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Origin Launches Solar Services Program For Homes, Small Business

Originally published on RenewEconomy
by Sophie Vorrath

Major Australian utility, Origin Energy, is set to launch a solar leasing program in three separate states, focusing on small-scale residential and commercial solar systems.

The utility said on Friday last week it would start rolling out the program in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, where it would install and maintain solar systems, at no up-front cost, on household and small business roofs.

The move by Origin follows the launch, a week earlier, of the battery storage product from rival gentailer, AGL Energy – which was announced ahead of schedule, and to coincide with Tesla’s sensational energy storage reveal.

AGL’s first “proposition” – customers are being asked able to “register their interest” – will be a limited number of 6kWh batteries the size of a large suitcase, made to suit a family home with around 3-4.5kW of rooftop PV.

rooftop-solar7And while this makes AGL Australia’s first energy retailer to stake a claim in the energy storage market, Origin says it will be the first to enter the roof-rental space, and says it hopes to expand its program into other cities.

The solar power purchase agreement market represents huge and largely untapped potential in Australia. Companies like SolarGen and SunEdison are already taking advantage – the soon to be launched 350kW PV system at Tyrrell’s Wines Hunter Valley vineyard, which we report on here, offers one of the nation’s first commercial examples.

Utilities, however, have been slower to get with the program.

“Solar in Australia has evolved beyond the traditional installer model,” said Origin’s general manager solar and emerging businesses, Phil Mackey on Friday, mirroring comments made the day before by the utility’s head of customer relations, Chris Giaouris.

Giaouris told ENA’s Energy Transformed conference on Thursday that Origin now had around 400,000 customers with rooftop solar, most of which was privately owned and had been bought and installed independently, using a local electrician.

But when Origin started fielding phone calls from solar customers with questions like “why didn’t you tell me my inverter had tripped out?”, the opportunity to develop “solar as a service” became apparent.

Small businesses, in particular, said Giaouris, would need solar packages, because while they wanted more predictable power prices, they didn’t necessarily want to add “power generator” to their list of business responsibilities.

Small businesses and many households were “very happy for (Origin) to own and maintain their solar system, while they pay a fixed rate for their electricity,” said Giaouris.

“Origin is evaluating various deployment options and assessing benefits for customers,” he said.

The leasing program announced on Friday would see consumers receive the energy the panels produce at a discounted rate, while the system was owned and operated by Origin, effectively transforming people’s roofs into mini power stations.

Origin says households’ savings will depend on many factors but it is believed the program will be able to reduce some people’s annual power bills by up to hundreds of dollars.

“(Electricity) retailers and networks need to work together, and with their customers, to provide a service that means something,” said Giaouris.

“The value chain itself is changing,” he added. “The customer now owns the relationship …and utilities need to look to forming longer-term partnerships.”

“We need to ask ourselves, ‘what are we trying to solve?’ …It could be that in partnering with consumers on solar and storage, future electricity prices might not be so volatile.”

“This will be a very fragmented market,” said Giaouris. “There are players bigger than us. And we need to take advantage of that,” he said.

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