Summer surge in solar across the south-west

SOLAR power is bouncing back after “floundering” for more than a year from lacklustre interest in the south-west. 

Summer power outages in the region and across Victoria have raised questions on whether solar can safeguard against brownouts. 

But installers say they are only just recovering from a slump. 

The majority of solar homes pump their power back into the grid, earning a government tariff. But changes to the tariff by the state government in late 2012 saw residential sales bomb. 

Owners who previously received up to 25-31 cents per kilowatt hour were offered a flat price of eight cents. 

“That left the residential market floundering for the most part of 2013,” Keppel Prince solar systems projects co-ordinator Peter Reefman said. 

But summer has delivered a surge in interest. 

“In December and January we saw more inquiries than the rest of 2013 combined,” Mr Reefman said. 

“Most people go for the three-kilowatt system — our price is just over $5000 and another $500 to connect it to the grid.” 

Warrnambool-based We-stern District Electrical Services operator Wayne Davies said solar accounted for 25 per cent of the business where it once took up 80 per cent of the work. 

He said Warrnambool residents were often reluctant to purchase new technology. 

“It dropped off about a year-and-a-half ago. You’re getting it (the tariff) at eight cents when you’re buying it back at 24 cents,” Mr Davies said. 

He said it was more efficient for businesses to purchase solar systems because they could power themselves during the day. 

He said battery technology was slowly emerging that would allow home owners to store power for their own use. 

Solar faces another issue, as the federal Renewable Energy Target (RET) will go under review this year. Buyers stand to get credits back starting at $1000 on their purchase depending on the size of systems and how much power it will produce over its lifetime. 

Australian Solar Council chief executive John Grimes said the industry could stagnate if credits for solar were scrapped. 

“Our message to the government is hands off the RET,” Mr Grimes said. 

“In South Australia last Thursday when it was 43 degrees, around 9.4 per cent of electricity in the grid was being produced by solar. 

“Victoria is about 2-3 per cent in the grid powered by solar.” 

There are noises within the Coalition party room to scrap or water down the 20 per cent green energy target by 2020. 

Wannon MP Dan Tehan said he supported “the position we took to the last election” to keep the target. 

“There will be a review of the scheme making sure it doesn’t lead to excessive electricity prices but the position we took to the last election is that the 20 per cent target would remain,” Mr Tehan said. 

s.mccomish@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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