With the Labor Party's Government insulation scheme failure here in Australia still fresh in everyone's psyche, the solar power industry seems set to be the next simple household energy saving industry to become a complicated mess.
Home electricity disconnections on the rise
The cost of electricity is soaring and electricity disconnections are at an all time high. 20,000 Queenslanders in 2011 were disconnected from the grid according to statistics gained from the Queensland Competition Authority. Imagine losing power to your residence and not being able to afford re-connection; that would be just awful – especially for children or the elderly. What is making it so hard that 20,000 homes were unable to pay their electricity accounts last year (up from 17,000 the year before)? Cost of course.
The cost of electricity is so out of control it reminds me of the soaring interest rates we saw in the 80s/90s and the recession we had to have.
These private electricity companies now fill many of us with disdain and hatred. They're like fat, grape eating, champagne guzzling, dribbling Lords ruling over their provinces with outrageous riches but still squeezing more taxes out of the peasants and claiming justification through false protection or services. They salivate over annual increases with percentage rises in tariffs always in the teens and rubber stamped by their other corporate-mate bureaucrats in the Government (whom they share many glamorous evenings with no doubt).
Where's robin hood solar?
Where's our Robin Hood? The savour of the good peasants could be the solar industry if it wasn't corrupted by greed also, and obstructed through poor bungled Government policies. Instead of implementing a generous solar rebate scheme at the purchase end of the deal, governments have used slight-of-hand tricks to spend as little as possible but look like they're doing a lot.
Tariffs smariffs – many of the people I talk to just want a fair electricity bill at the end of the day (quarter). If I could get a solar system installed on my property that would neutralise, close to wipe out, or put a big dent in my electricity bills I would be a happy man. Forget the money-back through tariffs, rebates, discounts, or the plethora of other confusing incentives/information; just give me an affordable solar system that works and won't take me a decade to pay off.
Fair dinkum, how VIC and NSW stuffed up their tariff rebate systems is beyond many of us. At least the “pink bats scheme” by the Federal Government was simple to understand – Rudd handed-out a set rebate offsetting the cost of installing insulation in the home. Sure, there were other problems with dodgy installs and fraud but the cost at the consumers end was easy enough to work out.
I took advantage of the Federal insulation scheme and I not only saved considerable costs on the install but we use less air-conditioning through summer here now and we all know how much money that can save through reduced power usage. Guess I'm happy I was one of the success stories from that scheme and whether you think it was a waste of taxpayers money or not the maths at the consumers end was easy to do and simple government schemes are always the best for everyone.
It's all too confusing
Want confusion? Just look at the forums about solar energy installs (like Whirlpool or Austech) and imagine how the average Ma and Pa Kettle go about negotiating through the minefield of dodgy installers, different standards in equipment and products, changing government regulations, hidden costs, yo-yo pricing, and finance companies. This madness in conflicting information is enough to throw your hands up in the air and give up installing a solar system.
Now there are companies being created like Solar Choice that are actually making money out of the confusion and offering to make the choice easier for us – for a cost or kickback… naturally. Isn’t it a shame that our governments (State and Federal) didn't correctly regulate the solar industry in Australia from the start to make it easier to understand with simple protectionisms for consumers.
If you have a young family and get talked into buying a small solar system expect to see hardly any change to your power bills because the rising costs of power will still hurt you and the savings from installing a 1.5 kW system will be so minimal you'll hardly notice a difference.
At the moment a solar install “worth doing for a medium or large family” is the price of a small to medium car! For this monetary outlay, the consumer should be well protected just like if you did buy a new car. The problem is Dodgy McBodgy Solar isn't like a heavily regulated Toyota or Holden dealership and there's no guarantee McBodgy Solar will be around to honour any issues with the system should it turn-out to be a lemon in the future.
What is the future for solar technology?
And what about the changing technology? There's been talk for years now about new solar products soon to hit the market like: paint-on solar, printed panels, tiny antenna conductor solar, and all these other technologies supposedly much cheaper than the current systems. When will they arrive? Real soon I hope because I'd just love to see what happens if a really cheap alternative solar power source is invented and marketed at a fair price rather than the dash for cash rip-offs we're experiencing now in the solar industry.
Or, will these new cheaper technologies just be cheaper for the manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers – if you know what I mean.
Make owning a solar system fair
Let's fantasise for a second and imagine a 5 kW solar system costing only a few thousand dollars able to be paid back in real electricity savings within 12 to 18 months – even 3 years. Wow! What would the big electricity giants do then hey, if the average family could buy/finance a system that pays for itself in a relatively short time frame and then hardly have to worry about another power bill ever again. I don't think the big utilities would be very happy at all to lose their billions in revenue and I suspect they've already made moves and lobbies to ensure the average public don't get the chance.
Or am I being too cynical to think the State and Federal Governments would be so intertwined with the big utilities that they'd conspire against their own struggling citizens to keep prices high just to protect revenue for these mega companies? The State Governments aren't that big in electricity shareholdings are they (cynical statement – not a question).
But high electricity costs are our fault?
Oh, how governments do love running their superficial Ad campaigns about turning your TV off at the power point before bed-time and save money, but who's listening to that? Yes, every little bit helps, however, there's only so many erroneous government assumptions as to why people are complaining to them about their bills before they must realise it's not because the people are stupid and just using power for the sake of it; it's because people need to use power and the cost of using this important resource has risen way beyond inflation and wages in just a few years!
Governments would like us to believe it's out fault for rising power bills and we won't see the last of the “smarty pants” Ads for a long time to come I fear. What is it with the loud pants in the latest Queensland Ad campaign anyway? When I see those Ads I just think about the joy I'd get from giving one of those “smarty pants” a ferocious wedgie to wipe the I'm so cleaver power saving smirk off their actor faces.
I must admit booking the QLD Government's Climate Smart Home Service (just for a laugh and to see if the house call really was worth the 50 bucks) so I ended up booking and had to wait for 6 weeks. However, on the day of my “house call” by the Government appointed contractor electrician, I got a call from the Climate Smart call centre from a lady advising me my electrician was unavailable today (great, I had just taken the day off work). So I said “okayyyy, when will he be available?” She replied, “well love, you'll have to rebook.” I said, “sure, when is the soonest can you book me in?” And she replied, “at least 6 weeks we're pretty busy.” Imagine that for service! If Climate Smart was a private company they'd be long out of business. I told the lady, “ could you please do me a favour and tell Anna Bligh she can go stick her climate smart scheme where the sun don't shine!” The lady at the call centre just laughed and said, “can I help you with anything else.” Smarty pants…
Making a complaint about a government service in Australia to a government centre is stupid, but I did complain anyway about how ridiculous my experience with their Climate Smart scheme turned out. And guess what? I never heard anything back.
Do it properly for once, at least
Our Governments are so pathetically in the habit of doing ventures by half it's a wonder anything gets done anymore. Government initiatives these days seem to start out with big ideas and promises only to finish watered-down, nothing policies, with such revenue restrictions that the “big” new incentive ends up not making much of a difference to the citizen at the end of the line. And, the whole solar path has been the same failure with the same rhetoric about how serious this government is about the environment but their actions are found wanting.
Governments changing goal posts for rebates, consecutive governments changing policies from the previous relatively NEW schemes and token gestures of assistance to ordinary households are frustrating most good people.
Government – this is what you need to do
Governments need to shake up the solar industry before it's too late – implement better protection for consumers who purchase a system – get serious about making larger systems affordable to average families so they can better cope with the rising cost of living. It's that simple, we live in country with an abundance of sunlight, run by a Government blowing the carbon tax trumpet and yet solar panels for homes are still unaffordable for the average family.
That's my say
This is largely a negative post and I don't like being negative; however, sometimes the squeaking wheel gets the oil. I'm disappointed with governments preaching environmental standards, and introducing extra costs on society (like a carbon tax) without seriously addressing the fundamental issues like consumption by the average householder. Reduce their power costs through incentives NOT sticks so they can spend their money in the shops and not on power bills.
Well I've had my say, and I feel a whole lot better for it too. If you think the solar industry in this country stinks then why not have your say in the comments section below (you don't even need to provide your email). Perhaps you disagree with my POV – I'd be interested to hear why and your reasoning behind it (especially, if you're a solar installer).
Or, do you know of any emerging solar technologies, a price break through, even rumours about the industry as a whole, I'm keen to hear from you because I'm going to write more about this subject.
Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM