Solar - an expensive time bomb threat to Toorak and Double Bay

Maybe the fervent opposition to government clean energy policies by some newspaper editors just comes down to a simple lack of aptitude with Google?

Sometimes you wonder whether the fervent opposition to action on climate change and encouraging clean energy just comes down to a simple lack of aptitude with Google.  

So instead of getting the most up-to-date information available, we have people relying on reports and studies from several years ago, built on data that is even older. Maybe they get passed this report by an old friend at their men’s club or perhaps a mate in PR without bothering to cross-check it against other more up-to-date sources readily available on the internet with a bit of searching. 

Last week The Australian newspaper editorial section, citing the Minerals Council as its authoritative source, complained that the Renewable Energy Target imposed an “untenable cost”, was “plain crazy” and should be immediately abolished.

The editorial exclaimed:

For consumers, the main problem with the RET is that it is highly regressive and unfair. It forces lower income households, which cannot afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars to install voltaic solar panels on their roofs, to pay higher power bills to subsidise wealthier families who invest in the technology. The rich families then pay virtually nothing for power.

Now there was a study undertaken by The Australia Institute published almost four years ago supporting these claims. Using data from the government's solar rebate program from 2000 to 2009 it found that most recipients of the rebate resided in medium to high income areas.

But say you wanted more up-to-date information, if you enter into Google: ‘Solar relationship with income rich’, you get the search results below.

Graph for Solar - an expensive time bomb threat to Toorak and Double Bay

As much as it annoys me to say it, you could look at the first search result from our direct competitor RenewEconomy or, even better, the following two from this website and even the fourth from the REC Agents Association.

Every one of these details data on the location of where solar systems are installed around Australia using information from the Renewable Energy Target’s certificate registry. The data, mapped to income levels of postcodes below, show that there is no statistical relationship that would indicate that solar is predominantly installed by “rich families”. Indeed the suburbs containing the richest 3 per cent of the population (furthest right green dots) tend to cluster towards the bottom, indicating low installation rates for solar. 

Graph for Solar - an expensive time bomb threat to Toorak and Double Bay

Source: Green Energy Trading 2014

OK, so maybe it’s not rich families ripping off the poor.  But why on earth are we supporting dinky solar systems which cost tens (note plural) of thousands of dollars?

So I entered ‘solar panels’ into Google to learn more. 

Graph for Solar - an expensive time bomb threat to Toorak and Double Bay

After I got over the shock of learning that solar panels not only rob the poor to help the rich, but are also likely to see Toorak and Double Bay soon resemble Beirut (See: Solar panels ‘are time bombs), I noticed I was greeted with sales offers for solar systems.

Origin Energy and Energy Australia, who seem to regularly be quoted by The Australian as authoritative sources on all things to do with the RET, were offering me solar systems for just $99 per month or somewhere between $2399 and $2490.

But maybe there was some mistake, so I did some more searching and came across AGL’s solar offers which gave me quotes for systems bigger than those offered by Origin and Energy Australia. At last I found a number approaching the 10 (but not tens with an ‘s’) thousand dollar mark if I were to install 5 kilowatts, which would pretty much blanket my available roof space.

Graph for Solar - an expensive time bomb threat to Toorak and Double Bay

But after further shopping around I found I could actually shave about $3000 off the magical $10,000 mark.

Graph for Solar - an expensive time bomb threat to Toorak and Double Bay

I even came across a website that publishes a monthly index of solar system average prices across the country (screen shot below). Aha! I finally found systems costing above $10,000 – problem is that I and most other households in Australia probably would have difficulty fitting 10 kilowatts on their home’s roof.

Graph for Solar - an expensive time bomb threat to Toorak and Double Bay

So where did this tens of thousands of dollars figure come from?

I’m not really sure. But that 2010 Australia Institute study, whose findings seem to live on in perpetuity, was based on solar systems in the prior decade costing about $10,000 per kilowatt, pre-rebate.

If you multiplied that by the average sized system being installed on homes these days at about 3kW to 4kW you could get a figure equal to tens of thousands of dollars.

Pity prices subsequently plummeted by about 50 per cent the year after the Australia Institute dataset ended... and then kept on falling.