NSW Solar Summit 2 criticized, but not all was negative

Around 150 people attended the summit, which was held at the University of Newcastle’s Institute for Energy and Resources in Callaghan, to discuss the management of the industry within the state.

Representatives came from the solar industry, community, academia, consumer and environment groups, as well as numerous members of the government itself.

Rob Stokes, MP and Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy announced after the summit that the new government would establish a Solar and Renewable Energy Action Plan to help push the state’s solar future.

Those that attended the event had mixed reactions however, with criticism arising over a lack of opportunity to engage and the bias of some speakers against the solar industry.

The busy agenda saw 20 presentations before lunch, which only allowed for one or two questions to be asked after each, while after lunch the conference split in to groups for smaller discussions, but the 45 minutes allocated meant not a lot could be achieved.

Following the much-publicized decision by the new State Government to suspend the Solar Bonus Scheme and then to reassess the decision, the solar industry in the state has been desperately seeking direction over the last few months.

Peter Newman, the CEO of the Australian PV Association (APVA), was at the event and he thought that despite the programmatic shortcomings, the interest shown by politicians was a big plus for the industry.

"With an agenda so broad and time so short there would be many in the room who were strongly disappointed in the process; it is however possible to draw some positive aspects from the day," he told pv magazine.

"It was pleasing to see that key Ministers for both Energy and Environment portfolios, several MPs and many departmental staff members committed to stay for the whole process. Being in the room while so much information was provided will no doubt assist in their understanding and deliberations about renewable energy, solar and PV in particular."

One of the most outspoken critics of the day was the Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES), who described the event as unfairly weighted towards non-industry speakers. Of the 30 speakers, only three had a direct connection to the solar industry.

Instead of the event being focused on ensuring the NSW solar power sector’s future, the agenda was filled up with people who had been adversely affected by recent policy on small-scale PV systems, which led to a somewhat biased account, according to some.

But Newman saw the forum as a fair examination of the photovoltaic industry in the state.

"The manner in which photovoltaics was covered was both positive and negative. On the one hand, PV was described as being significant and yet at the same time some described it as so minor to be unimportant.

"There seemed to be little recognition that in recent years the volume of installations had grown to be significant, price of PV had strongly reduced, that system efficiencies had improved and that the PV value proposition from a distributed generation / user perspective was strong."

Topics discussed

The presentations were split into five groups and the topics covered were the value and price of micro-generated solar, a sustainable future for the state, other options for low emissions technology, empowering networks and customers, as well as making renewable energy affordable.

Due to the recent backward step by the government on funding, they were quick to point out that any future decisions would be made with budget prominently placed.

"A limiting factor for the summit was a clear written constraint in the handout given to all attendees that said any future scheme for microgeneration solar PV in NSW would need to take into account that it should not impose any further costs on electricity customers or the NSW budge," said Newman.

After the group sessions in the afternoon, the similarity in many of their findings interested many. All eight groups reported that there was a need to offer a 1:1 credit arrangement for customers that connect to the grid through net metering. All groups also commented on consistency in governmental policy being integral to development of the industry.

Results

Energy Minister Chris Hartcher announced the outcome of the Summit was for the Independent Pricing Regulator (IPART) to hold a review into the solar industry.

A review could take many months to complete and with the industry looking for quick answers, this could prove to be too long.

At the conclusion of the summit MP Stokes indicated he would be responsible for pooling together the results.

He commented on the need to convert the community’s interest in photovoltaics to suitable outcomes and he also said that aggregated net metering across the daily cycle seemed reasonable.

Stokes also announced that the new Solar and Renewable Energy Action Plan would be chaired by Mary O’Kane and consist of Brian Spalding from the Australian Energy Market Commission, Matthew Warren from the Clean Energy Council, and Mark Twidell from the Australian Solar Institute.