The head of one of Australia’s most successful solar start-ups admits negative perceptions are preventing the solar power industry from fulfilling its potential, and that greater encouragement from governments would lead people to embrace renewable energy.
Jeremy Rich, CEO of Energy Matters, believes there is no reason why Australia cannot one day reach a near 100 per cent commitment to solar energy for both domestic and commercial use, given the nation’s sunny climate and expertise in the industry.
But Mr Rich said ”people aren’t convinced” about the benefits of solar, which was why so few Australians had embraced photovoltaic panels as a power source. About 10% of houses across the country have installed solar systems, with Victoria’s the commitment level lags at about 5 per cent.
Mr Rich and three friends founded Energy Matters while discussing solar energy around a kitchen table and within five years the company bragged a $30 million turnover. But he said the solar industry was infected by an idea that it was expensive compared with a grid-based power system.
He was adamant installation costs would continue to fall beyond July 1, when the carbon tax comes into effect.
”I think there’s a perception and a misunderstanding out there – whether that’s because of the media I’m not sure – but it’s a bit of a shame because people could be offsetting these costs,” he said. ”They’ve got the ability to do so. We’ve got low costs, it’s a sunny continent and it’s a great place for solar really.”
The installation of commercial systems in businesses and factories has an “untapped” potential in Australia, according to Mr Rich.
He called on the federal government to adopt a uniform policy on feed-in tariff schemes to encourage people to consider renewable energy. Several states have dropped or reduced schemes due to claims solar was an expensive way to lower greenhouse emissions.
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”The issue with the instability of the government’s policies does affect the cost of capital, so it does push up the cost of large-scale commercial projects,” Mr Rich said.
”I think stable, consistent policy is very important – and that’s the case for any industry – and by looking at an economically justified, low-cost feed-in tariff system is the way the government can get stability because it’s providing benefit to the community.
”It’s not costing anyone anything – it’s sustainable.
”That’s the kind of policy you can get with solar power, which is fantastic, so they’re the kind of things the government should be looking at.”