I once asked an electrical engineer what he thought about Solar Power, he poo-poohed the entire industry pointing out that an entire solar panel only powers the equivalent of a few light bulbs. He's right of course but his analysis was incredibly narrow-minded; what matters is whether the power can be provided at a profit or not - and at that point the free market can be an effective conduit/proxy for discovering the best Energy Return On Investment (EROI). Our physical world is awash with energy, it's simply a question of how effectively we can redirect it. Unfortunately, this is not really on the agenda of the people in charge:
|Not entirely accurate, but incredibly PITHY! (source unknown)|
To cut a long story short, the government offered a rebate as high as $0.44 per kilowatt of power (in Queensland) for power generated from small scale photovoltaic systems. The goal was to stimulate the industry and reach a mandated target of 20% renewable energy mix by 2020. Some figures I have seen, state the response was 130 times greater than the planners anticipated. Think about that for a moment. It won't surprise you to know that last year, they announced the scheme would stop.
Government shouldn't be surprised people will respond favourably to an opportunity to protect themselves from rising costs of living, but the program has unfortunately instilled (yes) the wrong mindset in the eye of the public. I've been at parties where enthusiastic rooftop solar-owners will tell me strategies for optimizing the amount of money you 'get' by minimizing daytime usage. The reality is that on the wholesale market, their exported energy is really only worth about $0.05 / kilowatt hour ... not only that but thanks to supply and demand the massive rooftop installation base in Australia of the last few years is actually REDUCING that price. The money is an illusion, the government has distorted the real market by dramatically overvaluing the real commodity. This is typical lever-pulling which has greatly accelerated the boom+bust cycle of various solar operators around the country. However, the cat is out of the bag. Production costs for photovoltaic are falling, the average householder now has a cultural perception that their kilowatts are worth something and feedback loop has been created - as more people produce rooftop solar, the customer base for supplying the $ necessary for network maintenance shrinks, so electricity prices rise to cover the costs (even as the wholesale price drops), which provides more incentive to install more capacity, etc.
Here is a 2012 estimate from the Australian Energy Market Operator forecasting the growth of Photovoltaic capacity to 2030 (source), overlaid with more recent figures:
"Australia had 1,094,941 rooftop PV systems, representing 2,825 MW of installed PV capacity, as of Aug. 31, 2013. The country had 2,404 MW of cumulative installed rooftop PV power at the end of 2012 and of 1,328 MW at the end of 2011" photon magazine
|source: AEMO, showing potential scenarios for growth of|
PV capacity in Australia (National Energy Market), 2012.
Updated figures (in magneta) show that the actuals were way
ahead of projected 'Rapid Uptake' scenario.
In 2013, photovoltaic capacity can be installed large scale for about $1 / watt. At a lazy figure, the total demand for Eastern Australia (National Energy Network) can be met with around 20 gigawatts of capacity. We've got lots of land and sunshine here, basically if money were spent on really large scale photovoltaic then the entire nation could be running on solar, in a matter of years for less than $50 billion. Yes I know that issues like storage would have to be solved (nothing that a bit of pumped Hydro can't fix), my point is that it's really just a case of political will and priority. Our politicians decided it was okay to spend $38 billion of public funds to get faster internet, and America spends $85 billion / month pumping the stock market long may it live. With the money already spent 'stimulating' the rooftop farming public, would that money not have been better spent actually building solar infrastructure direct, for better return on investment? The future (measured in decades) is solar whether you like it or not, it's just the ride will probably be smoother without government interference and waste.
|Counting Sheep (Your tax dollars at work)|