For the Australian solar industry 2020 has seen a new year bring a new landscape. Bushfires that rage across many parts of the nation threaten not only life and land but the prospects the solar industry going forward. There have also been policy shifts signalled among the nation’s leaders in Canberra, and renewed debate around the nation’s future as an energy exporter. So what are some of the greatest hurdles for Australian solar in this new year?

Will bushfires continue to undermine Australia’s solar future?

The current bushfire crisis in Australia has kicked off a new round of criticism around the federal government’s approach to combating climate change. What has been somewhat overlooked in broader media coverage is the significant impact on solar power generation in affected areas. Yes, this current bushfire season has been especially horrific, but there’s also real fear there could be repeats of it going forward in years ahead.

If this becomes the case, and smoke haze becomes a common sight across the Australian summer sky, it could undercut the efforts to grow solar use so far, and the immense potential the country has not yet realised when it comes to turning into a solar powerhouse. As Solar Analytics found, in Sydney on December 21st 2019 there was a 27% reduction in rooftop PV output owing to the impact of smoke haze. On New Year’s Day 2020 there was a 45% drop in rooftop PV output in Canberra.

Bushfires in Australia Causing Negative Impact on Solar Power Generation

The specifics of the climate change debate are beyond the scope of this article, but undoubtedly it’s no surprise those who support strong action against climate change recognise for solar to succeed clear skies are required. Anyone hoping they can sidestep action elsewhere on climate change by pointing to an increase in solar panel uptake as an all-in-one solution are sure to find their argument comes undone so long as bushfires continue to pose a threat each year.

Can Australia strike the right balance in tenants’ rights?

As distinct from some other nations around the world, numerous jurisdictions around Australia are perceived to be lacking when it comes to tenants’ rights. In some respects, the apparent failure of authorities to keep up with contemporary needs isn’t surprising.

Major cities like Sydney and Melbourne—where together over 9 million of Australia’s 25 million residents live—have seen very rapid and substantial rises in home prices in recent years, and accordingly homeownership rates have plummeted among aspiring first home buyers. This has resulted in a surging demand in the rental market space in a relatively short period of time.

Australian Tenants Calling for Erection of Solar Panels on their housesThe accompanying rise in solar adoption clearly evidences a broad rethink in this area is indeed required. Concerning solar exclusively, for a long time there’s been a roadblock in this dynamic: typically a tenant would require a landlord’s permission to erect solar panels, but as a tenant pays the electricity bills many landlords feel little incentive or pressure to install solar panels. So solar uptake stalls.

For Australian advocacy group Solar Citizens, the push for tenant’s rights and encouraging universal access to solar power is an important consideration in this landscape.

Rooftop solar is going really well around the country because Australian households can see for themselves that switching to renewables is the best way to slash rising electricity bills. But as the rooftop revolution is underway, we have to make sure that no-one is left behind.

Stephanie GraySolar Magazine Interviewee Avatar, campaigner at Solar Citizens, told Solar Magazine.

“Solar Citizens campaigns for all levels of government to implement policies that make it easier for renters, people living in apartments and low-income households to access cost-cutting solar. For example, initiatives like Solar Gardens can help people living in apartments and other community members share in the benefits of solar”, said Ms. Gray.

Australia has a template it can look to in this space. 2017 saw Germany make a push towards giving tenants greater direct access to the solar market, seeking to enable the possibility of them reselling the energy generated by solar panels on their residence at a profit to their landlord if they live in the same building or nearby.

Can the nation return to nation building with solar?

According to the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, Australia has the potential to meet 200% of its energy demands by the year 2050. Undoubtedly, Australian leaders in Canberra are aware of the rich opportunities that could be on offer for the Great Southern Land in future as a renewable energy exporter, with export to Singapore—via underground cable running from Australia’s Northern Territory—regarded as a leading example. But ultimately there remains a gulf between what Australia is right now prepared to do, and its overall potential.

Although Australia’s history has clearly shown it has form in building major public infrastructure—with such feats as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Snowy Mountains Scheme, and others points of pride to the citizens of the nation—more recent times have seen successive governments more reluctant to pursue big nation building projects. This in part for fear of being unable to explain an expensive—even if clearly worthwhile—initiative in the era of a 5-second soundbite.

But as pressure increases on politicians in Canberra to define a future that begins to shift the nation away from fossil fuels, the goal to become a major renewable energy exporter may be driven equally by bold ambition and practical necessity. Especially as Australia heads into a new decade where the rapid growth being seen among other nations in the Asian region will require it to hone its export market and refine its offerings amidst increasing competition. comment

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