SOLAR PV MYTHS AND FACTS
FACT: Solar panels are inexpensive and becoming more affordable every day.
The cost of producing and installing solar power systems has fallen dramatically over recent years, and continues to fall. The solar panels installed on rooftops today are more than 500 times cheaper to produce than the first solar cells of the mid-1950s and costs are still coming down fast. Four years ago a solar system could cost as much as a small car; now it costs about the same as a big TV.
But how does solar compare to traditional energy, such as coal and gas?
If you count the cost of setting up a fossil-fuelled power source by including the return on investment, operation costs, fuel and maintenance over its entire life, solar is close to the cost of fossil fuel-based energy and will be the cheaper option within a few years. Solar is an insurance policy against the rising costs of fossil fuels like coal and gas.
Costs are falling fastThe global market price for solar panels fell about 40 per cent last year. The 10 largest silicon panel manufacturers globally doubled their capacity in 2010 ref1.
Ref1 Polysilicon Glut Worsens as Supply Surge Cuts Prices 93%, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 10/11/11
FACT: Subsidies for domestic solar power account for only around 6 per cent of the average household electricity bill now and this is forecast to fall by 2020ref2.
The cost of deploying renewables across Australia is just a small proportion of electricity bills. By far the largest component of electricity bills is network costs (40 to 50 per cent of bills)3 – that is, upgrading transmission and distribution infrastructure such as poles and wires to handle rising peak demand and replace old equipment.
The growth in ‘peak demand’ – those few times a year when demand for electricity is the highest (usually the hottest few days in summer) is a major factor driving up costs. More houses, more air conditioners and other gadgets, all being used at the same time for just a few hours a year, puts enormous strain on the system. To avoid blackouts during these few hours we need to build extra power plants – at considerable cost. This is the real issue that Australia needs to confront if we want to stop power price rises.
The next largest component of electricity bills is the wholesale price of electricity (20 to 30 per cent of bills)4. Solar is an insurance policy against these rising costs.
Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA):“Power prices are rising due to a number of factors. Population growth requiring network extensions, ageing infrastructure coming to the end of its 40-year life and rising peak demand, caused by higher use of air conditioning and electronic household appliances, are all putting upward pressure on energy costs”. ESAA media release, 7 November 2011
Ref2,3,4,CEC Analysis 2011
FACT: The solar industry is well regulated and safe.
Solar panels and inverters (the component that converts the power generated by the panels into a form compatible with the electricity system) have to comply with the relevant Australian Standards, and every solar installer must first be qualified as an electrician, and then undergo additional training and accreditation in solar systems. The Clean Energy Council has a free consumer guide on its website to help people ask the right questions and to get a quality product and installation5.
FACT: The need for grid upgrades is driven by rising peak demand and insufficient investment in the electricity network over the last 20 years.
The single largest reason for rising power bills is the cost of upgrades to transmission and distribution infrastructure (for example, the poles and wires which in some cases are decades old). This makes up about 40 to 50 per cent of the average household power bill, and would exist with or without the addition of solar power systems.6
The call on our electricity supplies at peak times during the day and year (for example, on really hot days when people come home from work and turn on their air conditioners) is a key driver of power price increases. This is known as ‘peak demand’ and it’s getting worse thanks to population growth and the rising use of energy-hungry appliances.7
It is estimated that 25 per cent of retail electricity costs are created by peak events that occur over less than 40 hours per year.8 Meeting this demand requires enormous investment in infrastructure that is sometimes only turned on a few times a year. On rare occasions in some remote places, network upgrades are needed to handle solar. But in most areas, solar can be connected to the grid without requiring network upgrades.
It is also estimated that the installation of a 2 kilowatt reverse-cycle air conditioner costs a consumer around (on average) $1500 yet imposes costs on the energy system as a whole of up to $7000 when adding to peak demand. The $7000 system-wide cost must then be spread across all other customers.9
ref :6 CEC analysis 2011
7 Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Queensland Energy Management Plan, Queensland Government, Brisbane, 2011 8, 9 R. Fraser, ‘Demand side management’, paper presented at the Australian Institute of Energy symposium, NSW’s Electricity Future 2020 (and beyond): What will it look like and how do we get there?, 24 May 2010, Sydney
FACT: Cutting emissions is just one of solar’s benefits.
Solar power helps households offset the impacts of increased electricity prices resulting from a price on carbon, while many other cheaper forms of carbon reduction do nothing to help households adjust to the impact of the carbon price.
Compared to the Commonwealth’s $23 per tonne carbon price, the effective price per tonne of reduced carbon emissions through small-scale solar power can look expensive. But the two things are not the same. Solar power does two things: it reduces emissions and produces electricity, whereas under the Commonwealth’s scheme a company can purchase a carbon offset which reduces global emissions but does not help supply Australians with electricity. The solar power industry brings another benefit: it supports a lot of local jobs. When viewed holistically solar stacks up well as not just a method of reducing emissions, but of simultaneously providing other social and economic benefits.
Energy Users Association of Australia (EUAA):“Network prices – the prices charged to transport power across poles and wires make up half of the electricity bill and have been by far-and-away the main contributing factor to the price increases”.
EUAA media release, 6 November 2011
FACT: Solar already makes a significant contribution and it’s just getting started.
Solar power and energy efficiency schemes are helping cut our overall demand for electricity. Data released in 2011 by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) shows that overall demand for electricity in Australia actually fell for the first time in decades.10
“The drivers behind this change vary from state to state, however it is becoming apparent that electricity consumers are changing their energy use in response to rising electricity prices, adopting energy efficiency programs and the installation of rooftop solar photovoltaic systems,” AEMO Managing Director Matt Zema has said.11 Solar systems can also be a perfect fit for many businesses that use a lot of power during the day, but almost none at night.
Finally, battery and other storage technologies are rapidly coming down in price, with some household systems already sold with storage batteries included. Cost-effective large scale energy storage technologies are just around the corner.
Ref : 10 Statement of Opportunities, August 2011, AEMO 11 AEMO reports power usage dip, Climate Spectator, 6 March 2012
FACT: The fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidised.
The energy market in Australia is not a level playing field. The fossil fuel-based electricity system we have today is built on government subsidies, and fossil fuels continue to enjoy government assistance. For example, the Tamberlin Inquiry in NSW revealed that the government-owned Cobbora coal mine sold coal to power stations ‘at cost price’ (roughly 30 per cent of the price paid by other generators on the open market), which meant that: ‘...State-owned generators and gentraders [had] access to coal at a lower price than would have been available to them had they had to source such coal through a tender process.’ 12
This amounts to a subsidy of around $4 billion over the life of the contracts, and it is just one example of where taxpayers are footing the bill.
On top of that, fossil fuels have been subsidised by not having to pay for the greenhouse gases they produce, and for the other health and environmental impacts they cause. Analysis published recently in the American Economic Review calculated that the economic damage caused by air pollutants from coal burning (in terms of health impacts and local pollution) exceeds the value of the electricity produced.13
FACT: Thousands of Australians are employed in the solar industry
It is true that most of the solar panels in Australia are produced overseas. However, there are thousands of Australians employed in the local solar industry. It is estimated that there are 39 jobs directly supported in Australia for every 1 megawatt (MW) of solar installed. In 2011, 500MW were installed, taking the national total to over 1000MW. This equates to around 14,000 jobs.
Jobs in the Australian solar industry:
Research and Development – 3 per cent Manufacturing – 3 per cent Installations and customer service* – 64 per cent Distribution – 6 per cent Other (financial, legal, training etc) – 21 per cent Utilities – 2 per cent *includes companies performing installations, though this likely understates the utility staff supporting installations through call centres, billing, system inspection and meter changes.14 Due to rounding figures do not add up to 100 per cent.
- 12 Special Commission of Inquiry into the Electricity Transactions, p.9.
- 13 Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy, American Economic Review, Vol. 101, No. 5, August 2011
- 14 Review of the Australian solar PV industry 2011, Clean Energy Council, p.18.
FACT: Government subsidies help build local economies of scale, not reduce technology cost.
While there have been some important technology breakthroughs over recent years, the primary driver for the recent cost reductions in solar has not been technical, it has been a result of competitive pressures and economies of scale.
An independent report published recently by the University of Melbourne confirms this assessment: Photovoltaics (PV) and wind power have historically shown that a large proportion of cost reductions have come from the learnings and economies of scale associated with large-scale global deployment – not just improvements in technical efficiency.15
In other words, winding back or shutting down government assistance in Australia will not have much impact on the global price of solar panels, but it will have a substantial impact on the local installation costs by affecting the scale of the industry and therefore levels of competition in the market.
FACT: Lower and fixed income households are driving the solar boom.
In 2012 the top 10 solar postcodes are:
- Dubbo, NSW – 28 per cent of houses with solar
- Caloundra QLD – 27.3 per cent
- Victor Harbor, McCracken, Hindmarsh Valley, SA – 25.9 per cent
- Pinjarra, Oakley, Ravenswood, WA – 24.7 per cent
- Currency Creek, Goolwa, Hindmarsh Island, SA – 24.7 per cent
- Aldinga, Port Willunga, Silver Sands, SA – 24.1 per cent
- Jimboomba, North & South Maclean, QLD – 23.9 per cent
- Ellenbrook, Brigadoon, The Vines, WA – 23.8 per cent
- Hallett Cove, Sheidow Park, SA – 23.6 per cent
- Ormeau, Jacobs Well, QLD – 23.2 per cent
- 15 Renewable Energy Technology Cost Review, Melbourne Energy Institute, March 2011, p.1.
- * 500,000 installed systems multiplied by average Australian occupancy rates (2.5) adjusted down (to 2)to account for high prevalence of retiree households with solar but below average occupancy rates.
FACT:Solar energy works well, no matter where you live.
A lot of individuals wrongly believe their properties don’t get enough sun or believe solar is not a worthwhile investment. Fact is far away from this, solar technology boom enabled consumers to even generate poewer from sun in low or weak light conditions.
If your home or Business is located in anywhere in the world (apart from North and South Pole) there is a good chance you receive good sunlight for solar generation. In other Words, you are perfect match for solar