Solar Shines Brightest in Bush and Mortgage Belt
LOW-INCOME Australians living in city fringe mortgage belts and country towns are rushing to buy solar electricity panels and hot water systems at a much faster rate than their wealthier urban cousins.
New figures released yesterday by the Australian Solar Council show only 43 per cent of the 1.5 million solar power systems installed nationally since 2001 have been in major capital cities, despite their dominant size.
The Solar Council data also reveal that residents of city suburbs with the highest average incomes are the least likely to have put solar panels on their roofs.
One-quarter of all homes in rural and remote Australia and one-fifth of all houses in regional centres are now partly powered by their own solar energy systems, but only 13 per cent of all city homes are.
Solar Council chief executive John Grimes said yesterday the 11 years of installation data and research put paid to the myth that government policies encouraging a switch to solar power had largely benefited rich and middle-class homeowners and inner-city dwellers.
“We always had anecdotal evidence from our installers that it wasn’t wealthy barristers, doctors and inner-urban greenies putting in solar panels, but pensioners, retirees, single mothers and low-income earners trying to protect themselves against future electricity price rises,” Mr Grimes said. “These figures prove that once and for all, the driver here for taking solar energy action is commonsense economics, not feel-good environmental (concerns).”
The data, collated and analysed by postcode by a Solar Council member, the Renewable Energy Certificates Traders Association, found the most solar panels and hot water systems since 2001 had been installed in the working-class WA suburb of Coodanup, 70km south of Perth near Mandurah.
One-third of all homes in Coodanup, many of which are classified as “affordable housing” with an average sale price of $220,000, have switched to solar in the past four years as power prices in the state have soared by 62 per cent. Coodanup resident Patricia Day, 47, said neither she nor her husband, Mark, considered themselves environmentalists but had installed solar panels on their roof last September to reduce electricity bills she said were “getting crazy”.
“We just think if we can benefit from the sun, we’ll benefit,” Ms Day said. “A lot of the people around here doing it are pensioners (who are) watching every dollar.”
The couple’s electricity bills were previously about $280 a quarter but are now down to $180. Mr Grimes said the Days were typical of the four million Australians now using solar power.
“We are talking ordinary Australians who say they can’t budget on their incomes for power prices that have just risen 70 per cent in the last four years and are going to increase another 70 per cent in the next four,” Mr Grimes said.
“If you are living in Sydney’s affluent northern suburbs and you get a big power bill, you pay it because you can; but working people in mortgage belts and regional Australia are struggling and don’t have that luxury, so they want to insulate themselves as much as they can.”
The six top suburbs in Australia with the largest number of solar systems are all in large country towns or new outer metropolitan city growth corridors.
As the cost of a large 3-kilowatt solar panel system connected to the power grid has fallen from $8000 to $2500 in the past two years, Mr Grimes said the average-sized solar power system installed had jumped from 1.5kW to 2.5kW in the past 12 months.
“While people find it hard to understand solar energy and how it all works, they understand their power bills,” he said.