All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Solar Australia: a million solar panels!

with 3 comments

Solar cells festoon a house in Sydney

Solar cells festoon a house in Sydney

I went to Australia to relax and visit friends, not to scope out solar energy (though I got a great suntan).  But you can’t miss them: every street in every neighbourhood seems to have a house with a brand-new photovoltaic array.  Wineries, garages, you name it, I saw some with photocells.  I thought for a moment that I was in Germany, except that all the arrays point north, which is totally confusing at first.

There are now over a million arrays in the country.  This is even more remarkable considering that there was barely any five years ago: 20,000 in 2008, and only 900 in 2006.  Wow.

And there continues to be a large demand.   Home owners are installing the devices because they are cheap enough and offer guaranteed returns (just in case you thought

Solar panels match air conditioning demand on this Melbourne house

Solar panels match air conditioning demand on this Melbourne house

that Aussies care about the planet more than the rest of us).  Queenslanders, who live close enough to the equator to enjoy year-round even sunshine, have spent $1.45 billion (Australian) on solar collectors in the past two years.

Readers’ comments are always instructive.  Despite a few curmudgeons (“I would not have the ugly contraption on my roof. That is my choice and I pay.”), there seems to be ample enthusiasm:

Darryl Saal: Haven’t paid a power bill for 6 years now, and the system has paid for itself, so all profit from now on. I can see that as prices rise over time I may end up having to pay some, but it will always be much smaller than it would have been without solar.

Barry Bonkton: Best thing I have done, other than installing a Solar Hot Water system 15 years ago. I only have a 3kW system, but have not paid a bill for 12 months and still producing half my usage even with these rainy cloudy days lately. Build your system big enough to wipe your bill out and add a bit more for increases. If on a budget, get a bigger inverter and then over time, you can add more panels. My system should be paid off in 4-5 years, while helping the planet use less Dirty Coal Power. WIN WIN.

A Brisbane retiree: With retirement just round the corner two years ago we decided to invest in solar to try and avoid the stress of high power bills in the future. We are not rich and we were only trying to safeguard our quality of living. This has probably been one of the best decisions we have ever made.

Council House 2 building in Melbourne: 48 m2 of panels, electricity and gas consumption reduced by more than 80%

Council House 2 building in Melbourne: 48 m2 of panels, electricity and gas consumption reduced by more than 80%

How did Australia do it?  The government imposed a fairly stiff tax on carbon emissions, and used a variation on the German feebate program.  The government offered generous subsidies to purchase the systems, and guaranteed the rate that they would be paid on surplus electricity.  As in Germany, the subsidies have recently decreased (much to the displeasure of the industry), but the demand remains high, throughout the country.  Of course, not everyone is pleased: the program has been financed by a hike in electricity prices (a reader’s comment: Don’t you morons realise that solar feed-in tariffs are driving up electricity prices?).  In fact, it is the prospect of future rate increases that is partially driving the demand for solar systems.  This is how the paradigm changes – in a short few years, thanks to a judicious policy choice.

There are lessons for us in BC in that.  A few years back the Campbell government decided to encourage independent power producers, which led to BC Hydro being saddled with a number of questionable run-of-river projects.  This has been one of the most unpopular renewable energy projects ever, which is really unfortunate.  Many of the run-of-river projects are proposed in pristine areas, where they will have a large negative impact on the environment (though not all RoR projects are bad).  But in my opinion, a huge missed opportunity in getting the public behind renewable energy projects is enabling ordinary citizens, as opposed to corporations, to participate in the project.  I would love the opportunity to build a solar collector on my roof, and have a guaranteed income from BC Hydro, like the big boys.  Maybe, in our northern latitudes, the economics wouldn’t make sense, and I wouldn’t go ahead with my purchase.  (Then again, the cost of these systems keeps going down, and I’m optimistic for the economics north of the 49th parallel.)  But what is galling is that I’m not given that option, as homeowners in Germany and Australia have.

But it sure works in Australia.  A recent analysis found that renewable energy (solar as well as wind) could meet all of the country’s electricity needs by 2030.  Yes, let me repeat it:  All of the electricity.  100%.  Goodbye coal power.  The country that may be worst hammered by climate change is taking charge, and that’s wonderful news.  (Now, about these coal exports…)

Hey, I'm all for solar!

Hey, I’m all for solar!


Written by enviropaul

April 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm

3 Responses

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  1. The one advantage of solar panel installation is that the electricity generated can be sold to households and small industries to fulfill their energy requirement. Thus, income may also be generated.

  2. […] own imagination), but it isn’t such a stretch to imagine a better life.  From Germany to Australia, and throughout the world, there are countless examples of different ways of doing things that […]

  3. […] I was lucky enough to return to Cuba and travel to Sweden for work; Dinah and I also spent some holiday time in Australia – while looking at environmental stuff. […]

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