How can we share the benefits of rooftop solar with the millions of Australian who don’t own a roof?
The quest to make solar available to renters in Australia is the focus of a new project led by researchers at Australian National University and will tackle the problem at a policy level, by providing governments with evidence of what interventions are likely to succeed.
The important ANU study was this week allocated $77,070 in grant funding from Energy Consumer Australia to nut out out how governments can help break the solar ceiling that currently keeps the vast majority of renters “locked out” of the benefits of cheaper, cleaner power.
According to ECA, around one-third of adult Australians live in rental accommodation, and this group is seven times less likely to have rooftop solar and experience the positive benefits it offers. To add to the inequity, rental properties are also less likely to be energy efficient.
In greater Sydney, alone, as One Step Off The Grid has reported, 2017 census data showed nine council areas had more than half of residents “locked out” of solar by their rental status. And in North Sydney, almost three-quarters of residents couldn’t access solar due to being renters or living in apartment buildings.
“We see huge value in this project as it really does fill a gap in the energy sector’s knowledge in this area,” said ECA chief Lynne Gallagher in a statement on Thursday.
“Renters are a cohort who have often been excluded from achieving greater energy independence, cheaper bills, and lowered emissions.
“We need to better understand the policy interventions that can address this gap, and this project is set to provide that knowledge in a highly collaborative way.”
To this end, the ANU team will carry out interviews with policy-makers, landlords, and property managers, which it will follow up with an online survey of landlords to understand what drives their decision-making on solar.
ANU will then hold a workshop with energy officials, renter advocates, and the community sector to identify possible policy interventions in the space.
Researchers will then share these evidence-based recommendations with policy-makers, including those consulted during the earlier phases of the project.
Already, important work has been done in this area, with various state governments – including in Victoria, via the Solar Homes subsidy scheme – offering incentives to landlords who install solar on their rental properties.
Another state government backed trial, this time in Queensland, in 2019 offered grants to support landlords to install rooftop solar on their rental properties while also working to break down the complexities and difficulties of negotiating an arrangement with tenants once the solar is installed.
On the technology side, there are numerous companies out there working to make the process of installing solar on rentals – and even on apartment blocks – easier.
In 2019, Solar Analytics – which specialises in data and monitoring devices – launched Solar for Rentals, which offers a calculator that can be used by both tenants and landlords to estimate the value of a rooftop solar installation and determine what a “fair” increase to a property’s rent may be (read more about this here).
For renters under a shared roof, Melbourne-based Allume Energy has pioneered award-winning SolShare technology that allows one solar system – and battery, too, if desired – to be divided between any number of tenants, including 52 low-income households, in one case that was backed by the Victorian government.