WHEN I moved to Townsville from frigid Victoria in the late 1980s, I was surprised there wasn’t more use made of solar power here.
It seemed the perfect spot to show what could be done.
S o me f i v e y e a r s l a t e r I couldn’t understand why the council hadn’t made solar panels mandatory, for new dwellings at least.
Leichhardt Council in Sydney had done it way back then. Why not us in a city where we hide from the sun’s power?
Sure it’s another cost, and a major one, which puts everybody off, but there are so many other requirements i n t he building process, why not a productive one that we actually get to benefit from?
Now we’re 18 years down the track, and I’m signing up for a solar system. Townsville is a ‘‘ solar city’’ now with lots of stuff on the council website.
Solar still isn’t mandatory on new dwellings but I thought they might offer rebates or some sort of encouragement for ratepayers to make the change.
It was absolutely no surprise that they didn’t have a dedicated solar person, that the sustainability office concentrates on ‘‘ educating people" a n d ‘ ‘ c r e a t i n g b e h a v i o u r change". There’s a point at which the council’s quest to SURPRISING ALTERNATIVE: Solar could see an end to coal-fired power, especially in the North create ‘‘ behaviour change" becomes a gag-inducing smokescreen for lack of initiative and action.
So forget local government. I see how it could all work from a big picture point of view.
I’m getting a 12-panel system that costs a little over $ 12,000. The government pays half, so it costs me around $ 6100. The system is connected via my switchbox to the grid.
Here’s the bit that maybe people don’t realise. I don’t run my house on my own solar power.
My house produces power which is fed back into the grid, and then comes back to me via Ergon. The solar system I’ve chosen is designed to cover my usage so the happy outcome is that I shouldn’t have a bill.
As long as I get a system big enough to cover my usual use I will, in effect, power my whole household ( no aircons but a pool, my bill about $ 380 a quarter).
Then if I don’t use all I produce, Ergon pays me for the excess. If I use more, I get a bill. Here’s tipping I’ll modify my behaviour so I don’t get that bill.
My neighbours have done it and they assured me it all works exactly as described.
It struck me this is the way our whole energy system can make an evolutionary step.
I become an energy producer rather than a straight con- sumer, replacing my reliance on coal-fired power with a measurable solar contribution. In the process Ergon’s role also evolves – it becomes an energy manager, monitor and distributor rather than a direct conduit for coal-fired power. I’m sure energy organisations like it understand they also need to evolve to remain central in the unavoidable move to multisourcing energy.
Once you take away the fear that you won’t be able to run two plasmas and a hairdryer at the same time with solar, this big picture becomes clearer. Forget building massive solar farms, Townsville is a potential massive solar farm. The infrastructure ( houses, roofs) is already here, the source of the energy is here and inexhaustible. The ‘ plant’ does cost initially, but see it as a serious life investment.
It does mean trying to cut down your usage between 9am and 5pm – your solar system’s peak production time – but there’s nothing wrong with that. Yes, the coal industry will suffer, but Tim Flannery once remarked that Australia used to run on the sheep’s back, and look how that changed. Think of it this way: We had the Industrial Revolution but now, surely, smoke is so last century. We desperately need an energy evolution. Bring on the Renewables Revolution which, like any real revolution, should be fuelled by us, the people.