My role in the solar revolution

I came across a statistic recently that set me thinking. The figures indicate that over 1.5 million homes in Australia now have photovoltaic systems on their roofs, which reflects 18% of our homes. Not an insignificant percentage, and all of the forecasts indicate that the number will continue to grow rapidly in coming years. My first thought was how does this figure compare with on the ground observations in Coburg? The basic scientific model I followed was to walk a random route, in this case the 1.5 km journey to our local school, and take a photo of every solar system I could spot from the street.

Image: S.Powell

I passed a total of 191 homes, and captured 34 images of photovoltaic systems, which clocks in at 17.8% of homes, a figure which happily surprised me – Coburg is thankfully representative of the masses.

All of this got me thinking about what motivated individuals to invest in solar in the first place. The traditional arguments seem to have been the money saving potential on your energy costs and/or the positive impact on the environment. Both of these are great and legitimate, but the impact either way was only ever on a relatively insignificant individual basis.

What seems to have taken everyone by surprise, including the energy industry, is the disruptive nature of millions of solar panels spread throughout the community. The biggest initial impact being that they act as a decentralised power station, significantly reducing the need for coal fired power stations to be switched on during the day to meet demand, traditionally a time when these facilities achieved their largest margins, thereby reducing their profitability and making the business of coal considerably more marginal.

How many members of the community when they installed solar panels believed they were revolutionising the power industry? Perhaps on some theoretical level, but to actually see it happening in real time is extraordinary. The next phase of the revolution is the much hyped introduction of home battery storage and subsequent micro grids, turning individual homes or small communities into their own power stations, and a future network based on the decentralisation of energy. If you missed the recent Catalyst episode aired on the ABC that described this movement in detail, then watch below:

Is it any wonder that those who are profiting from the status quo remain so derogatory of the renewable energy industry? The threat to fossil fuels and the centralised power industry is real and ultimately terminal, but they aren’t going to go down without a fight.

Viva la revolution, Viva la Coburg.