As a mathematician there is always something exciting about any election campaign. Even though most of the present election period seems interminable to the majority of the populace, and even it pales in comparison to the two-years-at-least US presidential juggernaut, I enjoy the trends and the temporary alliances.
Given all this reluctance to get totally enthused by the policies themselves, one policy the Greens unveiled recently has got me really excited: installing solar panels on all public and community housing.
The federal government has had the silly mantra of “Jobs and Growth” repeated ad nauseam. What jobs will we create, and growth in what? If it is simply GDP then what does that mean to people? As a mathematician I look for the equilibrium solution, not the continual growth solution. This discussion is for another time as I want to focus on the policy announcement above.
The federal government believes in the almost cargo cult philosophy of the Trickle Down approach, but the most revolutionary impacts have often been in the bottom up approach to innovation. In South Australia, with a good feed in tariff for solar panels, instituted by Mike Rann, it was expected that 8000 homes would be thus festooned. Presently almost 30 per cent of dwellings in SA have such accoutrements.
And despite the pronouncements of Adelaide tabloid The Advertiser, it has been not taken up by the rich but by the middle class who see it as a lovely way to contribute to minimising greenhouse gas emissions and also provide themselves with energy security. The coming revolution will include storage as well as PV and the Greens policy would be a step in the right direction for those who cannot afford to be a part of the movement.
That is what makes the announcement so exciting – one of the groups so far disenfranchised in this revolution has been the one that lives in public housing and potentially suffers from energy poverty.
Energy poverty, when people cannot afford to heat or cool their homes to an appropriate level, is not exclusively a third-world problem. Five to nine per cent of the Australian population has difficulties paying energy bills as a consequence of the rapidly escalating electricity prices.
Peak electricity demand, caused by excess airconditioning use during summer, is one of the key drivers of the price increase. Paradoxically, high electricity bills put the greatest burden on those who are the most likely to live among poorer than average housing conditions.
Energy poverty causes health and wellbeing issues, triggered by poor indoor thermal conditions and concerns about paying the bills. The Greens’ plan of two kilowatts of solar on all Australian public housing would address the issue of energy poverty, with not only saving on running costs but decreasing peak demand, taking the pressure off the electricity grid and the soaring electricity prices.
So, if there is the opportunity after the election for the Greens to wield some power, then hopefully this policy will be at the forefront. This would take some money pressure off families in this area and one could hope for the children to be better able to take up further education opportunities and enhance their ability to participate fully in the future they help fashion.
John Boland is a professor of environmental mathematics at the University of South Australia.