The sun goes down on solar

At last! The Australian government has announced the end of the cash rebate on solar power/hot water panels.

Industry heavyweights and installation contractors are said to be “furious” after the seemingly sudden announcement, but the scheme was always going to end in 2012.

I am quite glad it has finished and wish it had never started! To me this was yet another scheme to subsidise the rich to buy an expensive alternative to providing cheaper electrical power via state utilities.

Solar roof panels

Solar panels to generate 3 kW

Over the past 20 years electricity generation facilities have been sold off by the state to private enterprise, who were assumed to be able to run them more efficiently. In reality, states have sold these solid assets off to raise cash, often when a state has got into financial difficulties over unwise state banking deals (eg. the South Australian State Bank collapse) or capital works over-runs (eg. highways or hospitals). The price of electricity has climbed enormously since it was privatised and things are getting to the stage where people have had their power disconnected due to inability to pay their bills.

The projected benefits of installing solar panels for generating power at home were that not only would the panels pay for themselves over time through feeding excess electricity back into the grid, but also homeowners would get reduced charges for their regular electricity consumtion, ie. smaller bills. However, the cost of the panels has been pegged quite high by retailers, compared with average household income, and only households with spare savings or higher than average incomes can afford to install a large enough system.

Solar tower near Seville, Spain

Solar tower near Seville, Spain

It is interesting driving around the suburbs spotting solar panels on house roofs because there is a glittering array of them in the more affluent suburbs and hardly a faint sparkle in the less privileged areas. My own suburb is overall quite affluent and there are large solar arrays on at least 50% of houses, but not on ours. We couldn’t afford to install solar as well as pay the mortgage, AND having to pay off a loan to purchase the panels in the first place. A persistent salesman visited us and talked his way right through a 2 hour spiel, only ending with the statement that the total price would be $32 000, for which we would be able to obtain a personal loan (ha-hardy-ha). He didn’t mention that the panels probably don’t last much longer than 15 years and so we’d have to renew them at even greater cost later on. Since our power bills are around $2 000 p.a., we’d have to generate ALL our own power for 16 years to get the cost back and that just does not compute! Crazy world.

My take on all this is that the Federal government noticed that Australia’s power generation capacity was being outstripped by increasing consumption, so they invented a way for private individuals to fill a gap while big business could be leant on to build further, and less carbon-emitting, power stations. The bottom line is that the cost of solar energy produced by individual households is massive compared with the cost of producing it in bulk at giant solar generation stations. While the subsidy for home installations sounded lovely on the surface, there was nothing much in it for the average home-owner. Most people don’t seem to have noticed, so the government is keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit!

What I DO KNOW is that quite a few groups of entrepreneurs are lining up with power generation proposals so that Australia can meet its future power requirements in the mass market while reducing the amount of carbon emitted per kilowatt hour.

SA wind power capacity

SA wind power capacity

While wind power is forging ahead well, especially in South Australia, we don’t seem to be building any of those huge solar furnaces or arrays that we’ve seen from Spain, for example. Why is the country with the most sunshine and open space NOT got heavily into solar power already? You tell me!

Solar furnace at Odeillo in the Pyrénées-Orientales in France

I welcome explanations from those in the know. [Please]


2 thoughts on “The sun goes down on solar

  1. Good points Kay. Like I’ve said before, if we proposed subsidies for diesel generators in individual households, people would think we were mad. But somehow promoting solar panels is a good idea, based on “feeding back to the grid”. Surely large scale systems with economies of scale would make more sense.

  2. I suppose Kay that like everywhere else the political will is weak, thwarted by lobby interests perhaps. Politicians love proposals to wave about, so form a solar only movement, get a good system identified and start flogging it to government levels for all you are worth. Particular interest groups of other sorts certainly have government tied in knots over here.

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