Renewables revolution still starts at home, with solar and batteries

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Australian households will end up driving the transformation of our energy sector to one that’s much more climate friendly.

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I have a neighbour who’s a sheep farmer.

Politically, he’d describe himself as conservative and worries the local greenies hate him because he’s a primary producer.

What may surprise some is that he’s also on the forefront of Australia’s home renewables revolution, with solar on his roof and a home battery on order.

He’s joined the more than two million Australian households who have installed rooftop panels – Australia’s Home Solar Army – because he’s managed to see past the confusion and ideology of the energy wars and realised that home renewables just makes sense, and are much easier to get than he thought.

To me, my neighbour is a symbol of hope; a sign that, following a divisive election campaign and despite the result, there’s much more unity and collective will than we might realise.

And the numbers support that optimism: in the lead up to the Federal election, 81 per cent of Australians said they support more government action on climate change.

So, for those feeling despondent about the election result because they see a return of a Morrison Government which doesn’t share the electorate’s will to act, I say this: we have to do it ourselves.

We can’t rely on governments to fix it for us. And the good news is that, as my farmer friend has discovered, acting is now easier than ever.

As householders we are now at the point where it makes real economic sense to install solar and a battery.

For the first time, in larger homes, the payback period is less than 10 years.

For those baby boomers like me who want to act after seeing our children and grandchildren march out of class to take a stand, it’s the most effective thing we can do in our everyday lives to safeguard their future.

Instead of waiting for politicians to act, there is an opportunity to become part of a united and growing Home Solar Army, with new battery and distribution technology (being developed by Australian companies that will soon be global leaders) promising to transform our energy system from the bottom up.

If you think that personal action can’t make a difference, consider this: if just one fifth of Australian solar households added a battery, it would provide the same energy storage capacity as the Snowy 2.0 project, achieved in half the time.

And, if the government wanted to help with a 50 per cent subsidy to speed it up even more, this could be achieved at half the cost to taxpayers as the Snowy project.

I’ve spent a career working to make positive change through social enterprise, first in addressing homelessness and later as a way to act on climate change.

Last year I launched a solar-focussed power company with 12,500 co-owners in what at the time was the world’s largest crowdfunded equity raise.

I did this because I know that creating a business that makes it easier for Australians to use and get home solar and a battery is the most effective way I can take action on climate for my two children.

I’m also convinced that moves toward more decentralised energy and storage isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for the system and consumers as well.

Currently, home solar installed without a battery is causing problems because it’s crowding the market when the sun shines in the middle of the day, when what we really need is to use it in when we’re at home in the morning and evening.

And with much more installed solar on the way, the law of supply and demand dictates that the price we get for our solar is going to get lower and lower.

The answer of course is to buy panels with a battery, so in those peak periods our homes can use all the free solar energy they harvest, rather than buying expensive energy from the grid.

It’s just one reason why we should guide the energy debate away from a binary discussion that pits fossil fuel generation against big renewable projects like Snowy 2.0, or wind and utility grade solar. Because this misses the biggest part of the Australian Renewables Story: us.

Instead of huge energy developments sponsored by government or the big end of town, it was actually Australian households that began the march to renewables in this country.

And I’m certain it’s going to be Australian households who end up driving the transformation of our energy sector to one that’s much more climate friendly.

So don’t wait for government to change or batteries to become a bit cheaper next year. It makes sense to take action and join the home renewable revolution now.

Not just because it will save you money (it will), but because it shows the next generation that we care about more than just ourselves and will act. They deserve nothing less.

Nic Frances-Gilley MBE is the CEO of DC Power Co and a Councillor at the City of Melbourne.

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