Marketing of behind-the-meter products

Many energy retailers now offer customers a range of behind-the-meter products with more affordable energy and environmental benefits. These services can be offered as stand-alone products or bundled together with electricity and gas plans that are designed to enhance the benefits of behind-the-meter technology. These additional products help to engage the customer with the retail energy market, increase energy affordability and help foster relationships between retailers and customers.

Behind the meter products include technologies such as solar, battery energy storage systems, electric vehicle charging products, energy management systems and software, and other emerging products and services for homes and businesses (Clean Energy Council)

Behind-the-meter technologies are complex products, and in order for customers to make informed decisions about these services, they need to understand how suitable the technology is for their personal circumstances, and also how these products interact with the retail energy market. Retailers must balance their role of educating customers on the benefits of behind-the-meter products, with setting realistic expectations for the financial returns that the customer will receive. It is critical that customers are also provided with easy-to-understand information about the way that solar energy plans work. For example, solar feed-in tariffs are usually set at a variable rate which can be subject to change after the customer accepts the initial energy offer. Variable feed-in tariffs can be a vexed issue for customers who make the decision to invest in a rooftop solar system after speaking with their energy retailer.

Behind-the-meter products offered by energy retailers are now also a significant contributing factor to many of the complaints made to EWON. These complaints are complex because the sale and installation of the behind-the-meter product is outside of EWON’s traditional jurisdiction. These products are regulated separately to the contract the customer has with their energy retailer and come with different consumer protections – including external dispute resolution. From the customer’s point of view, it is not clear why they cannot complain about the marketing of a behind-the-meter product and the billing of their energy account to a single dispute resolution service, when the two products appear to be inextricably linked.

Case studies

Customer expectations not met by rooftop solar

A customer purchased a rooftop solar PV system through her energy retailer. She advised EWON that she was told she could expect her electricity bills to reduce from $1,100 per quarter to around $250 per quarter. The retailer explained that this reduction would include credits of up to $850 per quarter for the solar energy generated by the rooftop system. Based on this advice, she agreed to pay $420 a month over two years for the installation of the rooftop solar system. The customer complained to EWON that she had read her first electricity bill after the system had been installed, and her bills had not reduced in the way she expected. She told us that she felt mislead by the retailer’s solar marketing team. 

We referred the matter to the retailer for resolution at a higher level. The customer returned to EWON after she was told by the retailer that she should not have been promised such a large reduction in her bills. We spoke to the retailer which then offered to increase the feed-in tariff (c/kWh) for the solar energy she exported to the grid and to increase the discount on her energy usage. The customer declined the offer because it did not make up for the benefits, she had been led to expect from her rooftop solar system. We then contacted the retailer for further clarification, and it offered to provide a customer service gesture of $250 to resolve the complaint. The retailer also offered to have a member of its solar team contact the customer to discuss the best solar plan going forward. The customer declined because she wanted the retailer to commit to its original promise that her quarterly billing would be around $250 and informed us that she would pursue the matter in another forum.

Verbal energy plan offer withdrawn after solar system installed

A customer told EWON that he agreed to purchase a rooftop solar system from his retailer based on its offer for an initial 24 month energy plan with a set rate for energy usage at $0.30 per kWh (peak, off-peak and shoulder rates) and a service availability charge (SAC) of $0.86 per day. The retailer also offered a 14% discount on his electricity usage and a 10% discount on his gas usage. The retailer further explained that the energy plan would continue once his rooftop solar system had been installed, and that a solar feed-in tariff of $0.25 per kWh could be added to the plan. After the installation had been completed, the customer contacted the retailer to ensure that the feed-in tariff of $0.25 per kWh was added to his energy plan. He said he made multiple calls to the retailer and spoke to a range of agents before he was able to confirm that the agreed feed-in tariff would be added to his contract,  but he couldn’t confirm whether he would receive the agreed discount. Eventually, the customer was told that the original offer could not be provided and was instead offered a plan for energy usage at $0.31 per kWh, SAC for $0.92 per day and a 3% discount on his usage. He was also offered a feed-in tariff of $0.27 per kWh. The customer refused the offer as he felt it left him worse off.

He complained to us and we referred the matter to the retailer for resolution at a higher level. He then returned to us as the complaint remained unresolved. We contacted the retailer to obtain further information about the plans that had been offered, and we were advised that the quotes given to the customer initially were only valid for a limited time. We were informed that his rooftop solar system had been installed, and his account transferred to the retailer months after the original quote had expired. We then reviewed the voice recording of the initial agreement made with the customer and confirmed the retailer had in fact offered a feed-in tariff of $0.25 per kWh in addition to the discounts he was originally offered. Based on our assessment of the benefits of the original offer, we negotiated with the retailer to provide a fair and reasonable resolution. The retailer offered to provide the customer with a 24-month energy plan with a 1% discount, a usage rate of $0.30 per kWh, a feed-in tariff of $0.25 per kWh and a SAC of $0.86 per day. The retailer also offered to provide a $500 credit to his account which we calculated to be more than what he would have received as a discount of 14% for the 12-month period, and this amount also included a customer service gesture. The customer was provided with the offer in writing with the option to contact the retailer directly to accept the outcome.