Although Australia is blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible amount of sun, up to now we have been slow in exploiting this important renewable energy source. As most people are aware, solar power has the potential to greatly reduce greenhouse emissions by curbing baseload electricity demand. Photovoltaic panels generate power during the daytime, especially in summer, when the pressure on the grid is the greatest.
As ever, the biggest challenge for solar power is to make it an economically viable proposition by finding a way to cut down the long payback time of up to thirty years. Feed-in tariffs, where solar power is sold to the grid for a premium price, have an important role to play, and have proven successful in many overseas countries. They are running in South Australia and Queensland, while the ACT is in the process of introducing its own scheme.
Another breakthrough has been achieved by a Byron Bay-based company called Beyond Building Energy (BBE.) The idea behind its Solar Neighbourhood Program is to bring down photovoltaic prices through a high-volume, low-margin strategy. Panels are bought in quantity direct from the manufacturer in China, achieving the best possible discount price. BBE also benefits financially from keeping the Renewable Energy Certificates when the panels are later installed.
The aim of the Solar Neighbourhood Program is for multiple households to sign up in the same local geographical area, as a ‘neighbourhood.’ With a neighbourhood of between three and ten households, and assuming an $8,000 rebate, the cost of the company’s standard one-kilowatt installation currently adds up to around $1,500, although this price is subject to change. It has been estimated that in addition to adding to the resale value of a property, a one-kilowatt system saves around $200 annually in energy bills.
To make a comparison, a regular one-kilowatt solar installation costs somewhere around $4,000 to $7,000 after the rebate is deducted.
At the moment, all installations are ‘self-financed’, the term for a scenario where the homeowner puts up the full pre-rebate amount and later receives a rebate if eligible. Applications are accepted on the company’s website, and can be made by self-financed owner-occupiers, developers and community buying collectives. The three geographical areas covered are Northern New South Wales, South-East Queensland (as far north as Brisbane), and the whole of Victoria.
Beyond Building Energy www.beyondbuildingenergy.com