Solar's irresistible political spell

The popularity of solar crosses the political divide. Those that install solar are often in marginal seats and seats safely held by the Coalition. While in the inner city, people might not install it, but they definitely vote for it.

I’ve always been absolutely amazed by what politicians have been willing to do in order to support solar PV. While other renewable energy technologies have had to battle it out with the support of just a single Renewable Energy Certificate worth somewhere around $30 to $50 per megawatt-hour of electricity; solar PV managed to get these renewable energy certificates, plus at one time or another:

-- A rebate of between $4000 to $8000 per kilowatt, which if used to fund a commercial scale wind turbine would give you between $1,500 to $5,500 in spare change and about twice the amount of electricity as you’d get from solar panels;

-- And feed-in tariffs providing a premium over retail electricity prices of $200 to $400 per megawatt-hour. 

Even though many of the subsidies have been radically curtailed, there’s no doubt that solar PV wields some kind of strange magic over the electorate’s mind – they love it over all other forms of energy.

SunWiz has helped unravel the mystery of solar PV’s political popularity, preparing an analysis of solar PV and solar hot water data electorate by electorate according to federal government seats.

Below are tables detailing solar PV household penetration by the most marginal seats in the country (around 5 per cent margin or less) – the seats most likely to influence who takes the reins of government. Not all the seats have high solar PV penetration, (indeed it seems some of the highest solar PV penetration is in safe regional Liberal and National Party seats). But as an overall average, around one in 10 households have a solar PV system. Even in Victoria, where solar PV tends to be less popular than the sunnier states, all the marginal seats have at least one in 20 households with solar PV. 

What’s more, getting solar seems to be contagious (as Nigel Morris explained in Climate Spectator), with people being more inclined to want a solar systems if their neighbours have one. So there’s probably another one in 10 across these electorates looking at their neighbour’s roof very enviously.

This suggests that in this upcoming federal election, politicians will want to tread rather carefully around adopting changes that might put solar out of reach for these envious neighbours. And in Queensland, where solar PV installations are particularly high, the government might want to promote its role in helping households afford solar, rather than Combet’s current public comments which have tended to be negative about the technology.

Proportion of households with solar PV installed in marginal seats

Another interesting observation that comes out of this data from SunWiz is that even in a number of seats where installation of Solar PV is low, the electorate is still keen on policies and people favourable to solar. The seats of Melbourne, Melbourne Ports, Sydney, Grayndler, Kingsford Smith and Wentworth have solar penetration rates below 2 per cent, but the vote for the Greens tends to be high, or the sitting member is known to be a strong supporter of policies favourable to solar PV.

Also while energy minister Martin Ferguson may not see all that much PV in his electorate (4 per cent penetration), his shadow Ian Macfarlane has 10 per cent, as does Greg Combet.

Perhaps the great irony is that the seat of WA Liberal member Dennis Jensen – who thinks global warming is a myth and renewables a waste of time – has quite high solar installation rates of 16 per cent. It warms my heart to think of the distress this causes him as he tours his electorate.

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