Solar Revolution takes off in Gippsland

Bruthen General Store

In 1976 I first saw a tiny solar panel in action on the Mt Nugong fire tower. Ten years later I installed my first panels at home – 2 X 30 watt panels that cost more than $10 a watt (incidentally they are still producing energy).  Around 2000 we swapped from wind energy to solar with the help of Howard government subsidies installing 6 panels to have just under half a kilowatt of panels in our stand alone system. In 2012 we installed 4 kw in 16 panels on our retirement unit. Since then the efficiency of panels has continued to increase and the cost continues to come down – heading for around 50 cents per watt if it is not there already.

Now the solar revolution has taken off in Gippsland. There is plenty of evidence for this both regionally and nationally (see here and here). The high prices of electricity and gas make solar doubly attractive. As well the low feed in prices paid by electricity retailers for residential rooftop solar almost ensures a future, rapid take-up of batteries to store energy for home consumption when they become a bit cheaper.

Bulk buys of solar panels organised by shire councils have been operating across Gippsland for more than a year. Many of the installations are not visible from the street but solar installations are going up on community buildings, schools, halls and sporting facilities including a recent addition on one of the buildings in the Gellen complex at Bairnsdale.

The Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub Newsletter noted the “independent agency, Solar Victoria which is to be based in Morwell, will work with industry, regulators and training organisations to deliver the Solar Homes Package” and “Mirboo North Community Shed Co-operative has just been awarded $88,000 to develop 82.5kW of behind the meter solar PV to be installed on four buildings in Mirboo North.” As well there were othering interesting and innovative projects such as the solar lit footpaths in Yinnar.

But the real revolution is in businesses installing large, behind the meter, rooftop PV to approximately match their power consumption. This is the obvious step for businesses to significantly reduce their power bills. The panels are often purchased by loan and adds to the value of the business. Again many of these are not visible from the street but often involve covering roofs completely with panels. I saw two examples of this for the first time on a recent trip to the Bruthen market noticing that both the general store and the microbrewery had both done this. It is an action that significantly reduces their power bill at little or no cost to the business.

Each panel installation reduces energy demand from coal fired generators. When installed in large numbers this must be having a substantial effect on their profits and it is not going to get any better. Within a few years – say to 2025 – panels will cover most rooftops, some car parks and there may be even a solar road. The rapid solar adoption may well force the closure of all the Latrobe Valley generators by 2030.