With natural sunlight almost all year round, and one of the hottest climates in the world, Australia would seem to be a strong candidate for widespread use of solar energy. In fact, according to the Australian Government Geoscience Australia, the country with the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent accounts for only 0.1 per cent of its total energy consumption with solar power, and that is mostly water heating.
This 0.1 per cent of solar power users get varied support for channelling back excess energy into the grid. The state of Victoria offers 60 cents per kilowatt an hour to solar power users. Victoria is typically known for its changeable weather, characterised in popular parlance as ‘four seasons in one day’. At the other end of the scale, the Northern Territory, which is one of the hottest places in Australia, pays only 19.23 cents to renewable energy users.
The inconsistent payment for extra renewable energy going into the grid, plus the big costs involved in switching to solar power in densely populated suburbs across Australia’s vast continent, holds back what should be a natural solution for Australia’s energy needs, now and into the future. But lately, the situation has become even more critical. Australia is showing signs of suffering from dramatic climate change, with a series of major weather events taking lives and destroying homes in recent years.
The typical new suburban house in many states will now have solar panels attached to a hot water heater. This does make significant savings to householders, but change is occurring at such a small percentage that it makes considerably less impact on Australia’s overall energy requirements. The country relies on coal as its main energy source, and with coal mining of the country’s major industries, Australia has had to introduce a carbon tax to offset its heavy carbon footprint. Even more critical, Australia is showing signs of suffering from dramatic climate change, with a series of major weather events taking lives and destroying homes in recent years.
In spite of being the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in 2000, Australia is not embracing renewable energy with the fervour expected when it relies so heavily on the coal mining industry. Australian coal exports were estimated as worth $55 billion in 2009 and keeps 140,000 people in employment, according to the Australian Coal Association. Sunlight cannot be exported, and solar power, once installed, only needs occasional maintenance. Renewable energy cannot compare to the economic benefits of non renewal resources.
What will make a difference are the individual decisions of Australian householders to install solar panels on their houses, and what will tempt them to do that is better incentives for channelling energy back into the grid. Huge solar power stations are also a positive sign that Australia is doing something positive about its greenhouse emission issues. In Victoria, the Mildura Solar Concentrator Power Station is on track to be completed by 2015, powering 45,000 homes and reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emission by around 400,000 tonnes a year. After a false start, the project has a new owner in Sylex Systems and is back on track.
Weaning Australia off its dependence on coal won’t be easy, but with more individual investment, and more importantly, more corporate investment in solar power, the future for the world’s biggest greenhouse gas generator could start to look a lot sunnier.