Selling your castle with solar: I expected more engagement, but maybe I was dreaming

Image from Canva adapted to illustrate blog post on home energy with solar

When we sold our home in Sydney recently no-one except us paid any attention to the near new rooftop solar system that came with the house. I was surprised, even disappointed, and I wanted to tell the buyers all about the virtues and the value of solar self-consumption. But I guess it’s a good reality check for an energy nerd.

MURRAY HOGARTH: ON MY WATTS

I kind of get it. Given today’s real estate prices, a newish $8000 solar system isn’t a big deal in the grand property market scheme of things.

Even if you look at the money-saving potential of the system over the next two decades or more, in the range of $30,000 to $50,000, it’s still going to struggle to get attention when stacked up against purchase price, stamp duty and any other transaction costs.

But real estate mega group Domain, via this article in The Sydney Morning Herald, has recently reported that sustainability including energy efficiency can add up to 17% to the value of a property, and make it easier and faster to sell.

So selling time is exactly when it would be best to understand the energy-related running costs, and the savings potential already embedded, of the major life acquisition that’s about to become your new family home.

Solar is a rarity. Granny flats aside, there aren’t that many things in the normal home that are capable of making you money rather than just costing you.

But in our home sale experience, the first time we’ve ever sold after three decades of ownership, there was only one tick-box form that recognised the solar system even existed, and that was simply to confirm we weren’t going to take it with us.

Which, of course, you’d be crazy to even try because deinstallation and reinstallation somewhere else would cost more than just getting a whole new system.  

That was roughly the same level of attention given to the very second hand dishwashing machine, and less than was accorded to blinds and curtains.

Us aside, no-one paid any attention to the solar. Not the real estate agents, not the lawyers on either side, not the council or any officialdom, and not the buyers as far as we were aware.

The swimming pool, meanwhile, was seized on by the regulatory system in the shape of the local council, which used the change of ownership to require completion of expensive pool safety certification, either by the seller or the buyer.

Fair enough. The sale created the legal leverage, and the system grabbed hold of it with both hands.

But isn’t home sale transaction time also exactly the leverage point we should be using to get Australians more engaged with their energy?

The UK does it better

In the UK, for example, by law you need to get an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) whenever a home is built, sold or rented. The official website says:

You must order an EPC for potential buyers and tenants before you market your property to sell or rent. An EPC, which needs to be produced by an accredited assessor, contains:

  • information about a property’s energy use and typical energy costs
  • recommendations about how to reduce energy use and save money

An EPC gives a property an energy efficiency rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) and is valid for 10 years.

Australia has copied lots of its energy system from the UK, including much of the electricity market design, so why not the perfectly sensible intervention of the EPC?

(I could tell you the answer in gory detail. But that would mean revisiting the decade or more of abject policy failure on energy and climate that Australia has just endured at the national level, and for which we are now counting the cost in terms of soaring energy prices, supply instability and rising greenhouse gas pollution.)

Knowing what I know now, after 15 years with Wattwatchers, I imagine that I’ll be brimming with questions about energy if or when we buy again (just chilling and renting for a bit right now, which brings its own energy challenges because you have no real control of anything).

A bit of a postscript

Not content to leave it alone, post final settlement I took it on myself to write to the new owners of our old home – via the real estate agent – to tell them about the home’s energy scenario.

The solar, the energy monitoring system still working away in the home, and the money-saving and carbon pollution-cutting relationship with time of use for larger electrical loads like the pool pump.

I wanted them to know some of the finer operational details, like using the monitoring and the pool pump timer to adjust running times across the year, taking into account seasonal changes and the highs (spring-summer) and lows (autumn-winter) of rooftop solar generation.

I was very glad that this extra effort, required by no one, was appreciated by the incoming owners.

Legal ‘rights transfer’

I have to admit, however, that I was a bit nonplussed when I discovered that it was far from simple to transfer the ownership rights for the SolarEdge solar inverter system’s monitoring system to the new owners. (Remembering that this is a long-term asset that generates dollar value as well as clean electrons, and comes with 25 years of warranty on the solar panels.)

The ‘rights transfer’ form, which I will need to sign to make it happen, says in part:

I will, at my own expense, defend and indemnify SolarEdge and its Representatives from and against any claims, suits, losses, damages, liabilities, costs, and expenses (including reasonable attorneys’ fees) brought by any other third party resulting from or relating to the representations, warranties, and transfer of ownership hereunder.

That’s a big chunk of legalese right there. And from what I’ve gleaned, SolarEdge may be better than most in seeking to enable ‘rights transfers’ and not wanting to charge you money to make it happen.

At the moment, it’s all very ad hoc.

So I’m thinking we also need some rules/laws and consumer protections and facilitations to make it easier, and actively encouraged, to transfer ‘New Energy’ assets, including their ‘smarts’, like solar systems, storage batteries, EV chargers and the like.

FOOTNOTE: How Wattwatchers handles ownership transfers

Either the departing or incoming resident can start this process by simply raising a support ticket (by emailing support@wattwatchers.com.au) and we use a process similar to how a utility provider would ask for proof of residence before assigning access to a new user.

Murray Hogarth is Head of Impact and Communications for Wattwatchers Digital Energy.