Amid rising electricity prices and lower payments for solar power fed back into the grid, more Illawarra residents are "sticking it to the grid" and becoming self-sufficient in electricity.
Alan Smith has been building his home on a property outside Jamberoo for the best part of the last 10 years.
Two years ago, he installed a 10 kilowatt solar array on his roof to cut down how much power he was drawing from the grid, but when electricity prices rose by 25 per cent three months ago and his feed in tariff - the payment from the utility for electricity fed from the panels into the network - remained the same, Mr Smith decided to take it one step further.
"At that point, I was like, 'Are you kidding me? You expect me to generate power, which I give to you for seven cents, and you sell it back to me for five times the amount?'"
This led to Mr Smith installing a battery system to store the excess solar power generated throughout the day and run the appliances needed by his family in the evening.
"There's a few pumps here and there, it's predominantly the house, and two teenagers," he said.
Mr Smith is not the only one fed up with energy utilities, data from the NSW energy ombudsman shows a dramatic spike in complaints to the watchdog in the Illawarra.
In 2022-23 there were 573 complaints, a 31 per cent increase on the previous year, above the NSW average of a 22 per cent increase.
Sixty five per cent of complaints were related to billing and 73 per cent of the complaints targeted electricity companies.
Janine Young, NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman said the rise in complaints was driven by energy price rises, with households seeking out the ombudsman's assistance as they face growing affordability challenges.
"Cost of living pressures have affected a growing number of people in regional NSW, many of whom already face additional barriers in accessing support services when compared to consumers from heavily resourced cities,' Ms Young said.
Founder of Kiama business Energy Experts Carolyn Lee said increasingly homeowners were coming to her looking for combined solar and battery systems, as Mr Smith had installed.
"There's definitely an element of sticking it to the grid, which means that they feel like energy companies have been price gouging for some time, and they're sick of it," she said.
"They raise their middle finger with pride and say, stuff you Jack, I'm going to do it my way."
Data from solar industry consultancy SunWiz shows more than 47,000 residential batteries were installed in Australia in 2022, up 55 per cent on the previous year.
As the price of electricity has gone up, the cost of batteries and solar has gone down, making what was once a marginal investment a solid return, as Mr Smith's sums proved.
"I buy from the grid at 38.5 cents a kWh but the cost of generation from the solar array cost me 20 cents and my storage costs me three," he said.
"My solar and batteries combined cost me 23 cents a kWh, as opposed to 38.5 that I'm being charged."
Except for a connection fee, Mr Smith rarely receives a bill from his electricity utility, and after spending $70,000 combined for the solar and batteries expects to have paid off his investment in six years, and sooner if prices continue to rise.
While the next challenge for Mr Smith was convincing his "energy intensive" teenagers to perhaps do their laundry during the day, ultimately his motivation for installing the system was not about cost.
"As a farmer, I watch the seasons change and I'm watching the weather. The forecast is for 20mm of rain, you get 200, the forecast is for 20 degrees, you're getting 35. The weather, the intensity of the storms and heat is changing rapidly, and we've all got to do our bit."
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