NSW Solar + Battery Scheme Finally Kicks Off – Sort Of

NSW Empowering Homes

The NSW Government’s Empowering Homes scheme that offers interest-free loans for battery and solar-battery systems launched on Friday as a pilot program.

First, a bit of history:

Empowering Homes is the result of a commitment made by the Berejiklian Government leading up to the NSW State election in March last year.

The Scheme was to offer eligible owner-occupiers across the state with an annual household income of $180,000 or less interest-free loans of up to $14,000 for a solar + battery system or up to $9,000 for adding home battery storage to an existing solar power system. The program was to be available to “up to 300,000 households” over ten years.

An update in June 2019 indicated the first Empowering Homes systems would be installed during the 2019/20 summer. In December last year, the design of the scheme was changed to a pilot and only incorporating eligible residents in the Hunter region.

On Friday it was announced Empowering Homes was finally live and the pilot will run for up to 12 months.

“.. the pilot will be available to eligible residents who have postcodes in the areas of Cessnock, Dungog, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Mid-Coast, Muswellbrook, Port Stephens, Singleton and Upper Hunter,” states Energy NSW.

Homeowners in the areas mentioned can check the Energy Saver website to determine if their postcode is eligible and for application details. Other NSW households can also register their interest in the program, which will be rolled out across the state after the pilot has finished.

Solar-Only – The Heavy Lifter In Electricity Bill Savings

Empowering Homes would have been a fantastic program if solar-only. Around 20.4% of NSW dwellings had panels installed as at the end of September last year (source APVI); behind Queensland (35.7%), South Australia (35%) and Western Australia (28.8%).

As well as significantly boosting New South Wales’ standing in solar uptake, the financial benefits for households would have been greater too.

Below is an example using the SolarQuotes solar and battery calculator on its default settings for Port Stephens. It’s based on a good quality 6.6kW solar system + a “generic” 6kWh battery installation; which is around what the $14,000 loan will cover at this point in time  (arrows added by me):

solar battery payback

You can see the solar panels are the heavy lifter, while the batteries are the leaner – greatly extending the simple payback period. On its own, the battery payback in the default scenario is 32 years (most battery warranties are 10 years). Try the calculator for yourself using various scenarios and different batteries as your mileage may vary. But however you slice and dice it, it will show the battery is a *major* drag on simple payback on the overall cost of the system.

The Empowering Homes guide doesn’t go into the solar-only vs. solar + battery figures, but it does state:

“The purchase of a solar battery system should not be taken lightly. It is a significant financial investment and may only benefit certain households.”

.. and on that point it is spot on. But even the scenario where it indicates the households most likely to benefit (page 8) should be carefully considered by those who may fall into it.

If you can afford the up-front cost of a solar system, then PV-only still provides the best bang for buck for most households.

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