Celebrating Australia's solar pioneers

It was 30 years ago this year that Australia's solar industry officially got underway - the total global demand was 21MW, but these young entrepreneurs could see the future.

The year 1986 seems like it was only a yesterday on one hand and a lifetime ago on the other.

It was the year that the London stock exchange finally relented and allowed computerised stock trading, IBM unveiled the first laptop computer and the year that smoking was banned on busses, planes and trains in the US. Bob Hawke was our Prime Minister and plans for the Channel Tunnel were announced. It was also the year I travelled through Europe in a clapped out Kombi and personally witnessed the fallout from Chernobyl which had exploded in Russia, forever changing my attitude towards energy.

Meanwhile back home, a bunch of innovative young business entrepreneurs were getting into solar power. The total global demand for solar was around 21MW per year, Japan was where more than 50 per cent of solar cells came from and a solar panel would cost you around $12 per watt. Our budding entrepreneurs were busy fighting over a total Australian market of around 150-200kW per year which was all off-grid.

But they could see it was the future.

So, 30 years ago they formed a small group called the Solar Energy Installers Association of Australia (SEIAA) in Victoria to support and represent the emergence of the Solar Energy Industry – the Suppliers, Installers and Accreditation. They diligently plugged away until 2002 when SEIAA was absorbed into a new association called the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) and their scope widened. The BCSE became a more formalised Association with an Executive Director and operating Departments like Policy and Accreditation. Over the years there then became the need to grow larger – more staff committees and new headquarters. By 2007, with changing needs the organisation changed again and became the Clean Energy Council (CEC) which remains in place today as one of the industries peak bodies.

However, along the way our original group of solar entrepreneurs hadn’t gone away; they had got just got a little greyer, a little wider and a little wiser. By 2005 a growing number of the founders of SEIAA felt that their voices were lost in the noise of the new associations and their views about important grass roots issues were not being heeded. So, they re-formed as the new Solar Energy Installers Association Inc of Victoria (SEIA) and have grown to become part of a wider national body representing installers and small business owners in the solar industry.

Many of the original team are still involved, still out there batting for the industry every single day. It’s impossible to measure the importance and value that these individuals have contributed in helping to develop the safer, smarter industry that we have today – but it is undoubtedly massive.

Nigel Morris is director of Solar Business Services

*As is appropriate, they are planning an annual conference and a bang up party to celebrate at an awesome venue on Phillip Island in Victoria on from Wednesday, February 25 to Friday, February 27. Winaico, one of the world's most innovative solar manufacturers, is a key sponsor of the event. Its local staff, who are 20-year industry veterans themselves, are huge supporters of the dedicated efforts of SEIA and will personally be on hand to sing, dance and celebrate. Support the event, support one of the founding industry bodies and, for goodness sakes, get along and buy those guys a beer. They’ve earned it.