Victoria is on a big rebuild and reboot of its economy kick and solar is a big focus for the year. According to Stan Krpan, chief executive of Solar Victoria, it’s all systems go.
“This year will be massive,” he said. “Last year was massive. Solar was up 30 per cent for the year even with the lockdown. Every state in the country has had record takeup.”
And batteries too have finally taken off with 2000 battery installed through his program and another 5000 to go.
“It’s great to see the level of interest.”
Inroads were now also happening with rental property with 2000 landlords taking up the option to put solar on their investment properties and – interestingly – choosing to pay for them direct even though there were provisions to split costs with the tenants.
But it’s not a bad deal: $1850 up front and the same again interest free, Krpan points out. The deal gives people the option of upgrading the quality of panels they install and at the same time adding capital value to their properties.
Not many other states are pursuing the tenancy angle but Queensland has completed a pilot test and there’s big pressure in South Australia to do the same, he thinks.
Next for Solar Victoria is to expand solar into small businesses with 15,000 recipients targeted over the next three years, as part of the government’s stimulus plan announced in November and hopefully rolling out in April.
“We’re working with industry now about the design of the scheme.”
The $300 million to be invested in heating and cooling for low-income households will also be a big boost to the sector. “That’s massive”, Krpan says. Especially with its big focus on energy efficiency on which social services organisations such as Australian Council of Social Services, the Victorian Council of Social Services and welfare agencies such as the Uniting Church.
“it’s a big piece of work. We hope to be able to provide the first rebates by April.”
For the team, the move of headquarters to Morwell to the “Gov Hub” in the Latrobe Valley would happen mid-year with half the team based there and his time split between the Morwell and city offices.
Parks Victoria and the Resources regulator also moving to the traditional coal mining valley, now the subject of significant optimism for a renewable energy transition, especially with the possibilities around hydrogen.
As to what else to expect, Krpan says to keep an eye on the “great work” from Climate Works and from the state government with its $1.6 billion commitment to climate change action through renewable energy, waste and water management.
And, of course, there is the big $5 billion announcement for social housing in Victoria with the focus now on how to invest those funds: how to make housing sustainable and future proof.
In the community housing sector, there’s been consensus reached between government, unions, and some of the main welfare groups with a focus on innovation and building technology.
Even the building sector is “pretty buoyant”, a far cry from the depths of the pandemic.
But not all the sectors are doing well.
We might have had a two speed economy with the east coast sacrificed to make way for the mining boom, as the Reserve Bank of Australia admitted in past years, but now there is a split between the construction and housing sector doing (perhaps) too well – plus logistics and industrial property – while shopping centres, high rise apartments and commercial offices are languishing.
Sustainable Australia Fund
Scott Bocskay is also feeling more confident after the sledgehammer of Covid in Victoria drew down the shutters on activity for a long time.
As chief executive and managing director of Sustainable Australia Fund, he’s signed off more than 10 new deals before Christmas with Environmental Upgrade Agreements to finance green upgrades primarily with solar, and he’s expecting a couple of bigger projects to complete soon.
In fact, he thinks he’ll be adding a couple of staff by mid-year, after forced cut backs in 2020.
But before that happens, there’s the uncertainly of negotiating the shoals of March, which the federal government says will mark the end of the JobKeeper scheme and other support measures.
It’s a wait and see for businesses to work out if they can turn a profit from their regular gigs but as far as Bocskay can see investing in solar comes almost risk free with a solid predictable return.
How about an EUA for your new house and land package?
There’s also the ability now to expand to the residential sector but what is making Bocskay more excited, albeit over the longer term, is the legislation that will enable EUAs to bring new housing standards up to almost net zero energy.
He’s talking to the volume builders now who say it can take around $30,000 to upgrade to net zero but with EUAs, the cost is absorbed into the scheme, which means the upgrade pretty much pays for itself with the energy savings.
It’s an attractive option, he reckons.
The temptation now, for volume builder clients, is letting the sustainability elements slide if there’s job insecurity or a tough economic prospects. That, with the pandemic, the attraction of building another room to use as a home office. There goes the solar…
Robin Melon, advocate for modern slavery among a raft of other sustainability issues, is helping roll out the EUAs in NSW for SAF, where just six councils have signed on; the same number as in South Australia.
Melon is optimistic and thinks more of NSW’s 128 councils will see their opportunity to help smaller businesses recover their stability with a bit of help from the sun… and SAF.