The incumbent energy companies have nothing to gain by standing in the way of renewables, writes Huon Hoogesteger. And yet, that’s exactly what some of them are doing…

Renewables are no longer a fad. With Canberra touting it is running effectively on 100% renewables, and with research showing that in Australia renewable energy is growing at a per capita rate ten times faster than the world average, there’s clearly a momentum shift occurring in the energy sector. It’s only a matter of time before the phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels begins to pick up in pace. There should be no going back. 

But there remains a ball and chain weighing down the shift, and every time the renewables train starts to accelerate, a handbrake kicks in and slows the momentum. 

The hand on the handbrake belongs to Australia’s energy companies. 

I see this every day from the front lines of the commercial solar industry, across the nation, with these companies taking drastic steps to protect their turf. Unprecedented controls are being sought by utility companies that are impacting solar projects today and will curb growth in the future. 

Get used to it

We get it: the old way of doing business is threatened, and there are companies emerging from the rubble of coal to compete directly with them on a new energy battlefield. But rather than adapt to survive, these companies are clinging to the old way of doing business and, in many cases, adopting overzealous, unethical responses to the emergence of renewables.

Some utilities are demanding minimum consumption tariffs, among other heavy-handed responses, which will drive customers into the arms of competitors – all while stifling the pace of renewable sector growth. 

One network attempted to force our team at Smart Commercial Solar to retrofit SCADA controls to other installations in order to control system performance. Another company demanded the ability to ramp up and down a solar installation, for a mere 100kW system on a large-sized part of their network.

These tactics are just the tip of the iceberg, and they’re akin to an auto immune response where the body trying to defend itself attacks and kills the good cells as well. 

But it’s the lack of adaptation when opportunities exist to evolve which shock me the most. It reminds me of Kodak inventing the digital camera, only to shelf the idea because it threatened their existing film business. Where is Kodak now? 

Instead of learning from recent history, these energy companies are doomed to repeat it. Doomed to their own Kodak moment. 

Only one way forward

The irony is that renewables offer a rare new business opportunity, and energy companies stand to benefit the most from making a shift. Take the rise of electric vehicles, which are slowly on the increase and EV charging networks are popping up around the nation: some, such as ChargeFox, have declared they’re powering the networks with 100% renewables

EV owners are a whole new set of customers – so where are the energy companies taking ownership of this, working in conjunction with the EV sector? Additionally, recent research shows that Australia could run entirely on renewable electricity and produce double what it needs to create a massive green export industry by 2050. Where are the energy companies looking to take advantage of this opportunity?

To be fair, not all energy companies are fighting the tide to protect their traditional way of doing business. But a lot are. And it’s time these tactics are exposed for what they are: underhanded, unethical and anathema to the everyday Australian who seeks transparency from the big end of town. 

We’re in the wake of the Banking Royal Commission: surely energy companies don’t want a similar inquiry shining the sun onto their practices?

Huon Hoogesteger is the managing director of Smart Commercial Solar.