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Nov 5, 2012

The rise of the solar voter -- they're not where you think

Analysis shows where Australia's solar panels are -- and it's not in the inner-city latte set. Some politicians may need to rethink their view on support for solar.

Solar panel home owner

For years, some politicians have wanted to dismiss rooftop solar PV (and other renewables), as a middle-class fetish for wanting to be green. The last thing they would have expected was solar emerging as a political issue, not just on the state and national scale, but in their own electorates.

They were mistaken.

A series of surveys and postcode analysis has shown that Australia has one of the highest deployments of small-scale systems on household roofs in the world — beaten only by Japan — and most of this has been put on the rooftops of households in the nation’s mortgage belts, in the city and in regional areas.

Finally, someone has done the obvious and made the effort to link these installations with electoral divisions. The results will take many politicians by surprise. Now they must now sit up and take notice.

The Australian Solar Council, the Solar Energy Industries Association and the community-based lobby group 100% Renewables teamed up to commission leading industry analyst Sunwiz to plot a solar electorate map, which shows where householders are investing in solar panels and hot water systems to cut their power bills.

The new map is designed to help federal MPs see just how many solar voters there are in their local area and demonstrate how important the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is for their electorate, and how rooftop solar is treated not just by the RET, but by state-based tariffs and by their local utilities and network providers, many of whom are fearful of what solar PV will do to their business.

The leading electorate with the most rooftop solar systems is Wright in south-east Queensland, held by the Liberal National Party’s Scott Buchholz. In second place — for both PV and hot water systems — is Lalor, the seat held by Prime Minister Julia Gillard (25,829 systems).

Contrary to popular belief, rooftop solar is not the province of the inner city latte set — possibly because in some inner suburbs the wealthy don’t notice electricity bills, or because their rooftops are not suitable. Greens MP Adam Bandt’s inner-city seat of Melbourne (2849) has one of the lowest deployments, as do the seats of Peter Garrett (2527) and Malcolm Turnbull (1265).

The electorates of Energy Minister Martin Ferguson rates fairly low (4377). His opposite number, the Coalition’s Ian Macfarlane, rates higher (8936), and the electorates of Climate Change Minister Greg Combet (11,455) and that of his rival Greg Hunt (12,971), are also high.

What is interesting is that many marginal seats, and many held by the Coalition, also have high numbers of rooftop solar installations. The solar lobby groups say that this means that if people vote on the basis of which party has helped them install solar and manage their power bills, or will help them best in the future to meet the upfront cost of solar, solar voters will be able to change the outcome in a number of key marginal seats.

Nearly four million Australians, and one million households, have solar on their roofs, and at least double that are expected to follow in the next two years — more in the years to follow. As we pointed out earlier this year, the introduction of financing initiatives such as solar leasing have the potential to make solar available to an even greater demographic. We suggested then that Zero Cost solar could be Gillard’s secret election weapon. In reality, it is available to either party, although the Coalition would have to update its one million solar homes policy to a one million more solar homes policy.

“Support for solar will be a hot issue in the 2013 election,” says Lindsay Soutar, 100% Renewables National Campaign Co-ordinator. “Solar offers householders the ultimate financial control over their power bills so voters will be looking to see which party will help them manage their energy bills now and in the future.”

But even if householders are pushing for a fairer deal on solar, and are pushing back against the increasing cost of the grid-supplied electrons, it seems politicians and their advisors are still slow to notice.

RenewEconomy on Thursday pointed out the position of Joel Fitzgibbon, who last week suggested that the RET should be dumped. He admitted he was speaking on behalf of the workers at the two coal-fired power stations in his electorate, but did not register that parts of his electorate have large amounts of solar installations.

Even today, News Limited quoted the ACCC chief Rod Sims warning against householders making rash decisions about rooftop solar. “I don’t blame an individual for taking advantage of very high subsidies,” he told The Sunday Mail. “But I would say don’t assume electricity prices are going to be sky-high. Don’t fall for an argument they are going up 500% in the next five years.”

Er, that’s not the point. As the Australian Energy Market Operator suggested in June, the uptake of rooftop solar would likely be widespread because of the falling costs of rooftop solar panels, and as a hedge against rising electricity prices. These don’t need to rise by 500%.

*This article was originally published at RenewEconomy

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18 comments

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18 thoughts on “The rise of the solar voter — they’re not where you think

  1. zut alors

    ‘… it seems politicians and their advisors are still slow to notice.’

    Situation normal. Politicians’ attention is on popularity polls these days, they have less time for reality.

    Some interesting facts and statistics in this piece, thanks.

  2. drmick

    Is it possible the message about alternative power sources, ostensibly the reason for the great big new tax, has got through; in spite of absolutely no media support and a concerted all out unrelenting attack by established power industries and their political party and their newspaper, TV and radio campaign? Well IBF.

  3. John Bennetts

    Solar homes account for 2 to 22% of any given federal electorate.

    Is this article really recommending that federal members place the interests of the other 77-98% of their electorate behind those of the 2-23% who have been lucky enough to be able to get on board the solar bus?

    That very large majority also get the privilege of paying retail tariffs which include a couple of hundred dollars per account, per year due to imbalanced costs and charges which support the PV-enabled.

    The PV-penalised include the poor, renters, unit dwellers and those who, for work reasons, must relocate frequently, or at least before a solar system is likely to pay for itself.

    My suggestion to any Federal Member interested in energy equity as a topic to support re-election is that they place the interests of the majority in front of those of the minority.

  4. Hamis Hill

    A first glimmer of hope that housing will begin to pay for itself and at some stage become a good investment istead of burdening the nation with a yearly $60BILLION mortgage interest bill.
    A hard number that might explode Heckle Abbott and Jeckle Hockey were they ever to ingest it.
    How about the “water proof” home ie one that collects and recycles its own water, disposes of waste with solar incinerators and relieves the householder of the “services” of parasites who expect payment irrespective of the inability of the standard suburban home to produce any income for their inhabitants.
    Just “Speculating” about what sustainable, external grasping parasite free home security might look like, especially for elderly retirees on limited, fixed incomes.
    Veggie gardens anyone.( Automated hydroponic?)
    Just as silly as a Ha Ha, “power station on the roof” really.

  5. John64

    “Australia has one of the highest deployments of small-scale systems on household roofs in the world and most of this [is] in the nation’s mortgage belts, in the city and in regional areas.”

    Why not just say “everywhere”?

    “The new map is designed to help federal MPs see just how many solar voters there are in their local area and demonstrate how important the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is for their electorate, and how rooftop solar is treated not just by the RET, but by state-based tariffs and by their local utilities and network providers, many of whom are fearful of what solar PV will do to their business.”

    So basically – much like the baby bonus – solar tariffs are middle-class welfare for the 21st Century.

  6. Captain Planet

    Contrary to popular belief, rooftop solar is not the province of the inner city latte set — possibly because in some inner suburbs the wealthy don’t notice electricity bill

    I don’t know if Giles ever trained as a journalist, but there are a number of unsupported assumptions in his analysis – starting with these presumptions that
    a) The inner city is the province of some kind of “latte set”
    b) These people are all “wealthy”
    c) This poorly defined “wealthy” “latte set” makes decisions about their energy needs based solely on the impact of electricity bills on their financial position.

    solar lobby groups say that this means that if people vote on the basis of which party has helped them install solar and manage their power bills, or will help them best in the future to meet the upfront cost of solar, solar voters will be able to change the outcome in a number of key marginal seats

    This discounts the possibility that a large percentage of people in these suburbs could hold the view that they are very pleased that they have managed to get their solar panels installed at a cheap price, have locked in a favourable feed in tariff, and would now like to see all subsidies and feed in tariff support withdrawn. F— you jack, I’m allright. From a purely selfish perspective, as our free – market capitalist economy promotes, this is the logical stance to take.

    Not everyone who has a rooftop solar system is going to vote for those who propose to support others to also get a rooftop solar system. It is quite possible that those who already have such a system will actually vote against the party who will provide the most support for new solar PV installations.

  7. Captain Planet

    @ John Bennets,

    Solar homes account for 2 to 22% of any given federal electorate.

    Is this article really recommending that federal members place the interests of the other 77-98% of their electorate behind those of the 2-23% who have been lucky enough to be able to get on board the solar bus?

    No. It’s suggesting that federal MP’s ought to consider the impact of the high levels of Solar PV penetration are likely to have on the attitudes of the electorate to renewable energy policy.

    Unfortunately, both the author, and you, have misinterpreted the facts rather badly.

    Renewable Energy Credits and Feed – in Tariff guarantees have been rolled out in such a manner, and have been wound back systematically so consistently, that the main demographic which is likely to vote in support of continuation or extension of these policies, is the people who don’t yet have solar PV on their roof, but would like to install it.

    Those who already have a system have no incentive outside of environmental altruism, to continue to support or extend the subsidy schemes as they have been implemented thus far.

  8. Captain Planet

    @ John64

    “Australia has one of the highest deployments of small-scale systems on household roofs in the world and most of this [is] in the nation’s mortgage belts, in the city and in regional areas.”

    Why not just say “everywhere”?

    I believe you will find the author intended to say that the most of the deployment is in the nation’s mortgage belts, whether in the city, or in regional areas.

    So basically – much like the baby bonus – solar tariffs are middle-class welfare for the 21st Century.

    Solar tariffs and subsidies are designed to help revolutionise the provision of energy to Australian households, thus contributing to the extremely important worldwide efforts currently underway to rein in growth in, and then reduce, dangerous levels of CO2 levels.
    Thus, unlike the baby bonus which was blatant middle class welfare, Solar subsidies and tariffs actually have the aim of providing a measure of energy independance for Australian households and Australia as a whole, while contributing to solving possibly the most important and most difficult challenge humanity has ever faced.

  9. Harry1951

    John Bennetts: maybe you did not read the article properly as it is clear that zero-financed installations go at least some way of addressing your objections regarding subsidies.

    John64: the install of solar panels can now be paid for over time. The solar tariffs you complain of as middle-class welfare (feed-in) are not attractive anymore so most installs are done to reduce their power bills.