Solar Lowdown

The solar boom

The global solar industry is booming, with an average growth rate of around 20% over the past four years. Solar is now a significant part of the global energy supply here and overseas. In South Australia, 25% of homes are now powered by solar, with an average size of 4.8Kw or around 25-30 panels per house (see table). In Queensland  it’s  around 22% of homes whilst in Victoria it’s 10%.  Remarkably in our Shire, the penetration is already 26%.

Solar PV in Australia, 2013


# PV Systems

Capacity (MW)

% dwellings with solar power
ACT 14,000 38 10
NSW 252,000 633 10
NT 3,000 11 4
SA 160,000 450 25
TAS 18,000 55 9
VIC 201,000 532 10
WA 149,000 334 18
National 1,157,000 3,039 14
Mount Alexander Shire 2250 6 (approx) 26

Source: Renew Economy 4th Dec 2013; Powercor, personal communication, 28th March 2014

Solar PV is also helping to stabilise our energy system. During the heatwaves of January 2014, it supplied around 6% of demand, thereby allowing the electricity retailers to avoid blackouts.

Government rebates and feed-in tariffs have certainly helped fuel the boom, developments in solar technology have also played a large part: in recent years the actual cost of solar pv has fallen by around 80%. 10 years ago, the cost of solar was over $10 per watt. Today, it’s much less than $2 per watt. The great bulk of the decrease has taken place in the last 2-3 years.

Already, for a new power station,  solar is competitive with fossil fuels without any subsidy at all.  That’s highly significant as the playing field is not a level one: solar’s main competitor, coal, is still not paying the cost of its pollution.

Not surprisingly, the solar boom has come at a cost to the electricity generators and the coal companies. Solar has actually helped to cause the level of demand for fossil fuel-based electricity to fall which has in turn resulted in a fall in the wholesale price of electricity and a lower demand for coal.

Because  solar’s peak production takes place during peak consumption hours, the time when the big generators make most profits, the boom has been  more damaging to the generators’ business than might have been imagined. As a result, the generators and the coal companies are doing everything they can to stop the progress of solar and other renewable forms of energy. And sadly, in Australia at present they have the federal government and most state governments on their side.

Ultimately, however, most independent energy experts believe that big energy will go the way of letters, film developing and over- the-counter banking. The forces involved are too strong to be held back for long as the prices of solar panels and the batteries which will store energy will continue to fall.

Above all, solar is helping us cut our emissions of CO2. Each 2Kw rooftop solar system in Castlemaine cuts CO2 emissions by over 2 tonnes pa.

Solar Lowdown

The Renewable Energy Target

Australia has had a renewable energy target for around 13 years. The first very limited target of 9500GWh  was introduced by the Howard government in 2001. A much higher target of 41,000GWh was introduced by the Labour government in 2010. This mandatory target enables the market to put a value on Small-scale Technology Certificates, or STCs.

At present, 1kW of panels earns 17 STCs at around $31 each. This is a significant part of the overall solar price.  STCs in fact make up around one third of the solar price in our bulk buy scheme. So if the Renewable Energy Target is abolished later in 2014, as now seems likely, the price of solar could rise by that percentage.

It therefore makes sense to buy now rather than wait until the RET is abolished or weakened.

Solar Lowdown

The challenge of climate change

Over 97% of scientists researching and publishing papers on climate change believe there is very strong evidence that humans are largely responsible for the increase in temperature over the past 100 years. They are supported by virtually all governments and scientific organisations around the world.  The latest IPPC report (March 2014) makes it clear that climate change is already having adverse effects by causing extreme weather events, bushfires, floods and droughts.

If we are to keep the temperature increase within two degrees, we must leave most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground. If we don’t do this, according to the UN body, the IPCC, we could face increases of up to six degrees by the end of the century. This would make life on earth, as we know it, virtually impossible.

It is therefore vital that we conserve energy and develop renewable forms of energy, in particular solar, wind, bioenergy and geothermal.

The  International Energy Agency which was once a strong promoter of fossil fuels has in recent years put its weight behind renewables.  In fact, the Agency now argues that over two thirds of the existing reserves of fossil fuels must be left in the ground if we are to have a chance of avoiding serious climate change.

The population of Mount Alexander Shire is responsible for around 150,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. We should be aiming to reduce this markedly by 2020 to close to zero by 2050. To do this we need to start now.

Clearly, the technology is available. Wind power has been used for many decades as has solar pv which was first developed for the US space program in the 1950s.  All that is needed is the political will of governments and/or the individual and community will of ordinary citizens.

If governments fail us, we can step into the breach.  We can campaign, we can protest and perhaps above all, we can put our own houses in order by cutting our energy use and by installing renewable energy systems.

Photo credit: Deanna Rae Neville

Further reading:

‘How Conservative is the Abbott government’s climate change plan?‘, The Saturday Paper, March 15 2014

‘IPCC climate change report: Human role in global warming now even clearer‘, ABC News, 28 September 2013

Solar Lowdown

The barriers to solar

Our research has highlighted the barriers to taking up solar. One is that people don’t trust the many companies whose telemarketers are annoying them on the phone. Will the work be done and done safely? Will there be hidden costs which were not mentioned prior to the day of installation? Will the tree shading my roof be a problem? These are all questions which cause anxiety for householders.

Another barrier is what may be called `technology confusion’. Because there are many types and quality of panel and inverter on the market, it’s very difficult for the average householder to decide what’s best. As a result, many people have decided to wait until an offer they can trust comes along.

A third barrier is cost. Although solar prices have fallen a lot, one-off installations  are still relatively expensive for many people.

With MASH+ we are breaking through all these barriers. You have a trusted supplier recommended by other organisations, you can have the different panels and inverters clearly explained and you can pay a discounted price up-front or over time.

Solar Lowdown

Why Go Solar?

Here are the top 3 reasons why we believe it’s worth putting solar panels on the roof of your home.

1. Save money on your power bills

Depending on when you use electricity and the price per kWh, a solar system will pay for itself in 6-10 years. So if you’ve got a few thousand dollars sitting in the bank, it would make sense to put it into solar. Or if you haven’t, you can buy the panels with a loan from a bank, finance company or credit union. With the right payment arrangement, your outlays can stay much the same as your past power bill and you own the system in the end. (Note that because we are not qualified to give financial advice, you should check with your financial adviser first).

2. Reduce your CO2 emissions

By going solar you are taking one of the best actions available to you to fight climate change. Every kW of solar (around 6 panels) saves up to a tonne or more of CO2 per year.

3. A step towards going off the grid

It is now becoming possible, with the aid of solar and batteries, for communities to decide to take themselves off the grid. This will result in financial benefits to local communities as the money stays local, greater energy security and greater empowerment of communities.