Zhengrong Shi: Solar is here, regulators need to get on board

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UNSW scientist who became world’s first solar billionaire says regulators need to catch up with the technology and facilitate its rollout, not impede it.

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Zhengrong Shi, the UNSW scientist who became the world’s first solar billionaire as the founder of Suntech, says regulators need to catch up with the technology and ensure its rollout is encouraged, not impeded.

“Solar is here,” Shi told a NSW government-sponsored “Solar Breakfast” event in Sydney on Monday.

“Regulators need to encourage and promote the application of this new technology. We are not going to step it, it’s better to push this application quickly.”220px-Shi_Zhengrong_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_2012

The response of regulators in Australia to the massive rollout of rooftop solar has been slow and disjointed.

The policy and pricing regulators have been criticised for not keeping up with the technology cost falls, and recent decisions have suggested that the incumbent utilities are looking to make rooftop solar less attractive, and slow down its deployment, despite rhetoric that suggests otherwise.

The regulatory hurdles, which include access to connections, a “fair price” for solar, the structure of tariffs, particularly the lifting of fixed charges, and the ability to “share solar,” have become a key issue for the industry.

“Solar PV is here to stay,” said professor Martin Green, the head of solar research at UNSW. “It will become the lowest-cost option for energy technologies, the whole system will have to adjust to that reality.”

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UNSW Professor Martin Green

Greg Bourne, the chairman of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, said regulation was key, but suggested working out what the future might look like, and working backwards from there.

“I like to think of the smart grid of future. We are going to go there. To me that is a foregone conclusion.

“What is the minimum amount of regulation needed? How can it become a real market and not an intervened market with gridlock? That, to me, is where some of the work needs to be done. So you come back from the future to the present and begin to map the pathway. How do I take regulation out, how do I get smarter regulation? How do I facilitate change rather than stop change?,” Bourne said.

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