PV on the campaign trail Down Under

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The accusation often leveled at solar FIT programs, for residential applications, favor wealthier households, with the bulk of the cost being borne by those who can least afford it. A new study from Australia indicates that this is not the case Down Under, with a solar electorate map indicating that there is a high level of solar update in "mortgage belt" and rural areas.

The data was assembled by The Australian Solar Council, the Solar Energy Industries Association and by renewable-energy campaigners 100% Renewables, and was prepared by solar consulting firm Sunwiz.

In an interesting twist to the data, Sunwiz has prepared an interactive map of solar-photovoltaic and hot water systems, sampling solar distribution by electorate. With an Australian federal election expected next year and renewable energy policy an increasingly contentious issue, the map allows political representatives and campaigners to see which electorates have the most amount of solar installed.

In a somewhat surprising result, the data shows that solar installations are more common in lower income and mortgage belt areas where, presumably, recent electricity price increases are felt most profoundly. Wealthier and inner city suburbs see the lowest amount of solar installation. The only federal lower house seat held by a Green party member, has one of the lowest rates of solar, with fewer than 3,000 households.

"Four million Australians now have solar on their roofs, thanks to the Renewable Energy Target (RET), and we know many more Australians want to go solar to cut their power bills," said John Grimes, CEO of the Australian Solar Council. "This is true peoples’ power."

Australia is thought to have in excess of 800,000 households with photovoltaic installations and over one million with either photovoltaic or solar hot water installations. This translates roughly to over four million people, from a population of approximately 20 million.

Emphasizing the political implications of enacting policies hostile to residential solar applications, the bodies behind the research have emphasized that there are, "430,000 households with solar panels in electorates with margins of less than 5%." To illustrate, the seat of Longman, in the state of Queensland, is held by a majority of only 1,500 voters, with over 17,000 households having installed solar systems. In South Australia, the electorate of Boothby is held by just 0.3%, while photovoltaic penetration in the electorate runs at 16%.

The top solar electorates in Australia were shared between both conservative Liberal and National Party members and by the ruling Australian Labor Party. The top electorate was Wright, held by the Liberal/National Party, with over 26,000 solar installations.

Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET), which has bipartisan support in the federal parliament, is currently under review and is facing strong opposition from incumbent electricity utilities. The Australian PV Associations Muriel Watt told pv magazine, that it appears the first response from utilities is to wind back the RET. "There are a lot of vested interests presenting opposition to maintaining the RET," said Watt.