SOLAR – Should I, Shouldn’t I, Can I?

Australia and many other countries around the world are currently debating man made pollution, in particular carbon, the effects these pollutants have on our environment and how we can stop or at least quell the amount released into the air in the future.

Carbon Debate

Before I get into talking solar, I would like to briefly explain the carbon debate the Australian people are now having because I feel it's relevant to this blog.

Currently, the debate in Australia is not really about the science of climate change or carbon pollution (as most people and politicians agree it's real) but the measures the country can and/or should take to address the issue. Politically, it has turned into a real fight between the major parties on whether to introduce a carbon tax or a direct action plan. The incumbent wants to introduce a carbon tax, which effectively charges the 500 largest carbon polluting companies in Australia $23 per tonne of carbon they produce. Some of the money raised is pledged to go back to the people in tax cuts and payments to offset the 500 companies increasing their prices and passing the cost of the carbon tax onto the people. Other funding will go to industries, like manufacturing, to help them cope with the cost burden and keep them competitive so they don't start shutting down or moving off-shore thus shedding thousands of jobs and some funding will go towards green innovation.

The opposition has designed a direct action plan whereby the government uses funds from the budget (rather than a tax) to implement green programs to offset carbon pollution like tree planting, carbon capture and storage. Also, under the direct action plan green businesses and innovation will get grants to become greener and invent or improve green technologies.


Both sides are vigorously selling their plans to the Australian people and whichever side of the political fence you sit (even if you're on it) the science tells us Australia's contribution to decreasing the effects of global warming will be negligible anyway. So why are we so hotly debating this issue when our contribution as a country won't make a lot of difference to the Earth's health? Well, it seems both sides of politics in Australia are passionate about our nation doing our bit for the world environment (even if small) to show the way, so passionate they are willing to bet political careers, endure economic pain, and possibly be complicit in the demise of carbon intensive industries before their time (coal, steel, for example).

The Search for Solar

This does sound like serious stuff indeed; one could be forgiven for thinking our politicians were actually serious about tackling climate change and wanting their constituents to be helped in whatever possible way to live a greener life! Therefore, when I decided to investigate the plausibility of getting solar power installed at my home, I fully expected my government to be excitedly by my side laying out the incentives before me like rose petals at a royal wedding. With expeditious delight I started off blissfully reading, Googling, ringing and visiting my way around the solar jungle to seek the best deal for me, Country and Planet. Well… I can report back that my solar information study tour over the past 12 months turned out to be quite a disappointment.
The final straw was last weekend when I attended an annual local agricultural show event called Farm Fantastic. This show, held on the outskirts of town, is full of marquees and gazebos with businesses demonstrating their products. I got talking with one of the solar power installers at his stand about the costs of installation and what size system he would recommend for my circumstances. The installer advised me, a person with a young family who has an older style largish home requiring cooling in summer, technologically advanced gadget lifestyle that's power dependant, (in other words an average Aussie) that I would require a 5 kilowatt system. Anything less he said would be less desirable as the bill savings on a smaller system wouldn't be as noticeable considering my current power usage.

Basically he described the 5 kilowatt system for my circumstances would come close to wiping out my bill but probably not fully. So, I had a think about it and asked the guy what size unit would I need to become totally self sufficient in power, that is, generate more power then I actually use and not owe the power companies anything per quarter. His reply shocked me. In short, I am not allowed by law to install a solar system beyond 5 kilowatts. This means, I am only permitted to install a 5 kilowatt system maximum and in my current circumstances I will always need to pay the electricity companies something.

Naturally, I smelt a rat so I probed further – the guy smiled and apologetically informed me the major electricity distributor/wholesaler in the state of Queensland claims the 'grid' would come under return surge pressure from homes putting too much power back into the grid; consequently, capacitors wouldn't cope if households were allowed to install systems above 5 kilowatts. The explanation sounded like bumpkin to me so I responded by stating, “can't the electricity grid just be upgraded to accept more return power?” It seems the answer is “yes” but the sticking point is the willingness for the electricity wholesaler to act and/or pay for the upgrade. So here we go again, another blockage to benefit the mega profit generating utility company at the expense of Citizen Battler who's just trying to save a buck and benefit the planet. I'm beginning to think they don't want us to have free solar energy powering our homes. Why is that?

Why Restrict Residential Solar?

Anyway, I couldn't afford a 5 kilowatt system let alone anything BIGGER. But, prices must come down in the future as technology improves and manufacturing costs of solar panels reduce like what happened with large screen TVs. Therefore, when the costs do inevitably come down a 5 kilowatt system may look a little inadequate, so I expect people will want to upgrade their solar system in order to generate more power to become self sufficient, save money and use cleaner energy.

Our lives are becoming more and more filled with gadgetry and all these devices require power, batteries, recharging. Electricity is vital now for most people but the costs of using it is turning technology into a commodity for the rich to take advantage of only, whilst everyone else, including the middle class poor, wait nervously at the letter box for the next enormous bill. I have read about pensioners reverting to candle light to save money or going to bed at sundown to save on heating costs so they can have a little spare cash to put food on the table. And, the pain of high electricity costs will only get worse according to the experts.

I have to revisit the point I outlined earlier about the seriousness of the powers to be in reducing global warming through targeting carbon. What is the one single most carbon producing industry in Australia? Power generation through burning of coal is the number one polluting industry and that's because civilisation as we know it is dependant on power (electricity). Australia doesn't have any other source of power generation with the capacity to provide the base load necessary to power this country apart from the burning of coal. Then it makes perfect sense to me to encourage alternate power generation, which isn't reliant on coal, so why not start at the home?
Why can't the government investigate the costs of solar for homes and then set a solar rebate price generous enough so the costs to the private householder can be recouped in the short term rather than having to pay the system off over many years? The rebates could be annually adjusted to meet rises or falls in production and installation costs. Thereby, a real boom in solar economic activity would eventuate instead of the trickle we see now. I know many are saying solar is leaping ahead, well I think the whole industry expansion could be better still…much better, faster and fairer.
We have an abundance of sunlight in this country and a majority of citizens living in free standing dwellings with big roof tops, so what's the go with the poor incentives for families to attain solar? If our government were truly genuine in wanting to drastically reduce our dependency on coal they would be heavily discounting solar installations on properties around the country. If the government really cared and believed what they preached they would be bending over backwards to help Australians wipe out their crippling, exponentially rising power bills with solar energy rebate schemes to good to refuse.

So, what is really stopping the government from being fair dinkum? Is it big power companies…I wonder? Ok, the economics may not be as simple as I explained but if the government can currently offer $5000 plus rebates on a solar install surely they can double it at least. Especially considering the amounts of money both sides of politics are willing to throw around on their proposals to reduce emissions an extra few hundred million on household solar incentives wouldn’t matter!

And, what about these Government sponsored solar farms popping up in places like Chinchilla, QLD. The clean energy idea is fantastic, but why not turn suburbs into collective solar farms instead (or at least also)? The cynic in me wanders if solar farms are a future revenue replacement for when coal fired stations are slowly made redundant. And, in order to keep the consumer buying the electricity companies power, legislation will stifle household solar whilst favouring the electricity giants to build bigger and more of these solar farms.

No Solar for Me…Yet


In the end, I'm sad to say I am not convinced solar is for me at present. Solar may suit some people in certain situations (obviously it does because people still install it) be it ideologically or monetary. However as much as I would like to have cleaner, lower costing energy, the costs need to come down considerably for me (in my circumstances) to revisit solar power for my home. Also, possibly a legislative change in the size of unit permitted per home would be needed to persuade me in the future.

Nevertheless, as the political smash-up-derby carbon debate continues in Australia between the two major political parties, perhaps a better deal on household solar will waft out of the whirling dust and surprise us all… here's hoping!

I should admit I am not a solar energy expert – by a long shot (evidently). Therefore, I also would like to learn more about solar energy (particularly in the home). And, if you are a solar expert or have experience in this area please share your knowledge with us by becoming a member of our sister site the Self Sufficient Culture Community Forum.

Under the Energy category on the forum, information and discussion about solar energy can be used to help others make a better informed choice to suit their needs. Hopefully, as the forum and site grows we can develop a large archive of information on solar adding to it as the technology changes.

Look, and see the Earth through her eyes

Mark Valencia Editor – SSM

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