Solar technology advocate Nigel Morris and the software experts at Solar Analytics have been mining the potential of data to eradicate what Morris calls “the incredibly complicated, mind-numbingly boring and almost impossible task of choosing the right provider and energy plan as a new solar owner.”
In a recent conversation about impending five-minute settlement rules in Australia's National Electricity Market, Morris, who is head of business development at Solar Analytics, told pv magazine Australia about the launch of Solar Analytics Plan Optimizer, an upgrade to the company’s real-time solar monitoring and analysis software, which already tracks the data of solar users to help them make the most of their PV systems, given their electricity usage and weather forecasts.
People with new solar systems on their rooftops are primed to reap the rewards. But they typically need to change their energy plans or their providers, or both, to dovetail with their enhanced power status and really get the benefits flowing.
Apples and oranges
In recent years, competition between proliferating energy retailers has resulted in a dizzying variety of solar export rates, time-of-use rates, fixed charges and so on.
The impost on solar owners to compare and contrast different plans in relation to their own individual energy use is “nightmarish,” says Morris. He has various pithy criticisms of existing energy-plan comparison sites, but says the main problem is that “no one has done it with solar owners in mind – they’re all chasing the 25 million Australians who buy energy, but no one’s really thought about it and said, ‘well, how do you get the best plan if you’re a solar owner?’”
The most recent State of the Energy Market Report by the Australian Energy Regulator seems to concur with Morris in its acknowledgement that existing switching services “may not provide customers with the best outcomes” and that it is “difficult for customers to assess whether an offer is right for them.” Little wonder that the rate of customers changing their energy plans is notoriously low, and potential savings accordingly seep away.
Pilot testing of plan optimizer technology revealed its calculations and recommendations on the best plan to switch to resulted in an average saving per site of AUD 100 ($73) a quarter to AUD 400 a year. Of the sample solar sites analyzed, Solar Analytics’ data showed 70% could reap rewards by switching plans or providers, and the maximum saving shown so far by a plan optimizer switching recommendation was AUD 2,000 a year.
For new solar owners who subscribe to the Solar Analytics software application, the plan optimizer is a new standard feature and calculation of the most suitable energy plan begins with entering the details of their latest electricity bill into the Solar Analytics dashboard. Actual home energy figures are then run through a set of algorithms to compare the compatibility of plans on offer in the market with the use patterns of that site.
Morris told pv magazine Australia that the system will yield ideal results when supplied with two to three months of usage data; so new solar owners “don’t need to worry about it straight away, just let the automation do the work for you, and eight weeks down the track, the calculation will tell you whether there’s a material saving to be made by switching.”
The company’s existing 25,000 users will start receiving the upgrade for free from today as it rolls out to New South Wales, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, Victoria and Southern Queensland. For these customers the platform already has a wealth of electricity-usage data, and will do its thing in the background, scanning market offerings and updating each user either immediately or periodically – depending how spot on their existing plan is – on what they could save by switching to a new plan.
The system is also expected to save solar retailers a mountain of time and calculations in advising customers on what they could save by installing solar.
“Solar businesses struggle to keep up with advising their customers about ever-changing energy plans,” says Morris, but the plan optimizer uses the latest information on plans in the market to highlight potential savings for prospective buyers of solar systems.
It’s the first upgrade in a suite of optimizing services Solar Analytics has planned, says Morris. “We’re working on Battery Optimizer, VPP Optimizer and EV Optimizer, all with specific needs in mind and offering unbiased advice based on real data.”
And on the subject of five-minute settlement – the rule change that is intended to incentivize investment in fast-response technologies, such as big batteries in the electricity market, and stimulate innovation in retail energy plans – Morris says the following: “It’s certainly something we’re keeping a watching brief over. We’ll be making sure that any changes to plans are automatically passed through into our plan optimizer, for example.”
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