and localised black outs,” said ENA chief executive Andrew Dillon.

“Customers need to be able to confidently invest in renewable energy technologies and know they are able to export to the grid when they have an excess of energy.”

All along the line

At the Clean Energy Council, director of distributed energy Darren Gladman said the AEMC’s rule determination failed to recognise an elephant in the room: the inability of many networks to understand the effects of solar exports because they cannot see voltage levels at street-by-street level.

“Voltage management on low-voltage networks is a key component of the provision of export services and hosting capacity,” Gladman said. “The proposal to regulate export services through the National Electricity Rules while leaving the regulation of voltage management in the hands of state and territory governments risks perpetuating dysfunctional governance arrangements.”

The Clean Energy Council is calling on the AEMC to undertake a review of governance of regulation of distribution networks before the new export charging arrangements are introduced.

“Networks should first be required to meet their regulatory obligations regarding voltage management before a user-pays approach is introduced. Twenty years after the standards changed, some distribution networks have still not caught up from the shift from the old 240V standard to the current 230V,” Gladman said.