A rally for renewables outside Tony Abbott's Manly office

Australian households are mining the sun like never before, and investing billions of their own money to ensure they get a slice of the 21st Century gold rush – solar power. If anyone was still unclear what the future looks like, they really should just follow the money.

Our new report The State of Solar is the first of its kind to undertake a detailed evaluation of the benefits of Australia’s solar rooftop boom, quantifying out-of-pocket investment, jobs created, savings made on power bills and environmental benefits.

So what does it tell us?

Today, in 2016, there are five million people living under a solar-powered roof in this country. Australia now has the highest levels of rooftop solar in the world. This transformation has happened in only six years.

Claire O'Rourke
Claire O’Rourke

From 2006 to 2010, the number of solar systems installed each year in Australia trebled year-on-year. This growth is, to put it simply, astonishing. Through the report we can see for the first time what average Australians themselves have invested in this boom, and they are a compelling set of numbers. They should also serve as a stark warning to our political leaders.

Investment in solar photovoltaics is without a doubt the backbone of the renewable energy revolution in Australia.

Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance last week forecast a staggering future for investment in renewables globally. Through to 2040, BNEF forecast a record $7.8 trillion to be invested in renewables, including $3.4 trillion for solar, $3.1 trillion for wind and $911 billion for hydro power.

BNEF’s forecasts were closely followed by a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, which sees the cost of solar PV being slashed by up to 59 per cent by 2025 to 6 US cents per kilowatt hour.

Here in Australia our report reveals an array of data. On average, Australian solar households saved $653 last financial year on their electricity bills thanks to their investment that harvests the sun’s natural, plentiful energy. In the 2014-15 financial year alone, Australians invested $1.23 billion dollars in rooftop solar from their own pocket. These are just everyday Australians, most who live in low to middle income suburbs. By comparison, investment in all large scale solar energy projects in the calendar year 2014 was only around $118 million.

In 2016 alone, Australia’s rooftop solar generators will generate over 6.5TWh, preventing around 6,301,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas from polluting our environment. That’s the equivalent of taking one-third of all trucks off Australian roads.

These sun lovers have spent over $8 billion in under a decade creating 19,000 direct and indirect jobs, far more than those employed by the coal and gas fired-electricity industries.

Of course, these savings and this disruption to the traditional electricity system is not welcomed by all. The large retailers and generators have not been shy in their attacks on the Renewable Energy Target and have resorted to anti-consumer tactics to try to slow, prevent or unfairly tax solar PV take-up. It’s a mug’s game.

But along with the energy networks, they’ve also been targeting solar owners whose bill savings come as a direct hit the big power companies.

In the US, the break-up of the energy monopolies has been described by renowned investor Warren Buffett as “the greatest transfer of wealth in history”. In Australia we have witnessed in just a few years, the largest uptake of residential solar PV anywhere in the world.

And of course this means we are in a prime position to embrace the next revolution – batteries.

Investment heavyweight Morgan Stanley believes the growth of solar and battery storage is being substantially underestimated by the “traditional” Australian energy market. It believes that the rate at which these new technologies will be installed is four times the rate “predicted” by the energy industry. The report, Asia Insight: Solar and batteries, unveils a forecast which would see, by 2020, the battery storage market grow from about 2000 homes today to between one and two million by 2020.

But our ageing electricity regulations are failing to keep up and the traditional power companies are only interested in changing the rules to suit them.

What is needed is a major overhaul of the electricity sector to favour renewable energy, rooftop solar and community owned renewables that enables tenants and flat-dwellers the opportunity to benefit from the solar revolution.

Powering our lives and our homes with 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 is technically possible and absolutely necessary.

One in five voters now live under a solar-powered rooftop. In 121 of 150 electorates there are enough solar voters to change the sitting MP. The scale again is enormous.

Politicians are a renewable resource. So why is the federal government failing to back the one in five voters who have themselves invested in solar power? Perhaps it’s time they looked more closely at the money trail, and realise that policy measures that seek to slow down renewables and penalise renewables adopters is a foolish strategy that can only end one way.

Claire O’Rourke is national director of Solar Citizens, a community-based solar advocacy organisation.

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  1. Thanks Claire
    That’s an excellent and encouraging summary of Australia’s situation!