Behind the meter complaints and case studies

Table 10: Complaints involving behind the meter service provider, April to June 2022

Service provider

Complaints opened involving
behind-the-meter products

Electricity > network > authorised       17
Electricity > not allocated 21
Electricity > retail > authorised 335
Electricity > retail > exempt*              0
Total 373

* Distributed Energy Resources within embedded networks or exempt sellers offering solar powered purchase arrangements (SPPA)

Click here to view the top 10 core issues closed complaints involving behind the meter technologies this quarter.

With increasing energy market volatility and energy prices rising significantly, solar and battery technologies can help customers gain some control over how much energy they draw from the grid. However, these products can be costly to install, take time to yield financial rewards and can require a high level of consumer knowledge and engagement to optimise the benefits. This is particularly true of battery technologies, which have had relatively slow uptake in Australia to date. 

The Clean Energy Regulator’s data hub provides data on installations of solar photovoltaic systems with concurrent battery storage capacity by year and state/territory. The data is only a guide to battery uptake as it is based on voluntary disclosure and is limited to capturing new installations: for example, it does not capture any installations that are later removed. The data indicates that there have been 11,892 new small-scale battery installations in NSW from September 2014 to May 2022. 

Another source of data since March 2020 is the Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Register. DER connected to the National Energy Market (NEM) must be updated in a register held by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). The DER Register contains information about small generation assets like rooftop solar, grid-connected batteries and other small generators. Provision of information about existing DER connections was required by 1 December 2019. Since 1 March 2020, information in relation to a new installation or the modification, replacement or removal of an existing connection must be provided within 20 business days. Data published by AEMO indicates a cumulative 7,392 active battery installations connected to the NEM in NSW as at the end of 2021. 

EWON receives complaints related to battery technologies featuring issues like: 

  • customers experiencing battery installation delays 
  • customers seeking more agency over their usage to reduce costs 
  • customers exploring self-sufficiency 
  • access or lack of access to battery technology impacting a consumer’s choice of energy offers 
  • issues with virtual power plant operation. 

In the below case studies, EWON’s jurisdiction was relatively straightforward as the complaints involved entities which were members of EWON. EWON’s latest Spotlight On Dispute resolution in the evolving energy market explores how external dispute resolution can be more complex for solar and battery technologies if, for example, the complaint involves multiple entities that are not EWON members. 

Case Study:  Battery installation takes almost a year for completion

In May 2021, a customer who lived in regional NSW paid a deposit for two 5.8 kWh batteries to be installed at his house. He already had solar panels installed at the property and purchased the batteries from an authorised energy retailer which was a member of EWON. After paying the deposit, he spent many months following up with the energy retailer but installation appointments were repeatedly cancelled. Some of the cancellations were due to weather and technician availability, but the customer was not given clear explanations for all cancellations.  

Whenever the customer called the retailer to follow up, he was promised a call back but this never happened. He felt that he was receiving poor customer service due to living in a regional area rather than a city. He also considered the battery installation delay meant his bills were higher than they should be as he was not able to take advantage of the batteries to reduce the energy he drew from the grid. He still had his electricity account with a different retailer and planned to transfer to the retailer which sold him the batteries once they were installed. He did not have any complaint with his current retailer about his bills as it was not involved in the installation delay. 

He contacted EWON for assistance in April 2022, almost a year after paying the deposit and after at least seven failed installation appointments, as the batteries had still not been installed. The installation was eventually completed in May 2022, but took several visits as the customer considered the retailer did not provide the technician with complete information about the installation requirements.  

Once the batteries were installed, the retailer offered to apply a goodwill credit of $300 and waive the customer’s first electricity bill in full once he transferred his electricity account from his current retailer. EWON did not complete a detailed investigation of the installation delays as the customer accepted the retailer’s offer and advised he considered the complaint resolved on that basis. 

Case Study: Customer installs solar panels and a battery to go ‘off-grid’  

In February 2021, a customer installed solar panels and a battery system with the intention of going off-grid for electricity. He stopped using electricity drawn from the grid but kept receiving estimated bills from his energy retailer and eventually disconnection notices.  

The customer told EWON that a technician from the network had confirmed his meter was no longer registering consumption and told him he did not need to remove the meter. He considered ignoring the disconnection notices on the basis that it would not matter if the meter was disconnected as he was self-sufficient anyway. However, he became concerned that his behind the meter equipment would be turned off or disconnected in error so he locked the meter box. He had contacted his retailer many times to try to come to a long-term solution but was unable to resolve the matter. 

EWON discussed general information with the customer and offered to refer his complaint to the retailer at a senior level in the first instance. The customer decided to first discuss options with the distributor for removing the meter and abolishing the National Metering Identifier (NMI) as a permanent solution. He advised he would return to EWON if he required further advice or assistance. 

Case Study: Late advice that chosen retailer may not be suitable

A customer established an account with a retailer after looking at its website and noting it provided consumers with cheaper wholesale electricity prices. He considered his first bills were higher than expected, including a bill for over $400 for a one-month period. In April 2022, he contacted the retailer to discuss the high bills.

The retailer advised that in the current environment most homes without solar or a battery were likely financially better off with a traditional energy pricing model, and that its energy offers may not be the most suitable for him. He considered the retailer did not make this clear when he established his account. EWON referred the complaint to the retailer at a higher level in the first instance and told the customer that he could return to EWON if he was not satisfied with the retailer’s response. 

Case Study: Retailer takes control of customer’s battery in error 

A customer with a battery signed up with a retailer (‘Retailer A’) for a plan that included participation in a virtual power plant. However, he changed his mind within the cooling off period and remained with his current retailer (‘Retailer B’). Retailer A still took control of his battery in error and used it to supply power to the grid. The customer could tell this was happening as he could see periods of very high usage on Retailer B’s phone app.

EWON referred the complaint to Retailer A at a higher level. Retailers are not required to advise EWON of the outcome of referrals at a higher level, but in this instance Retailer A voluntarily provided EWON with information. It advised that it had removed the battery from the virtual power plant, analysed the data to review how much energy was cycled through the battery and provided the customer with a credit of $150 to cover the cost of that energy. The retailer advised that the customer was satisfied with the outcome and the customer did not return to EWON.