Electricity from the Sun

solar powered street lighting. This is the only one I've ever seen in Perth, so they're not common. In the city centre of Perth there are solar powered parking meters I have a long term plan to build my own sustainably designed house. When I build this house I want to install solar panels to generate my own electricity. The house would still be connected to grid electricity. At times when the sun was shining I might produce more electricity than I use and sell surplus back to the power grid. At times when the sun wasn’t shining I would have to buy electricity from the grid. The sun shines a lot in Perth, so solar power is an ideal form of electricity generation. Perth is also a very windy city, so wind power would work well too.

It is expensive to purchase and install photovoltaic cells, but cheaper than it has been in the past and the price is decreasing. Many governments, including Australia’s, give rebates for installation of photovoltaic cells. Matthew Warren in The Australian newspaper[1] said that, despite this rebate,

It is still some of the most expensive electricity in the market with the full cost of the cells often not recovered over their entire 30-year-plus lifetime. Critics of this [rebate] scheme argue it is great for retailers and some manufacturers, but it is still largely symbolic stimulating imports of PV cells more than a dynamic solar industry in Australia.

Robert Silvey disagrees with Matthew Warren’s assessment of the cost and discusses the installation of photovoltaic cells in his house in California (which provides rebates) and why it will increase his home equity.

Australian has been a world leader in solar technology since the 1970s and the University of NSW and Australian National University are internationally recognised in solar technology development. Unfortunately most of their ideas are commercialised overseas[1]. This happens a lot in Australia

because of a lack of government support at critical stages of the research and development cycle coupled with weak venture capital markets in Australia compared with many countries overseas.

Another Australian government scheme, the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program (RRPGP) provides a 50% rebate to offset the capital costs of establishing a renewable energy system for remote communities or households. Remote areas are not connected to the electricity grid and thier electricity was previously provided through diesel generators. Now diesel generators can just be used as backup to variable renewable sources[2]. Denis Smedley, director of the Renewable Energy Deployment Team in the Australian Greenhouse Office which administers the program, said,

The most common form of renewable energy used in remote communities is solar power.

Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth received a grant from RRPGP for a 600 kW wind turbine to supply up to 40% of the island’s energy. This will save about 430 000 litres of diesel a year and approximately 1100 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Some pictures of houses with multiple solar panels are here. And Ma Yanjun, of Qiqiao village, Shaanxi province, China rigged up his own solar water heater using beer bottles.


Offline Sources

  1. Warren, Matthew (2007) “Politics of carbon” The Australian, 9 June, p.1 of Clean Energy section.
  2. Parker, Derek (2007) “Wind, sun switch on the isolated” The Australian, 9 June, p.6 of Clean Energy section.

One thought on “Electricity from the Sun

  1. Hi Clare

    Your longer term ambition to build a sustainably designed house is a good vision. Solar power is certainly a part of that, along with designing for space heating and light, utilizing the sun. Insulation is also key.

    I had 30 solar panels installed at my workplace 2.5 years ago. The sun doesn’t shine like in Perth but 6.5 tonnes of CO2 gases have been averted. It’s a 5kW peak system. When they were finally installed I did treat them like a temple for a while. :)

    By the way, I’ve started another blog called Environment Solutions. It’s concentrates on the positive stuff that’s happening. I’ll put you on the blogroll.

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