With wholesale energy prices dropping like a rock and little substantive government action on the horizon, you might think solar energy is dead. And you’d be right, except for one thing: power behind-the-meter.

Power behind-the-meter, defined as producing and consuming energy on-site, is quickly eclipsing all other models of electricity use and catapulting solar into unbeatable economic viability. Behind-the-meter solar power generation beats grid electricity prices without the need for subsidies.

This is important because the estimated $688 million HomeBuilder grant, the latest emergency measure designed to stimulate the Australian economy, does nothing to support the estimated 26,850 renewable energy workers who are hurting for work during the pandemic, at least half of whom work in rooftop solar.

It also reflects a broader failure to explore renewable energy expansion as a viable avenue by which Australia can combat the present economic downturn.

Beyond Zero Emissions, an Australian climate think tank, recently released its Million Jobs Plan, which it proposes as a way to replace the estimated 835,000 jobs lost as a result of covid-19 with jobs in renewable energy, green steel, electric transport and other zero-carbon emission industries.

In other words this is a plan for “jobs and growth” based on, in Beyond Zero Emissions’ words, jobs which are “fit for the 21st century”. However, without some significant government support, both politically and financially, the Million Jobs Plan is probably dead in the water.

Luckily there is another avenue available, and it can succeed without the government. It’s both inspiring and subversive: behind-the-meter viability combined with community funding.

Community spirit

Community behind-the-meter solar offers individuals and organisations a chance to directly invest in new solar installations and collect revenue with interest from the energy generated by the panels. Community solar is basically like crowd funding, except instead of receiving some product at the other end you get cash from the energy produced by the panel you helped fund.

This trend towards community-funded solar energy is gaining momentum and is inspiring both those who believe strongly in the mission of renewable energy and those who are simply looking for a strong, reliable return on their investment. In fact, behind-the-meter is not only being funded at a community-scale but at an enormous enterprise scale as well.

Kindest cuts

Wholesale energy prices might be dropping but the big news is that today up to 70% of any given energy bill for a business consists of network fees. By going behind-the-meter with local energy generation, you can tailor a solution which saves on both energy and network fees, leading to huge energy cost reductions. One of our most recent projects will see McCain Foods Australia, for instance, put in a 7MW behind-the-meter solar installation and cut its energy bill by 39%.

Smart Commercial Solar has worked on community-funded and larger $2 million-plus PPAs across poultry, manufacturing, refrigeration and food processing for several years, and it has never been clearer that their time has arrived. Recently we were even able to launch a solar buyback program which provides cash up front and ongoing steep energy discounts, delivering cash-squeezed businesses relief on the back of a favourable economic equation for us. The businesses are able to go solar with no capital expense.

Australia is filled with commercial operations with large, solar-friendly roofs and energy consumption patterns perfect for solar, and seasoned solar community investment platforms like not-for-profit ClearSky Solar. Large-scale PPA investors are well-positioned to fund these projects.

The renewable energy revolution has definitely arrived, just not like most of us had expected: economically viable and driven by the shortcomings of traditional electricity generation.

Huon Hoogesteger is the founder of Smart Commercial Solar.