How Rooftop Solar Energy Became a Political Argument

Jon Capistrano
Jon Capistrano
August 11, 2016

Where the newly appointed Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg comes from, the people are not sold at all on renewable energy as reported by The Saturday Paper

According to the figures collected by the environmental group Solar Citizens before the recent elections, 2,352 of the 90,000 voters in Frydenberg’s well-to-do inner Melbourne electorate of Kooyong had solar panels on their roofs. It placed Kooyong 132nd of 150 federal electorates for solar PVs. Kooyong is typical of what Solar Citizens found in their study of rooftop solar. Richer electorates tend to have lower take-up rates.

Wentworth, which was held by Prime Minister Turnbull, is the richest of all seats and ranks 2nd in the country, although Solar Citizens consumer campaigner Reece Turner acknowledges that Wentworth is extremely and densely settled and with lots of units and lots of rented houses, which could explain the lack of solar PV installed in the area.

Meanwhile, out in the suburbs and in the regional and rural areas, rooftop solar is big. For example, Dawson in North Queensland has more than 10 times as many houses with rooftop solar PVs as compared to Kooyong. Ipswich, which is home to Pauline Hanson, has more solar panels than Dawson. Dickson in Brisbane, held by conservative Peter Dutton, has more than 35,000 solar systems and the eighth-highest penetration of solar in the country. According to Solar Citizens, there are about 41,000 constituents who have invested about $140 million to install more than 80,000 kilowatts of solar. This resulted in a yearly decrease of 54,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The reality of rooftop solar is counter-intuitive. Climate change is often portrayed as being a primary concern of young, educated, wealthy and urban leftists. Yet those doing the most about it at a personal level are the demographic opposite. They are older, less educated, non-urban and often conservative. And this makes it problematic in a political sense which is a potentially very powerful, unclaimed political constituency.

According to Claire O’Rourke, National Director of Solar Citizens, it is an issue that cuts across all voting persuasions. Solar uptake is higher in low and medium-income suburbs. She also added that in 121 of Australia’s 150 federal electorates, there are more people of voting age using solar roofs and there are 1.5 million rooftop solar systems already installed and 3,000 being added every week. They are the constituency that cannot be ignored and denied and it will be bigger at every successive election.

The group campaigned for seats in the last election and have been working hard to elevate the issues of renewable energy in general.

Click here to read the full story on The Saturday Paper

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