Solutions that unlock solar for everyone
When it comes to solar energy, Australia really is the “lucky country”. Australia is to clean solar what Saudi Arabia is to dirty oil. We’ve got so much of the stuff that a large part of our national identity is shaped by our sunshine. We are Bronzed Aussies, the Sunburnt Country, only some of us live in the Sunshine State, but we all Slip, Slop and Slap!
No surprise then that Australian home owners have so warmly embraced rooftop solar. Not only is this a great way to keep on top of rising energy bills, it also speaks to our sense of identity as independent pioneers and, added bonus, gives an opportunity to “stick it to the big guys”, the energy companies who send us their bills each quarter.
With the world’s highest rate of rooftop solar installation, Australia now has over 2 million solar homes. Unfortunately some of us are less lucky than others. Some 35% of us are “locked out”, unable to access the benefits of rooftop solar. This is because many Australians are renters, live in apartments, have shaded roofs unsuitable for solar or just can’t afford the up-front cost.
Locked out energy users love solar as much the rest. They’d like to participate in the solar revolution and take control of their energy future. They just need someone to unlock the potential of solar for their situation.
It may seem obvious that if you don’t have a roof suitable for solar then you can’t buy a solar system to get the benefits it brings. That’s the end of the story, right?
Thankfully, some people see this as the beginning of an exciting quest, not the end of a short and disappointing story. These entrepreneurs, advocates and creative thinkers have been working hard with like minded people in their communities to find ways that would allow those of us who are locked out to access the benefits of owning solar.
This is the first of our Solar for All series of articles where we’ll explore the emerging solutions for locked out households, the barriers holding these solutions back and those who hold the key to a future where everyone has fair access to affordable, clean solar power.
Framing the problem shapes the solution
Creating a solution to an identified problem starts with an exploration of the underlying causes. Well designed solutions tackle the barriers, not just the symptoms. The framing of the problem very much shapes the solution.
What is interesting about the “locked out” problem is there are multiple barriers that lead to households being prevented from having access to solar. This explains why we are seeing a diversity of solutions emerging to unlock solar for everyone.
If the locked out problem is framed as an affordability problem then of course solutions will focus on making solar more available to those without the means to pay the full price of solar up front.
Solutions to address a rooftop solar affordability problem:
- Financing products for low income households
- Government programs that allow vulnerable energy users to access solar.
Landlord and renters
If the problem of being locked out is most urgently felt by renters who can’t convince their landlords to install solar, then the solutions for tackling this problem will no doubt do a great job of solving what is known as the “split incentive” issue.
The issue of course being that although it’s the landlord who pays for the cost of installation, it’s the tenant who gets the benefit of consuming the electricity for free. This raises questions that form barriers. Questions like: who should pay for the installation, who will receive the benefit, and how can costs and benefits be fairly shared?
Solutions to address the challenging dynamic between landlords and renters:
- Programs or models designed to build trust between tenants and landlords but also share the benefit with the landlord more fairly
- Programs or models that remove the need for the landlord to make any sort of financial outlay including but not limited to Solar Gardens
- Interventions that compel or mandate landlords to install solar.
Some people believe (correctly) there is a critical issue with households who aren’t sure how much longer they’ll remain in their current home. With solar payback periods measured in years, this means uncertainty over length of tenure can hold people back from making the investment into solar. Some solutions do a great job of locking the payback to the property, not the occupant who chose to install solar.
Solutions to address short tenure:
- Council-backed rates-repayment schemes and other financing products emerge in this area.
Market and regulatory failure
If the biggest barrier locking people out of solar comes from our energy regulations and the way our energy market operates, then we’ll see solutions that work creatively to navigate an outdated energy system that wasn’t designed for the dynamic way we expect energy to work today.
Solutions to address market and regulatory failure:
- High technology offerings such as Virtual Power Plants
- Business models such as Solar Gardens
Support for diverse solutions
As we can see, there are diverse reasons why solutions are being developed to solve the locked out problem. This diversity is reflected in the variety of solutions emerging for these too-often neglected consumers.
The Solar for All Campaign calls on State Energy Ministers to implement a carefully designed Package to support all locked out customers. This will be done by ensuring all solutions are recognised as playing an important part of this complex area.
In the next article in the series we’ll focus on one model that delivers an effective solution for all locked households, regardless of the reason why they might be prevented from owning rooftop solar.