Where Are The Solar Panels

I found this page quite interesting. It maps the number and proportion of houses with photovoltaic panels and solar hot water by electorate. Some things are not surprising. There are a lot of both sorts of solar in South Australia and Queensland, followed by WA. Not much in Tasmania.

The next most obvious pattern is more surprising however, at least at first. There is very little solar in the inner city of Melbourne and Sydney, some of the areas with the highest levels of environmental concern. Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth has the lowest proportion of residences having photovoltaic panels, for example, and Adam Bandt’s seat of Melbourne is not that far behind.

Once you think about it part of the reason for this is clear. Not only are these, by Australian standards, not very sunny places, but they also have a lot of apartments, where it can be hard to get solar installed. A friend of mine tried, but needed agreement from every other person in her block of flats, which sounded so daunting she didn’t really try.There’s probably more overshadowing here, and lots of small terrace houses that don’t face north. And to top it off the proportion of rental houses is very high. In theory landlords could put solars on the roof of their properties and raise the rent to reflect the lower energy bills, but hardly any do.

Still, I am a bit surprised at the extent of the difference. Around 1% of the accomodation in these inner city seats have solar panels. It’s over 20% in some sunnier locations, and even in places with the same climate as Wentworth of Melbourne Ports the figure can be 11%, for example in Gillard’s outer suburban electorate of Lalor.

This certainly gives the lie to the notion that solar rebates and feed in tariffs are just middle class welfare. The highest take-up rates include places that are far from wealthy, or even upper middle class. When it comes to solar hot water the pattern is broadly the same, but a bit less clear. Gillard’s electorate actually tops the list, rather than somewhere that you might be able to do without booster systems.

Perhaps the most outrageous part of the data (I’m assuming here that it is all reliable) is that the fifth least solar powered seat (although quite a high one for solar hot water) is Solomon (basically the whole of Darwin). Not a lot of sun there really.

The really interesting thing about this is that most of these solar panels were installed since the last election. Cumulative installations are now four times what they were in 2010, and will obviously be higher come September 14. We’re at 25 times what was the case when Howard was given the boot. What will the electoral effect of this be? Most of the people who installed these panels probably did so for financial reasons, with environmental concerns being secondary. Yet now they are there, are they not more inclined to be dismissive of Abbott’s scare campaigns on the carbon tax. Might they not feel they are pulling their weight, and the rest of the country should too. Admittedly many of these systems would not be nearly large enough to power the houses they are on, some of which would use more grid electricity than the national average.

Nevertheless, it would seem to me that here is an electoral wedge that could prove quite significant at the coming election if someone works out how to apply it.

I doubt that solar how water will be so significant. It’s been around for a lot longer, and people with hot water alone probably don’t feel very immune to carbon prices.

However, Wyatt Roy and Burt Van Manen are both LNP members on margins of less than 2% with 21% and 19% of their electorates producing solar electricity on their rooftops already, a figure which will be substantially higher in a few months.

Something to ponder for anyone who thinks Labor has no chance of winning.


About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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3 Responses to Where Are The Solar Panels

  1. Dr Green says:

    Big cities like Sydney and Melbourne need to have more aggressive campaigning for the use of solar power. People need to be more open to the idea of harnessing solar energy for their daily chores like water heating or energy.

  2. Solar panels convert light energy into electrical energy with the photovoltaic process. They work best when perpendicular to the incoming sunlight and with no clouds in bright sunlight. They will work at reduced efficiency if there are clouds or rain, but as long as its not dark, they will still produce “some” electricity.. . That is one of the real problems with solar energy, as we expect to have electricity available on demand, regardless of day/night cycles and atmospheric conditions. Storing electricity is very inefficient, so we need hydro, nuclear,or fossil fuel energy to provide firm “on demand” energy as a base load.

  3. Storing electricity is not necessarily all that inefficient, although some methods are. In most cases it is currently expensive, but that is in large part because we haven’t invested in some technologies to the point where the price comes down. See my previous post: https://forensicsfossilsfruitbats.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/cash-capture-and-storage/

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