Revealed: Australia’s true emissions concealed, corporates “double-count” household rooftop solar

by Callum Foote | Jun 26, 2022 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

The government has admitted almost all rooftop solar energy in Australia may be double-counted – a massive emission reduction free ride for Australia’s largest corporations. Callum Foote reports.

In correspondence exchanged in January, senior officials within the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources admitted that almost all small-scale solar installations, the kind you put on your roof, are being double-counted by the government. This has happened through the misuse of the Clean Energy Regulators’ data on small-scale energy sold into the grid and the way that emissions are calculated by the Department.

This double-counting means that the more than 3 million rooftop solar units installed on people’s homes forecast for just 2021-22, will be falsely recorded as adding more renewable energy than they are into Australia’s energy grid. This in turn, say industry insiders, equates to an ongoing green subsidy to Australia’s largest electricity consuming corporations.

The correspondence obtained by Michael West Media was exchanged between members of the Quarterly and Industrial Emissions team at the Department of Industry and renewable energy accounting expert Tim Kelly, who has spent years trying to get a straight answer out of the department.

The Department of Industry staff member confirmed that the government currently has no way of knowing how much of the energy generated by rooftop solar is used either on site behind the electricity meter or sent out into the grid.

No way to gauge

However, according to the Department official, “behind the meter consumption from small rooftop solar is all classified as on-grid. We currently have no way to determine the amount consumed for self-use before being sent on to the grid and therefore assume all is sent out”.

Instead, the official said that the government assumes that no energy produced by rooftop solar is used ‘‘behind the meter’’ and accounts for the total amount in the grid.

According to Kelly, this has the effect that the national energy grid now appears far greener than it really is with the emissions intensity in everyday energy purchases has been artificially reduced by double counting.

According to Kelly, “approximately 60% of the electricity in the grid is used by big NGER liable corporations, meaning 60% of the abatement benefits of household solar goes to these liable corporations through grid emission factors.

According to the Clean Energy Council, in 2020, small-scale solar (systems up to 100 kW) was responsible for 23.5% of Australia’s clean energy generation and produced 6.5% of the country’s total electricity.

In the last seven days, rooftop solar has produced 5.3% of the energy requirements of the National Electricity Market according to data released by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

It is currently unknown how much of this energy is used ‘behind-the-meter’ and is therefore double-counted by government authorities.

NGER a national misreporting framework?

Australia has a reporting mechanism – which means that all big emitters must report how much, and how, they emit every year – called the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) scheme. The NGER scheme was established in 2007 to provide a single national framework for reporting and disseminating company information about greenhouse gas emissions, energy production and energy consumption.

The scheme works alongside the Renewable Energy Target which is “designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the electricity sector and encourage the additional generation of electricity from sustainable and renewable sources”, according to the Clean Energy Regulator. 

The renewable energy target stems from a Howard-era Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme to require business and household electricity consumers to contribute to an additional 2% renewable energy by 2010. The target was later increased in 2009, for Australia to achieve 20% by 2020 overall.

Large greenhouse gas emitting and electricity consuming corporations which are required to report under the National Greenhouse and Energy Scheme are also required to meet the renewable energy obligation under the target, unless they are exempt for certain activities as Emissions Intensive Trade Exposed Industries where they can claim exemption certificates which avoid the need to contribute to Australia’s Renewable Electricity Target.

Large-scale corporate greenwashing

All NGER reporting companies (whether contributing or exempt) get to claim the reducing emissions intensity of electricity from the grid, which includes the abatement from double-counted rooftop solar. This can be used in their annual reporting and branding to make their reputation, products and services relating to greenhouse impacts appear“greener’’

According to Kelly, “approximately 60% of the electricity in the grid is used by big NGER liable corporations, meaning 60% of the abatement benefits of household solar goes to these liable corporations through grid emission factors.

“This a significant emissions reduction subsidy flowing from those who have chosen to install rooftop solar to big corporations who should not be receiving this double counted claim.  It has not been described that this would happen in the NGER Technical Guidelines. 

Small-scale Tradable Certificates, which are what rooftop solar system owners sell when they add energy back into the grid, “have been used as a subsidy for small system owners, these owners have still paid for most of the capital cost and there was and is no adequate disclosure in advance of them signing over these Small-scale Tradable Certificates that their renewable electricity will be counted twice”. 

Department concedes double-counting

The Department officials agree that the double-counting of rooftop solar “dilutes” Australia’s count of emissions in the energy sector.

“As far as we are aware, no one actually knows how much small solar systems are injecting into the grid. Behind the meter is not considered off-grid,” they said.

The officials were in the process of reaching out to the Australian Energy Market Operator to see if they had made any progress on sorting out the issue.

According to Kelly, “The Department had no justification to take the abatement from small scale system owners without any attempt to determine the proportion of small scale use behind the meter or the net surplus exported to the grid. On site small scale renewable electricity consumed behind the meter has not been sent out to the grid, is not consumed from the grid and was not created for the grid.

The Department of Industry and the Clean Energy Regulator has not responded to inquiries into the double counting.


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Callum Foote was a reporter for Michael West Media for four years.

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