Take a seat on the solar-coaster

It’s time solar PV was treated as genuine, real-deal option to solve all sorts of energy problems. While those in positions of authority seem to still think it's a dinky curiousity they can turn on and off depending on their mood, people power is likely to overwhelm them.

Over the years, support for solar PV at state and federal levels has ebbed and flowed, as anyone who’s taken a ride on the ‘solar-coaster’ would attest. Just recently the Climate Change Authority proposed that support for solar be changed every year with just six months notice based on a minister's assessment of a ten-year payback. This would institutionalise the solar-coaster as a new report I co-authored has found.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’ve said a million times that we should be highly appreciative of any government support we get, and we have had support over the years. Householders, industry and businesses who have taken advantage of PV’s potential would do well to remember to say thank you, the next time they are speaking to their local member, in some cases at least.

However, I do get frustrated with the inevitable skewing of the facts being trotted out by anyone who’s not making a buck from PV and the fact they are overlooking the real data which shows that PV is a material part of our energy mix. It’s time it was treated as the genuine policy mechanism it is, to solve all sorts of problems, which it can.

Sometimes, I wonder if the internal memos look like this:

Green or climate issues worrying your political strategists?

Simple, whack in a feed-in tariff. Don’t worry about whether it’s correct from a policy level. Consult with industry but don’t get hung up on whether they think its constructed wrong. Make it juicy, get some votes.

Budget under pressure?

Too easy. Axe a feed-in tariff. Don’t worry about whether it’s the real cause of budgetary pressure, as long as your former political opponents were responsible, then it’s a perfectly reasonable target to demonstrate how fiscally responsible you are.

Resource company lobbyists driving you insane?

No problem. Blame the RET. Punters don’t understand it and think it’s the same as the carbon tax , and taxes are ubiquitously evil. Perfect for state governments wanting to challenge federal government power.

Need a good news story that shows how forward thinking you are?

It’s a snap. Open ‘the world’s/country’s/state’s largest solar system’ (N.B. select region based on fit to biggest new story of the day). You’ll look techy, modern and like you’re tuned in to the future. Use funds from an obscure budget bucket that no-one knew existed.

And so on.

Well, much as I hate to say it, PV now has a finely honed, double edge to its sword; both politically and policy wise.

Last week, we saw the release of new data demonstrating that the RET and the carbon tax will contribute a mere 1 per cent to electricity prices over the next decade or so, and yet will save around 54Mt of GHG’s. As a form of carbon abatement, it’s in the range of $40, costs are falling dramatically and there is almost universal voter appeal.

Within a decade, it could be generating more than 30 per cent of all of Australia’s electricity on sunny days, according to our own analysis.

And today, we saw the release of yet more data, produced by our friend Warwick Johnston from Sunwiz and released by the Australian Solar Council, 100 per cent Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

This new data shows that any politician who underestimates the political clout of PV is sadly out of touch; PV has increasing political clout all over again, but not as a whimsical and poorly executed political salvo. The PV political power is now firmly with the voters; and lots of them are in marginal seats.

The analysis shows there are nearly 430,000 households with solar panels in electorates with margins of less than 5 per cent and that it’s more popular in lower income and mortgage belt areas.

As just one example of what this means, just take the marginal seat of Longman in Queensland where over 17,000 houses have solar systems, representing at least 34,000 voters. Only 1,500 voters would need to change their vote for the seat to change hands.

Clout, with a capital P.V.

Nigel Morris is the Director of Solar Business Services.

This article was originally published by SolarBusinessServices. Republished with permission.