Switch For Solar: An Exciting New Scheme In South Australia | Ecobuy

Switch For Solar: An Exciting New Scheme In South Australia

Switch For Solar: An Exciting New Scheme In South Australia

Two weeks ago, the South Australian Government launched its pilot program, Switch for Solar. If the trial is successful, Switch for Solar will allow South Australian concession holders to install panels on their roofs for no upfront cost. South Australia is doing considerably well on renewable penetration already with 52% of its energy comes from renewable sources, and the state is aiming for net zero emissions by 2050. Now, the South Australian Government has turned to equalising access to sustainable electricity and ensuring that low income Australians are not left behind in the transition to renewable energy.

Electricity inequality is caused by the high upfront installation cost of solar panels. This means that low income Australians and concession holders have lower access to solar panels, even though they know it is a more economical and environmentally friendly alternative. It does not make sense for a cheap and sustainable energy source to be unavailable to the people who need it most.

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What is Solar Power?

Solar power is a renewable alternative to traditional electricity production which relies on the burning of fossil fuels. While fossil fuels are still the main source of electricity worldwide, solar uptake is increasing. Being one of the sunniest places in the world, Australia has the potential to generate a lot of solar energy, and a quarter of Australian households already use solar power. The reasons that solar is a popular renewable source is because it is easier to install and maintain than other sources like wind turbines or hydropower.

Despite our high solar uptake, Australia is still very dependent on coal. 79% of Australia’s electricity generation comes from fossil fuels compared to 68% for the United Kingdom and 60% for New Zealand. Government initiatives like Switch for Solar are crucial if we want to speed up our transition to renewables.

How does solar work?

There are two types of solar panel systems: thermal and photovoltaic (PV). Most people will be familiar with rooftop PV panels which directly converts sunlight into electricity without needing bulky steam turbines and generators. PV is handy for localised energy production and can be used in remote areas where electrical energy from the grid is unreliable or inaccessible.

The future of PV solar is bright, with innovations like PV paint and solar windows entering the energy industry. Imagine slapping on a coat of PV paint on our exterior walls to generate electricity!  This would drastically reduce difficulties with panel installation. Clear solar windows, developed for the first time in Perth, WA, are being trialled to create self-sustainable bus stops and greenhouses. They have the potential to be used on skyscrapers to power offices as well.

Switch For Solar: An Exciting New Scheme In South Australia

How reliable is solar?

It is a common myth that solar power is unreliable. The physical solar panels are durable and reliable. The cost of maintaining solar panels are miniscule compared to the upkeep of coal plants.

It is also a myth that you will be without power during the night and in winter. Remember, just because you have solar panels, it doesn’t mean you become disconnected from the wider electrical grid! When your solar panels aren’t generating enough power, electricity can be drawn from the traditional grid just like houses without rooftop solar. Solar battery technology is a reliable way to collect excess sunlight to power you through the night, but batteries do not need to be installed. Depending on which state you are in, the state government’s net metering or gross metering scheme allows households to be compensated for the excess energy their panels produce. This means that no power goes to waste and there’s no chance of random blackouts on cloudy days!

The power and reliability of solar can be seen in the Barangaroo Project in Sydney. With 6000m2 of solar panels, the area is entirely carbon neutral and invests in carbon offsets. The potential of solar, however, isn’t limited to futuristic urban renewal projects like Barangaroo. The transition to renewable energy starts with individual households installing rooftop solar.

Why don’t more people switch to solar?

If solar is so environmentally and economically efficient, why aren’t more people switching to solar?

The main problem with solar panel systems is that they are often inaccessible for lower income Australians due to the large upfront cost of installation. The total cost of installation ranges anywhere between $3000 and $15000, and it takes a few years to reap the rewards. Installation costs go up for houses with unconventional roofs; if you have a roof that slopes too much, installation may be tricky and costly. Depending on the size of the system, it can even take up to seven years to pay back the cost of the system.

Many homeowners do not know if they will be living in the same house in a couple of years. If this is the case, then installing rooftop solar may seem like a wasted investment.

The situation is more difficult for people who do not own their houses. Tenants have little control over where their electricity comes from as the installation of panels is up to the property owner. Property owners are unwilling to invest big bucks in installing panels when it is only their tenants who reap the rewards.

What is switch for solar?

Switch for Solar is a South Australian program in its trial stage. For now, the pilot program is limited to one thousand households. In exchange for energy concessions and Cost of Living Concessions, solar panels will be installed for free. Money saved through lower energy bills are guaranteed to result in greater economic benefits for the concession holders in the long term. The program recognises that a major barrier to solar uptake is the cost of installation. The South Australian Government claims that households that join Switch for Solar can typically save up to $665 per year.

A major downside of this program is that it is only available for homeowners. Tenants are unable to benefit from the scheme and given that many lower income Australians are not homeowners, this unfortunately excludes many concession holders.

In theory, Switch for Solar sounds like an effective program that could benefit many South Australians. Because it is only in its trial stage, we will have to wait to see how successful the program is in practice.


Will Switch for Solar be available for other states?

This is a State Government initiative, so it will not be available in other states. If you are in another state, you could benefit through other programs. Many states are now offering subsidies for the cost of solar battery storage. See here to explore what your state is doing.

Is Switch for Solar connected to the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES)?

No, the SRES is a Federal Government scheme that provides incentives for households to invest in renewable systems like PV solar, solar water heaters, or wind turbines. The main difference between Switch for Solar and the SRES is that Switch for Solar helps households with the installation cost of PV solar while the SRES benefits households that have already installed a renewable system. Both programs are important and target different needs and interests. See here to learn more about the Federal Government’s Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme.

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