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Western Sydney suburbs add solar panels as energy costs bite

By Tawar Razaghi / Domain / 15 January 2019

Main image: More than 230,000 Sydney households are hoping to install rooftop solar this year. Photo: iStock

Solar’s hot year in 2018 doesn’t look to be cooling down with new research showing more than 230,000 Sydney households are hoping to install rooftop solar this year.

Residents of outer-suburban areas who live in detached houses and are mindful of their hip pockets are more likely to take up the technology than those in eco-conscious inner-city neighbourhoods, the analysis by comparison platform Finder showed.

It follows a bright 12 months last year, which saw solar rooftop installations pass the two million households mark, or six panels a minute, according to separate figures from the Clean Energy Council.

This year, 14 per cent of Australians across the country are hoping to do the same, in a bid to make sustainable lifestyle changes in 2019, Finder said.

In Sydney, the suburb leading the way is a small area near Campbelltown called Menangle where 60 per cent of homes have solar rooftop panels, according to the latest Clean Energy Regulator data.

It was followed by Douglas Park, 80 kilometres south-west of Sydney, where nearly four in 10 homes have rooftop solar, and Horsley Park, 39 kilometres west of Sydney, where a third of homes have the renewable energy. Kenthurst, Silverwater and Kemps Creek also made the list of the top 10.

“They tend to be smaller towns in rural areas. If solar panels catch on in a specific town, it spreads quickly. I suppose it’s word of mouth,” Graham Cooke, Finder’s energy expert said.

“We live in a sunburnt country so we might as well take advantage of it. It’s one of the most value-for-money countries in the world because we get such high levels of sunshine,” he said.

Mr Cooke said the emergence of batteries would be a game-changer for households who are thinking about installing renewables.

“As they become more ubiquitous, the prices will come down further and it will mean more flexibility of using solar,” he said.

“You will be able to use the energy you’re generating at any point of the day because it will be stored.

“You might see an increase in demand for guilty-free energy in Australia as one in 20 would rather buy energy from a green provider.”

In a separate survey, the Mike Cannon-Brookes-backed digital credit platform Brighte, a buy-now-pay-later payment plan for home energy improvements such as solar and batteries, found 42 per cent of Australians were more likely to consider solar and renewable energy solutions than a year ago and 39 per cent were interested in finding ways to reduce their energy bills.

Clean Energy Council spokesperson Mark Bretherton said the trend of solar power take-up in the suburbs has been evident for some time.

“It’s not the latte sippers in the inner city who are installing solar, it’s the working families in the outer suburbs and regional areas who are sensitive to the price of power and willing to invest a bit more to help themselves over the long term. It’s not an environmental decision for these people – it’s an economic one,” Mr Bretherton said.

“Solar is also proving popular in new estates, where it’s a selling point for some developers who are pitching their homes to young families.

“And finally commercial solar is being embraced by those with agricultural operations in these outer areas and people operating businesses who need to manage their operating costs.”

The same trend played out in Victoria with the top 10 solar suburbs found in in far-flung suburbs of Melbourne, according to an earlier Finder analysis of Clean Energy regulator data. The Yarra Valley suburb of Wandin North, 40 kilometres east of the CBD, was the most solar friendly postcode with a third of homes powered by solar.

Climate Council senior energy and climate solutions analyst Petra Stock said solar installations would grow this year and both the NSW and federal governments would be put to the test on the issue.

“We’ll expect a lot of solar to continue and not just households but businesses, too,” Ms Stock said.

“We know the majority of Australians are concerned about climate change and want government to take strong actions. When people know renewable energy is low cost, they’ll have their own experience to fact check against [the government’s claims] and that it is a good economic decision.

“NSW has consistently been at the back of the paddock [on renewables] so it’s obviously a good opportunity for the state to turn that around [this year].”

Australian Conservation Foundation climate change and clean energy campaigner Suzanne Harter agreed renewables could be an election issue.

“Australians are increasingly worried about the severity of heatwaves, droughts, bushfires and other extreme weather events and they want their elected representatives to take effective action,” Ms Harter said.

“Yet while more and more people are connecting their homes to renewable energy, the federal government is considering underwriting new coal-fired power stations.

“Political parties and candidates that have strong policies to transition Australia away from coal and over to clean energy will be rewarded at the ballot box.”

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