Australia’s Off-Grid Solar Potential: Rural and Urban
The growth of residential solar power in Australia is well documented. There are currently 1 million homes, and counting, that have installed solar panels on their rooftops. However, even after making the “switch to solar,” nearly all of these solar homes are still dependent on the electricity grid for some portion of their power. Remaining tied to the grid is still necessary for most due to the intermittency of solar power, such as during nighttime hours or on cloudy days. Those who take the extra step to cut ties with the grid completely have plenty to consider before doing so.
The decision to go entirely “off-grid” is typically driven by a desire to reduce emissions, or increase reliability. The desire to save on electricity costs is not usually a decision point, as the majority of off-grid projects do not yet pay back within the life of the project, unless consumption patterns are drastically reduced. The primary reason for this long payback period is that consumers wishing to go off-grid must purchase expensive energy storage devices, such as battery packs, to store the electricity generated by the solar panels for use when the sun is not shining. There are a few cases, however, in which choosing off-grid solar makes more sense.
Individuals living in rural areas far outside the dense urban centers often face higher electricity prices due to increased network infrastructure costs (power lines, etc.) to the electric utility. The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has shown that these network costs account for over 50% of the electricity cost to consumers. These costs increase rapidly as we move farther away from urban centers, leading rural consumers to pay high electricity rates.
The Silver Lining
Looking on the bright side for these rural consumers, since they already have very high electricity costs, the payback time for an off-grid system decreases significantly. It also happens that the rural portions of Australia have the greatest solar resource, increasing the energy output from their off-grid system, and thereby decreasing costs further. This phenomenon is illustrated through the two figures. The map of Australia’s population density shows that most people live in the coastal regions of the country. Switching to the next figure, we see that the locations with the highest population density actually have the least solar power available. Given that Australia is the sunniest continent, locations with low solar power compared to the rest of the country may still be good locations for solar compared to the rest of the world. However, the differences in the two maps clearly show the potential for solar development in rural parts of Australia.
As off-grid solar develops, it will become more attractive to regions closer and closer to urban centers. Some suburbs are already considering banding together to go off-grid, because solar technology has progressed to the point where a community could finance and manage their own electricity demand.
- 31 Oct, 2013
- Kit Man Chan
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